Growing up, I never understood gender roles. I was raised never having been told that I couldn’t do something or be someone because I was a girl. In fact, I remember doing nearly everything— I sported a short pixie cut, played with monster trucks, and collected tools in my handy toolbox, all while wearing blue flowery sundresses and reading Junie B. Jones to my meticulously arranged Barbie dolls at least once a day. Doing anything less because I was a girl? Such a notion simply did not exist in my mind.
That was until I hit middle school, the melting pot of every pre-existing stereotype. The new environment mixed with an overdose of media made me suddenly aware of my identity in a not-so-positive manner. I became self-conscious about how I acted, solely because I was a girl. Each time I passed a magazine in the store plastered with tips for weight loss or “how to please a man,” I felt confused. Every time someone noted the shortness of my shorts or slipped in a “don’t be such a girl,” the subtle hits against my gender became clearer. For a young girl who grew up feeling invincible and limitless, teenage-hood was a slap in the face.
It has been years since then, yet these limitations have yet to fade away. In high school, they became more evident. It struck me every time a student made some sort of gender comment. And what hit me even more was the lack of outburst over it. No one ever said anything to the person who suggested rape culture was the fault of the victim or the guy who commented on the tightness of a girl’s shirt openly to the entire class. I refuse to accept a world where these types of situations are common. I refuse to believe that women don’t deserve more than this.
Over the past few years, feminism has become the bold topic plastered around social media. Yet somehow, it has also gained negative traction in our society. No longer does feminism encompass gender equality, but rather a radical notion that “women transcend men.” This is where we go wrong in our understanding. Feminism isn’t about hierarchy—it’s about leveling the field. It’s about political, economic, and social equity of the sexes. Today, in 2014, you would think that gender equality wouldn’t be such a difficult idea to grasp. But girls today are confused; they exist in contradictory times. They’re told to be independent, but not too assertive; confident, but soft-spoken; career-oriented, but homemakers; self-accepting, but socially- conforming. For those who don’t believe in these notions—ask a female leader how many times people have called her obscene names because of her assertive nature; a professional woman how many times she has been asked how she “manages” both a career and a home; or a celebrity how many times she has been scrutinized for leaving her house without makeup. Ask the male equivalent similar questions, and you’ll be sure to receive starkly different answers.
Much of this negative influence comes from the media. Think back to every time a source of media has, in some way, taken a hit against women. The beloved ‘80s film Sixteen Candles has a line in which the “good guy” heartthrob tells the awkward, nerdy kid that he could “violate” his drunk girlfriend in “ten different ways.” Never have I seen an article about President Barack Obama’s choice of suits, but too many times have I read about Hillary Clinton’s bold pantsuits—let’s not forget that she’s one of the most intelligent and well-educated leaders in our nation. And just the other day, I had to witness yet another friend bite her tongue because she didn’t want to seem “annoying,” a scene I’ve watched all too often in rom-coms.
When generations below us read into their history books, our time will be noteworthy. Decades after the Women’s Rights Movement, we’re still grappling with the same battle in different forms. Today, sexism isn’t as bold as it used be, and there’s no denying that women have come a long way. But it still exists subtly, and that’s the worst part of it all. Take the recent #YesAllWomen initiative, for example. After the UC Santa Barbara shootings in late May— during which 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed seven and wounded thirteen to “avenge all the women who had ever rejected him”—#YesAllWomen took Twitter by storm, and rightly so. Women everywhere began to share their experiences and observations about the oppression they had faced. Women who had survived rape, been harassed endlessly, and faced discrimination in the workplace. Women who wrote that they shouldn’t have to feel guilty about rejecting someone, being successful, or standing up for their rights. Women who have too often been called “over-sensitive”, “uptight”, and “attention-seeking” for their views towards themselves.
But in spite of the seriousness of the issue, #YesAllWomen also faced its fair share of critics. For example, one tweet read “#YessAllWomen [sic] is so stupid you don’t see guys posting #YesAllMen feminists are ridiculous,” which, more or less, represented the essence of the other opposing tweets, many of which were tagged with #NotAllMen. Ideas like these only worsen the issue. It is certainly true that not all men are Elliot Rodger, but too many silently accept the principles of rape culture. How do I know this? Because today, one out of five girls face sexual harassment on college campuses around the U.S. My future alma mater, Brown University, just received immense scrutiny for mishandling sexual assault cases—one of hundreds of schools in the nation that faced similar charges. Just months before entering college, I have seen more gender advice about protecting myself as a girl than I have about not being a perpetrator of violence. And in spite of living in a relatively safe and tight-knit community, I have heard more rape jokes than I can even fathom. As an ambitious woman ready to take on the world, this scares me. The lack of change scares me.
I fight for #YesAllWomen for the little girl inside of me, who never knew what all of this meant, who never had to acknowledge the word “feminism” because it was already an innate ideal. I fight for #YesAllWomen so that I can live to see a female president in our nation, who faces no media remarks about her looks but only about her competence and ability to lead. I fight for #YesAllWomen so that women in the future see no limits to their lives, so that this lingering fear of oppression fades from their minds, so that I can walk around my hometown at night without worrying about being catcalled by passing cars.
And I know I won’t stop fighting for this until I can be assured that I live in a society where I, alongside the entire population, am respected, valued, and viewed as an equal.
“Sexual Violence.” CDC.gov. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2012. Web.