From puberty onwards I’ve been a full on feminist, although I’ve never fully understood or acted in the true meaning of the term. This has been mainly because to be a feminist is to go through a process of recognition, cleansing and acceptance of many things. While we may all believe in female strength and empowerment, we don’t all have the same picture in our heads, nor do we arrive at feminism through the same roads. It is as much a journey for the society we live in as it is for us as women who’ve already been raised in it.
As far as I can identify, as a woman there are two possible ways to begin traveling the road to (shamelessly) identifying as a feminist: you either hate men completely because they are the root of the problem, because they are mean, insensitive, and rant rant rant (misandry); or you completely deny anything labeled as feminine because to be strong and powerful is to be manly, and to be feminine is to be weak.
These are both very damaging ways to exist as a person, and we don’t always see it that way from the start. Personally, I grew up as the latter: through every way possible I tried to be less “like a girl” because to twelve year old me, wearing makeup and dresses equalled to allowing myself to be objectified by men, and I was having none of that. Even through my actions, behaviors, and pleasures I kept far and away from everything and anything I’d consider feminine in the slightest. I have a clear memory of being proud of sitting with my legs slightly open or just separate while my friends sat with their legs crossed. Insert blush here. In retrospect this all seems very childish and immature, even more so when I remember how as a kindergartner I loved wearing skirts and adored wearing those poofy dresses during Christmas.
So what went wrong? Where or when did I start to shut myself down? It was the moment I decided I could open the door for myself, thank you very much, and would not allow anyone else to do so.
The way it started was, as a pubescent child, I somehow got the idea that when a man or a boy opens the door for you they could only be saying: “I want to make an impression and can stop being a gentleman any time”, or “through the roles society demands of us I am the strong one and as proof I open the door and you have to wait”. Don’t ask how I got this idea, at this point I can say anything and anyone could have been an influence but I can’t pinpoint it to anything in particular. My point being it made it into my brain and began an avalanche. So as proof that I could be a strong person I would deny the “role” and qualities normally attributed to the female and instead embrace certain qualities of the male. And that included allowing anyone to open the door for me. Which was as ironic as it gets, because if being a strong woman meant mirroring the way men use strength, I was going against the current and following it anyway.
As I got older I also began to deny the idea of marriage or motherhood, and while anyone is allowed their opinion and preference when it comes to marriage and motherhood, back then I didn’t fully understand this. Instead of thinking: “we are all within our right to choose”, I would think that anyone who chose to marry and have kids was a lesser woman than those who would stay single and not pursue motherhood as a life dream.
So how did I overcome all these damaging practices and ideas? With time and by keeping an open mind so that I could absorb other women’s ideas, opinions and philosophies. In order of appearance (in my mind) I began to accept the following:
1. I can open the door for myself, I can open it for you, and you can open it for me.
After a couple of years of always denying an open door when someone else was holding it for me, I began to question why I was doing it. So far I had assumed that those eye rolls were a natural reaction to being a strong woman, but eventually I began to see that I was being very silly. If anyone opened the door for me, honest intentions or otherwise, I should go through, where I needed to put my foot down was that if I got there first I can open it for myself and anyone else as well. Common curtesy without having to attribute the action to any form of role playing. Embracing this fact meant that I had declined to expect anything from anyone, nor should anyone expect something from me.
2. You can wear anything you want. ANY. THING.
For years I tried to wear what everyone else was wearing, and I got flustered and frustrated when I failed to do so. As a response I began to deny all things pink and “girly” and I would completely go against wearing what everyone else was wearing. But during high-school I began to be a little more open to myself as to what I wanted or who I wanted to be, instead of strongly going against the patriarchy because I needed to be against something. I was surrounded by friends who supported me for me and accepted what I did and what I wore as just part of being me. After high school I spent more time trying to figure out what my look was: skirts or shorts? Dresses or jeans? Shoes or heels? Brighter colors or creamy colors? By doing so I slowly realized that I was never going to have a look, as what I like (in terms of style, not clothing) today I could dislike tomorrow, or in a couple of years. More importantly, whatever I chose it did not make me any less or more of a woman as it was me who was doing the choosing.
First of all what you wear does not define you, and secondly there is little to no use in shaming anyone for what they wear. Be it dark or bright colors, short or long skirts, cleavage or no cleavage, men’s clothes or women’s clothes, it matters only that you were the one who made the choice to wear it and are completely comfortable with wearing it. If you’re going to invest in clothes and makeup, might as well be something you love so much you’ll use until it breaks right?
I don’t know why it’s so hard for every girl to know this from the beginning, heck I don’t know where we learn this, because I don’t remember being celebrated or shamed for what I wore by my parents, only school-mates. Although there are many factors that peer pressure us into missing the point of clothing, I think this is the biggest thing that we need to teach girls, because the first things we start becoming self conscious about is how we look. Shaming those that decide they like to wear makeup and dresses does not make you any better than the “Queen Bee Villainess” we constantly see in television and movies. Violence does not end violence.
3. Attributing certain personality traits or behaviors to genders is part of the problem.
Strong and boyish, or weak and female? Strong and female, or weak and male? This is a problem, and it was a problem for me too. For a long time everything was black and white, and if someone said you did things as a girl it was an insult and if they said you did things as a boy it was a compliment. There was no in-between, no exceptions and you were either awesome for being boyish or frivolous for being girlish. It took me years to figure this charade and it was quite the revelation when I did.
By believing what I did, not only was I shaming anyone who might be called “a pussy”, I was denying myself and anyone the possibility of being human. We all want to cry every now and then, we all fear something in particular, we all want to be brave for something or someone, the list goes on! Look at it this way: we all love kittens. We all melt in their presence and we all want to cuddle them. We accept this truth and we share in it, so too we all need to start realizing that we all cry at funerals, we all feel the need to be hugged every now and then, and sometimes we like to punch things, and lead, and be aggressive on many levels. The world is not divided into gentle princesses and strong knights in shinning armor, there are so many shades within those two spectrums.
Part of the problem we have as a society and part of the problem that exists with the misconception of feminism is that by demanding equality we are lowering men to accept our “weaker” behaviors, what they (and sometimes we too) don’t realize it that they too have these behaviors, needs and feelings within themselves. Having them does not make any of us weaker, only human.
4. Motherhood is not a curse or the end of the line.
My personal desire on having kids is always falling on either “I would surely ruin the poor child, and anyways I can be selfish.” or “But they are so lovely, I would love to nurture one of my own and grow with them.” So while I’ve understood that we are all within our right to choose to have children or not, I thought that anyone who’s one ambition was to be a mother was underestimating herself and lessening her possibilities as a human being to something society expects of us. It took me some time to think that it is possible to want to be a mother since you are young, just as much as you could want to be a teacher, astronaut, doctor, traveler or anything.
There is this movie (Mona Lisa Smile, 2003) that I loved watching when growing up, but I never really understood all the messages it tried to convey. It’s not the best movie out there, it’s got some issues here and there, but you can watch just for kicks. Set in the 1950s, I mostly understood the frustration and independence that the main character (Katherine Watson) embodied when she tried to teach young women to not fall into the way of life they had always been told is what they are meant for: marriage and motherhood. But it was only until recently that I saw the film in new light and noticed this piece of dialogue that I love:
“Joan Brandwyn: Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine Watson: Yes, I’m afraid that you will.
Joan Brandwyn: Not as much as I regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart.. This must seem terrible to you.
Katherine Watson: I didn’t say that.
Joan Brandwyn: Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”
This summed up my change of mind and heart over the whole idea. Being a mother is a hell of a job, raising a child is no piece of cake, and you don’t get years of training for it, just advice from mothers past. The fact that anyone is brave enough to choose to be a mom, or even choose not to be one, is no less worthy of recognition than choosing a profession, or not choosing a profession.
5. Marriage does not equal the end of your womanhood.
While I still have my doubts of the full necessity of marriage through the church I can see it’s importance with the state, country and continent whose rules you are living by. However, in the same way as I mentioned above, whatever you choose should not be berated of you. Today’s generation, both men and women, is just as much pressured into choosing a profession as they are (a little more subtly) into marrying and being parents.
By accepting this marriage as our eventual fate, I at times feel like we are surrendering our identity as women to the needs of men or society, rather than ours as people. That or marriage can seem like the ultimate seal to have a complete package. The reason why this idea can seem controversial and wrong is because marriage is a choice we make as human beings, and with that choice comes certain sacrifices and certain rewards. The fact that each individual makes this choice for different reasons is what gives marriage no solid meaning within society anymore. Love, stability, responsibility, compromise, need, whatever reason that drives you to this choice is fine, all you need to worry about is making sure it’s what you want, and that takes a lot of thought. In the same way that it takes thought to go into such a commitment, it also takes bravery to get out of that commitment when you can clearly see and feel an unsolvable problem. As fellow women we should act in solidarity, understand the concept of choice and respect each other for the ones we make.
6. There are no boy/girl roles.
This goes hand in hand with my third point, but I learnt this in particular by existing as an example. When in a relationship, we in the LGBTQ community get asked a lot of stupid questions. One of the most common is: “so who is the guy?” or “so who is the girl?”. At first it felt like a joke, sort of like teasing at the fact that we are different, but after a while I began to feel that the question kept being asked more as a form to try and label each participant of the relationship. For some strange reason, as human beings we have an urge to label things, because when labels don’t exist we panic. Ourselves are no exception.
By the time I began this relationship I had already started to polish my feminist beliefs, so I had no issue declining to do things that were conventionally reserved for the girlfriend: having her meals and gifts paid, getting picked up, lifting things, etc. And it wasn’t because I was trying to “be the boy”, it was because I knew my possibilities and my limits, so if I paid for something once but couldn’t afford it a second time, I would budge. If something was too heavy for me, I would ask for help. Sometimes she cooks, sometimes I cook, sometimes we both cook. This is how the relationship works and grows, we each know our possibilities and limits and work with each other to balance things out. Although at times we do expect certain things from one another (she might insist on paying for things, I might insist on cooking) we are within our freedom to choose our roles, and switch whenever we feel like it.
The error of society here is thinking there are only two possible combination of roles within relationships, when in reality the possibilities are endless, if only we give each other a chance. The trick is to know each other for who we really are which includes our limits, strengths and weaknesses. We as women should neither limit ourselves nor one another.
7. We are all versatile.
And to wrap it all up, I come to this point: as women we are not doomed to be only a wife, a mother, a teacher, a nurse or any one thing. We can be many things at once, and we should not think that once we achieve to be one thing there is not a possibility to be anything else too. We can be artists, mothers, businesswomen, entrepreneurs, students, protesters, creators, athletes, dreamers, and so much more. This includes personality, too. You are not forever chained to a single of yourself for having displayed it once, nor should one form of behaviour be solely expected of you. We shouldn’t limit ourselves or each other to being only nice, honest, mean, generous, tender-hearted, cold, or even cruel. We can be all this at once, during part of our lives, for a little while, or for a long while.
As I’ve stated in almost all my points, the one true important thing is that we choose things consciously for ourselves, that we are aware and firm that it is our choice, and that we do not doubt the possibility of the choice within ourselves or with each other. We don’t all make the right decision on the first try, and I’m not using the word as in ‘right within society, or your role as human being’. I am referring to what is right for ourselves, as there is only one person for whom we should ever be making these choices: ourselves.