Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Utopia That Will Be

Emma Watson's incredible opening speech for the He For She campaign broke the ice and started a dialogue about feminism.

The twelve minute long speech broke the silence about what it is to be a feminist, and how important it is that we work together as a whole to make the world a better place.

I am only 34 years old, but twenty-three years ago, I went with the girls in my class to see the school nurse for a talk about our procreational organs and the biology of womanhood. We listened to the nurse talk about our periods and the monthly cycle, and how to avoid getting pregnant. 

The second part, how to avoid getting pregnant is not the lecture the boys heard. They were not told about periods or how the female body functions. And I too never heard the lecture they were given about how puberty affects them.

This was the first sign of the segregation of the sexes. Girls learned about their part in the procreational cycle and boys about their part. 

Then came the time when I experienced sexism first hand for the very first time. As a little girl, I understood the world didn't view me in the same light as the boys in my class. The sex education class was not even the first hint. But up until that point, I had been sheltered by doting parents who saw only the individual in their little girl.

I was 12 years old and the new school year was about to start. That year we got a new PE teacher. Up until then, I'd had the same PE teachers since first grade, a married couple who taught together and kept it fun and interesting.

In the first PE class of the new semester, the class was an assembly of curious pre-teens. The new teacher was a man probably in his mid to late twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was someone who was only interested in sports involving balls, that is, handball, football and basketball. I can't remember the very first time I realized he viewed the boys as superior sportsmen, but it happened early enough in the semester. 

Every single time football, handball or basketball was played in class, he split the class in two, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. He told the girls to play ball and that he would check upon us every now and then. For most of the class, he focused his attention on the boys. He was quite explicit, and even said so once, that girls were inferior sportsmen than boys. 

I understood this was not right. It was misogyny, a word I didn't know at the time. But the concept was no longer foreign to me. 

For the duration of the school year, the girls were excluded from playing sports with the boys, apart from the rare occasion when we played sports that did not require a ball to kick or throw.

Seeing that I grew up in a town where football, otherwise known as soccer, was the number one sport for both girls and boys, this was an odd arrangement. Our previous PE teachers had not divided us in teams based on our gender, but rather by number. 

In the following school yeara new PE teacher took his place and once again, we were divided into teams by number.

This first encounter with gender discrimination may seem harmless enough, and I may come across as petulant for recalling it still, but it is nonetheless no more acceptable than any other form of discrimination. 

Yes, we were not force-fed while imprisoned as our foresisters were in their battle for women's right to vote. But we did not deserve to be treated this way. We were young girls, only just beginning our journey to womanhood, and yet already battered by sexism.

Generations of women fought in body and mind to achieve equal rights for themselves and future generations of women. For their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and daughters, they fought and they achieved great many things. For some of these women, that meant a great personal sacrifice; exclusion, imprisonment, violence and hatred toward them was the day to day life.

Thanks to them, I started my life with a blank page.   

Generations of women throughout the ages were not so fortunate. The story of their lives was written for them, their life a script for which they claimed no authorship. Women were expected to read their lines like the good little girls they were, and for all of their existence be the dutiful daughters, wives and mothers.

The summary of their life was written by the men in their lives. A woman wed to a good man was perhaps protected from the violence she otherwise could be exposed to, and she may have been happy.
After all, men are not evil as a gender (and neither are women). Many husbands, and I'd like to believe that most did, loved their wives and daughters in all sincerity, and wanted nothing but the best for them.

The curse of the vast inequality of previous ages is simply that a woman was not believed to be capable of knowing what was best for her, or her children. She was as much a child as her own children.

Therefore, the real curse of men and women is the society that breeds a hierarchy of the sexes, the traditions and the beliefs that fuel society's standards, that are the devil. The rivalry of the sexes, the gender-biasism of stereotyping (and therefore condemning) each other into roles we are taught to believe are normal, is the great divider.

It is truly my belief that neither men or women can claim to be better than the other on the mere basis of their sex.  

To me, sex is the biological term for the body we are born with, and yes, as such men and women are different in various ways.

Gender on the other hand to me implies a notion, an idea of the sexes, of what they represent and of their supposed qualities. It's a neutral word with potentially explosive effects. 

To evaporate the explosive side of an otherwise perfectly neutral term, we need to investigate our prejudices, that is, the futile stereotyping of one another, and begin to see ourselves as people, as individuals of the human race. As such, we are allies. 

Our goal should be to build a society where we encourage individualism, where the belief in the good that is within us overpowers the poison of evil deeds in the name of gender. To be good, fair and kind should be the fuel that powers society.

My feminist ideal is simply the reinvigoration of the individual, and of liberating ourselves from the confinement of gender-based stereotyping.  

To give birth to such a society will require efforts to silence the prejudice that thrives in all societies (or so it seems), and to teach new generations - as well as firmly reiterate to generations already exposed to it - to always see the person before the gender.

It may seem futile to hold onto this utopian dream where humans exist without prejudice, but it seems to me that in order to see any progress at all, two steps are needed instead of just the one. 

As Emma Watson so beautifully reminded us, feminism is not the foe of men. The foe of men and women is inequality because whether we like to admit it or not, both women and men suffer for it while we let it exist. 

Feminism is but a word, a powerful word for a belief system that seeks to balance the inequality of this world. It is a word with historical reference to a movement that has truly changed the world for the better. Last but not least, it is an academic word for an ideology, an umbrella term for many different branches of thought.

Feminism explores the roles of genders in our society, and seeks now as always to even out the inequality. As such, the quest for individuals to be authentic in their own unique way, and to be the only writers to the story of their life, is fueled by feminist beliefs. 

It may seem futile to sign the pledge and declare your support for women's rights. But it isn't if all who sign act accordingly. If all of us, men and women, actively rebel against sexism either way it goes, we are making a worthwhile effort. 

Emma Watson gave us all a reason to join the movement of change in her launching speech for the He for She campaign. She asked herself who was she to launch such a big campaign. How could a 24 years old actress be the one to start such an important campaign. Well, if not her, then who, and if not at the age of 24, then when. 

And the same goes for all us, regardless of our age and sex. It's never too late to make a difference.

Next time I encounter sexism and hesitate before protesting, I shall ask myself that very same question, "if not me, who and if not now, when".

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