How I learned that I was a Feminist
Feat. Beyonce, Hermione Granger and Hannah Horvath
I’ve always been a feminist.
From the moment I was born I was filled with the knowledge that I could do anything, be anything I wanted. As the eldest child, my parents poured all of their hopes and dreams into me (as most parents do with eldest children) and there was not a doubt in my mind that I would achieve it all. I have clear memories of my childhood, particularly of early primary school, running around the school yard playing ‘mothers and fathers’ in fake houses we’d made out of trees and lines drawn in dirt. I recall my first crush, a golden-haired boy named Ben – we were in grade 2. Whilst I engaged in all of these heteronormative activities, not once did I ever consider that the boys were worth any more or less than what I was. As time went on, both of my parents had periods of time saying home with us while the other worked, they both cooked and did the dishes, and they both took us to school. I was unaware of traditional gender roles, and in my child-like naivety I saw a future where my school-mates and I would grow up with equal opportunities to pursue our dreams.
A mixture of a privileged childhood and walking around in my own bubble meant that my eyes weren’t opened to the inequalities experienced by women until my early twenties. Whilst I had experienced all of the everyday sexism that occurs to women (cat-calling, unwanted groping, and being afraid to walk home in the dark) I accepted this as part of everyday life, and never questioned why these vile acts only happened to women and not men.
2013 was a big year for me. I was in my second year of full time work and decided to move from Sydney to Melbourne to be closer to my family. Beyoncé’s self-titled album was released and its impact on me was significant. For the first time I saw a strong, empowered woman singing about being exactly that, whilst embracing and vocalising the challenges she had faced as a woman. The track ‘Flawless’ was played on repeat in my house, not only for the badass ‘I woke up like this’ line, but for the sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk. I played it over and over again, eventually taking to google to watch her talk in its entirety. ‘We teach girls to make themselves smaller’ resonated with me to no end. I thought back to my childhood dreams, I had often considered a career in medicine but pushed the idea away because it would be ‘hard to have a family if you’re working all the time’, choosing physiotherapy as a better lifestyle option. Whilst there is nothing wrong with making the choice that I made for the reason that I did, I often wonder if I would have had the same thought if I was a man in this world? I started to realise that although I had grown up in a feminist household, I had not been sheltered from the ever-present social conditioning that states women should give up their careers and stay home with the children, and that cat-calling and groping is acceptable.
Lena Dunham was also a household name at that time. My housemate and I would binge episodes of Girls regularly, in awe of her character Hannah’s ability to get her clothes off at any available opportunity, showcasing her non-mainstream but normal body-type. The backlash that Lena had experienced for displaying her non-airbrushed naked body on prime-time tv was surpassed only by the outrage at her account of her own rape in her book ‘Not That Kind of Girl’. Not only was all of this a blatant expression of sexism, but victim blaming at its worst. This was the first time I really understood the sexualisation of women in the media, and I only admired Lena more for putting her naked body out in the world as a ‘fuck-you’ to the patriarchy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confronted by the account of rape in her book, mainly because I realised that her story was so normal. I spoke at length with my closest girlfriends, many of whom had very similar stories to tell. The sadness that I felt was almost overwhelming, sexism was so engrained in all of us that we felt as though we couldn’t say no even when our brains were screaming it at us.
In late 2014 Emma Watson made her speech to the UN on the ‘He for She’ campaign, a movement focussed on the education and empowerment of men and boys about equality between the sexes. Emma continued to be a consistent campaigner for women’s rights and I admired her approach of education and thought-provoking conversation. In listening to Emma’s UN speech, I broadened my understanding of how to approach feminism in conversation. Unfortunately, not only many men, but some women also don’t identify with feminism because of our social conditioning, and I learned that having an educated conversation and listening to varying points of view was much more effective that simply thrusting your point of view down someone’s throat (surprise, surprise!). One of the other qualities I continue to admire about Emma is her ability to be self-aware, more recently acknowledging her white-privilege when approaching feminism and the more significant challenges women of colour have than white women. I am realising that my understanding of feminism, like many of my core values and beliefs, is ever-evolving. The ability to analyse your beliefs, be open-minded, and forever learning enables me to not only be a better feminist, but a better human.
Whilst I have always been a feminist, my journey to understanding what that means has been long and continues to evolve. Through my experiences I can’t emphasise enough how important it is for people with a large social platform to support this cause – without them I’m not sure I would have felt the confidence or camaraderie to proudly identify as a feminist. This conversation is so important to not only educate, but to create a cultural shift. Women are advancing so quickly, empowering themselves to say no to sexism. It is now up to our men to educate themselves to make a shift in their thinking. Feminism is not a movement where women hate men and want them extinct. Feminism is simply another word for equality. As humans in this world we should be celebrating our differences, acknowledging what makes other people special and honouring that, rather than scrutinising. I owe my feminism to my parents, my sister, my inspiring girlfriends, and my honorary BFFs: Beyonce, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – without all of you I might still standing in the shadows, afraid to stand up and speak up for the equality that we all believe in and deserve.