I’m going to make an honest confession. I really, really enjoy it when a man opens the door open for me. At times, I’ve had friends tell me this gesture is “old-fashioned” and “pointless”. The action still signifies so much respect to me. And, while I’m at it, I also like it when men pay if I’ve been asked out on a date. I don’t mind taking the time to help out with my portion of the check, but some (possibly out-dated) part of me appreciates this courtesy, as well.
So, in the last month, if you were to ask me if I considered myself a feminist, I would scoff at the question. Me? A bra-burning, man-hating, never-shaving feminist? Not in a million years. Or, at least, not until I was able to fully grasp what the term feminism truly meant. In the past few months, I have been jolted into fast-forward with my life. I started a career, learned to travel independently, and have attempted acclimate to pressure associated with the world of a 20-somethings. Throughout my entire life, I have never understood what feminism stood for because I lived in a sheltered sphere of small-town, rural America. A feminist, in my hometown and even at my university, had become a radical symbol and I hated any association with it. Recently, I have come to believe that it wasn’t just my little bubble that had misjudged the word—it was the entire world.
Feminist [fem-uh-nist]— (adj.) a person advocating social, political, and economical rights for women equal to those of men.
This definition, along with three other people, has led me to question my own stance on the word feminism and also the movement of gender equality. Because I believe that women should be granted the same privileges and respect that men are afforded, I now have realized that I am, indeed, a feminist. I would like to take the time to share the three people in the last few months that have pushed me towards this deduction—Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and (yes, just like the title says) my father.
Emma Watson: Hermione takes a stand
Recently, a video has been going around of Emma Watson, famous British actress who delivered a scathing call to action to the United Nations. Watson was recently appointed a goodwill ambassador for UN Women, meaning that her job title is now to be a voice for women in the world. She’s been active in numerous other campaigns, especially the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by an Islamic militant group.
On September 20th, Watson addressed the world at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Her request for change begins with challenging all genders to consider ending gender inequality. Watson was speaking for the UN’s latest campaign, HeforShe, a mobilization encouraging both men and women to feel free from gender expectations and prejudice.
I’m abundantly amazed and proud of the audience she has reached. This has been shared countless times on my Facebook wall and the Twittersphere is all aflutter with the hashtag “HeforShe”. The actress who I once identified as my nerdy spirit animal in the Harry Potter films had me identifying with her once again. This time, my heart opened as she spoke of her growth as woman and the realization that she has been treated differently by society her entire life. And I cried when she confessed that being called bossy as a child hurt because, oh, did I empathize with that. I want to expect that my children, sons or daughters, will grow up in a world where they are treated equally, in America or any other country, despite their gender. My hope is that people will continue sharing this video and will take the time to research more into the campaign. And of course, my deepest dream is that the UN will reach their goal of having a billion men committing to this advocacy.
Sheryl Sandberg: More than surface level
On one of my recent longer car rides, I made the decision to buy the audiobook Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook. This was really my first encounter with the idea of feminism, and I loved the fact that Sandberg took the time to correlate statistics with personal stories about her own journey in the professional world. Sandberg is one of the few women in the world to occupy an elite group of executives at the top. She frequently mentions how apparent it is to her that half of all the competition in this group isn’t even there. Where have all the women gone?
Why? Why aren’t more women leaders in this world? This can’t simply be attributed to sexism in the workforce any longer. Mad Men isn’t a reality, and man, am I thankful for that. While I do believe that in some places women do face subtle or extreme prejudice every day, I do not experience this at all and believe that such action is not tolerated in most environments. Sandberg hits the nail right on the head when she cites in her book that for women, our own sex and ourselves, even, are our worst enemies. I was called bossy as a child repeatedly and not just for being the oldest of four girls. As someone who deeply values personal relationships, these words have continued to sting all of my life.
Yet, how many times do I find myself bashing other women for coming across as too direct or rude? I’m ashamed to admit that the answer is a higher number than I wish. Human nature is competitive, but as women, we should learn to embrace and support each other throughout the journey. Now, I am motivated to encourage others before I react negatively. These words especially are hand-in-hand with the idea that women are more prone to self-doubt and continue to doubt their own abilities. Sandberg shared a story in her book about two women who physically refused to join the table with men at an executive meeting despite their right to sit there. In my deepest internal thoughts, I am constantly questioning my actions and words because, sometimes, I feel that I am not enough. It’s so easy to realize why these women felt they didn’t belong at the table. If we, as women, continue to question and discourage each other, women will be impacted by a vicious cycle of apprehension for their entire life and career. We deserve to sit at the table and enjoy each other’s company.
I would like to encourage you to research Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. You can watch her TED talk titled “Why we have too few women leaders” here: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders?language=en#t-173888
My Father: A Home with Five Females and One Bathroom
While so many women refuse to join the table at an executive meeting, a number of women are hesitant to even enter the building. Sandberg also addressed the idea that this self-doubt impact women’s choices for career. We second-guess our every move we make from a very early age, and I think this starts with our own families. A few days ago, I listened as a nineteen year old girl told me she changed her major from Pre-Health because she “wanted to be able to have a family and settle down”. She didn’t even have this family yet, but she was already trying to make accommodations and sacrificing her dream.
But I have been lucky enough to grow up in a family where I was encouraged to understand there were so many possibilities for my future. My sisters and I considered infinite amounts of careers, from ballerina to microbiologist, because we were encouraged to be our own person, not our gender. I’ve always referred to my parents as a team as they raised us. My mother had a major change of career when I was about ten years old, and my father embraced this idea and worked with my mother to reach this goal. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to owning her own business, and I am always inspired by her motivation, tenacity, and effort to balance time at home.
I’m thankful, additionally, that my father has embraced having four daughters every day of his life. And that is really difficult on a Sunday morning when we are all home, jockeying for a little mirror time in the bathroom that we all share, scrambling to make it to church on time. We were pushed just as hard as a boy would be to have a successful education and career. I was encouraged to pursue my passion in English Literature and never persuaded to consider a different path. Because my father is a man who supports women and remains a constant guide in my own life, I know that my horizon is limitless. He talks about the things we are interested in (that includes football and rock music), and really invests in who we are as individuals. My hope is that other men will support this attitude like my own father, especially in countries where few basic rights are provided to women and a father is the only voice she has.
I’m inspired by Emma Watson to embrace the word feminism. I’m grateful to Sheryl Sandberg for providing better insight into my own role as a female professional. Mostly, I’m thankful to my father for being a HeforShe before it was even a campaign and for encouraging me every baby step of the way.
So, here goes nothing. I am a feminist.