Today is International Women’s Day (yay), and as we celebrate women all over the world, I want to talk about my thoughts on feminism. This is a post I have been considering for a while, and like all of my more personal posts, something needs to push me to actually type out my thoughts and put them out into the world. Today seems like a perfect day to talk about this. It’s personal, a little surprising, and will hopefully make a few people think.
I identify as a feminist, but have I always thought that way? No actually, I haven’t. Only in the past 2 years have I really been smart enough to open my eyes and see beyond my own mind. And also realise that some of the crap I had been putting up with was an issue that my lack of awareness had caused me to tune out.
So why wasn’t I a feminist until my twenties? A mix of reasons, really. I was easily influenced, and heavily emotionally manipulated until the last few years. The people I surrounded myself with were probably to blame at most, particularly my ex boyfriend and ex best friend. We’ll start with the ex boyfriend.
My ex boyfriend genuinely believed that feminism was pointless, and I believed him. I had a job, albeit a shitty one. I didn’t see through a lot of comments made that meant I needed feminism in my life. Comments like “of course you’re a good waitress. You’re attractive. Businesses want attractive wait staff!”, or “Well if all else fails, you can definitely count on your looks to get you through”. My appearance was really all I cared about. I honestly never thought the inappropriate comments male guests at my old hotel waitressing job made were anything more than part of the job. Even when men asked me to come to their rooms with them, or answered the door to room service calls naked. One regular guest asked me if I was still with my boyfriend every time I saw him.
Even when my co-worker sexually assaulted me, I still didn’t believe in feminism. Society told me that because I managed to escape him, and get away safely before he took things further, he’d done nothing wrong. I was drunk. I made a passing comment that my then boyfriend was terrible to me.
I was asking for it – I made him feel like his feelings for me were requited.
I also remember not being able to have a life. My ex boyfriend never cooked, barely ever cleaned our shared flat, and talked down to me like it was always my fault. I honestly believe that if that was still my life, and the #metoo movement started, I would’ve discarded all 80 women that came forward about Harvey Weinstein. I would’ve said something like “they can’t all have been assaulted by him. I wonder how many are making this up?”. Shameful, yes. But of course, I didn’t know at that point that all the times my ex told me off for not wanting to have sex with him, and all the times he would touch me, and do things without consent to me, in order to “get me in the mood”, was assault and harassment. We were in a relationship. I owed him sex, right?
My ex best friend was an expat living in Qatar. Whilst there’s so much I can say about why I was convinced by her that feminism was stupid, our relationship ran into darker waters, and I don’t really want to go off on a tangent. Overall, her thoughts were the same as my ex’s. Women had it all. What more did we want? She also had a bit of a complex; that she was very unique in her experiences. She had been sexually assaulted, how dare people copy her by saying they’ve had similar experiences? Surely all these women talking about sexual assault on tumblr were lying because they just wanted to go viral, right? It was an opinion that seeped into me. I was lucky. I had never been raped. Her life had been just terrible, so abnormal. But actually, what had happened to her was surprisingly common. And when I realized I had been sexually assaulted once, and tried to talk to her about it, she dismissed me. It wasn’t like I’d been raped. I was still lucky.
When I met Tom, he was big on feminism and not afraid to shut me down when I told him that it was entirely acceptable to hire a man over a woman, because a woman might have a baby and have to leave for nine months. Surely hiring the man was easier? Of course, I don’t feel that way now, and I’m disgusted with myself for that fact that I ever did. I am a woman, who knows that the only way to get a career like a man is to not have children. I’ve always known that. And surely that’s wrong? Why should women be punished for something that was biologically decided for us. Why should our right to have children be taken away if we want a decent career? Men don’t have to make that choice. Why should women?
And the big realization came when the conservation about women in STEM came to my attention. As a woman studying a science, I kicked myself. Why wasn’t I a feminist? Stories circulate all the time about women in science, from being held back whilst their male colleagues are pushed forward, to having men outside their field mansplain their own research to them, to a well renowned male scientist claiming women should be kept separate from men in labs because they are too distracting, fall in love with their male counterparts and cry when they are criticized. One study that rightly outraged me, was one where participants were asked to select a candidate for a scientific job. They were all given the same CV, with one minor difference. One was marked with the name John. The other, the name Jennifer. “John” was widely believed to be a better fit for the job. Why? Because it was automatically believed that women were less reliable for such a job.
As I opened my eyes to feminism, I realised how deep this rabbit hole goes. I am still very lucky. Lucky to have white skin and relatively well-off parents. Lucky to have the chance to get an education. Lucky to attend a university where my gender didn’t affect my place. But the department I study in is still male dominated on the staff side. But the field? Overall, more women enter it now. Whilst this may be seen as a good thing, biology has lost some validity over time, because it is seen as “feminine”. Don’t believe me? All you have to do is watch The Big Bang Theory. Ever noticed that all the men are physicists, whilst all the women are biologists? And if you aren’t clued up on the incredible misogyny in that show, just know you’ll never be able to watch it again without noticing it (this article is pretty good at explaining it!).
I’m also lucky to live in a country where women are expected to work, and are not too harshly judged by it. I’m lucky that I was able to drive. I’m lucky that I am not dictated by law to wear certain clothes. I’m lucky that where I stand, my religious choices of not having a religion are not judged. The fact that I am grateful to be a white women in a developed country with societal norms into which I fit, despite the fact that it is not a decision I really ever made, is horrible. Because no one should ever have to feel lucky about the biological hand they were dealt.
2 years later, I really do identify as a feminist, and not just for my own benefit. With the outcry as sexual assault and power plays in Hollywood came out, I never had a shadow of a doubt that any of the women coming forward were telling the truth. And it goes further. As I’ve gone further in my professional life, I now know what’s acceptable, and what’s not. I will never again let myself be put into a situation that makes me uncomfortable just because “that’s how things just are around here”, I will never let anyone judge me solely on my appearance after all the work I’ve put into my intellectual skills, and I will never stand by and let anyone tell me that I have no need to be a feminist, because I was dealt a pretty decent hand of cards in life.
I stand with all women this International Women’s Day. And whatever your thoughts on feminism – you should too.
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