In lieu of International Women’s Day earlier this month, I had been thinking recently about what sort of opinions hover around the term “feminism”, and what that actually means to me nowadays.
The timeline for feminism starts as far back as the early 1900s- which in reality isn’t actually that long ago. The debate regarding women publicly owning their own sexualities starts in around the 1950s, wherein there was a startling rise in teenage pregnancies and births out of wedlock (ie. non-traditional sexual behaviour). This kick started a sexual revolution, that buries it’s roots within the second wave of feminism; alongside a broader range of issues (many of which we are still fighting for today), like domestic violence, reproductive rights and legal inequalities- in the early 1960s onwards.
To emancipate woman, is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, nor to deny them to herSimone de Beauvoir
My experiences with what feminism means to me have changed since learning what the term meant as a whole- what I had learnt initially, was that to be a champion of feminism, you must have a deep opposition to men, as being a feminist means that you are an advocate for women only. Because for women to successfully become this unified force, men would have to be quashed entirely. I got all of these ideas from the Internet. I admit that I didn’t think to form any of my own, I just read and accepted what seemed to be the most appropriate thing. Feminism is so media saturated that many young people gather their information about it in the same way.
The Internet is both a gift and a curse in the ways of getting your information. We’re in this era that provides an overflow of information, but in turn- a surplus of misinformation too. Finding the happy medium where you can get all of these opinions and facts and ideas is a such a great thing, but it’s so easy to just have your own ideas polluted by what’s popular within media.
Growing up there was a stereotypical idea of what a girl was, and then another idea about what a girl had to be, to become a “cool girl”. It was to be a beautiful being, but at the same time not subscribe to what people seen as the typical makeup wearing, pink loving, emotional girl. The idea that acting like a girl was an inherently bad thing, was one that I was terrified of- I was begging to be different, a “not like the other girls” girl. And admittedly most of that was really for the approval of the men in my life. It left me in a state where I resented the girls that wore the makeup and had lots of other friends that were girls. Growing up this way left me in a sort of sad state of existing, a pretty lonely one at times too.
There would be this little voice in the back of my head telling me that I need to be pretty enough for boys to hang around with me but not look like I’m trying too hard, because I couldn’t bear being the butt of a joke about being weak, or stupid, or lesser. My opinion of myself was equated mostly to how I looked, placing my value in how my hair looked from one day to the next. Nobody explicitly said to me, it’s because you’re a girl, but it was implied, that to be feminine, it was to be a little bit less than the boys I spent my time with.
I think it left me in a perpetual state of wanting to have friends that were girls, but also thinking no girl was the “right” type of girl to be friends with because I needed them to be more similar to me, but not similar enough that they’d be my competition. Women are taught from a very very young age that we should view other women as rivals- but what for? I watched so many films growing up that showed me best friends becoming enemies over a boy, girls pitting themselves against other over petty situations, trying to just be better than each other. I watched enough of it to struggle to find a group of gal pals that I didn’t secretly envy or find myself quietly competing with to be funnier, louder, or just not so girly.
Sexism in most of it’s forms are usually systemic, rooted in how we were raised, how our parents are raised, and how their parents were raised. Our shifting ideas on where women fit into society outpace shifting behaviours toward women in society, and it is predominantly generational.
In the past decade or so, the narrative regarding female friendships in media have changed- and definitely for the better. TV shows, and movies are littered with strong friendships and solidarity between women. Something we desperately needed a long time ago. The media industry holds all of the cards when it comes to teaching young people how society works, so I think sending messages like those are really important ones.
That said, things have also changed for me. I still call myself a feminist. I have been through the stages of the radical social media feminist, the white feminist, the can’t see any problems outside of my own feminist. And where I sit now, I think I’m happy with. I am sure with time my ideas will shift again in this ever changing world we live in but it’s great because with this ever changing world, we are given a lot of space and opportunity to grow.
I am lucky in that I was born right in the tail end of the 20th Century, into Western society, because it meant that in many instances, I would have autonomy over my own body and I am able to voice any opinion I have. And I am lucky because the rights I currently have are a lottery. This time almost 100 years ago, women were only given the right to vote. If you compare that to the length of time since civilisation started, that would equate to roughly a minute of an hour. And that’s really just the beginning.
A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victimMaya Angelou