My life has been composed of safety and opportunity. I wake up each morning knowing I have the freedom of going to school and returning home, with food on the table, and a family that loves me, surrounding that table. Plagued with little discrimination, I lived sheltered from racism and sexism.
I spent the first ten years of my life on the playground, a secluded, beautiful place that quarantined my childhood innocence. Sometimes, a girl would call out “Hey, Indian girl!” instead of calling out my name, or the boys would exclude the quiet, brown girl from their game of Ultimate Football. But the beauty of childhood is that a quiet brown girl couldn’t be bothered by anyone’s ignorance, when she lived in the oblivion of innocence.
Eventually, like most girls, I grew up to recognise that sexism surrounded me. Transitioning out of girlhood sucked me out of oblivion. Accepting the discrimination my mother and grandmothers had to face, and what my sisters and I would have to face, felt like a broken promise. Every now and then, when the room felt just safe enough, my friends and I talked about what we’ve really experienced. A friend rolled her eyes as she spoke of the boys that thought the feminist reading in her English class was sexist against them. Another told us about a coach telling her entire soccer team they’ll never be the athletes the boys’ team are. Another mentioned that after confiding to her boyfriend about a tough day, he asked her “Are you on your period?”. Another narrated how her male friend “playfully” choked her in a public setting. Of course she just laughed it off. It would be unladylike for her to complain. Another girl confessed that her grandfather physically abused her grandmother. Someone else said that her father told her that the sexism she experienced in her school isn’t real, that it was an illusion she concocted in her mind.
Throughout my life, strangers and loved ones alike have commented some sexist, unintelligible things. I’ve listened to grown men with more experience and wisdom than me (or so they claim), tell me that sexism isn’t real. Or that they are the real victims of oppression. Or that a feminist stand is a stand against them. A family member once told me, “boys will always be stronger, better athletes than you.” I’ve heard variants of this over my life. What hurts the most, though, is that if I, a fortuitous, middle-class seventeen-year-old kid, suffer from sexist comments, then billions of women and girls are going through what I undergo, and worse. Sexism knows no bounds by nation, race, heritage, age, or sexual orientation. Sexism is a monster feeding on the spirits of young women who are capable of thriving in education and their chosen passions; however, the monster suppresses them, so young women cannot succeed without risking never being taken seriously and sacrificing their dignity or safety.
Feminism has been skewed by society. It is necessary for all young women to understand that feminists have differing opinions on gender-related and other world issues, but the one belief that feminists share is the belief that men and women are equal. Unfortunately, it’s so taboo to talk about feminism, that girls wait until the room feels safe enough to say someone was sexist towards them, or someone they love. If young women understand the establishment of sexism and the meaning of feminism, then maybe those girls will grow up to be proud feminists with appropriate standards for themselves and men.
Educate the boys
It’s equally vital to educate boys about sexism and what feminism actually is. It’s clear from the way teenage boys react to the feminist discussion that men learn from a young age that a feminist stand is a stand against them. The fear is that feminists seek to switch the gender roles and push men down in society. What boys must learn is that, on the contrary, feminists have more faith in men than anyone else. They certainly have more faith in men than the people who claim you need to debase a woman to be man enough.
Patriarchal societies dating back to ancient times created the idea that men and women aren’t equal and the toll of centuries of oppression institutionalised this idea. Sexism and sexual harassment have led to complicated relationships and a lot of misunderstanding today. It’s difficult not to be pessimistic towards the idea of eradicating sexism.
However I look today, at the nascent movement of holding men accountable for intolerable behaviour made possible by centuries of uncompromising women. Women that didn’t accept rape, being forced into the kitchen instead of encouraged to pursue professional careers, and being taught that they were the weaker sex fought for power in a society that offered them none. In spite of a long history of gender roles, abuse, and being pushed aside, women have continued to exert their energy into creating a more equal world for their daughters.
We’ve come to a time when women have fought so hard for their truths to be heard that people are hearing them echo out across the globe. It’s incredibly brave for women to expose the trauma they’ve gone through and allow it to be a topic for public discourse. Voicing sexual assault stories comes with a spectrum of risks from people not believing them to ruining their reputation to not gaining any justice for their trauma. Feminists want a society that hold men and women accountable for sexual assault and harassment and doesn’t exploit and sexualise women. I don’t know what will result from the #metoo movement, but I believe in women and men that understand that sexism is present, and gender roles hurt us all. I believe in the women and men that believe the next generation of young women and girls deserve more than what our patriarchal societies have offered.