I was introduced to the concept of feminism years ago. Although, at the time I never really gave it much thought. Probably because I was in middle school and I had greater pressing problems on my mind like deciding between team N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys (obviously N’Sync) or how my friend was dating my soul mate and sucking face right in front of me allll the time. Anyway, I didn’t understand why I needed to declare I was a feminist. I mean wasn’t just “being” a woman enough? Like why did I need to go and label myself as super woman? And why the F did it even matter? Life is just fine for me…
Thankfully I grew out of my adolescent understanding of the term and grew into my big girl shoes. Looking back now I can see that I started to fight the “good fight” even back then. In my naive state of mind I didn’t understand the labels, I didn’t understand the political/social implications of my mighty meek attempts to stick it to the man (literally my father). However, what I did understand was the feeling of being treated like the lesser or the other. It wasn’t a good feeling and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut like a “good girl”. All of a sudden I realized life was just fine… and I wanted more.
I grew up in a comfortable home. My parents had built a financially stable home life for for us. I can even safely say I don’t recall ever wanting something and them not providing it for me. We were involved in school activities and sports and they always wanted us to have the best of everything. They wanted us to have the best they could provide to insure they did whatever they could to give us the best chance at succeeding in life.
But for some reason I still felt like there was some sort of difference between my brother and I. I never really could put my finger on it. For the longest time I thought it was because he was the baby of the family and that’s why he got favored in many ways. He almost never was made to do chores and somehow he always got away with everything. I on the other hand was always assigned to do some ridiculous chore and somehow always managed to find myself on my fathers unfavorable side despite my far superior manners and behavior in comparison to my little bro. Clearly there was a lot more going on here between my father and I that can’t all be explained by sexism. Buttttt there was definitely a lot of that going on in the background that added to the dysfunction between us.
You see I come from a culture that is oppressive towards women in many ways. Woman are expected to be subservient to men. If you are a good woman you know your place and that is second to the men in your life. Growing up you learned this in subtle ways. No one ever sat you down and explicitly recited this hierarchy to you as a young girl. It was just something you learned; much like socially acceptable behavior and cultural mannerisms like keeping your legs shut when wearing a dress or in every context ever. Growing up this sexist perspective was incubated in every plausible social setting imaginable.
At house parties you always saw the men sitting separately from the women, drinking, chatting and acting a fool like drunk people do. Meanwhile the women always seemed to find themselves socializing in the kitchen. A simple hand gesture or call from the men would get them whatever party food they were running low on. God forbid they get up and walk 10 ft to the kitchen to provide it for themselves. The women on the other hand always seemed to be content socializing and cooking away in a frenzy to make sure everything was just right. I was always so perplexed by this social “norm” in our culture. I was always beside myself thinking how is this ok? And why is no one bothered enough about any of this. Why the hell aren’t any of these women visibly mad! I never once saw any of the men come help in the kitchen (except for the rare woke uncle) and I never once saw any of the women join the men in the convo or a drink **gasp**. I remember thinking “umm pretty sure the women are adults too, why the hell don’t they get to drink?” Shortly after I turned 21 I even remember asking my mom about these differences I observed, yes it was mostly prompted by a grand scheme to be able to drink w/out being chastised, and her response was disappointing. She laughed a nervous laugh and responded, “because that’s just not something our women do. It doesn’t look good”. It made me so sad. Mostly because I realized she didn’t see herself the way I saw her; as an equal to my father… actually I saw her higher up on the totem pole. Always have and always will. That sadness quickly shifted to another noxious feeling. I just kept thinking ” What?! Seriously you’re really 100 with that explanation to yourself? To me?” Having a good time isn’t appropriate for women but it’s ok for the men? Since that day I found myself making little strides for myself, for the feminine in me and the younger generation of women in my family. Even if the act was super simple like ordering a drink at dinner or wearing something that my father didn’t approve of. Yes I realize these all sound like acts of teenage defiance. But that’s exactly my point. The women in my cultural circle were not being treated as equals or even full-fledged adults with their own wants and opinions. And that simply would not do.
I finally started to come into my own in my mid twenties. I started to actively take a stand for myself at these little family gatherings. At one event in particular I remembered seeing my younger brother (6yrs younger) being asked by one of my uncles if he wanted a drink and I was standing right next to him. But the thought didn’t even cross my uncle or my brothers mind to ask me if I wanted one. I wasn’t asked because I was a girl and girls can’t, don’t, and won’t drink. So naturally I asked my uncle, “why I wasn’t offered a drink?” And he had the most surprised look on his face that quickly resolved into a comical laugh and a challenging reply, “if you want one you can have one too.” To which I replied “captain and coke please!”.
I realized I could ask most of the family if they consider their to be a difference between the girls and the boys and most would respond with an adamant no. For most of the them it’s not sexism it’s just the way things have always been and how they are. The same as my moms answer to my question. It’s a systemic belief system that is otherwise left unchallenged. And people don’t really realize they have a belief system around something until it gets challenged and well makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s only when our internal alarms are triggered that way tend to focus our attention on something that otherwise appeared just fine to us.
This cultural sexism stems much farther than my culture. I learned the double standard extends far beyond the walls of my home, my family, and my culture. I have witnessed it amongst many many cultures and countries. Including ours. Good ol’ USA. The beacon of the free world. Yet it seems our culture is still having a hard time moving towards gender equality. Don’t get me wrong. We have made many strides. Just not nearly enough. People and women got comfortable over the past couple of decades but we are waking up again. We are realizing the women’s suffrage movement was never complete and will not be until women are truly seen as an equal to men. If, as a woman in the 21st century, I still have to make an argument for how and why I am being treated unequally; the movement is most definitely far from being over.
So if you are a woman and you feel like you are being treated unequally from your male counterparts at work, at home or anywhere, make a stand for yourself. The buck doesn’t just stop at women. If you’re a dude and witnessing the double standard you too have just as much of a responsibility to speak up. I’m not saying go stand on a street corner and picket (unless that’s what you want to do) or that you have to make some grandiose gesture. Even the smallest gesture can make a world of a difference: like simply raising awareness in your own social circles by having a conversation about it. Every bit counts. Even you just taking the time to read this and considering my perspective is progress. So thank you for your time 🙂
Peace, love and namaste,