"I Have a Mother"—A Story of Internalised Sexism
Overcoming Inner Sexism
"But I have a mother and a sister," insists yet another crooked male politician. "I can't possibly be sexist. I love women."
An age-old defence used by men and others across the globe. A woman gave birth to him, therefore he cannot possibly be misogynistic. Flawed logic, yes, but as shocking as it may sound, a small part of me empathises.
I grew up in a very ignorant community, and then a small rural Scottish village in the middle of nowhere. I had never even heard the word feminist until I had started to attend secondary school. And so, when I became more educated about these issues, my entire psyche rebelled.
I can't possibly be sexist, I'm a woman.
But that kind of thinking was detrimental. It is entirely possible to be a woman and still be sexist. I had grown up listening to anti-feminist words and ideals, I was conditioned to think that way. More importantly, I didn't know anything different, and I certainly didn't know any better. That was simply the way I grew up and while that is not any excuse, it explains some things about the way I used to think.
I'm ashamed to admit that some of that thinking still lingers, despite my extensive self-education on the subject. If I can't open that god-damned pickle jar, there is a split second where I'll search for my brother. I allow my boyfriend to pay for everything (even though one could argue that also stems from monetary issues, that is to say, I never have any). And yes, sometimes I slip and use un-feminist language.
Every time I say something like, "it's probably PMS" or "I get along better with men, less drama" a part of me always feels sick. I need to be part of the solution, not the problem. How can I expect my peers to listen to my arguments if I myself do not adhere by my own rules? Hypocrisy is a hallmark of humanity and one could argue that I did not know any better, that I was shrouded by ignorance. But still, that doesn't make me feel any better, even if I am actively trying to shed the narrow-minded ignorance of my childhood. I know objectively that it is never that easy, however that never assuages my guilt.
I can still remember my first RMPS (religious, moral and philosophical studies) class wherein I first heard the word feminism. My teacher stood there, five foot two inches of pure indignant fury as she rallied the rest of the class to the cause. Statistics, wage-gaps, sexism in the work place, the patriarchy, and the male gaze. All of it lifted those rose-coloured glasses that had kept me blissfully ignorant and opened my eyes to the problems my gender faced every day. I left that class angry, a little sad, and determined.
But there was also that ever-present shame. Because I was one if those careless people that threw language around so flippantly without any regard to the effect or consequences. I never bat an eyelash when people referred to women as s**ts or b*****s. I agreed when others commented on the short length of girls' skirts and how they were "asking for it."
It is terrible, I know. Or at least I know that now. And I wish that I could say that after that enlightening class my attitude improved. But a lifetime of parroted views doesn't disappear in a day. Even as recently as July 2017 when I was applying to university dorms I once commented that I didn't think I could handle living in a flat full of women. Once again citing drama and petty fights. (Thankfully my Aunt quickly set me straight.) There is still the slight hesitance before I argue about feminism with others because a tiny part of me still doesn't want to be seen as a "militant bra burner" (which is actually my nickname on my family's Facebook group chat).
This is because when people hear the word feminism, they think of man-hating, free-bleeding, throwing yourself in front of a horse, and even bizarrely of feminism just being another word for lesbian. And in the spirit of being completely candid, I used to think some of these things as well. I can't change the past or the way I acted, the things I said and the way I thought. And I think that's where I'm making a mistake.
I don't need to change the past.
What I need to change is my present and my future. I'm aware of the issues now, I've read the books, and I've heard the lectures—even experienced it myself. My past, like in so many other situations, is there to be looked back on. To learn from. I shouldn't be attempting to erase it. Now I can look back on it and be completely horrified. Now I catch myself when I'm about to say something potentially sexist and am aware enough to correct myself.
I shouldn't feel ashamed because I did learn better. I made the effort to educate myself and I don't think that way anymore. I argue with my family when they use certain language. I insist that feminism means equality, not smashing the patriarchy. Women are strong, powerful, and independent and never again will I ever think otherwise. And more importantly I hope to one day educate other people on this issue, one word at a time. I want other women who were like me to know that they don't need to make up for past sins with loud protests and public shaming. All we need to do, as a collective society, is change the way we think, right down to the words we use. (And of course, all of this also applies to men who have faced the same dilemma.)
Because the people we know are irrelevant. It's about what we as women know about ourselves and what we choose to do about it that makes us feminists.
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