At 5, I became an active feminist.
On my first day of school in Dallas, while queueing for something or other, a boy behind me announced proudly, “Girls can’t kick.”
I turned around and proclaimed with just as much pride, “Yes they can!”
He looked puzzled, and then demanded, “Well then, prove it – kick me.”
And I did… in-between his legs.
I’ve told this story before, often with a certain amount of smugness. But I normally don’t detail the consequences of that action. Apart from being told off by my teacher (“This isn’t that kind of school”), I was ostracised from the other girls – I was unfeminine – as well as the men, who now saw me as a threat to their masculinity.
And so begins the story of many women (and men) faced with dubious gender identities and a million insecurities.
The fact is, currently, women don’t have a choice. Whatever we aspire to do, we are pigeonholed. If we want to work in banking, we can only rise so high before we are shunned for men (particularly if we have a child, or are of child-bearing age). If we want to work in charities, we will end up with ‘social’ tasks, while policy, research and anything seemingly more quantitative is given over to a man.
We may think by women working full-time, we have suddenly gained liberation, but instead we have been silenced. Women are given the false illusion of choice, while in the end, only to hit glass-ceilings.
Because ultimately, a women is not a being in herself, but an object of Man’s pleasure. And the evidence is everywhere. How many times are women walking down the street seen as anything more than a object with “nice legs”? How many times is women’s football watched with the same passion as the men’s (without it being merely a way of commenting on female figures)?
And in the world of politics – men rule, not women.
Why? Because it is not a woman’s place. And it is not only men who ensure that divide exists – women actively draw the line too.
With the opening of the new Playboy mansion in London, it is not only pornography and the degradation of women’s bodies which is being celebrated, but the reification that men are those in power, while women are merely those to titillate. While rich & powerful men pay for their high-cost margaritas, served by near-naked women in furry costumes, they are reminded of their superiority, and the “natural” animalistic authority they have over these ‘innocent, cute bunnies’.
Yet as women, we have not challenged these norms. Instead we play up to them, destroying our bodies and lives through cycles of exercise and diets. We have actively accepted the gender roles we have been provided. Those women who don’t abide by them are considered lesbians, even though gender roles have little connection with sexuality in itself.
We must remember that sexism is more than the process of men paying a women less for the same work, but a case of the woman herself feeling as though she is inferior.
As long as women accept the position we have been given, as long as we give other women the “choice” to sell their bodies to men, and as long as we continue to force other women to accept the gender boundaries we are told are ‘natural’ – we will continue to face oppression and alienation.
To break this cycle, to achieve a world of less rape, less objectification, less gender inequalities, we need to collect together and accept that being a women is not about wearing a pretty dress, but about accepting the plurality of voices that womenkind have. And in the process, standing up for them.