Like every girl out there, when I was little I was taught to be ladylike: sit cautiously, dress politely, talk softly. My gender was the basis of character and culture instilment during my childhood, and sadly, I can’t say that it stopped when I hit puberty. All of these things that are engraved in every girl’s mind will grow on to become gender-based assumptions that will limit their latitude in executing their choices in life, and we are expected to do so. Feminism aims to terminate these assumptions, and though we are still a long way from freeing women out of these expectations, it has altered our perception and judgment towards women, and ultimately unlocked so many possibilities that were previously unattainable for women.
Feminism has become a prominent movement within our society, but that does not mean it’s accepted and embraced without question. Its growing intensity over the last few years has been both celebrated and insulted, and its demands for wage equality, body image positivity, and women empowerment has been considered extreme. Feminism, in a way, has diminished the line between challenging patriarchy to empower impartial opportunities for women and condemning the male species for centuries worth of sexism and oppression, insisting on an instant shift in society’s expectations and behavior towards women. Feminism wishes to ratify the ever resilient patriarchal system, and while it is a rational step towards equality, it has been misinterpreted as misandry.
Contrary to this misconception, feminism recognizes that sexism and oppression towards women did not necessarily come from a dent in the male intellect, but rather from a system that had prevailed since as early as ancient Egyptian civilization. It understands that women or not, we are, as a society, a victim of this system preserved by powerful people with various interests throughout history. This system, however, put women as secondary to men, which explains why the fight for women’s rights has always been so vigorous.
If there is one solid pattern in each movement history has witnessed, it’s that extreme oppression and exploitation will be fought with a force just as extreme, if not more. Take #BlackLivesMatter, for example, a movement dedicated to end decades of prejudice and persecution against people of color. The movement itself is not an entirely new idea, for it is a continuation of an endless crusade Dr. King once stood for. It has been especially vocal within the past year, and taking into account the alarming degree of racism that the system has failed to control, the movement’s increasing power is understandable. And yet, it has been accused of harboring the idea that white lives matter less, or do not matter altogether. But just like feminism, what it truly wants is liberating its victims from discrimination and giving them the freedom of choice, not conquering the world and punishing other races or genders for an error in the system.
Many women throughout history – whether or not they identify themselves as feminists – have fought for equality, and what women are entitled to today is the product of their struggle. I’m not just talking about women like Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton who battled against authority to give women, finally, the right to vote, but also women brave enough to speak out against issues that women today are still facing: rape culture, media and its representation of women, discrimination at the workplace, and many others.
I’m talking about women like Cameron Russell and Reshma Saujani, whose experiences resonate with young girls and women across the world and use their influential positions to raise awareness about women’s fixation with the idea of perfection. I’m talking about women like Malala Yousafzai, who battled through emotional and physical pain in her fight for education, a right she is denied access to because she’s a girl. Feminism in our generation aspires to offer the next generations of women the liberty to choose, a freedom that requires fixing the glitch in our system to achieve. Today, it wants nothing more than to shatter the culture of prejudice and harassment against women’s choices.
Choice, especially these days, is a powerful element in a woman’s life, no matter how obligated she is to tradition. But evidently, some form of fear often limits a woman’s choices in many aspects of her life. Women are not free to wear whatever they wish without the fear of being taunted or harassed. They are not free to wear makeup without the fear of being thought of as fake, and they are not free to go bare faced without the fear of being asked if they’re sick. They are not free to be highly educated without the fear of being seen as too intimidating or being told to dumb themselves down a little. They are not free to be pro-choice without the fear of being labeled as immoral. The list goes on and on, revealing how much of women’s liberty is regulated by the fears that feminism promised to eradicate. Ironically, women often create these fears through harsh judgment.
Recently, twitter banter between Kim Kardashian and Chloe Moretz went viral, which I think is the perfect example of how women can create friction while they are fighting within the same movement. Chloe, based on her tweets, believes that young women should be more concerned about their character rather than their bodies, something that she thinks Kim does not advocate. However, she does not understand the significance of choice. Kim may see her body as indivisible to her character and chooses her sexuality as a medium to express it, but that does not mean she lacks depth in character. Kim wishes to show that women are allowed to be proud of their own skin and body, whereas Chloe wants to point out that there is more to a woman than just a sexy exterior. Both are fighting for women’s empowerment within an almost identical backdrop. Both are equally right in their respective perceptions, and neither can trample the other’s choice of understanding.
Feminism has been defined so many times that it has managed to create a checklist of all the traits a woman is supposed to possess. These traits often come in paradoxes: be proud of your own skin but don’t display too much of it, be intelligent but keep it low-key, you name it. Every choice a woman makes comes with an “Extreme Caution” sign, for she will be questioned about it. But women should be able to make decisions without a single thought of fear claiming her right to choose freely. They should have the liberty to create their own destiny regardless of how society might label them. Feminism should institutionalize the power of choice in the movement, a step that would perhaps encourage women –and any other gender in society – to finally respect each other’s personal decisions without being accompanied by ghastly accusations.
As a woman, I aspire to be passionate, intelligent, and above all else, unapologetically independent. But I also want to be smart enough to understand that women who choose differently from me are no less respectable than I am.