Until now, I was under the impression that sexism was an issue that was no longer hugely relevant in today's society. Of course it is an issue that is never going to disappear, but considering how far women's rights have come in the last number of years I was beginning to think that equality was now a light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn't until recently that I have woken up to the fact that sexism is still a deep-rooted issue that us women face everyday. It is ingrained into all of us as normal behaviour so much so we don't even seem to realize it is still happening. I understand that sexism has been a widely spoken about topic in recent news due to Bono becoming Glamour Magazine's 'Woman of the Year' and the infamous misogynist Donald Trump being elected president of the United States (no I still can't believe I'm saying that either). However, a type of sexism that I am now more aware of than ever is the type that I as well as every other woman I know have been victims of since we grew cleavage and learnt how to put on make up. I'm referring to the sexist and disrespectful comments and actions we put up with from boys.
It was only a year ago that I came out of a relationship that I had been in since the age of 16. Throughout that relationship I matured as a person and became more independent and have now come out of it setting standards of how I expect to be treated by men in the future. What I was shocked to discover recently was that these realistic standards that I set don't actually seem to be realistic at all. In fact it seems that it's more likely nowadays to bump into your favourite celeb than it is a gentleman. Now I'm not saying that all men are like this as a lot of the men already in my life are some of the most polite, generous and compassionate people I will ever know. However, what I am getting sick to death of is the amount of men or I should say 'boys' who since being single have spoken to me in ways, which make me uncomfortable or undermine me. Back when I was sixteen I used to take this kind of behaviour as 'normal' since we were all clueless teenagers, but at the age of twenty-one I shouldn't have to stand for it any longer and neither should any other girls.
An example I recently faced was when a boy asked me to send him a picture of me naked. I don't actually see any harm in asking; after all I'm not a complete prude however he wasn't someone I trusted so I refused thinking that would be the end of it. He then pressured me with messages saying that I was mean and that if he had a body like mine he would show it. Looking back to my teenage years, if a boy said that to me then I probably would've caved in to the pressure and that's the scary thing. It is only because I am brave enough now to say no that I did, but it scares me to think that a lot of girls wouldn't be. However what frightened me the most about the entire thing was the fact that he didn't see a problem in pressuring me like that and even when I said that I wasn't happy with it, he still didn't apologise. This prompted me into researching why is it that so few boys nowadays have the same respect for women that I see older men having. This can't just be an age thing and a matter of growing up; it is a wide-scale problem with our generation.
An author I stumbled across during my research is Charles J Orlando, a relationship expert well known for writing books and articles aimed towards women. He mentions in one of his articles that ever since porn has been so readily available to us, more and more men are internalizing all the aforementioned issues and mistaking that for how women should be treated. This is even more damaging now as today's porn is less about sex and more about control. It's no wonder guys think they can say anything they want without any remorse if the lessons they're getting on how to treat a woman are from porn stars. When I spoke to a few of my guy friends on the situation a lot of them said that although they didn't agree with his behaviour they can understand why he did it as they believe that if you're too nice to a girl you will end up leading her on. I think what boys need to realise is that yes we are the more emotional of the sexes, however at the same time we can just talk to a boy on a friendship level and we also can sleep with guys without expecting anything to come out of it. It depends on the person, not the gender.
Another point I found in one of Orlando's articles is the fact that, nowadays some men are scared to be chivalrous incase they are falsely accused of being sexist. I can't say I disagree, as I believe that the introduction of extreme feminism has made it tricky to distinguish the difference between sexism and chivalry. However I don't think this is what men have in mind when deciding how to act towards a girl. What I think is in the forefront of their minds when talking to a woman is not their self-image portrayed to them but the identity they portray to their friends as many aspire to be seen as the 'laddish' alpha male. However what is a shame is how this backfires onto the men who are generally being sincere. The problem these men face is that their chivalrous actions will be mistaken for an ulterior motive due to the fact that this behaviour is so much less common than the behaviour of a typical 'lad'.
Now that we have established this kind of behaviour happening, we now need to understand how we can go about changing it. If what Orlando said was true, that men have stopped acting chivalrous due to the impact of feminism, then what really needs to happen is to get rid of the negative man-hating stereotypes attached to feminism. Instead we need to create a worldwide understanding of what is feminism and a clear distinction between what behaviour is acceptable and what is degrading.
For starters people need to stop using the word 'feminist' as an insult. I remember browsing through Facebook the other day when I came across a post where a guy had shared two images of a girl, one with makeup and one without. The one with makeup he claimed to be a 'solid 10' yet the one without makeup he said was a 2 and stated 'this is why guys have trust issues'. Every girl that pointed out how degrading and disrespectful he was being he insulted with the word 'feminist,' as if the fact that these girls have stood up for themselves and other women is a negative thing.
Yes, there are feminists out there who do think men are evil and do believe that women shouldn't dress nice just to please the opposite sex. However, the majority of feminists are liberalists who just want to be viewed equally. Like Chris Good pointed out 'fighting solely for the rights of women was relevant to the first and second wave of the movement but in today's world it is not only outdated but misplaced'. He's right as today inequality isn't just about women, it also affects men. I for one understand this first hand. My parents separated ten years ago after my mother had an affair, however this still didn't mean that my father had more rights in terms of custody of me and my sister. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that my mother agreed that he would be the most suitable parent to take care of us, he probably would've lost the custody battle solely down to his gender.
It is this misunderstanding that feminism is about women's rights rather than equal rights that gives feminism a bad name. So much so that celebrities such as Shailene Woodley and Lady Gaga are choosing not to identify as one. Lady Gaga claims that she is not a feminist because she loves men. She also claims that 'wearing makeup and smelling delicious is strengthening because I know when I pick the right guy, I can let him have it'. This goes against the extreme feminist view that women feel degraded when looking attractive for men. I for one feel the complete opposite. Yes, I'm a girl who feels strongly about gender equality in society however I'm also a girl who feels empowered when men find me attractive. I've even undergone a rhinoplasty with one of the main intentions being that I would get more attention from men but despite this I still recognize that beauty is not everything.
It's true that we live in a society that places high importance in our appearance; especially with things like the introduction of social media we are constantly bombarded with aspiring images of beauty. This puts intense pressure on our generation to adjust our appearance in order to appear beautiful and is turning this latest craze into an obsession. Lily Allen famously once said "We get jealous of other girls more attractive than us, it's like a competitive thing. It's weird and unhealthy and we need to stop being so horrible to each other". It's true that we are part of the problem. Whenever you post a picture of yourself and get that tiny buzz of a confidence boost when a few guys 'like' it, we never stop to think about how this portrays us to other girls and also how it's portraying us to the boys themselves. We naturally confuse these 'likes' with affection and that's the damaging thing. The more times your photo gets liked the more likely you are going to post another snap of similar content. However if we want to be treated with respect in society then we have to start making our social media profiles less about aesthetics and more about our personalities. Of course there's nothing wrong doing it, each to their own, however don't sell your integrity for the price of a few likes you will only end up giving the wrong impression to the right men and vice versa.
Luckily I've recently come to understand this myself. I know I may not be as attractive as some girls but this doesn't bother me because I am also extremely confident in my personality and the way I portray myself through social media. I have strong views, opinions and a certain sense of humour and I like to display this to my friends and family to construct my reputation and their judgement of who I am as a person. It was this that prompted me to share the article about Bono becoming 'Glamour Woman of the Year'. I do agree that he was a worthy candidate (even Emma Watson said in her speech on feminism that it is vital that men also get on board) and for a girl wanting to get into Advertising I love anything that steps beyond the boundaries of the norm. However, the fact that he accepted the award instead of handing it to any of the other worthy candidates makes me think does he actually care about equality or does he just say he does for publicity? I thought that many of my female peers would agree or at least have an opinion about this issue but no, I received no responses whatsoever whilst a cheap humour meme would receive at least three 'likes'. This made me think, is it that women aren't noticing that sexism is still taking place or care that it is? Or do they just think that is something that can't be improved any further?
It's like what Lily Allen says in her song 'Hard out here', "We've never had it so good, we're out of the woods and if you can't detect the sarcasm you're misunderstood". She hit the nail on the head in identifying that people do think that the fight is over but clearly we've still got a long way to go which is getting even more complex with each new opinion on sexism arising. Lily Allen has also previously stated that 'feminism shouldn't even be a word because everyone is equal?' It's statements like these that make you wonder why feminism does have such a negative stereotype .I do believe that some females do get scared about voicing their opinions with the fear that people will say they 'can't take a joke' or 'why are you getting so touchy?' To prove this I asked a number of my female friends what the worst thing a guy has said to them was, what surprised me was they all said at least four or five different things. One girl even said that a guy asked why she wouldn't sleep with him considering that she'd previously slept with one his mates. When I asked if they said anything at the time they all said no as they believed that it wasn't until they looked back on the conversation that they took it seriously. This just proves that although it is unnecessary to get offended over every little comment we do need to start considering more what we can laugh off and what we need to address.
Whilst writing this it has become evident to me that us girls do have an issue when it comes to the way our generation of boys thinking they should be treating us. To help resolve this it has become clear to me that we need to start making people more aware of what feminism is, a general understanding of what behaviour is acceptable and get more men involved with the action of change. Us girls also need to start becoming more aware of these issues, standing up for ourselves and portraying a self image that will give us confidence about our whole identity rather than just our aesthetics. When both genders take all of these things on board, our generation will have a clearer understanding on how to treat the opposite sex and our interactions with one another will become less vague and demeaning.