This is a bit long, but I ask that you bear with me and take the time to read the whole thing if you can. Try not to be turned off by what I say, any misspellings, any grammar issues, and try to understand where I’m coming from. This is important to me, I really needed to get it off my chest, and I appreciate any and all attention it receives.
If I had been homeschooled my whole life and I hadn’t left the house otherwise, I wouldn’t be a feminist. My mom acted as head of the household, my dad did most of the cooking, and they both talked about important decisions equally. My parents also treated my brother and I equally – we did the same chores: cleaning, stacking wood, and feeding the bunnies (my parents bred rabbits for awhile). We played the same games: dress-up, legos, video games, and we even played together with barbies and action figures. I never thought anything of our gender differences. From my perspective, the only differences between us were that we had different body parts and we were born at different times. That is, until I went to school.
In elementary school, the teachers treated my brother and I a little differently. I got very good grades and my brother didn’t learn how to read as fast as the other kids, so I got a bit more respect and privileges than he. He was a bit rambunctious, so he had detention while I quietly read books. At home, our differences didn’t matter because it had nothing to do with who would do the chores or who got to play more often since we always played together. However, at school, I quickly learned that girls were supposed to be “smarter” and “calmer” than the “rowdy,” “misbehaving,” “dumb” boys. I was confused since some boys were smarter than some girls and some girls misbehaved more than some boys. Sometimes, a girl would do the same thing as a boy, but her punishment would be less harsh due to the fact that she was a girl. Still, I accepted it quietly, since sexism is easy to ignore when it’s in your favor.
At the start of Fifth Grade, I was treated differently by the boys. They told me that I was pretty. They told me I was prettier than the other girls and they gave me extra attention because of it. I should have been flattered, right? Unfortunately, the “extra attention” turned into a sort of Fifth Grade heckling – bullying, if you will. They would tease me about my blonde, wavy hair and try to look under my skirt to see my underwear. I was so embarrassed and no one did anything to help me. I don’t even think I tried to seek help because I was so humiliated. Instead, I rebelled by changing my look; I started wearing my hair in a ponytail and using a headband to keep stray hairs back so they wouldn’t run their hands through it. I stopped wearing skirts and only wore pants. I wore sweaters every day – even when it was hot – because the white button-down I wore underneath showed off the curves of my developing breasts.
I avoided any picture-taking opportunity because I looked and felt horrible, but when Sixth Grade rolled around and new, possibly prettier, girls transferred in, I stopped being afraid of what I was wearing and how my body looked and started worrying about dumb, middle school stuff. These girls were fairly obsessed with their appearance and they kept hairbrushes and mirrors in their locker. Thankfully, all the boys’ attention shifted to them.
I started wearing skirts again. I started wearing short skirts, and by short I mean mid-thigh. Who was going to mock me now? Unfortunately, the administration took notice. They would tell me that my skirt was too short or my shorts were too short and that the boys were going to be tempted by that. It was inappropriate. Considering that no one could see any of my body parts besides my arms and my legs and that I knew for a fact that the boys wouldn’t bother me anymore, I started getting angry at the administration, but I abided by their rules. In fact, since the boys didn’t try to objectify me anymore, I became friends with a lot of them. Most of my friends there were boys and it was nice.
Eventually, high school began, which meant that I had to change schools. My parents picked an all-girls school, which was known for its prestige compared to the other co-ed private school all my friends went to. I begged and pleaded for them to switch me to that school, since I only knew about three people at the all-girls school and I wasn’t really friends with any of them. Alas, I had to spend four miserable years there where the dress codes were even more strict and they hated men even more. They highlighted the importance of a women-run society and yet, were still extremely sexist against women. Dress codes were only enforced when men were around – like at dances or other social events. Any other day, girls dressed sloppily, refused to shave their legs or to put on make-up, and their skirts were so short that I could see many girls’ butts. I didn’t understand the concept that appearance didn’t matter unless men were around. Why couldn’t I look good just because I wanted to? For the first few months, I continued to straighten my hair, put on makeup, and tried to look nice. Even so, people would ask me why I straightened my hair every day and why I bothered to look nice since boys weren’t around. Again, I changed my appearance to avoid bullying, but this time, from girls. I tried to make it look like I didn’t care about my appearance by putting my hair in a messy bun everyday and only wearing makeup to hide blemishes.
Because of this, gossip, and general cruelty, I became sexist myself – against other women. The patriarchy tends to set up women against each other “because they’re competing over men,” but I wasn’t competing over anything. These girls were just mean.
Anyway, I graduated high school to attend a co-ed college where I gradually lost my hatred of women once I realized that most of them were not cruel bourgeois girls who only cared about their appearance around men. In college, I realized that a lot of women and men are just normal people and there’s really no need to stereotype either. In fact, I wasn’t really stereotyped by either again until I studied abroad for a semester in Prague.
Before Prague, people would ask me that dumbbbb question, “Are you a feminist?” and every time I would respond with, “Yes, of course women and men are equal” like it was no big deal. However, despite what I went through in elementary school and high school, I didn’t understand why feminism was such a big deal. Why are women so obsessed with equal rights? Of course we have equal rights! We can vote, we can be firemen or whatever, we could even be President if we want to, apparently. I’m sure no woman has wanted to be President yet and that’s why we’ve never had a Woman President, right? Why are men so anti-feminist? I’m sure they understand that women are equal too. Maybe they don’t understand what feminism means and they think that feminism is just misandry.
It didn’t hit me until a few weeks in, but my experience in Prague was filled with sexism. It was like Fifth Grade all over again except that I was a full-grown woman and these men weren’t just joking around. I wasn’t just treated like a sexual object, but I was also treated like a second-class citizen. On the streets, men would bump into me either by accident or on purpose and speak obscenities in Czech (I only know this from having it translated by Czech/Slovak friends). In bars, I would have my ass grabbed, hair touched, and once, some random man commanded me to get him a glass of water from the bar and to “make it quick.” Um, I’m clearly not the bartender. I didn’t even know that man!
Our program coordinators told us on the very first day to avoid eye contact with men at bars (or anywhere even) because that meant that you “wanted to have sex with them” like men were fire-breathing dragons and if you looked them in the eye, they would breathe fire on you or you would turn into stone. I took it as a joke at first, but I quickly started believing it. Men took advantage of me and other women on a daily basis. I received a facebook message from one man that said, “I want to have sex with you” out of the blue as if my consent did not have anything to do with it. After refusing, he asked me if “I was always that mean.” “Oh, are you upset over that little teenage joke?” Yeah, um, sexual consent is not a joke…
In class, we watched animation films that objectified women. A few films included rape. One, actually, involved a man who blew up balloons to create objects, such as a beach, a beach ball, a grill, his car, and of course, a woman to keep him company. Upon blowing up the woman, she rejected him and in return, he created a shark…to kill her.
I think the most objectified and disrespected I have been in the Czech Republic was not really in the bars, but in class, by my own professor. Upon finally picking a topic for a screenplay based on experiences in real life, my time spent in an all-girls high school, my professor found the idea of women getting pregnant in an all-girls school to be fascinating. He thought the idea of sex in the context of an all-girls school was most interesting to him. Although I didn’t find the idea interesting at all, I kept with it and tried to create some type of story that I could like as well. Of course, in a class of all men and me, he nitpicked every little thing in our writing, but when it came to my story, he nitpicked the reality of it. He pointed out that my main character was a virgin and that there should be a reason for it, despite the fact that she was only 17. He claimed that the only interesting scenes were the ones involving sex. I thought he meant that my writing was shit, but after an entire semester of being pushed around, having my ass grabbed by strangers, and having my friends drugged and raped, I realized that he was actually twisting my screenplay into his little objectified sexual fantasy. That, despite all the rest, tore me down. I hated that class more than anything and after seeking help from female staff and fellow students, I realized that there was nothing I could do besides avoid the class as much as possible. As a good student who loves writing and looked forward to the class at first, this hurt me so much and changed me in ways that I didn’t know were possible.
I thought I knew what feminism was before, but now, after experiencing only a taste of what women in lesser developed countries experience every day, I am more of a feminist than I ever was. Women are not treated equally, even in the United States. It’s less of a political thing and more of a mindset thing. People don’t even notice it’s happening because our media (the most powerful brainwashers) objectify women in ads, our teachers and parents define a line between genders, and women our seen as less powerful people even in the eyes of other women because that’s how we are raised. Not only is gender not just pink and blue, but feminine things are given less priority and less power. Women are taught to be more manly in order to gain power. Men are told to act less feminine in order to not look weak. People don’t realize that we are all just human. Everyone cries, not just women. Everyone has the ability to lead, not just men. Everyone has the right to consent before being raped, not just men.
Feminism is so much more than equality. It’s so much more than bringing down the “evil patriarchy.” It’s about not being afraid to walk down the street at night for fear of being attacked. It’s about young, elementary-aged girls not being sexually objectified and humiliated for simply wearing shorts on a hot day. It’s about being paid the same wage and having the same work opportunities as the opposite gender. It’s about not being more likely to be offered an assistant position rather than a management position despite education and experience just because of gender. This is about changing the mindset of everyone about patriarchal ideas that men are better, smarter, stronger, and more responsible than women.
I am angry, I am sad, and I am disappointed in our “developed society” for still treating women differently despite the fact that we are in the year 2014. Most of all, though, I am unashamed. I am unashamed to stand up for what I believe in and to call myself a feminist. I don’t care if I lose male followers from this post. I don’t care if I lose respect from a few people for this post. I don’t even care if I lose a job opportunity because of this post because I wouldn’t want to work for someone like that anyway. I am a feminist and you should be too. Everyone should know what feminism means and realize that it’s not a bad thing or something we should avoid.
Thanks for making it to the end of this post. I hope it helped or changed you in some way. Please let this post infiltrate your daily thoughts.
Although a few misogynists from Reddit who don’t believe in sexism inaccurately skewed the poll results, there used to be one vote for “No, thankfully!” The rest of the results should be somewhat accurate. Despite that, the fact that so many voters (25%) voted “Yes, molested” despite the skew, is quite alarming and for some reason, still not surprising. I wish the best of luck to all of you feminists out there, both women and men.
Men, please don’t be afraid to stand up for women for sexist or hurtful things other men may say. Don’t turn away and pretend it doesn’t exist for fear that someone might make fun of you. Stand up for the end of rape culture with the rest of us.
Women, don’t be afraid to proclaim yourself as a feminist. If you’re still not exactly sure what it means, read up on it! If you’ve been hurt, molested, or raped, don’t be ashamed and stand up for yourself. Tell people about it. You are important even if someone makes you feel like you’re less.