it started with a whisper…

Do you remember when you first became aware that you were a female and that the differences between the sexes ran deeper than the psuedo science the magazines covered?

I don’t.

I do know that voicing my opinion about the difference in equality is something I’ve got more comfortable about as I’ve grown older. This is down to two things 1. Anger and 2. Knowledge.

Where we are in the western world, we are in many ways lucky, the battle we have here isn’t for the vote, or for the right to work. The battle here is in the finer details. There’s a law against paying me differently to a man for the same job, but it isn’t always enforced. There’s a law against sexual and violent abuse against women, but it doesn’t stop a guy from shouting at me in the street. It doesn’t stop a guy from seeing me as a sexual object. It just tells him not to act on it.

What I worry about is that we’ve put laws in place and think that they can substitute for education. We don’t need to teach guys to treat women correctly because there is a law about it. We don’t need to teach girls to grow up demanding equality, because there is a law in place. It’s a given that they’ll get that equality.

Except of course when it isn’t.

The other week, I was working with a group of young people, that were mainly made up of girls. I asked them about feminism and whether or not they considered themselves to be feminists. I asked the whole group this. There response was… What is feminism?

Now I know that feminism has many different definitions and branches, but I gave them my answer. I told them that to me feminism simply meant equality for everyone. They could get on board with equality that was fine, but they didn’t see the need to label it, because in their young eyes, they thought they already had it.

Later that week, I was walking down the main road on which I lived, and a car slowed down, so that the guys in it could yell something at me. I didn’t bother taking my earphones out, this happens way too much on this street for me to pay any attention to their words anymore. Instead I scowled at them, and was glad it was broad day light. 20 meters down the street they slowed down again, to do the same thing to 2 girls who couldn’t have been any older than 15. They didn’t scowl they giggled.

This got me thinking. For these two young girls this kind of attention is new. In some ways to them, it’s a sign that they are growing up, that they are becoming sexually aware and that others are aware of them sexually. I hesitate to use the word flatering, but it is certainly confusing for them. They were together and it was broad day light, and the car was gone as soon as it was there, but there giggle undid any effect my scowl might of had on the guys in the car.

I didn’t stop and speak to the girls. I maybe should have. I maybe should have asked them, in the big sisterly way that I felt towards them, how that kind of behaviour made them feel. And if it would have made them feel the same if they had been on their own, and it had been getting dark.

Maybe in teenage brovado they’d have shrugged me off, but maybe it would have started to make them think. To think about whether the law is a preventative measure or a defensive one. Whether they really do feel equal, and whether they are happy with their equality, and therefore not prepared to fight for other peoples.

We don’t need to go in to schools screaming and yelling. Regardless of how angry stuff like that makes us. When has that ever worked with teenagers. Instead we need to promote knowledge. We need to start those whispers, set off their brains thinking. Both young men and women, equality isn’t a law, it’s a way of life, and a behaviour.

Not so much ‘I am woman hear me roar’ but ‘I’m a girl, and one day I will be confident enough to do more than whisper my opinions.’

But the sooner those whisperings start, the better.

Live life & feel equal x

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7 thoughts on “it started with a whisper…

  1. What a brilliant post. And so true. People – especially young people – disassociate these seemingly ‘insignificant’ acts of sexism from the bigger stuff like rape, and right to vote. But they’re all linked. They all stem from the same thing – that women aren’t as valuable as men. And I’m sure that as a teenager – worryingly – I was exactly the same.

    • It’s so difficult for young people, they have so many minefields to work around, that I guess in the western world, figuring out things like whether or not you associate with labels like feminism, gets pushed further and further down the list! Lets hope that by voicing opinions like this through the internet and blogging we can reach more and more young’uns! xx

  2. Love this, all of it, every bit. The fundamental problem is that our society was built on a patriarchal system. So no matter how many laws they pass and rights they graciously bestow on those lesser than them, men (particularly white, middle class, straight, western men… but that’s sort of another thing) still hold the majority of the privilege and so they still see women as people they are helping but remain better than. What needs to happen is for young people to be shown (not taught) that they are not equal they way things stand but that that inequality is nonsensical. Then young men can start trying to give up their bizarre privilege and everyone can legitimately look at eachother and say “We’re the same you and I” and when you start looking at others as your equal, the urge to objectify, marginalise and oppress fades away… We also need the old guard to hurry up and die, because they’re the ones with the majority of influence over these things and are the ones that don’t want thinks to change because that would remove the power they have and believe they deserve.

    That was very long and ramble-y, but it’s something I’m fairly passionate about, even though I am definitely part of the most privileged demographic in the world.

    • No long and rambley and passionate is good, and if more of the most privileged demographic in the world thought like that, then that privelage might not be so unequally distributed! It’s difficult for me as a white, straight woman of the western world to stand up and say ‘this isn’t equal’ because I get that I am lucky, but that luck should not be thrown back in our faces, that luck should give us the strength to stand up and fight for those less lucky, because the further we push equality here in the western world, the bigger the opening to the path becomes for those who aren’t as fortunate.

      I work with a lot of asian heritage young people, and I’m always very aware of cultural backgrounds and differences, and we had a really interesting discussion about choice. I told them I believe a woman should be able to choose to stay at home and be a mum if she wants to, as should a man. But that should be a choice, not a law. We should all be free to make our own choices. Free from law and from judgement xx

      • I think there’s also a culture now of refusing to accept that we’re privileged. everyone, especially those in the more privileged demographics, expects more and feel like they deserve and are entitled to more so they can’t see our accept that they are so much better off than others. People need to start acknowledging openly that they are privileged.

  3. Great post! Can totally relate. In the latest module I was teaching at university, I asked how many people identified with Feminism… and literally noone spoke out. Even by the end of the module, it was so disheartening to hear people contribute by saying “I’m not saying i’m a Feminist, but….”. We really need to spread awareness from a young age.

    • I think by the time you get into your mid twenties, the dirtiness around the word ‘feminist’ seems ridiculous, but because we aren’t teaching young people about these matters, words like feminist, and humanist, seem dusty and unrelated to them. They seem old, and the last thing a young person wants to associate with is something old. I had a discussion with the young people I work with about the importance of people like Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift, and how art and pop culture can have a big, good, influence if the right people are at the wheel. Luckily that began to sink in, but it takes people like me and you to act as the go between for these messages. For now it’s a job I am willing to do! xx

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