The reaction I get from a lot of men when I talk to them about feminism is not that they’re against it, but rather, that they don’t see the point. “Women already have rights,” they say. And I’m lucky enough to live in a nation where that is true. Women can vote, women can go to school, women can work. But feminism isn’t exclusive to the U.S., or countries where women have rights. It’s a global issue. And even in countries where we have come farther in terms of women’s rights, we still have a long way to go. But I think a good place to start is respect. Feminism is largely about respect. It is about the belief that women should be treated with the same respect with which men are treated. It is respect that a woman’s opinions, perspectives, desires, are valid. As a woman, I believe that I should be regarded as equally competent, equally intelligent, equally worthy, equally human. I don’t want to be a pretty little thing; I don’t want to be your arm candy; I don’t want to be just another piece to complete your idea of a perfect life. I don’t want to be viewed only as someone’s wife, or sister, or daughter. I am a human being, plain and simple. I don’t want to be taught that, as a woman, my skills and talents are better suited in the home. I don’t want to be taught that my appearance is the most important thing about me. I don’t want to be taught that yes, I can have a career, but it will take a backseat to my husband’s career. I don’t want to be taught that being a wife and a mother should be my ultimate goal in life. I don’t want to be discouraged from pursuing a career that is considered a “man’s profession.” I don’t want to be told that my life has limitations simply because I am a female.
I want to be looked at as a human being who is deserving of respect. I want to be looked at as a person who is capable of making sound decisions, pursuing ambitions, and being self-reliant, because that is who I am. And yes, I can be emotional, and yes, I may also be sensitive, and yes, I do identify with being empathetic and caring, and yes, those traits are typically defined as feminine traits. But no, those traits do not make me any less intelligent or any less logical or any less capable. And I don’t want these traits to be viewed as weaknesses. It is not a weakness to be privy to human emotion and to know how to deal with it and to not be afraid of it. In fact, that is an essential part of personal growth. I think it’s high time we learn that emotion, and being emotional, is simply a part of being human. It’s high time we come to terms with the fact that emotional intelligence is integral to being a functioning, self-aware, and successful person–man or woman.
I want the perception of women to change. We don’t all want the same things. We don’t want to be lumped into categories–all women who like pink and bake cookies and want to get married and have families, or those bossy man-hating women who are career-obsessed and only eat takeout. There’s more to it than that. And it shouldn’t be an us-against-them sort of thing. It should be about personal choice, and whatever the choice, it should be respected.
I don’t want to feel guilty for wanting a fulfilling career instead of a family, for wanting to delay marriage, or for not having a maternal instinct. I don’t want the first question my relatives ask me at family reunions to be “Are you seeing anyone?” and then ask me why not if I say no, or rudely pry if I say yes. I want to be asked about my life, my goals, my opinions on important issues. My relationship status does not define who I am. But my goals, my opinions, my passions? These do, and knowing these is knowing who I am.
I don’t want to feel like I’m doing less with my life if I do only want a marriage and a family instead of a career. And if I want a marriage and a family, I don’t want to be taught that I will always need to obey and submit to my husband. I don’t want my agency and my authority to be undermined because of silly social constructs. I want my marriage to be a partnership, and I want to teach my children that that is what a marriage must look like in order for it to work.
I don’t want to feel like I’m chasing the impossible if I find that I want the career and the marriage and the family. I don’t want to feel like I need to make tradeoffs. I don’t want to feel like I need to marry down if I want my own career. I don’t want to feel like no upstanding man in a respectable profession will want a woman who is in an equally respectable profession because he thinks she won’t be able to support his career or maintain the household, or she won’t want to. I don’t want to feel like I won’t be supported if I pursue my career, and I’ll have to bear my career work and our housework and family work all on my own. I don’t want to feel like I need to be smart, but not too smart, ambitious, but not too ambitious, in order to have the things I want out of my personal life. I want to feel like my potential as a wife is not wholly based on what I do for a living, or what I want to do with my career–but instead, is based on my support for my husband, my willingness to work in order to keep our relationship alive, my choice to love and respect my husband every day. And I want to know that we’ll both work toward our career goals, and we’ll both work to maintain our home and our family and our marriage.
I want to feel like I am valued for more than just my appearance or my cooking abilities or my cute hobbies. I want to feel like my worth as a woman and as a person lies in more important things, such as the passion with which I do things and the courage with which I go after my ambitions and the desire I have for helping to make a difference and the love I have for the people in my life. So my challenge to you is this: prove me wrong. Prove that my opinions on how women are perceived are wrong. This may not change the world overnight, but it’ll be a drop in the bucket. If enough people prove me wrong, then maybe it’ll be big enough for people to notice.