Feminism Is A Swear Word

With two complete years of university to my name, not much fazes me anymore. The kids that show up to class with a very fine crease line across their face, shuffling along in pajama pants with alcohol accenting their breath from the night before (or this morning, depending on how the night went), they represent our generation: split between the desire to find a place to take our lunch break at our aspired jobs and the desire to retire from work for a night or two.

We’ve learned some essential things since we showed up with lanyards carefully dangling around our necks as freshmen. There is an art to not burning popcorn (As a dormitory retiree, I can promise you that you’ll be the most hated freshman if you wake the entire building up at 2 AM with the fire alarm. No names . . .) and getting ready for class within minutes because of the insidious practicality of the snooze button.

Before college, I was taught the wrong things. I wasn’t taught things like 8 and 9-year-old girls are having their vaginal organs removed and even their vaginas sewn shut. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) affects over 200 women and girls in at least 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. I guess that one must have slipped the syllabus. I was instead taught how to dress in order to not get raped. Despite what Robin Thicke told me in his famous song, I can say that while I sat on the floor next to my sobbing friend who had been drugged and raped, I was not thinking, “She wanted it.”  I was taught that my bra straps were distracting to boys. At one point, thanks to my high school principal, I missed three class periods and a test because I had to change my shorts twice. I even started to cry when, after having my mother leave work again to bring me more gym shorts, my principal told me that if they were a half-inch longer they would’ve been fine. I, along with my other classmates in our small town, was ultimately taught that feminism was a dirty word. It is a curse word. What’s the best way to silence a girl? Call her crazy; hormonal, or even worse- call her an angry, man-hating feminist.

That’s what my knowledge on feminism consisted of. I could not understand why these women were so angry. I guess I’d be angry too if I’d known then how many of my close friends had been sexually assaulted, deprived themselves of food in the name of beauty, and been shamed based on their bodies. As feminist writer Caitlin Moran pointed out, no one ever looked at Martin Luther King Jr. and thought “Who is that angry person and why is he so loud?”

Feminism is simply equality for all genders and through that, acknowledging all the societal harm done in the name of gender. It’s tricky: sexism is interwoven with problems of body image, race, and sexuality. The societal pressure to look a certain way, be it masculine or feminine, drives us to unhealthy lengths. Women of color receive much less representation in fashion and advertisements than others. In 2014, only 14% of fashion magazines had WOC on the covers and in some instances whitewashing came into play. The mental image of the ‘perfect girl’ is not only white, but she is thin, a real life Barbie (which is physically impossible to attain). Eating Disorders are at a current all time high; 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from one. The paper challenge instructs women to see if their waists are small enough. Enough is the size of an A4 piece of paper. There was a shirt in Urban Outfitter’s inventory that read: Eat Less.

I have three little nieces and a nephew that I adore. True bliss is carrying them up to bed, their bodies relaxed against mine, arms dangling around my neck. I do not want them to be subjected to these standards then have to collect them off the floor, a mix of vomit and tears, while they tell me the floor tile feels so damn cold and fake.

Phrases such as “act like a man,” “suck it up,” and “real men don’t cry,” are ruining mental health. The idea that males, or any other human on this earth, shouldn’t cry is driving the rising spike of poor mental health. There is so much pressure put on males to not feel emotion, which is arguably one of most powerful and humanistic traits we have as a species. Studies show that bottling your emotions not only leads to poor mental health but other exciting things like heart disease and cancer.

Most women are very familiar with the phrase “act like a lady,” or my personal favorite, “cross your legs.” What? Am I keeping out all of the demons that otherwise would enter my body by crossing my legs? Is this similar to the origin of why we say bless you when someone sneezes? As if crossing my legs could make me any more of a woman than my biology has dictated.

“That’s gay,” is now a synonym for words like stupid and dumb, and also the latest and most effective way to attack someone else’s sexuality. My friend, and people like her, who have cried for days when their moms say they don’t love them the same because of the girl they’re dating, would never look at how much they’ve struggled with their sexuality and say “that’s gay.” The pressure that society puts on us to look like a certain gender and date a certain gender, leads us to put unnecessary and unrealistic pressure on ourselves. As I said, mental illness is at an all time high.

For males, females, and those anywhere in between, we all see the same things walking home, though our paths differ. The summer fireflies that momentarily illuminate my path and yours, showing us a glimpse of the light we hope to find when all the artificial light is gone, they look the same in the dark of our eyes. You create yourself, your gender, and the world around you. I hope someday you can sit down and say: this must be the place.

Feminism and identifying as feminist can help to demolish and dismantle the problems that rigid gender norms create. It starts with a conversation, a Facebook post, whatever mode of communication you prefer (MySpace does still exist). Conversations that educate others on FGM, consent, gender and sexuality inclusive sex education, will hopefully end with, “I too, am a feminist.” Educating others that may be a part of the “anti feminist group” that many others and I used to belong to, about feminism is all too important. Educate them about all the facades feminism is not. Don’t let the rape culture and oppressive messages that music, media, and our peers use manipulate you and your gender.

Maddy Carlson (she/her) is part of the Concept: Staff. Meet the staff here