I’m not sure a person must feel offended or discriminated against to join a movement. This seems obvious in that I support LGBT equality. Yet, I’ve been reflecting lately on my identification as a feminist. Maybe it’s that I have seen enough people complain that feminist are little more than scared, bitter, angry women, but I have found myself wondering in what ways I have been targeted or discriminated against for my gender. Where has the world not only wronged my gender, but myself? Do I need to be wronged in order to identify as feminist?
As I was reflecting on this, the first incident that comes to mind is a series of conversations I had with my parents in middle school about escalating bullying. It got bad enough, that they wondered if they should talk to the principal about sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment for a 12-year-old? Following the advice adults gave me, I ignored my bullies as much as possible. They did not, as the adults said they would, get bored and leave me alone. Instead, they escalated their assaults until they found something I couldn’t help but react to. They found their perfect poison when they started egging one of the jocks to kiss me. it sounds so trivial now, but I could not keep the fear and discomfort from my face. Sitting in a room full of people chanting “kiss her” or backed up against a locker, surrounded by the same people chanting the same chant, I was beside myself. I didn’t know what to do and more than once walked out of the room without a care of any teacher being present.
Now much older, I wonder if there was more subtext to the whole situation. Was this child’s play a way of making fun of me for my relationship choices or lack there of? Since I ran, I was a prude but if I stuck around a got kissed (even non-consensually) would I have been branded a slut?
I don’t believe children put that much thought into their actions. They’re just reflecting the world they grew up in and their world said it was funny that I didn’t want to be kissed and funny if I was kissed. That seems to have a sexual component to it, but I’m not 100% sure it was specifically aimed at my gender.
In high school, I remember girls making fun of me for my eyebrows. One girl asked me if I shaved my hands. I didn’t wear makeup and I didn’t wear heels. Here again, was I being targeted because I was a nerdy kid outside the norm for my area or were the comments about my dress and hair based on gender? Certainly they were based on gender norms society put in place. My peers made fun of me because I didn’t fit some girl mold. That mold wasn’t created by them, though. it was something created by a society that says women can be judged based on their looks and dress.
As a person once bullied, I can say that the few times someone stood up for me shine bright in my memory. Once, a boy who I barely knew noticed when a group of boys purposefully ran into me in the hall way, scattering my belongings across the ground. I crouch down as students walked over my head, trying to grab everything before it was kicked away. He told the boys off, saying their actions were not cool and helped me gather my stuff. The boys scoffed, asking if he had the hots for me, before laughing and walking away.
There’s a lot of pettiness in this moment. I felt bad that he was made fun of for helping me. I felt it was proof no one should help me because they would then face my same fate. I often thought my friends endured the same things I did not because they actually deserved (like I still assumed I did) but because they dared to be kind to me. Again, as an adult looking back, I wonder about that moment. What was it about helping me that was so funny? Why would being in a relationship with me be an insult? Was it that I was thought to be ugly. Was there something there?
There are a few other events I could share, but they all follow the same thread. Maybe they had something to do with my gender and maybe they were just stupid people doing stupid things?
The truth is, I could have lived a perfect life up to this moment and still be just as strong as a feminist. Nothing bad needs to happen to me for me to see I deserve equality. When my father tells me men are animals and that women who dress certain ways should “know the risks,” I know there is a problem. When I see people question whether Hilary Clinton can be president and a good grandmother, I know there is a problem. When society blames women who dress to impress for being sluts and those who dress conservatively for being prudes, I know there is a problem.
I support feminism. I am a feminist because I believe women and men deserve equality. I believe that masculinity and femininity are equal qualities, both worthy and necessary in our society (and that everyone, regardless of gender, is free to express both their masculinity and femininity).
When people who try to claim feminists are nothing more than bitter women or ugly women or women who have poor relationships with men, all I hear are my old bullies. Why should a woman be defined by how men regard her? Why must a woman be sad, bitter and alone to believe she is equal? I am none of those and I proudly call myself feminist.
Do you think a person must be personally effected by discrimination in order to desire a group be treated equally? Have you ever been discriminated against for your gender or for acting outside of your gender norm?
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