Loving yourself, and each other

Growing up, I was never really exposed to any overwhelming misogyny—well, I didn’t think I was at the time. Looking back on it now I was probably exposed to it every single day as a young girl. But it’s only in more recent years that I’ve become consciously aware of every belittling thing a man says or does in my presence: it’s turned out to be a lot. And slowly but surely, I’ve begun to notice that when a man says or does these things, I seem to be one of—if not the only—girl in the room that so much as notices it, let alone is insulted by it. In fact, I vividly remember having been put in a number of situations by men that I found immensely uncomfortable, and seeing other girls just shrug it off.

It’s not really surprising that the majority of girls act this way, and I don’t blame them either. Not only have most of us become immune to the overwhelmingly hegemonic society we’re indulged in, us girls have been brought up in a way that tells you to never stand up to men. As a young girl, it’s repeatedly drilled into you by parents, teachers and friends alike: “He’s only being mean to you because he likes you.” As you get older, you find that the majority of supervisory figures in your life are profusely male—tutors, bosses. Opportunely, I grew up in a household where my mother was the breadwinner. I haven’t been surrounded by male figures for the majority of my life, and from a young age she reiterated to me that a woman could be anything she wanted to be. She provided me with support in whatever I wanted to do, and made sure that I understood that I could do anything a man could do. Predominately, I have her to thank for giving me the mindset I have today. But in the majority of households—where a male figure is the breadwinner—this isn’t the case, and girls aren’t fed this ideology from a young age. In all walks of life, men are inherently being proved to be the more powerful sex, the more dominant. So when this omnipotent creature makes a ludicrous comment about one of us, who are we to stand up to them and tell them they’re wrong, or belittle them as they do to us? They literally rule the world: we don’t have a say.

But actually, we do. There have been endless times that I’ve expressed my views on misogyny and sexism to the men closest to me, and they either laugh or tell me that it isn’t happening—ironic, because that in itself just proves how much it is happening. Or there have been a handful of times where I’ve been sat in the same lecture as a boy who makes a crude and obnoxious remark about women, and the lecturer himself will laugh. The girls always follow, because it’s been drilled into us to follow men’s paths our entire life. I used to do the same years ago; I used to brush off the sexist jokes and the chauvinistic comments all the way through school. Looking back on it now, I realise that it was a mechanism of getting people to like me. I didn’t want boys thinking that I was a stereotypical angry girl, who complained about everything and got offended by all of their comments—likewise I didn’t want girls thinking I was a headstrong feminist who thought I was better, more powerful than boys. But I was that person, and in reality I’m more so that person now: but the difference is I don’t care. And I think every girl feels the same deep down—those feelings have just been so far suppressed by the misogynistic society we’re engulfed in on a daily basis.

Unsettlingly, we’ve become so numb to the way women are treated by men in society that we’ve resorted to doing the same to each other. Us women think it’s okay to vilify other women for their sexual choices because men do, or that it’s okay to body shame another woman. We think it’s funny to put down a woman who is quite clearly confident in her own skin by calling her vain or conceited, because we know that men don’t like women like that: we want to show them that we don’t believe in loving ourselves and one another, either. In reality, we should be empowering one another: women say this enough but we don’t act on it. And by no means am I saying that I’m exempt from this, I’m just as bad as everybody else when it comes down to it. But every day, I’m gradually starting to understand that women only pit ourselves against each other for the pleasure of men. Underwhelmingly, we are the only sex to do this—very rarely do you see two men disparage one another because of a woman. Misogynists find unimaginable joy in slandering a woman just to have another humour and validate him.

I wholeheartedly understand why women are so afraid to stand up for themselves and others in the society that we live in, where we are constantly told to silence ourselves and our beliefs and where men are still inordinately in control. Even more so, I understand how hard it is to love yourself enough to not put up with the seemingly innocuous comments men make. But whilst we continue to conform to male behaviour and reassure them that it’s okay to treat us and other women this way (and actually repeating the behaviour ourselves), we’re only making things worse. Once you start to take note of the larger societal misogynistic triumphs, the little ones in your personal life begin to become more and more apparent: you should really start putting up with them less and less. Don’t be afraid to tell your teacher or your male friend that rape jokes aren’t acceptable to make for fear of being laughed at, or to highlight to your partner that he’s making a sexist remark for fear of bickering. The only way for us to move forward in gender injustice is by ensuring that you love yourself and others enough to not put up with misogyny.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

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