Question: Are you a feminist?
Question rephrased: Do I think the society I live in was shaped in such a way as to create unfair standards, expectations, and hurdles for half of its population based on the power dynamics that prevailed at the time, unequal representation, and unsound logic, the same outdated logic that continues to brainwash intelligent people into permeating less blatant versions of the same sexist ideals? Does that infuriate me as a humanitarian and woman?
My subjective reality points to feminism as the most acceptable ideology because of everything about my upbringing (family, culture, birth order), context (generation, region, sex), social groups, education, and personality.
Upbringing: I’m second-born to Filipino immigrants with all daughters. I have a stereotypically masculine father who’s worked in Silicon Valley all my life and imparted each daughter with a "masculine" sense of self-righteousness, ambition, and pragmatism. He and my quintessential mother, a stay-at-home superhero, role-model, teacher, mentor, punisher, caregiver, and hard-ass for most of my childhood, raised me with Catholic values.
Context: I’m a 90’s baby, grew up in an upper middle class, white suburb in the Bay Area. I attended UC Berkeley, studied at the UCB equivalent in Chile, the University of Chile, and my morals, values, and ideology today reflect the socio-political-environmental activist stereotypes of these schools, not my religious upbringing. I’m liberal as hell and extremely woke; I can’t help it.
I’m a hardcore feminist. I’m as privileged as a female minority can get. The education, "privilege," upbringing, and context grant women's issues particular salience in my view. I think it’s absolute bullshit that there’s socioeconomic and political inequality in America today, but I’m not surprised. It’s not just sexism, but racism and targeted violence, but that’s a long story for a different month.
I’m outraged, saddened, and exasperated by the sexism I encounter, see, read about, fight, can’t fight, and feel at the mercy of to a fluctuating degree every day.
What I mean about feeling at the mercy of sexism is that I am sickeningly aware of what society has socialized me to believe about who I was as a girl, who I am as a woman, who I am as an Asian woman, a Filipina woman, a short woman, a blunt woman, an opinionated woman, a smart woman, a witty and sharp woman, a self-confident woman, a dgaf-y woman, a self-aware woman, an egotistical woman, and a woman with low self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, high sex drive, high ambition, etc. You get the picture. Every fucking thing about me has an encyclopedia of contradictory judgements. That being said, how do I disregard the noise and be who I want to be, what I want to be, how I want to be it? (Thankfully, influential and inspiring women have their own take on this, which I encourage all women to explore.) Take a social psychology class and you’ll learn that who you are is a product of everything about you, your peers, your parents, your environment, education, culture, and country, so underlyingly, I know that I can’t separate social determination from who I am. However, I’m aggravated by modern society’s fixation with women because it affects all of us and me and clearly isn't the most fruitful of fixations.
We (read: women) are under God’s magnifying glass, i.e., there’s a ubiquitous hyper-fascination with all things woman. Everybody has to have an opinion about how we look and act, what jobs we have or could have, how much we’re worth, how sexually attractive we are. Everybody notices fucking everything and judges, men and women alike. Regardless of the noticing, we may think that people notice and thus self-police, changing the way we would behave otherwise.
Does this sound nuts? Familiar? Over-board? Dramatic?
The society I live in (American, Western, Global) was shaped in such a way as to create unfair standards, expectations, and hurdles for women based on the male-dominant power dynamics that have historically prevailed since agrarian times and continue to do so, creating unequal representation in the upper echelons of society, effecting an unequal, sexist society on all counts that lead to power and influence. This inherently unjust society continues to brainwash intelligent people into permeating less blatant versions of the same sexist ideals.
The foundations upon which society was build are inherently sexist because society was built by men, presumably for men and women, but prejudicially and arguably more perfectly and advantageously catered to men.
The idiom goes, "before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” I'll assume you know what that means and take it one step farther: you can only understand someone’s problems when you’ve lived through the exact same situation. Otherwise, you can sympathize with someone, but never physically, emotionally, and cognitively know the feeling or reality of what it's like to be them and have their needs. By extension, white dudes (who dominate American politics and leadership roles) can’t make fair policy to account for the other colors of the rainbow or the sex with opposite genitalia and boobs.
There are sex-based differences in what women and men want and what drives each sex. I am of the opinion that the "facts" we have on this matter are diluted - we don’t know how to and can't remove the variable of male dominant influence on female desires and drives. Since gender inequality became socially acceptable, what women and men want has been drastically shaped by what male-dominant society tells us to want. Casual misogyny and double standards veil sexism on the daily.
There are plenty of reasons why gender equality isn't a thing yet. Here’s my stab at an extensive yet reduced list of the reasons why:
1. Sexism is 100% institutionalized and socialized, brainwashing minds by the birth.
2. Parenting. Women and men are raised differently because of #1, #3, and #4, so they go out into the world doing what they learn they could or should do.
3. Religion, founded centuries ago, is a product of Man informed by #2 and #1, also cementing #1.
4. Media and advertisements exaggerate and emphasize sexist ideals for profit because of #1 (its influence is in familiarity, it’s relevant to everyone, they prey on stereotypes), cementing #1, and largely determining social psychology.
5. Society governed by politics is slow to change because people live so long, and the election process doesn’t facilitate social change.
6. The majority of today’s leaders’ and influencers’ ideologies aren’t centered around gender equality because of #1-5.
7. #1-6 lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that further enforces #1 by way of the rest, so many men and women have no idea it’s fucked up, else do and don’t know how to or don’t care to change anything (defeatist attitude).
7. The voices that advocate for gender equality are too soft.
It's high time to undo the centuries of oppression.
It’s 2016, how could you not be a feminist? At any point ever, how could you not be a feminist? The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of social, political, and economic equality to men is just and morally sound, so why the fuck is it not a reality? You can find exhaustive lists about how women aren’t equal to men in society all over the internet and you’ll even get ads for beauty tips as you arrive at landing pages for said search (typifying advertisement’s role in molding our sexist society). You can also take classes on the causes of gender inequality, so it's not a question of is it real or not, but why the winds of change haven't been pressured sufficiently to elicit change faster (read: change in this area is disgustingly slow).
This injustice in the form of sexism and gender inequality is a byproduct of the historically prevailing devaluation of women in her worth, output, necessities, desires, opinions, and ideals. There could be exceptions, societies where men and women split burdens however they please, yet are valued and treated equally. Scientists believe that hunter-gatherer tribes behaved like this. It is undisputed that male-dominant societies with varying degrees of male-dominance have been the norm around the globe. Now, academia is saying that we cannot ‘easily’ about-face from the underpinnings of the human race and centuries of same old same old, as though it's an excuse assuring slow progress (gender norms are relaxing not changing). A society and species that evolved from: woman cooks and raises children and man hunts and keeps the family safe and secure, has multiple wives, favors his sons, and favors male alliances cannot ‘easily’ rework itself and be fair to both players.
But it can.
If we valued women and her collective needs (as much as those of men, dare I say?), we would assure that she lived in a society where her division of labor didn't mean she were unequally represented and provided for in return. Then, the endeavor would be met with enthusiasm and meaning, with no shade of negativity.
Our collective awareness of social inequality, acceptance of it, and how we fight it will determine how we live the rest of our lives as men and women on this planet.
All of my friends should know I’m a feminist. I was VP then President of the Women Empowerment Student Organization at UC Berkeley as a case in point. There, I talked to countless women about their preoccupations, insecurities, social burdens, and personal/ interpersonal problems regarding the biological state of womanhood and its repercussions. The list of topics is exhaustive. It ranges from hormones, menstruation, libido, masturbation or lack thereof (wtf right?), body image, rape, and slut-shaming to self-confidence, professionalism, careers, authenticity, self-actualization, health, and social-emotional/ physical well-being. Clearly, there are femalecentric themes on the list as well as ones that apply to both sexes. The underlying theme is that because of society’s unhealthy fixation with women, we in effect have more preoccupations and self-doubt associated with almost anything we do (this applies particularly to us). Because there are so many promoted and shat-on ways to do any one thing a female can do, to envision a woman behaving in the world is akin to viewing a computer-glitch of a woman fidgeting in all directions with no end to the loop in sight. Not all women give this much of a damn about image and society and what to do or what not to do, but a lot of women do. A lot of women are aware of it, and a lot of women feel plagued by it. I’ve continued the legacy of the club in my personal life (and on Facebook somewhat), and the themes we addressed in college endure, unsurprisingly.
I see men not confronting their emotions, brandishing tough exteriors, maintaining social groups not because they are fulfilling to them socially and emotionally, but for the sake of brotherhood and long-established connections, finding themselves in career paths and peer groups that don’t resonate with them because of external pressures and lack of introspection.
I don’t boast to be scot-free of these problems, and many of them affect women as well.
I see women constantly on edge about what they should do and how they should do it, what they should say and how they should say it, whether or not they should confront things or say ‘no’ to treatment they know deep down they shouldn’t stand for. I see us living up to social ideals for the sake of seeming perfect, laid-back, like we have all of our shit together.
The strongest men and women I know are excruciatingly self-aware and/or socially aware, yet choose to do exactly what they want how they want to do it, and don’t think less of any woman or man for doing the same. All of them value, respect, and see the opposite sex as equal.
I know it’s hard to unlearn decades of socialization telling us what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine,’ but it’s 2016. Those decades, and these centuries of painting people as pink and blue have culminated in a mass, necessitated unlearning of the categorization, and it’s not only to be politically correct. It is to live with compassion, empathy, understanding, and non-judgment, to foster socially equal communities in the realm of gendered expectations, of which there should be none.
Progress is great, and there are many gender equality-based initiatives out there today. There need to be more. Our society's gender inequality plight must attain a level of importance (resulting in action) such that it no longer requires initiatives to balance or overcompensate for the disparity; we need to be living and breathing gender equality because it's good for everyone. I don't want to just work for a gender-equal company, I want to encounter socially aware, non-misogynistic men and women in my everyday life inside and outside of socially aware bubbles.
I want results. All women should want these results. If you don't, open your fucking eyes, girl! All men should want these results too, and if this makes you feel uncomfortable, just remember what I tell myself on the reg: you grow the most and shine the brightest when you expose and face your vulnerabilities and discomforts.
Results, not progress. Progress relaxes gender norms; it doesn't change them. Progress doesn’t get me 21% more money yearly, doesn’t put me less at risk of rape, sexual violence, poverty, human trafficking, lack of an education, illiteracy, forced family planning, etc. There need to be deliverables on gender equality and women need to see them deployed and eventually flourish. They need deadlines, and we need a world of project managers spearheading change. We need individuals with big ideas to be the change agents needed to make the future better for you, your sons and daughters, and your peers. Everybody has a particular perspective, and everybody can elicit change.
Who’s taking charge?