Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Feminism, femininity, fighting stereotypes (and not caring what others think)

Alright, so I've been wanting to write this post up for a while, mostly because it's been weighing pretty heavily on my mind as I go through several different life transitions. (And I realise this is a tad bit political and my last few posts have been going that way as well, especially with the immigration series, but I promise this isn't the future of this blog.) Between  high school, university, part-time work and professional work, I've been wearing quite a few different hats lately. During this time, I've found it really difficult to balance my feminist views and femininity, while fighting the stereotypes that comes with spending the vast majority of my waking life in male-dominated activities. 




Before we get too far, let's define feminism. Feminism is just another word for equality. It isn't man-hating. It isn't bra-burning. It's the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, that girls should be able to go to school, men can be stay-at-home dads, that women can work or not work, that the phrases "man up" or "fight like a girl" shouldn't exist anymore. I spend quite a lot of time studying engineering and practicing jiu jitsu, both male-dominated activities. I often have to use my feminist ideals to get through the occasional class, like when I'm sitting in a lab at uni and 95% of the people there are men. (Needless to say, I felt a little out of place.) Maybe I'm one of the few women there, but that doesn't mean I deserve to be there any less, or that I'm any less competent than everyone else is. 

I've found that as I go through my day, people put me in a box and leave me there. You're a female studying engineering? Oh, you must be less competent than the males in your class. You do martial arts? Oh, you must be a tomboy. You work in a pharmacy? Oh, you must be a pharmacy student. (Or even worse, you're just a check-out chick.) I've found that I constantly surprise people when I tell them that no, those boxes, those stereotypes, are wrong. That's not me. (I've gotten so many shocked looks when I say I do martial arts, it's hilarious.)

I've had to fight to be respected at school, the gym, the pharmacy (by customers, not my coworkers). A lot of that drive has come from my feminist beliefs, that I deserve to be there just as much as anyone, that I don't do male-dominated activities to get a boyfriend but because I'm there because I love it. (Yes, I have gotten that one before.) 

I think this feminism, this fight, has really impacted my femininity. A lot of the time, people don't respect women who dress up because girly-girls can't do math and like to go shopping and marry rich. A woman who wears lipstick can't go to engineering school and be respected, right? For years now, I've been downplaying my femininity to try and be respected. I didn't wear makeup, didn't dress up, didn't watch romance movies. (I still don't watch romance movies, though, so that's just me.) I forced myself to be tough, to be one of the guys. (This was probably influenced by my high school as well, which tried really hard to make us young ladies. (Excuse me? Young ladies? I'll be as tomboy-y as I like, thank you very much.))

Then, I began going the opposite direction once I hit uni, started working "professionally", and spent more time doing martial arts. People expected me to be a tomboy because I was in male-dominated spaces, so I pushed back. Bright red lipstick? Check. Pink nails? Check. Nice clothes? Check. I dared anyone to comment that I didn't belong with each shade brighter of lipstick I wore to class and wore my femininity around my neck like armour.


To be honest, though, it was exhausting. How could anyone keep up with defying gender expectations imposed by society? Through this whole thing of fighting the boxes society keeps trapping me in, I've begun to realise that my femininity is nothing to be ashamed of. Traditional femininity isn't a weakness, it's a strength. I'm going to have to fight to be respected regardless of whether or not I wear bright pink lipstick or dye my hair purple, so if I enjoy it then why don't I just go ahead? People are going to judge me no matter what I do. Being kind, caring and empathetic are also traditionally feminine traits, and since when are those qualities something to hide away? 

I'm done with fighting gender roles for the sake of fighting gender roles. I'm done with caring about what other people think of me. I'm going to wear lipstick because I like wearing lipstick and because I love feeling pretty. I'm going to pull my gi on and have bruises and look disgusting because I love fighting. I'm going to walk out the house without a drop of makeup on because I wasn't put here on this earth to look pretty. I'm going to keep writing and solving math problems and writing science reports and taking pictures and helping people find the best medicine for them and watching educational YouTube videos and playing with little kids and watching action movies because I love it. 

People aren't "masculine" or "feminine", people are people and people are wonderful balls of beauty and kindness and science and poetry and evil and forgetfulness and love. I don't need to go out of my way to show I'm feminine or masculine just because of the activities I take part in and how other people see me. Screw that. From here on out, I'm just going to be little old me. 

Do you find yourself fighting societal stereotypes? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt out of place because of your gender? Has your feminist (or non-feminist) views ever impacted your femininity/masculinity?