Are you a feminist? This word, feminism, carries with it an immense collection of stereotypes, stigmas, and images; to be one involves assimilating with these. The shaved-headed woman protesting outside a male-dominated business building, women growing their body hair and holding up signs in the street, active Instagram pages with women advocating how much they hate men and to ‘f*ck the patriarchy‘ – all of these spring to mind when anyone says the word feminism. If you don’t look like this and you don’t protest outside of buildings, you can’t possibly be a feminist, right? Wrong. The real fact of the matter, as explored in Scarlett Curtis’ ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies)’, is that to be a female in this world is to surely be a feminist too, in the individual dissatisfactions we experience every day. You may not think you are one in this sense of the word, but neither did I until I sat back and realised what it was really like to be a female in this world.
At the very beginning of our lives, in the fairy tales we read, we are taught that women need to be saved, and that they need to be beautiful in doing so. We exist in a world in which we are told that a boy being cruel to you means that he likes you, and a world where it is simply just the culture to play dumb in order to get recognised by the other gender. For me, feminism meant all of the images described above. It was only something I read about or saw in the news – to be one was to be something extreme, involved protesting in the streets, and had only negative connotations attached in conversations that I would hear in the workplace. I did not realise that to be a feminist means to disagree with the way we are brought up, to believe that women should be made to feel that they able to do whatever they want in this world, and to believe that they are not weak, or less intelligent, or needing of a man to save them.
It was only at uni that I realised I wasn’t happy with the way women are perceived. We are not weaker by default, nor in stature, and certainly not in intellect, so why have these ideas been spread around like false propaganda for young children to grow up with and accept as fact, in the ‘Rapunzels’, ‘Sleeping Beautys’ and ‘Red Riding Hoods’ of literature?
Living the life of a woman at university, there are many things one faces that make you think – hold on a minute, why is this happening? The most pivotal for me was the need to consider how far away we would be from the library when choosing a house for our third year. This was because, walking home alone at 3a.m. after a study session, the fear of being followed was simply an accepted fact. And this fact that women have to be careful at night, never walking home alone, with their phones out ready to answer a fake phone call to stop themselves from being followed or attacked, should not be a fear.
I want to ask why it is that I had to consider the distance from the library when choosing a house, when my male friends did not have this same worry, and I want to ask why it is we are willing to stand for it. The answer, I hope, is the most vehement, absolute, and clear-cut ‘we are not’ willing to- we are not willing to fear our lives every time we walk home at night, we are not willing to ask our friends to walk with us through the dodgy alleyway because it is dark, and we are certainly not willing to accept feeling unsafe in our own streets simply because we are women and we have been made to feel as though we need to be protected. The point is that we shouldn’t have to be.
I guess that my experience of being at university, and having the chance to reflect on what life is like as a female in this world, has opened my eyes to the many inequalities and problems that still exist every day in terms of sexism and gender inequality. But, as women, we are extremely powerful in that we are all connected by a network, or a sisterhood, if you like, of decades of inequality. And, by spreading the word, having conversations, we can strengthen it. At university there is such an opportunity to do this and, just by talking about it with your peers, so much can be achieved. By my sister giving me a couple of feminist books to read last summer, it started a conversation – between me and her, but also between me and the people around me. I realised that feminism is so much more than I was taught it was, and that, to exist as a woman in today’s world, we are all surely feminists. So, start having these conversations with the females around you, but also with your brother, your dad, your male best friend. Debate, contradict, disagree, agree, share stories, swap annoyances, bounce off of each other – and be the cause of a changing, developing and more aware world around you.