Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Feminism, femininity, fighting stereotypes (and not caring what others think)

Alright, so I've been wanting to write this post up for a while, mostly because it's been weighing pretty heavily on my mind as I go through several different life transitions. (And I realise this is a tad bit political and my last few posts have been going that way as well, especially with the immigration series, but I promise this isn't the future of this blog.) Between  high school, university, part-time work and professional work, I've been wearing quite a few different hats lately. During this time, I've found it really difficult to balance my feminist views and femininity, while fighting the stereotypes that comes with spending the vast majority of my waking life in male-dominated activities. 




Before we get too far, let's define feminism. Feminism is just another word for equality. It isn't man-hating. It isn't bra-burning. It's the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, that girls should be able to go to school, men can be stay-at-home dads, that women can work or not work, that the phrases "man up" or "fight like a girl" shouldn't exist anymore. I spend quite a lot of time studying engineering and practicing jiu jitsu, both male-dominated activities. I often have to use my feminist ideals to get through the occasional class, like when I'm sitting in a lab at uni and 95% of the people there are men. (Needless to say, I felt a little out of place.) Maybe I'm one of the few women there, but that doesn't mean I deserve to be there any less, or that I'm any less competent than everyone else is. 

I've found that as I go through my day, people put me in a box and leave me there. You're a female studying engineering? Oh, you must be less competent than the males in your class. You do martial arts? Oh, you must be a tomboy. You work in a pharmacy? Oh, you must be a pharmacy student. (Or even worse, you're just a check-out chick.) I've found that I constantly surprise people when I tell them that no, those boxes, those stereotypes, are wrong. That's not me. (I've gotten so many shocked looks when I say I do martial arts, it's hilarious.)

I've had to fight to be respected at school, the gym, the pharmacy (by customers, not my coworkers). A lot of that drive has come from my feminist beliefs, that I deserve to be there just as much as anyone, that I don't do male-dominated activities to get a boyfriend but because I'm there because I love it. (Yes, I have gotten that one before.) 

I think this feminism, this fight, has really impacted my femininity. A lot of the time, people don't respect women who dress up because girly-girls can't do math and like to go shopping and marry rich. A woman who wears lipstick can't go to engineering school and be respected, right? For years now, I've been downplaying my femininity to try and be respected. I didn't wear makeup, didn't dress up, didn't watch romance movies. (I still don't watch romance movies, though, so that's just me.) I forced myself to be tough, to be one of the guys. (This was probably influenced by my high school as well, which tried really hard to make us young ladies. (Excuse me? Young ladies? I'll be as tomboy-y as I like, thank you very much.))

Then, I began going the opposite direction once I hit uni, started working "professionally", and spent more time doing martial arts. People expected me to be a tomboy because I was in male-dominated spaces, so I pushed back. Bright red lipstick? Check. Pink nails? Check. Nice clothes? Check. I dared anyone to comment that I didn't belong with each shade brighter of lipstick I wore to class and wore my femininity around my neck like armour.


To be honest, though, it was exhausting. How could anyone keep up with defying gender expectations imposed by society? Through this whole thing of fighting the boxes society keeps trapping me in, I've begun to realise that my femininity is nothing to be ashamed of. Traditional femininity isn't a weakness, it's a strength. I'm going to have to fight to be respected regardless of whether or not I wear bright pink lipstick or dye my hair purple, so if I enjoy it then why don't I just go ahead? People are going to judge me no matter what I do. Being kind, caring and empathetic are also traditionally feminine traits, and since when are those qualities something to hide away? 

I'm done with fighting gender roles for the sake of fighting gender roles. I'm done with caring about what other people think of me. I'm going to wear lipstick because I like wearing lipstick and because I love feeling pretty. I'm going to pull my gi on and have bruises and look disgusting because I love fighting. I'm going to walk out the house without a drop of makeup on because I wasn't put here on this earth to look pretty. I'm going to keep writing and solving math problems and writing science reports and taking pictures and helping people find the best medicine for them and watching educational YouTube videos and playing with little kids and watching action movies because I love it. 

People aren't "masculine" or "feminine", people are people and people are wonderful balls of beauty and kindness and science and poetry and evil and forgetfulness and love. I don't need to go out of my way to show I'm feminine or masculine just because of the activities I take part in and how other people see me. Screw that. From here on out, I'm just going to be little old me. 

Do you find yourself fighting societal stereotypes? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt out of place because of your gender? Has your feminist (or non-feminist) views ever impacted your femininity/masculinity? 

9 comments:

  1. My method throughout life has been to be utterly oblivious to what other people think. There's only one human being that I'm with 24 hours a day, and that's me. There are too many people to please all of them, so I might as well enjoying being me.

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    1. Mmm, I think I've started to adopt that method. It seems to be working :) I'm frustrated at how long it's taken me to get here, though. *sighs* That's alright, I'm growing as a person. I'm glad you've figured it out, RM :)

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  2. Wow, it sounds like this gets draining for you! Personally, I've never been in a situation like that on a regular basis, so I haven't really experienced it. But I agree, there are always going to be haters no matter what world we're in, so it's up to us to be who we're created to be anyway. Keep it up, girl! You're strong.

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    1. It does, and I didn't realise how much so until I stood back and took a good hard look at my life. (Wow, dramatic much :P) Thanks, Jessica :) Like you said, I just hope I can be who God made me to be.

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  3. Wow, it's true. Women who do martial arts are often seen as tomboys. I never realised that it wasn't always that way :/

    I have felt fairly out of place because of my gender when it comes to friendship. I found out recently that I often find it hard to befriend females in real life. It's weird, because nobody on the internet would ever guess that. However, it's true. My childhood best friend was a boy. He was probably one of the few friends I ever had. He was one of the few people I could genuinely talk about what I actually wanted to talk about. I'm also closer to my brothers than I am to my sister. It's kinda weird.

    I did kinda struggle with internalised misogyny or whatever so that made it hard for me to talk to females. I became closer to the guys in secondary school than the female who almost always sat next to me in class. I always find it hard to befriend girls because I feel that they might not be interested in the things I'm interested in or something stupid like that.

    I'm not really girly but I do wear skirts all the time (religious reasons) and I also like the colour pink because it's the best colour so why wouldn't I?

    I don't know what beliefs shaped what I do... I'm not a feminist but I do agree with some of the things they say.

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    1. Yes, we are, and it's nice to fit in with the guys but it's also nice to feel like a girl sometimes.

      There's nothing wrong with finding it easier to be friends with guys more than girls, sometimes it's just personal preference. That is sad, though, if internalised misogyny stops you from having female friends. I think one thing everyone (definitely myself included) needs to remember is that everyone is just as complex as you are.

      Pink is amazing :)

      It's interesting you say that, because I think a lot of people actually are feminists but won't wear that label. There definitely are different 'levels', if you will, of feminism, and I think the more radical feminists scare a lot of people off.

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Grace!

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  4. I'm glad that you're able to reclaim your femininity as such. I think some of the most powerful feminist messages I've seen have been about being feminine, so you go. :) I appreciate reading your story, because I don't think it's something I relate to quite as much. I've never enjoyed being feminine and I don't have any interest in makeup, etc. Still, I don't think that makes me a stereotype, either. *shrugs*

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    1. Thanks Heather :) I am too. That's why I loved the new Wonder Woman movie so much, because it didn't shun her femininity but she was still a "strong female character" (for lack of a better phrase).

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading my story :) I don't think that makes you a stereotype, to be honest. I think the only time you can be a stereotype is if you give others the power to define you as such. Just a thought. Thanks for commenting, Heather!

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  5. Amen! ~waves giant foam finger about~ Seriously, great post, friend! You kinda can't win with gender roles. I might have told you this story before, but one time my friend and I had snuck out of school to buy snacks (so we were in our uniform) and we met this old man who was recognised the uniforms and told us he used to be a Physics teacher at our school. He talked about how he'd always encouraged girls to do Physics, and had pushed for the female head of Physics who is now in charge. Then he asked us what subjects we did. Between us, we did English, Art, Latin and Modern Studies. And the way he spoke made it like we should feel bad for doing those subjects, because girls can do science now, and if they don't, they're clearly conforming to gender stereotypes that say the arts are for girls. So now it's not ok to do arts subjects if you were a girl, because if you were really a feminist, you'd do maths and science.

    Like maybe NO???

    The big thing for me recently has been shaving. Last summer I took the decision not to shave my armpits, but I argued with my mum about it so much that I did it the other week for the first time in a year. It's growing back now and I no longer feel naked, but it wasn't fun. It's really hard, because when it comes to Christian things she's always been right, so I find it so weird that we've had this debate, talking about what's right, what's helpful, what brings glory to God, and we disagree. One of us must be wrong. And on the one hand I feel like she can't be wrong, but I also feel so strongly that I'm right. So where does that leave me?

    In the end, the battles feminists/women have to fight won't be won until the New Creation. But being a writer and a reader makes me feel so empowered.

    Again, wonderful post! <3

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