‘I am 20 years old, in the middle of my degree with the realisation that I will leave university next year and face a world on my own, where women are seen by some as lesser than men; Incapable because they are women – not measured by ability but by gender.’
The quote above was written by myself and I uploaded it on my Instagram on 25th January, a few days after the Women’s March and the day I finished by first semester university exams. I had been dipping into the news of the reaction to the Women’s March during my revision and the end of my exams was my chance to fully absorb what was happening to our world. I suddenly felt overwhelmed and defeated. Then I realised I needed to get my voice out, I needed to say something.
In 2014 Emma Watson stated in her speech for the launch of HeForShe with the UN: ‘If not me, who. If not now, when.’ I turned 20 at the beginning of this year; a year that began with Donald Trump’s electoral win which felt like hope for gender equality had plummeted. But it also started with the Women’s March and recently the Women’s Strike.
Feminism is more important than ever before. The sheer fact that we need to ask such basic questions as ‘Why are women sexualised in the workplace?’ and ‘Why is there still catcalling?’ is shocking. I have grown up in a society where equality legislation has been in place since the mid-1970s and yet we still have to fight the same battles – I find this baffling for a society which appears to champion individuality. What changes have been made? It certainly feels like there has been progress with the apparent increase of women progressing in the workplace and more men choosing to be stay at home parents, so why are we still talking about the need for equality?
At 17 when I started my second year of college the HeForShe campaign kicked off with Emma Watson’s empowering speech on feminism. For the first time I was told that equal rights was a human rights issue. Men needed equality too. I started to discuss this with people around me, asking questions such as ‘Why are men told nursing is a female career?’, ‘Why is being a full-time dad by some deemed feminine?’
Gender stereotyping from my own experience seems to be ingrained into children from a young age. A significant moment for me was when at age 14 I walked over to the Topman tills with my parents. I was buying a jumper. The woman on the till asked me ‘Is this a present?’ My mum just replied ‘No it’s for my daughter’. The look on the woman’s face was surprise. I remember feeling conflicted. Why was it assumed that a 14 year old girl could not wear a man’s jumper? From this point I began questioning gender stereotypes.
Still aged 14 I started the school year with a leather black and white box shaped sports bag; the new trend in my high school. But there was a colour divide. The girls would have pink, green, blue and yellow. You know, colourful. The boys would have black, white or grey. My black and white bag received some funny looks and my girlfriends were confused. They would say ‘Why have you got a boys bag?’ Or the outright, ‘Your bag is so boyish’.
My parents did not push me to be more feminine because I was a girl. They let me make my own assumptions about what my sexuality means. Therefore it was my outside influences that were telling me that I couldn’t dress in a masculine way, revealing to me the gendered stereotypes.
I have many interesting conversations about gender stereotyping with my friends. One time a friend and I went out for a run and we started talking about why running as a young woman feels so empowering. One of the reasons we came up with was that traditionally sports are deemed masculine, especially running. But in the last decade or so more and more women are running or taking on these ‘masculine’ sports. We wondered whether we felt empowered because we were doing something rebellious, you know, against the patriarchy. This makes sense when women regularly get catcalled – because women obviously need men honking on their horns when driving past?? We hear stories all the time of women getting catcalled for wearing tight jeans or a short skirt but a friend once told me that she got catcalled for wearing joggers and a baggy t-shirt…so we get catcalled because we are purely women, it’s not just because of what we wear. It is so objectifying, we should be allowed to wear what we want without feeling self-conscious that we’ll get a ‘hey beautiful’, a honk of a car horn, or a pathetic whistle. But then we thought, if sports hadn’t been stereotyped as masculine, we would still feel empowered because running just feels so freeing and clears your head. The conversation ended with just feeling like these masculine and feminine stereotypes are so confusing and are hindering progression for gender equality.
Last week I got the role of PR Officer/Radio Co-ordinator for the University of Liverpool Feminist society. I am so excited to work with an amazing group of people to spread awareness of the need for gender equality. With the election of Trump , but with an increase in women in government and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making his cabinet ‘equally balanced between men and women’( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/04/canada-cabinet-gender-diversity-justin-trudeau), it is such a crucial time to be pushing the discussion of feminism. However, still ‘Globally, there are 38 states in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all’ (http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures). We have a long way to go but progress is being made which is something we need to celebrate.
International Women’s Day this year was celebrated in incredible ways. A few companies got in touch with me after I posted a tweet, asking what people were doing for IWD. The PR team at Wix.com, a leading web development platform wrote to tell me that they created ‘t-shirts for women of the company stating ‘These boots were made for leading’; gave flowers to the staff; as well as paid tribute to a significant woman who worked in the company (Vered Avrahami).’ The fabulous t-shirts can be seen in the article they wrote for their blog (https://www.wix.com/blog/2017/03/celebrating-international-womens-day-around-wix/). The article highlights the important point that as we celebrate IWD it is important to remember that we are striving for gender equality. Wix wrote ‘Did we mention the gentlemen we work with are pretty fabulous, too? To us, International Women’s Day represents a celebration of equality for everyone.’ I also love how they celebrated globally – ‘San Francisco to Kiev, Wix got together to take a moment and celebrate girl power!’ – recognising that we need to unite across all cultures and countries to fight for gender equality.
Hayley Smith also got in touch with me. Smith runs the campaign and told me that ‘Flow Aid… campaigns to provide free sanitary products to homeless women. I spent IWD collecting and distributing sanitary products to homeless women and local charities and shelters we are connected to.’ You can find more information about his incredible campaign on their website http://flowaidproject.wixsite.com/girlshaveperiods/single-post/2016/05/10/Our-biggest-development-yet
ReeReeRockette did the simple gesture of giving her staff flowers at her salon, showing that even he simplest of gifts of appreciation can be some of the most loving and beautiful. You can find ReeReeRockette on twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/ReeReeRockette.
Emmeline Pankhurst famously said ‘We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.’ This quote was sent to me by Ellen from elfeelgoodsvintage.uk. Ellen told me ‘This quote for me is very inspiring because it’s calling for women and men to work together for equality’ and I couldn’t agree more. This quote has also become very inspirational for me too.
So on reflection, despite the need to keep on fighting for gender equality, we have come a long way, especially in the last 50 years or so. I am currently reading Gloria Steinem’s ‘My Life on the Road’ and ‘The Feminine Mystique’ by Betty Friedan, as well as some feminist writers for my academic study. It is heart-breaking to read about the sheer amount of oppression women experienced, but it also makes me feel so grateful to be a young woman in 2017, a time when progress is really being made and where I am able to have a career and make my own choices with greater freedom than ever before.
Joan Whedon powerfully and brilliantly stated: “Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kind of now.” (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/155424-equality-is-not-a-concept-it-s-not-something-we-should).