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Growing up in a modern, liberal family, I spent my entire childhood oblivious to the fact that I was any different from my three brothers. Undeveloped, I ran shirtless through the sprinkler in summer; I beat all the neighborhood boys in races; the whole family would bake in the kitchen together; I would run in the mud in overalls rather than pink dresses. I knew the difference linguistically between ‘girl’ and ‘boy’, but that was truly the full measure of my understanding. I had no knowledge of what society believed, what society had always believed. I was too young and too free to realize that in my future, a transformation of personality was to be expected from me.
As I made the transition from kindergarten to elementary school (and at the same time, from America to England), the distinction between male and female became stronger. Girls and boys were two separate groups in the playground: the girls would play house while the boys played soccer. Later, when some of the girls wanted to play sports, the boys turned them down because it was “a boys’ game”. And so the girls retreated back to the playhouse where they would take care of baby dolls, sometimes managing to lure a boy in to be their pretend husband.
Changing for gym class became a terror for girls wearing crop tops, as the boys would see and mock them, while the girls envied their grown up figure. I was among the more developed in the class, and so I hid in a corner to change, ashamed of something that I was too young to recognize. As secondary school began, the girls and boys were separated while changing. The girls would suck their stomachs in and push their bosoms out, craving the admiration and jealousy of onlookers. The more confident girls would wear shorter and tighter clothing and strut past the male population of the school, absorbing their objectification with pride. It was a good thing to be sexy, and a bad thing to be ugly; the treatment of these groups differed accordingly.
I transferred to an all girls’ school when I was fourteen, and a very different vibe greeted me. Although there were no boys to impress, the competition of how much of a woman one could be existed between the girls. They would read celebrity magazines while making condescending remarks; they would go on ‘Thinspiration’, (a website created by a severely anorexic girl to ‘inspire’ other girls to lose weight) and covet the starving models’ bodies, calling them beautiful and perfect. However when one student was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, scathing whispers went around the cafeteria about how disgusting she was. No one could win.
Around the same time, the messages from boyfriends and male acquaintances demanded a different body: one of curves and often of nudity. It came to light that the said boys regularly watched pornographic videos, and harassed girls they knew to give them images of their bodies. When confronted about their disrespectful behavior, it was shrugged off with talk of hormones and puberty. Girls began to have an inner conflict as to which side of society to please: the girls who wanted to be thin, yet looked down on people who were too thin; or the boys, who wanted more womanly bodies, but for degrading purposes.
Closely after this debate began, I moved to Hong Kong, and the terrible speak of losing one’s virginity came. Girls claimed to want it to be romantic and magical; boys claimed to want it for the sake of physical pleasure. If either of those statements were true, I will never know. However, those in relationships lasting over a month were expected to ‘put out’; if not, they were called frigid and uptight. It became at least a tri-daily occurrence to hear so-called jokes aimed at women, all with punch lines to do with cooking or dishwashing or having sex. Boys shamelessly stared at my chest and spoke about girls’ bodies in front of the other girls and me. The girls were so used to this treatment, that they sat and said nothing, and kept a placid smile on their faces as if they were content with their situations. When I chose to speak up, I was met with cracks at the female population, condescending remarks about my body and my purpose in the world, and orders to “get back in the kitchen”. Walking away from the crowd, I heard the boys talking about how my curves were my best feature, and the girls remaining silent and passive.
There are expectations of women, which have been accumulated since the beginning of time. When cavemen hunted and provided, the women would take care of the children. When men went to war, women kept the home front running. Women were brought up to serve as a wife and child bearer, while men were made for education and greatness. They were considered their father’s property and then their husband’s property, never their own. Girls went to charm school while boys went to grammar school, girls played netball while boys played rugby, and so one and so forth through the whole of history until we come to today, when despite feminists and activists, some gender roles are just accepted. And that made me angry: I hated that the world would accept things that are so unjust, so unfair. I hated men; I hated people for molding half of the world’s population into nothingness.
I was finally faced with a question: should I conform to societal standards of what a woman is and should be in order to be accepted, or should I stand up in an effort to be considered a person of equality to any other man or woman; for that matter, to be considered a person at all?
I made my choice: I would not conform. And so I began rebelling against what is required of a woman. I dressed how I wanted, I read many books by and about feminists, and was greatly inspired by them. I blew up every time someone made a bad remark or generalization about women, willing to argue with anyone for the respect of my kind. I became a warrior: a warrior against society, against men, against stereotypes, against anything that I felt restricted me.
I would like to say that all of my strife was out of goodwill, but that wouldn’t be true. A lot of it was for goodness, but also a large part of it was my anger. I felt that the treatment of women represented more than just that: it showed the condition of the human race. We are so quick to judge and put each other down; we always want to feel better and more powerful than our neighbor. We are xenophobic, racist, ageist and sexist. I wanted to know why people were so cruel, and why we couldn’t just be better to each other. And through all this, an outrage was formed, and it made me want to fight for my rights and the rights of everyone and everything I identified with. I resented the human race, and yet it is unavoidable. Everywhere I went I saw reminders of how I was not considered an equal: the looks of men, the models in magazines, the signs on taxi cabs for ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, even the fact that in most languages a group is expressed in the masculine rather than feminine term.
I guess I was looking at the whole topic as if the answer was simple: just stop discriminating against other people. But the fact is, it’s not that simple, and it’s definitely not simple enough for me to fix on my own. It’s also not a topic that most of the world would agree with me on. And then I began to understand why those girls remained silent at the sound of the boys’ disrespectful remarks: they felt hopeless. They knew that the world would not change because they wanted it to. And that is the way for any minority, any nation in poverty, any family who have lost their possessions due to a fall in the economy: it is just too big a problem to face, to change.
And so now I am not as angry, but at the same time, I am not completely hopeless. I have stopped making every remark into an argument; I have stopped hating the world and hating men. Because I have a part of me that still believes one day, maybe not in my lifetime, things will change, due to women who are not speaking out but know that they are equal. And I think that most women are like me: they do know that they are equal; they just don’t know what to do about it. They are silent warriors: they soundlessly wish for a future of equality, and I will always kindle the hope that it will one day become a reality.