Happy International Women’s Day! Today I thought it would be fitting to touch on something perhaps a bit serious, a bit studious, maybe even a little bit… scandalous?! And that is the often contentious subject of FEMINISM. Run for ye lives lads! Arghhhhh the she-wolves are a-comin’!
(*ahem* Just saying what we’re all thinking! Now let’s continue ^^ )
As someone who happened to be born a female, I know there are certain powers (and frustrations) that come with this. I revel in my femininity, am awed by what women can do and I am proud to be a woman. I feel lucky to be a woman.
The thing is, as an empathic person (stereotype alert!), I sometimes don’t feel all that different from men… because we’re all people. I mean, I understand that there are implicit (obvious) differences between the sexes. Yes, our bodies are different. Yes, our different levels of certain hormones do different things. Yes, we are brought up with different cultural norms that are hard to shake, even if you try to avoid this. I would even agree that men and women often excel in certain areas and have certain weaknesses in others (although this is by no means always the case). However…
For me, feminism isn’t a powerful shield to hide behind, nor is it a concept to avoid like the plague. On a basic level, feminism posits that men and women, as human beings, should have the same rights as each other. That makes sense to me. And it is important for our humanity to respect each other as sentient beings, regardless of your colour, creed, gender, sexuality and any other lines that have been used to divide us (even though we are fundamentally 99% the same). It seems self-evident, regardless of what you call it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a proud feminist in the truest sense of the word, and I am not afraid to admit this. Why would I be? I completely believe in the power of women to get things done, come up with creative solutions for problems and support each other in general. I am a girl’s girl, and my female connections are overwhelmingly the strongest in my life. Nothing compares to the friendship between women, and I do believe that we often have unique and important strengths to offer (although every woman is different!).
The thing is, I don’t inherently think the challenges men and women face are all that different. Gasp! Stay with me.
As I continue to grow up, I’m realising that you really can be and do whatever you want if you set your mind to it. I don’t think men are better than women and I don’t feel like we need to play ‘catch up’. I know there are so many brilliant, smart, talented, motivated women out there that I’m not really concerned for my gender – we got this. We’re all trying to be something, become someone, achieve our potential and be the best person we can be. The identity crisis is practically our generation’s trademark, and I do think modern men can feel this just as much as women. The wonder of the internet has allowed us to become whoever we want to be, but it has also made us cripplingly self-conscious.
What I don’t like is when certain outspoken ‘feminists’ complain about women’s rights, women’s choices and laws, as if that is going to get us anywhere. It isn’t. But you know what will? Starting your own businesses, making it to parliament and changing the damn things yourself.
I am yet to have children or work in a corporate career (which I won’t be doing anytime soon/ever) or try to juggle the two. I take my hat off to women who do these things and as someone who is currently working in a kindergarten, I understand the tremendous energy drain children can be. I also understand how alienating and exclusionary ‘boys’ clubs’ can be, and that isn’t okay with me. However, in this day and age we have been blessed (by our foremothers) with opportunities and and options previously unavailable to women our age. Complaining about other people doing things for us isn’t feminism to me. We already have so much going for us, it’s all there – we just need to reach out and grab it.
The thing that I find frustrating about the feminism discussion is that a few bad apples have sullied feminism’s good name, and now us 21st century women are paying the price for it, unable to neither comfortable accept nor completely reject this label. There is stigma associated with identifying as a feminist, when really it just means that you would wish for your son and daughter to be presented with the same opportunities, and to have the same levels of confidence to take advantage of them.
So what does feminism mean to me?
I am not someone who likes to make excuses for myself. I’m a closet nerd and former scholarship student, and have the utmost respect for the power of my brain. I am a hard worker and although I may come off as a softly spoken person, I have a sharp and highly intelligent mind. The thing is, even writing these words makes me feel a bit embarrassed (annoyingly)… and this is why feminism is important.
I have been brought up, in a number of ways, to be modest, feminine and polite – something that I still struggle with (as many modern women do). This hesitation is women’s downfall. The second-guessing, the doubts, the keeping quiet in case you’re not quite right. Even the seemingly most confident women feel this. But when we are frustrated with ourselves and demand other people change to help us, that is a problem for me. There is nothing autonomous nor empowering about that.
I think what’s most important is that we believe in ourselves and then take that belief and turn it into action. Do something. Ain’t nobody else gonna do this for us! And the thing is, this is the case for men too. If they don’t fit into certain stereotypes about masculinity, it’s not always going to be easy for them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The only person stopping yourself from succeeding is the same one who can push you to reach the highest of heights: you. This may sound like hogwash, but it’s true.
I want to make clear that this post is from my perspective alone, which happens to be that of a fortunate, privileged white girl living in the first world. As a result of this, and despite being as empathic as I am, there are certain struggles and issues that I have never had to experience and therefore cannot pretend to fully understand. War, institutionalised abuse, poverty, disease… the list goes on and on. I completely understand I am a lucky woman who happened to be born into a good life, and I am talking about first world feminism in this post (because this is an important distinction). Like in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you have to have the basic requirements for a good life met (health, shelter, food) before you can take on the internal struggles of self-esteem, confidence and identity that our generation now faces.
But there is an uncomfortable truth that doesn’t always sit well with women, myself included. The reason why men often have higher pay, more visible opportunities and greater career progression basically boil down to one thing: they ask for it.
It really is that simple… which is why a lot of the other distracting feminist arguments can be so infuriating, futile and, sometimes, even damaging. I don’t need to hear about how we need to get men to agree that we need higher pay, or more women positions in parliament or in the upper echelons of business. We need to have the confidence to negotiate that ourselves and believe that we can do those jobs, so that we actually try in the first place.
This may sound harsh, but in my opinion it is completely true. Too many people, men and women, write themselves off before giving it their all. Whether this be in business, school, relationships or hobbies, it’s too easy to say that there is a problem that needs fixing, rather than being the one to actually put your head down and fix it yourself.
What I’m trying to say is this: we women are marvellous creatures. We are amazing! We are capable of doing so much, we just need to actually, you know, do it. It’s not rocket science and it’s certainly not difficult. We just have to be sure of ourselves and never allow others to shake our resolve (that steely, steely resolve!). And we need each other. We need each other to connect, we need each other for support and we need each other to be role models to our generations and those to come. We need to believe in ourselves and get things done, and we need men to do the same. Wastefulness is one of my biggest pet peeves (hence my hoarding problem… oops), and to waste our potential is the biggest injustice we could do to ourselves and our generation. I feel that this is the case for both men and women, and if we have faith in ourselves and just try, some truly amazing things will happen.
So ladies, gentlemen and perhaps the entire animal population (hey, you never know who needs a pep talk), happy International Women’s Day. Now go out there and do something to make us all proud.