I don’t think I knew much about feminism or what it really means until very recently. I mean, I have always had opinions on things and followed more of less my own path doing what I thought I wanted or I had to do. But I remember being the young girl in the house that took care of it because my mother was working, and my older brother wouldn’t do as much as me, and I totally felt annoyed at it but I ended tidying and taking care of the house because I didn’t want my mother to come back home after being all day away working and find a messy and dirty house. I didn’t do it always, I’ll be honest, and sometimes I did it fast and badly, but I did it more often than not because of this empathy that is supposed to be a part of the women’s nature.
My life was also very shaped by the religion of my parents, which was mine for some time, and that religion, as most Christian ones, says that the woman must keep quiet and subdued to the man, either the father, the brother or the husband. It is really unsettling to think how many women accept this situation without complaining. At some point in my late adolescence I started to think differently… basically I didn’t quite agree with things like brainwashing and isolation, and of course, I didn’t agree with having my possibilities as a person so limited just for the fact of being a girl.
My leaving process of that religion – it should be called cult, rather – was far longer and more painful that it should have, but when I finally managed, I felt, if not stronger, a bit more empowered and able to be myself. I suppose that, at this point, some of the features that define feminist women were a part of my own character. However I wouldn’t define myself as a feminist as such. I just thought myself as a happily independent person, finally! Also, I think the term “feminism” had (has) been long attacked as something very negative and pernicious, which meant that for some time I was not really comfortable using it. At all, not even in a sentence!
On the other side, as a teenager I always had this view of the world being against me. It was a teenager view, I guess, but it was maybe based on some truthful facts. As a teenage girl I was victim of constant attacks by the people around me and the media. The expectations on how I should look were too high and damaging, and my voice was hardly heard seriously – perhaps because I was a teenager, or a girl, or short and chubby, or a bit of everything together. I was always very open on many issues, I didn’t fear to show my opinions on most things – taking out some taboos, of course, like sex or religion. But then, the feeling that no matter what I said, there wouldn’t be people interested in hearing it, sunk in. I am still confident enough to stand up and talk in front of an audience, but I will always start apologising for any possible mistakes or different opinions first. In addition, I will hardly participate in a conversation with many people in which somebody is very clearly leading the way. Probably there are more consequences that I haven’t even noticed yet!
When you are a teenager, you also have other pressures, regardless of your gender. You have to look in a particular way, you must work hard to get the highest possible grades, because they will matter a lot in the next step of your life. You have to learn how to cope with your changes and emotions and try to be nice to your family, even if it is extremely difficult because they are very annoying or traditional and opinionated or wrong, in general. You also have to be social enough not to say that you hate everybody and don’t forget being popular amongst your peers. At some point you start to realize that it is too difficult to joggle with it all and no matter what you do, it never seems enough.
I was listening to The Guilty Feminist podcast on my way to work when one of the presenters, Debra Frances-White, started to talk about the difference in which men and women speak in public. Whilst the man will be confident and will present stuff that may be just ok in a great way; the woman will most probably start always with an apology or a preamble to excuse herself for what she is about to say, and most of the times, the man will be more spontaneous on his ideas and presenting them, whereas the woman will have put a lot of thought into it and still will not be sure of how to present it without sounding too confident, which could be interreted as aggressive or something similar. That was so me, that it made me stop for a second, I literally stopped in the street and thought in shock: YEAH! THAT’S ME! Why do we, women, apologise for speaking out or even just speaking!? Why do men feel entitled and have no shame of not being great, if that’s the case? I’m not saying that is the norm (here I am apologising), but don’t you know THAT guy that is really good at presenting himself but has no clue of what he is doing most of the time?
They – Frances-White and Sofie Hagen, co-presenters of The Guilty Feminist, and guests – kept talking about many topics or problems, like how women have always to work harder to get to the same place where men are – and they always clarify “white posh men”, so of course there are other non-privileged groups. They talk about a lot of issues in a very interesting and sometimes casual way. I think that because I felt so identified with what they were talking about, I got to the conclusion that I might be a feminist after all! Because I am a woman that happens to find life harder than I should, just because I am a woman. I would lie if I said that my life is difficult now. It was for a bit, I think, but I wouldn’t say it is now, so I am not going to pretend that I am unhappy and I feel pressed down in my life to sell my point better. But I will also say that by this point, I am quite deft at cutting off what I don’t like in my life. Still, ignoring the problem doesn’t make it disappear. Women have gone a long way, yes, but there’s still so much to walk.
I think that the first step for me, to help – because suddenly I feel I am an adult and I want to act – to make things better for women is to admit that I am a feminist. There, I said it.