When we think of female empowerment, our minds automatically go to inspirational figures who are taking pivotal steps towards gender equality. Women such as Emma Watson, who was appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014 and advocates the #HeForShe campaign. We think of the women in powerful positions who are constantly fighting for a level playing field between males and females. I have always looked up to these figures, hoping one day I can be as courageous as them to stand up for what's right.
But we can't all be UN Ambassadors. What we can do, is each play our individual role in breaking down the barriers between genders. Emma Watson rallies for men as well as women. She believes gender stereotypes on both sides are just as harmful to the entire picture of equality. "If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't feel compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled." Those words have stuck with me. I am immensely saddened when I come across a man who is so obviously trying to fit into the role he has been taught is right for him, who is embarrassed to be seen feeling emotion or showing a moment of weakness.
Who decided that boys don't get to feel as deeply as girls?
I am just as happy to have a heartfelt conversation with my male friends as I am my female friends. I often confide in them for emotional support and advice, or even just for someone to vent to, yet time and time again I'm told that this is wrong. It's great to have guy friends but I should be mostly turning to my girlfriends. Guy friends are just there for fun, right!?
This is so wrong, and it's this mentality that has led to suppression — both for men and women. It creates the idea that men shouldn't be soft and mushy and want to talk about their feelings and that women should only do just that. It's the outdated ideal we need to move away from. There should be no difference in emotional capacities between genders. We're all human!
I also strongly believe in breaking down our feminine stereotypes. As I was growing up, I remember being told to sit "like a lady." I had a bit of a tendency to laze around with my legs apart — "manspreading," if you will. Geez, even that word makes a certain way we sit gender specific! I used to complain about being dressed in skirts and dresses because I couldn't climb trees as easily as my friends who were boys. I loved going to the hardware store with my dad and spent the weekends at skate parks on my scooter or bike (I was a very cool kid). I wasn't even aware that a lot of my habits were seen as slightly embarrassing. Apparently, it's not normal for a girl to eat as much as a "growing teenage boy," or to have a pretty delayed interest in make-up and fashion.
As I grew up I realized I was seen as pretty different at times and spent most of my teen years trying so hard to suppress my natural instincts. I started wearing make-up and taking an interest in how I looked. I swapped the bikes for magazines and nail polish, and I quickly became very self-conscious about what others thought of me (particularly boys). I hated that they didn't see me as one of the "pretty girls." For a while I went overboard and forced out the materialistic, "girly" side of myself — it wasn't a good look.
I've now grown to despise this ladylike idea. It's like I'm going through a late rebellious phase, except this time I'm rebelling against a societal idea that I can't act rough. I'm embracing my dirty, chewed nails, my messy hair and my baggy clothes. I'm unapologetically "manspreading" on a daily basis.
I want to break down all the barriers that categorize men and women into their stereotypes, so we are each free to live exactly how we want to. I don't want anyone to have to think about what they should be wearing or should be doing, to feel like their true personality is being suppressed. I want to be unashamedly unladylike. Stuff everyone's expectations!
This International Women's Month lets focus on celebrating the things that make us so unlike our gender stereotypes. Man, it feels good to act like a man!