My sister and I were chatting the other day when I heard in her the faint rumblings of feminist thought. “Don’t you think …” she asked, “… that it sucks how women have to act like men to get by? That if you wanna be tough and not take shit and be a feminist, you can’t have kids or wear pink or show emotion … doesn’t that suck for women?” Yes, I said, it sucks that a lot of women feel like that but they shouldn’t. It’s probably one of the reasons why feminism is such a dirty word at the moment and it really sucks.
I’ve known many women who believe, sometimes subconsciously, that to be taken seriously they have to renounce womanliness, motherhood, emotions, or even heterosexuality, because anything tied to traditional femininity is inherently tainted with misogyny. And some men think that taking women seriously, respecting us as equal players in political, cultural or social circles, means relinquishing some hold on masculinity. For so many, the mainstay of traditional masculinity is inherently tied to the denial of the power of femininity in every possible way.
It makes sense that for some, the logical solution to centuries of deep, ingrained misogyny is to act like men. We learn that men are respected, have autonomy and power, make money, and are in control. To inherit these privileges we have to act like men too. But this thinking is informed by a worldview that values masculinity above femininity. This isn’t equality between the sexes, it still creates a hierarchy that men top. The only difference in this model is that women are presented with the, often phantom, opportunity for upward momentum if they deny their gender. Wanna get ahead at work? Be ruthless and brick up that uterus! Wanna be taken seriously? Don’t wear pink and don’t cry! Don’t wanna get boxed into doing unpaid domestic work? Be a strong, independent woman and don’t fall in love! In fact, just stop being a woman altogether!
For most of us, the gender we are born into (whether it’s male or female, trans or cis) greatly influence our lives. The solution to inequality in any scenario is not in denying our differences and assimilating into the status quo. The solution to racism isn’t “EVERYBODY BLEACH THEIR SKIN WHITE TO EVEN THE PLAYING FIELD!!” That kind of thinking only reinforces and plays into existing power structures, instead of challenging the underlying problem. True equality, the mantle of feminism, is in the appreciation and respect of all sexes, the acknowledgement that gender and sexuality are fluid spectrums and letting go of the, often selfish, need for people to fit into boxes.
I tried to explain to my sister that the association of pink with femininity, and therefore weakness, is absurd. And the myth that strong women are just men with vaginas is ridiculous. Let’s just be clear: feminists can wear pink, have babies, get married, and cry. The aim of feminism isn’t to eradicate one set of rules on how to be a woman (women must wear dresses, be polite, submit) with another set of rules (women must not show weakness, not be vulnerable and not play into stereotypes).
Respecting women, and all those who fall under the wide umbrella of femininity, means learning to view traits and cultural symbols associated with womanliness as both unique AND valuable. So girls (and boys) can wear pink, wear blue, wear piggy-tails, be bald, be cutesy, be fluffy, be tough, be tattooed, be muscly, be a waif, be tan, be glittery, be sweaty but mostly be kind. And remind your little sisters that they don’t have to give up being a woman to be respected as a person.