March 8th, 2017. Wednesday. 20:45. Feeling pensive.
For months, I have markedly avoided the seemingly unmentionable taboo that is feminism. I couldn’t tell you why; I have long considered myself a proud feminist, a proud woman, and I am forever revelling in the world of exponentially growing equality for people like me. People like us.
Yet, I avoid it. Why is that?
I could quite easily give you a hefty list of excuses. I’m not going to do that. Yesterday I wrote a little note-to-self on Twitter suggesting that I blog about what I learn in class (“blogging my entire A-Levels might encourage me to revise” were my exact words), so with both my Spanish and English Language courses bearing a heavy focus on feminism as of late, and today being International Women’s Day, I thought now would be a good time to set my priorities straight.
“Una mujer original no es aquella que no imita a nadie, sino aquella a la que nadie puede imitar.”
María Félix, the Mexican star of films such as “The Devil Is a Woman” (1950), was quoted to say this before her devastating passing in 2002. She was an icon to many, an idol to so many more; some even considered Félix to be one of the most influential female figures in Mexican cinema of her time. This particular quote, to me, really encapsulates what it means to be feminist. In English, I would translate it to say:
“An original woman is not one who does not imitate another, rather one who nobody can imitate.”
This concept of originality and individuality is, at least by my definition, so central to feminism. The idea of liberation, the freedom to act for yourself as opposed to acting for the sake of societal conformity. The idea of uniqueness, moreover an individual’s free reign to break free from the chains of structure. Gender roles; representation; expectation. From such a young age we are conditioned to act a certain way, live a certain way – though as I write this I am beginning to question more and more whether this can really be called “living”. We are brainwashed, taught to talk, think, behave a certain way to the extent that I have to pose the question: can we ever stamp out sexism?
Back in January, I was talking to my best friend Maddie (a fantastically strong and intellectual girl, though she’d deny that instantly, also aged 16) about the idea of gender as a social construct. The conversation itself sparked from an equally in-depth discussion about the societal concept of perfection and flaws, another discussion I’d like to share in the near future, but today I’ll focus on gender. Maddie initiated, saying: “This society is so focused on conformity that any form of self expression and individuality and uniqueness is immediately stamped on and punished”. This, unfortunately, is true. Only too often do we see examples of girls and women who choose to defy the ‘modest’ expectation of how we ‘should’ present ourselves, only to be “stamped on and punished” for… what? Expressing their sexuality? In an English Language lesson this week, I was presented with an article from The Huffington Post, which said:
“Sexy pictures of men, in contrast to sexy pictures of women, frequently portray them as sexual subjects, actors exercising their sexuality, instead of objects meant to gratify someone else’s sexuality.” (Goh-Mah, 2013)
This is true: all too often I will be browsing the News app on my phone, or scrolling through my Twitter feed, and I will come across some blatant act of sexism or objectification. One particularly memorable moment that springs to mind (at least for me, as I idolise this woman like a goddess) is when Ariana Grande was called out for her revealing outfit in her Dangerous Woman video, being referred to as “shameful”; “child porn”; “slut”. The list goes on. Furthermore, just this week the fantastic actress-turned-feminist Emma Watson was called “anti-feminist” for her Vanity Fair shoot in which her breasts are visible beneath a cut-out blazer, and as you can imagine she had strong views on the matter:
Contrarily, however, it just seems wrong to me that the media and general public feel so free to objectify and sexualise men. I just don’t get it. In school today I had the, um, ‘pleasure’ of overhearing a conversation between a group of friends. All my age, just so you know…
A (male): what do you think of this girl
B (male): god no (.) what a who[re ]
C (female): [hey]
C: that’s just (.) no (2) that’s just offensive
A: calm down you f*ing feminist (.) geez
B: (laughs) (3) how about him
A: HA (.) now he’s just gorgeous
C: damn those abs
B: you hypocrite
C: shut up [name] (2) ten out of ten would bang
There is so much that I could say about this conversation, starting with how vulgar it is. “Person B” is right, of course; it is ridiculously hypocritical for one to accuse another of sexism and sexual objectification, before commenting in awe about a man’s “abs” and rating them “out of ten” over whether or not you would have sex with them. From context, this was a conversation about images on a Pinterest board. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Pinterest. Models who, more often than not, are not even named, who neither of the three people involved in this conversation had ever met (nor will, I assume/hope). This is just a simple example of the way men are just as often sexualised and objectified as women, proof that something drastic needs to be done to educate and enrich society.
The more I learn about the subject, whether that be the all-too-common “machismo” (male-chauvinist) attitude in Spain, or the horrifically-outdated gender theories by linguists that I have to memorise for English, I’m beginning to get the sense that this isn’t going away. Sexist attitudes seem to be ingrained into our minds, our culture. Returning to my aforementioned conversation with Maddie, a lot was said that seems to tie in so nicely with my new-found knowledge of gender representation in language.
Me: Society as a whole seems to rely on uniformity for comfort, to the extent that it distrusts and attacks anything different because it’s a foreign concept.
Maddie: It acts as if all this is for the benefit of creating social solidarity and value consensus, which to a certain point it is and that works, but it is taken to the extreme so that any form of self-expression is, like you say, not trusted and attacked.
Me: It’s funny really. This is the type of thing you read in every single dystopian novel in existence, and yet we are living it … to the extent that people are losing their lives because of this necessity to conform.
Maddie: The true extent of this sort of corruption is unknown by the masses so we all just carry on in our conformity in the fear of our own lives being made awful because we chose to go against the current of our overbearing society.
Me: We’ve made a societal taboo out of our own freedom … and nobody even knows about it because we’re so naive and believe that we are doing what it takes to live perfect lives.
This conversation continued for hours and hours, so much so that I began developing a concept for a dystopian story which I am now writing as a full-blown novel. It’s terrifying, the idea that we have fallen victim to our own toxicity. It’s terrifying that we live our lives submitting to the injustices of our own creation, that people are actually getting hurt, mentally and physically, because of these so-called “ideals”. It’s terrifying.
This all came to mind in my English lesson yesterday, in which we were introduced to the Sapir-Whorf theory. Essentially, we were confronted with the question of what comes first: sexist attitudes or sexist language? Think of the chicken or the egg scenario: it’s an impossible question. Right? Well, Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf think not. Whilst many linguists will suggest that sexist language and attitudes are interdependent – i.e. each rely on and support each other – the Sapir-Whorf theory focuses on linguistic determinism. In other words, it is our language which determines the way we think, and that teaches us to see the world the way we do. To apply that to sexism, if it weren’t for our everyday use of sexist language, perhaps we wouldn’t feel the need to be sexist at all.
Feminism is so important. I know that now more than I ever have before, experiencing for myself just how harmful sexism can be. To me, feminism is and always will be about equality. Nobody should be “more powerful” or “more educated” based on their gender, nor on anything for that matter. Any follower of my blog (or my Twitter account) will know that I am all for activism; it’s all I talk about. The thing is, it’s necessary! In school, I find myself seething through gritted teeth as my peers go on and on about how much they despise feminism. “It’s unnecessary,” they say, “girls just need to rein themselves in if they want to be taken seriously.”
Do we, though? Really?
In a world where gender is entirely flexible to an individual’s needs and comforts, we need to work harder than ever before to achieve ultimate equality. Do I think that it is possible? Yes, I do.
Goh-Mah, J., 2013. The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures. [Online]
Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-goh-mah/objectification-women-sexy-pictures_b_3403251.html
[Accessed 7 March 2017].