-This piece contains topics that may be triggering –
Until about three years ago, I never paid much attention to the differences in how men and women were treated. I blindly assumed that sexism was almost non-existent. The pay gap was the extent of my knowledge.
As I fumbled my way into adulthood and became more aware of myself, I also became more aware of the climate around me. In my second year of university, I attended a lecture about everyday sexism. We were told how the idea that we shouldn’t be as loud as, shouldn’t take up as much space as, and shouldn’t be as ambitious as men were all examples of everyday sexism. Suddenly it was obvious, my mother’s rantings about how everyday sexism still existed were all true, it just didn’t look like I imagined it would.
Just like my wonderfully brave mother, I am angry about the fact that women are still treated like shit.
Starting at a young age
The dialogue starts from an early age. Girls in pre-school are told they are bossy or loud, whereas boys are ambitious or born leaders. Girls are told they are pretty, beautiful, or dressed nicely before they are told about their intelligent minds, creative spirits and strengths. It starts as subtle compliments but before long how a woman looks becomes her defining feature.
During high school, the belittling of female intelligence becomes more obvious. When a girl isn’t good at maths, for example, they are told it is not for them. A boy, on the other hand, is told they’re just struggling and are given extra attention.
High school is also where the sexualisation of the female body begins. More attention was paid to the length and tightness of my skirt than to my education. Ok, that is probably an exaggeration, but I was told countless times that it was “unfair on male teachers” to wear a skirt that was tight. I was a 16-year-old girl wearing short skirts because I had been brainwashed to think that how I looked was more important than getting an education. Schools, on the other hand, couldn’t hire male teachers that could control themselves around a barely pubescent girl.
Everyday sexism becomes a sense of belonging to someone else
Subconsciously, women have internalised the narrative that our worth is based on our looks. We are conditioned into thinking that it is society, and men in particular, that determine how ‘acceptable’ we look. In my younger days, I felt so fulfilled if I got attention from boys. I would change who I was so that they would think I was ‘cool’ or ‘attractive’ even if I didn’t rate them.
University culture highlights these problems further. Nights out seem to increase the feeling of living to please men. Once, a guy bought my friend a drink, she accepted it and spoke to him for a while. He then tried to kiss her but she told him she wasn’t interested. He went on to give her abuse saying she was a slut, that she was leading him on, and that she was teasing him. He had the impression that buying her a £3 drink was effectively buying him sex. When it comes to nights out, men don’t feel like they need permission to touch a female’s body so they grab your butt or grind up against you. If you tell them to stop they’ll continue because in their mind you’re just playing “hard to get.”
As horrible at is it, in the past it seemed easier to let them have what they want than to put up with abuse. I heard from many friends over the years that “I didn’t really want to sleep with him, but he bought me a drink so I obviously couldn’t say no. I just kinda lay there wanting it to be over.” Now I know how not ok this is.
We are allowing rape culture to become acceptable
This next section may be triggering for some people.
Just before graduation, I got sexually assaulted whilst on a night out. It took me a long time to stop blaming myself. I did absolutely nothing wrong but because I was drunk, walking home alone, and trusted someone I didn’t know I thought it was my own fault. From our first interaction, I made it clear that I was not interested. I told him that I had a boyfriend (because boys only pay attention to the fact that my body is already owned by another male, not that I don’t want to) and repeatedly said no.
The culture we are living in right now gives boys the idea that they can do what they want. It is like something switches and it is no longer another person just a vehicle for their own pleasure. This incident left me feeling dirty, scared, embarrassed and still to this day causes me distress. Sadly, just weeks after this happened to me another friend was also sexually assaulted whilst on a night out.
Those who sexually assault people are walking away freely and given positions of power. This gives the impression that a female’s safety and wellbeing aren’t important. It tells the younger generation of males that it is ok to do these things, even praised. We should be teaching boys to be respectful.
It’s time to stand up to everyday sexism
This is a call to all men. I want you to stop and think have you ever done anything that would make a woman feel uncomfortable. Have you stared them up and down, honked your horn, or said inappropriate things in their ear whilst at the club? It is time to hold yourself accountable for your actions. You are old enough and clever enough to know what is right and wrong. Basically, if you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you, don’t do it. Don’t assume women want to have sex with you and be f*cking respectful decent human beings.
We teach women to sit down and shut up. We’ve been pitted against each other. It is even encouraged that women compare and compete against each other. This is just another tactic for keeping women down. We should not be doing that. We have to build each other up and help each other grow. Some else’s success will not take away from your own.
I am making a promise to myself to speak my truth and to be as loud as I can about the issues that are important to me. It is time that I stop putting myself down. There is enough pressure on me to be a certain way I shouldn’t be doing it to myself. These pressures have led to detrimental effects on my self-esteem and self-worth and I won’t allow that anymore. It is a work in progress but I promise to love myself, be true to myself and respect myself enough to speak my truth and be unapologetically me. I ask you, as a human, to do the same.
Let us not forget each other
It is great that people are speaking up about rape culture and everyday sexism. However, there isn’t just one battle we need to fight. There are so many other social injustices going on in the world affecting minorities that no one is interested in. We are still at a stage where white issues are deemed more important. I understand my privilege in even having the chance to say this but my heart truly hurts for all of the injustice faced by others in the world. I hope that one day we will all be living in a world filled with love and compassion for others.