Personal Thinking : Gender Equality
“I want equality and all that, but I don’t really consider myself a feminist”- me two years ago This is something I used to say quite frequently before I came to college. For so long I had fallen victim to the stereotypes society gave to feminists, most likely by men. I was convinced that they were the liberal hippies that refused to shave or wear makeup, so while I wanted equal rights and equal pay, I didn’t really want to be one of “them”. I was afraid that if I was a feminist I would be, as my brothers say, a man-hater who can’t take a joke. I see now that this is the patriarchy talking. Their insensitive comments are rooted in the fear of being challenged and having their privileges as white males taken away. As a look at my life through a feminist lens, I begin to understand how my relationships with others are the product western society and my own identities, such as my whiteness and privilege.
I did fall into the trap of the white male-dominated society, and I understand now that I am able to use the f-word. I am a feminist and have been for so long without me even knowing it. I have been an active advocate in trying to help dismantle the institutions of oppression. However, I have done it unknowingly and within my own personal micro-environment.
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I never found it difficult for me to activate my voice and share what I was feeling. Too often I tell the truth when I should keep my mouth shut, but this part of me has allowed people to be scrutinized when they speak in a way that is destructive towards others. I find myself frequently saying, “you can’t say that!!” to people, but specifically men in my life. They will ask why, but when I try to explain, they don’t care to listen. I grapple with making people listen to what I have to say, and eventually, I start to question myself and my own knowledge. It is very rare that I face a lack of respect when speaking because of my white skin and my high socioeconomic status. So what I find disheartening is that the moment I start to discuss gender norms, women of color, and oppressive institutions, nobody in my circle cares to listen anymore.
While I am committed to gender equality, I still live in a society that is patriarchal and oppressive. I feel the weight of society and of close friends and family telling me to remain silent. They tell me to stop being such a liberal. To them, the comments they make are ok and don’t offend anyone. I know different though. I know I need to call people out for acting in ways that offend us. The men in my life use the privileges allotted to them via patriarchal institutions, while the women in my life sit back and take it. I don’t want to be ridiculed by my loved ones and the people closest to me because I challenge their words. I don’t want to be deemed as that “stereotypical” feminist I discussed earlier. Sometimes it seems it would just be easier to just be silent, but of course, it would. I am in a privileged position in society, so while I am a female, I am neither poor, a woman of color, or homosexual. The life I live could be deemed as a paradise to those of my gender. So I live by this Audre Lorde quote, which reminds me to keep fighting, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
There is one person who has taught me that being a woman can mean lots of different things. For me, being a woman means that I am strong, and my interests and achievements are mine alone to choose, and the last thing they are limited by is my gender.Through her mentorship and nurturing, she has allowed me to develop my feminist consciousness. That is why my feminism carries with it the history of my mother, as she is the strongest woman I know. It pains me to see that she has fallen victim to my father’s male privileges and the oppressive nature of the patriarchy. She, like many other women, have trouble standing up for themselves. Her silence is due to her personal history in a strict household and sexual abuse that has come to make her more compliant and submissive, but under her exterior that to many seems to be passive and indifferent, are strength and courage. My mother has taught me to be a capable, independent woman, and her fear to act within her own life has inspired my own action to act on behalf of both of us.
My mother was the head administrator of a hospital after years of schooling and hard work, only for her career to be shut down by my brothers. Once she got pregnant with my brothers she allowed my father to continue to pursue his career while she became the housewife. She sacrificed a part of herself to raise us when my father did not. However, it should be noted that it was never expected of him to quit his job, but it was for my mother. This is something that I would never let stand. While we were privileged enough that my mother could afford to stay home, I want to be able to have a career and be a mother. I don’t want it to necessarily be my duty to stay at home with children. I think that is a conversation that must be had between both individuals, where there is no predetermined answer due to a societal stereotype and gender norm.
I want to have the opportunity to live my life the way my mother was not able to. The sacrifices my mother made to raise us has allowed me to define what I want for my life. I know I would never be able to live in her role that so came to be defined by the patriarchy. She is complacent, does the housework, and gives most of the power to my father. I have always been outspoken on how my father constantly disrespects the females in my home by treating us differently.
My father is a 55-year-old man who has never done his laundry, cleaned the dishes, or made the bed. A female in his life has done these things for him since he was a young boy and now his childhood experiences have affected how he sees my mother’s duties in the home. Except I do not let this stand. We live in 2019 now where a woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be, in theory. So I must ask the questions, would my mom have still wanted to be a housewife if she hadn’t grown up in a country where that was the norm? Does the fact that her desires and choices were shaped by external factors make them less legitimate? Should she have continued to work, even if she welcomed being a housewife, in order to prove some sort of point?
I believe that if her passion was being a housewife, then so be it, but that isn’t my mother’s passion. I live in a family that is privileged enough to have this be one of our more serious problems and I am thankful that I do not face other societal barriers that many other women do. Nonetheless, I don’t want anyone to feel trapped in any role they occupy, so it does matter if women would have chosen a different life path if they lived in a society that did not include these external factors.
This is not to say my mother feels trapped, but she does let people railroad her into submission. Due to her lack of resistance when my father just expects her to do something, I have learned over the years to become her voice. I am her protector from all that is bad in the world, or at least I try to be. She deserves appreciation for all that she does for my family, and especially my father. So I begin by discussing the dishes.
I had just gotten home from a long day, and it was time for dinner. The way my family works is my mom does the cooking and dishes, and I set up and clear the table. Where do my brothers and my father come into play during dinner time? They don’t. It was never expected of them to help with dinner. Just as it was never expected of them to make their beds, take out the trash, or clean up around the house. But why must it be so hard for every individual to wash their plate? Then the work is done in a matter of minutes, divided evenly among all members, and not placed on our mother. To this day I still confront my dad after every meal when he leaves his dirty plate to be washed by my mother. The problem is that she does not resist, does not back talk, and does what she thinks is expected of her. Sometimes I question whether or not it is her past, her niceness, or even her love for my father that allows her to be pushed around. I can’t help but think that it isn’t just these attributes, but society’s pressures that have put her in the situation. She never complains ever and takes her “duties” in stride. While my father should pitch in and help, she rarely gets frustrated with him.
My mother has helped me realize my feminist consciousness because she awoken me to the injustices she has faced. Someone who I love more than anyone on this planet is being oppressed by the person she loves more than anyone on this planet. But then I also look at how my parents chose to raise us and notice discrepancies within our own family dynamic. I realize I have also been a victim of sexism in my home. Society has helped dictate the roles each member in my family plays and how we are treated by prescribing gender norms.
After understand my parents relationship, and the influence it had on the development of my feminist consciousness, I started to analyse my own relationship with my family and how sexism and patriarchy were interwoven in my life. For me, sexism started early on in my childhood.
The term “boys will be boys” was ever present within my childhood, growing up with two brothers. When I was little my brothers used to bully me. One time, one of them held me to the ground, while the other one farted on my head and naturally I started crying. I proceeded to tell my grandma who was supervising us at the time. She said, “boys will be boys, it’s not that big of a deal Emily,” but to me it was. When we imply that this phrase in an excuse for boys unacceptable behavior, we are doing them a disservice by not teaching them at a young age that their actions have consequences. Instead, we give them a free pass because of their gender. By telling me this phrase over and over, I was subtly taught that boys aggressive behavior was acceptable and to be expected. I know differently, but I use this memory as my first clear recognition of the power differences between boys and girls. Even to this day when I bring it up, my brothers call me weak and a cry baby for caring so much that I was treated that way.
I was also frequently told, “Emily that is not lady like, a boy will never want to date you if you continue that” and when I found a boyfriend it was, “how does Jackson put up with your behavior? I’m surprised he is ok with that.” Firstly, what about my actions made them “not ladylike”? Why can one gender possess a certain behaviors and it be OK and not another? Secondly, why is my behavior dependent on if I can find a man or not. There is a difference between being ladylike and having bad manners. “Ladylike” represent a set of expectation of how women should be and act. If my brothers are allowed to burp, shove food in their mouth, and spread their legs apart, why aren’t I? I find that it is women act outside of our gender stereotypes are those who break the mold and help redefine what fmeinsity. This whole idea of being “ladylike” confines us to a certain set of rules, determined usually by men, that narrowly define femininity.