Yesterday morning, a video of Emma Watson addressing the UN went viral. Her voice was shaky, but her message was clear: systemic gender inequality affects both men and women and needs to come to an end. Her words, to me, at least, were welcome. I'm glad she had the courage to stand in a room of delegates and share her truest beliefs. One of the less fortunate aspects of her speech has stuck with me, though: that we, as a collective, still have a long way to go to undo thousands of years of history, stereotypes and precedent, which is a dauntingly immense task. Thank you, Emma. Your words were heard and echoed by millions.
My relationship with feminism as a cultural idea is fairly new and began in my teens, but after a series of occurrences that many girls face, I was glad that I finally had a word I could attach to the weird, unsettling feeling I had at various points throughout my life: a feeling that I wasn't good, smart or strong enough; a feeling of hot hostility from other girls breathing down my neck as I formed platonic relationships with boys in high school; a feeling that I couldn't express my true feelings or desires in fear of being seen as "needy," "bossy," or "crazy"; a feeling that, in a romantic relationship, I couldn't get what I wanted because I never wanted to be labeled as "that kind of girlfriend." When I first had feminism explained to me, I wrapped my arms around it and never wanted to let go, relieved and grateful for finally having a cause to attach to those indescribable feelings that had swirled within me for much of my life. I had finally nailed down the ether.
I was lucky enough to have unwavering support and freedom from my parents, and it was at home that I felt happy, comfortable and free to voice any opinion or goal. Very few people, boys or girls, have this exclusive right when it should be the most important thing a parent can offer. As the only daughter of my parents, I was given every possible opportunity: I was placed into a gifted class, I was allowed to play sports and associate freely and comfortably with members of the opposite sex. To me, growing up, these were basic aspects of my life -- but as I reached high school, I found that many of my peers, despite similar socioeconomic backgrounds, were not awarded the same freedoms.
High school, undoubtedly a difficult time for everyone, was when my feminist views started to crystallize and I began to realize there was something bitter between the sexes. As a child, I played freely with both boys and girls, often switching between male and female-intended toys, only noticing gender when I was automatically given the "girl toy" at McDonalds. But high school was when I opened my eyes.
When I was in the tenth grade, I took a Media Studies class that was the catalyst for pinpointing those vague unsettling feelings. At the beginning of class one day, our teacher stood silently at the front of the class until we settled down. It took nearly ten minutes. When the room was humming with nervous energy, she calmed asked everyone in the room who was a feminist. Eyes widened as if she had asked who had defaced school property and the nervous darting made her question seem accusatory when her tone had been relaxed. She had just said the F word in a room of teenagers, and, at first, no one raised their hand. In a room of twenty girls and ten boys, no one said a word. She was not fazed, and it seemed as if she had expected this response. "Who here knows what a feminist is?" She asked. A half hour brainstorm led to a chalkboard web of terms which she encouraged the class to shout out freely: words like "man-hating" and "crazy" were the most popular and often elicited nervous giggles. She nodded as the board was full of scrawls and turned to the class. "Feminism," she begun, "is the belief that men and women should be awarded the same freedoms and rights. Now who here is a feminist?" It took a minute, but everyone raised their hand.
Every single high school should teach this, because I still encounter dozens of people a week that think that feminism is pink-packaged misandry. The words "man-hating" and "crazy" and "bossy" are still thrown at self-identifying feminists every day, and not just by men or goofy high school students looking for a reaction. Women, indirectly threatened by the words, hurl them as well. I have spoken to women who don't identify as a feminist because they don't want to see those words applied to them. "I'm not a feminist," they say, "I'm not one of those girls." The dismissive and caustic inflection is searing. The trend of women attacking other women for being feminists is nauseatingly rampant, and it happens because the attackers feel threatened or vulnerable. But why? Who is attacking them? Who is the threat? The threat is the undying association of feminism with inequality: the false idea that feminism vies to crush men in favour of females. These women are threatened by everyone who propagates this falsity.
Before we set off in favour of equality, I think it's time to finally debunk the fear of the F word and understand that both feminism and misogyny is practiced by people of every gender identity; if we ever want to reach true equality, we will have everyone on board with the former and no one with the latter.