I never knew where I stood with feminism. Being young and female that’s not an easy statement to make.
My relationship with feminism was not unlike my relationship with other people’s kids before I had my own. I wanted to poke it, see what it did. I wanted to hold it, see how it fit. Then, when it started to wriggle, I wanted to give it back and retreat into my safe place.
Perhaps it was the label that made me uncomfortable—I’d always taken issue with labels—it made me feel fanatical, a boat rocker, a trouble maker. If I identified as a feminist, would people think I had hairy armpits? Would they call me old fashioned, combative… God forbid, boring?
Then, people in high places started talking about bridging the pay gap, then women in power, then one woman dead every week, then after all that, #metoo. Then, I realised, you don’t need to identify as a feminist to believe in women’s rights, you just need to be progressive.
My mother raised me with values to be kind to others, respect everyone, and stand up for the underdog. She also taught me to never walk around outside at night with earplugs in, only live in a second floor apartment or higher, never live in a house where there is backyard access from the front, never wear clothes that reveal too much, always cover my drink at a bar, carry my keys in my hand at night, carry an umbrella even when it’s not raining, and always, always walk a different way home from work.
You would think that being young and female I would know firsthand what the challenges are of being young and female, but it wasn’t until I started following strong women leading the feminist charge, public figures who copped the brunt of the hate, that I realised, hang on, why is it that I have to cover my drink at a bar and men don’t? Why is it that I can’t wear what I want and not expect to be hit on, live where I want and not expect to be safe, walk the same way home after work and not expect to reach my destination?
I never wanted to challenge these life lessons my mother had given me, they made sense, and were said with my best interest at heart. She was, and continues to be, a progressive and strong-willed woman who raised a progressive and strong-willed woman, why would I doubt this? My friends were given similar advice by their mothers, wasn’t it part of growing up female?
The realisation that I was part of the problem came as a shock, and I started noticing it everywhere, including my own home. My husband was getting ready for a night run after the kids were in bed.
“I’m just going for a run,” he had said plugging his ear phones in.
“You’re not going to run with those, are you?” I pointing to his ears.
His response, “Yeah, why not?”
Why not? Of course, why not? Why can’t he run with his headphones in at night? He’s a mature, adult who can make his own decisions. He’s not female, he’s not at risk of being attacked, of being raped, of being murdered because of his perceived weakness based on his gender.
I’m raising my daughter with the same values my mother gave me—be kind, respectful, stand up for others—but the life lessons I give her I hope will be progressive, accurate for her generation, reflective of the change being made towards how women are respected in society.
I still don’t know where I stand with feminism, it’s a ‘complicated’ relationship, but I don’t have to hold a label to believe that women deserve the same rights as men, and I don’t need to hold a label to know we need to be progressive in how we raise our daughters.
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