I am a woman, 28 years of age. My biological make up apparently comes with a manual. There are guidelines on how to speak, how to dress, what kind of tasks that I would be naturally good at, the activities I should engage in and even to the extend of the kind of opinions I can have. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am hardly oppressed at home. I am an independent, modern woman of the 21st century who is an educator, a professional. I am free to walk about, earn a living and engage in whatever the world offers but all within a limit. Now, herein lies the problem, I am told to pursue my dreams, learn to be independent and have a mind on my own but I should not over do it because it is very unbecoming of a girl. On a personal level, I am luckier than most. I was raised by parents who are not trail blazers in ensuring gender equality, but they allowed me to grow. They never curtailed my learnings. But, I am struggling. On one end, there are conversations that women are equal to men and on the other end, women are also conditioned to ensure they don’t cross boundaries that challenges patriarchy.
I speak from personal encounters where I have been expected to exist within societal expectations and have experienced the subtle/blatant sexism. Out of countless incidences, I shall recollect a few. I have been taught to view certain tasks as responsibilities that are unique to my gender like cooking, cleaning and anything that remotely relates to homemaking. Now, this has always dumbfounded me as home is not exclusive to women. We are depriving our boys from basic life skills. Let’s assume the boys are able to do these tasks, we praise them and view them exceptions but we do not accord the same praises to women. This extends to the idea that I must be dressed a certain way to be viewed as being respectable. I remember once wearing an outfit where my bra strap was unfortunately peeking out. I had people (females who are responsible in moulding the society) who had no business coming within my personal space to adjust it for me. It is a bra strap, not a slithering snake. Attaching a sense of shame and importance to a common article of clothing is absurd. I have had men be surprised that I am able to drive a manual car, or be able to park really well.
Out of all that experiences of subtle sexism, there is one that really hurts me. It is when I am mocked when I identify myself as a feminist. I am looked upon as someone who hates men, and have zero respect towards my roots. I get labelled as an opinionated young female who has yet to experience the “realities” of life. The word feminist has such a bad connotation that I am instantly deemed as difficult. I struggle to tell my story without someone who has enjoyed the privilege of patriarchy shut me down as an angry
young female. It hurts more when fellow women fail to stand together.
It is so important, especially now, to admit that our gender colours our experiences in life. In the course of my limited years of existence, I have stood up against sexism and I have also succumbed to it to ensure I take care and maintain goodwill with people around me. But it is stifling, to be pretending that this does not affect me or million others. We as a society must now have the difficult conversation of asking ourselves, “How have I allowed gender to shape experiences of women in my life?” We know women are capable of handling greatness yet we ask them to shrink their spirit, to fit a mould that is no longer relevant. We have evolved from the stone ages a very long time ago.
I don’t ask for much, only to be viewed as equals. I am aware that there are laws allowing women to be as successful but the real change is only when the collective mind set changes. I am aware that there are physiological differences between men and women, but the world has evolved. We no longer need strength to live, we need intelligence and knowledge to thrive. Those are not gender specific qualities. Let’s not continue encouraging patriarchy, nurturing boys to have fragile ego and teaching girls to cater to that. Lastly, for those who use the culture argument, it is about time to realise that culture is about preserving people, it should serve both men and women. We make culture, it not the other way round.
To women who don’t identify as feminists, take time to understand the movement. The movement (which includes women we call grandmothers and mothers who have stood up against discrimination) have struggled, so you are able to do what you take for granted, like exercising your personal choice. There are girls in many parts of the world who have no access to education, economic independence and even their lives only because of their gender. Be part of the movement, identify yourself as feminists.
As for the men who have not thought about this, start now. You make half the world, so we need you to evolve as well. Identifying as a feminist is critical because we want to be equals. We want men to not be defined by such narrow idea of masculinity that the idea of an equal scares them. Men who believe in and practice equality are attractive and masculine.