I have never written a feminist post. I must admit that I’ve never liked the feminist label and I have opted to describe myself not as a feminist but as someone who supports and seeks gender equality. Nevertheless, in reading about the history of feminism, I encountered a simple, yet concise definition, that pleased my “anti-label” self:
“Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies”
Gender bias, women issues, feminism and gender equality are topics that have been in my mind for quite a while. Besides reading about feminism, I have discussed about this with colleagues from different backgrounds and nationalities, and we all seem to feel the weight of gender bias, whether it is at a global level, e.g., the results of the U.S. presidential election, or at a local level e.g., work, school and even family. I tell now my own story, my red flags and my upsets as I find these hold across countries and generations.
As a woman who grew up in a rather conservative society, I have evidenced how gender based concepts are deeply ingrained in our lives. Girls are expected to be nice, tidy and sweet while boys are expected to be rough, messy and strong. As a girl, I was expected to dress nicely every day, to match the colors of my clothes according to what was trendy and to play with dolls and a kitchenette. As I grew up, I was expected to help in the kitchen and serve the meals to the rest of the family and of course, in the afternoon, I should sit with the rest of the women in my family to get my manicure done while the guys watched soccer in the TV room. All of this is not to say that I don’t like to help out at home, that I don’t enjoy cooking meals for my family or getting a nice manicure; what bothered me was the fact that all of this was expected of me, simply because I am a woman and that’s what women do.
As I grew up and decided to become an engineer, I was reminded by several people (outside of my family) that it was a career for men and I should better choose something more appropriate for a woman. When I decided to see other places, to travel alone, I heard the words reckless, irresponsible, even spoiled, because how could a woman travel by herself and what kind of parents did she have to let her do that?!. In summary, I shouldn’t go tempting the devil. When I moved to another country to study my Master’s and Ph.D., people made sure to let me know that a woman with such independence and achievements was more likely to remain unmarried as no man wants a woman that shines more than him. And, right there, another red flag that made me crazy. As a woman, I was expected to want to be married; I was expected to have been dreaming about my perfect wedding since I was 3 and I should have seen my life as absolutely incomplete without the man of my dreams by my side. Because, of course, that’s what women do.
I must admit that I have cherished my independence, I value every step that I have taken and I am proud of the place where I am now. However, society and its unease about accepting women is still there. In the professional domain, there is a big difference in terms of salary, job opportunities and acceptance ratio between men and women. And, it is not like as women, we are looking for things to be made easy or just granted to us. We just want to be assured that when we apply for a job, we are accepted or rejected based on our qualifications, not on our gender. I do not know more or less about telecommunications because I am a woman; I did not get good or bad grades in my classes because I am a woman; being a woman doesn’t make me more or less reliable, and certainly, I do not deserve a job more or less because of my gender.
I feel that every two steps we take in the direction of fairness and equality, society has its ways to remind us that there are plenty more we can take backwards. As I emerge from the sadness I experienced while seeing a well prepared, competent woman defeated by a man whose discourse ignited racism, sexism and intolerance in his supporters, I realize that society has somewhat contradictory expectations of women in times of adversity. Indeed, it is expected that, when things get rough, a woman will wipe away her tears, smile and keep walking. And I think this is what women really do; we don’t give up, we keep fighting towards fairness in our jobs, in our studies, at home; we keep screaming to the top of our lungs even when it seems like our audience is deaf. And I feel that in this never ending battle to reach equality, we have no other choice. It is again, and again, and perhaps again, time to wipe away our tears, smile, and keep walking. Perhaps one day, our point will come across, not as that of angry women who rant about how unfair society is to them; but as human beings who want to be valued for what we really are and for what we are capable of accomplishing.