“Stop saying it’s okay, Woman!” That was all that was said. It was a short sentence, delivered with humour, and really had nothing evil behind it, but for days I was raging on the inside for having not bit back. It’s true – I am a woman! But it is what was implied by this sentence that got my blood boiling. Sure, I have the genetic wiring of a female, but things that I do, say and believe are not defined by these organs. Implied by this statement is that my acceptance of a decision that a superior male colleague thought to be unacceptable, was silly. And that silliness is a trait that comes with being a woman.
Feminism is not a new aspect of my life – my dad and mum ensured equality was something we understood from a very young age. We had ‘Politically Correct Bedtime stories’ on our bookshelf, alongside ‘Princess Smartypants’ and ‘Mummy Laid an Egg’ (both by Babette Cole). Princess Smartypants did not want to get married, she was happy being a Ms. We learnt that my sister and I could chose if we’d like to get married and have children just like my brothers had the choice, and we all had the same opportunity to become doctors and lawyers. In Primary School I held a ‘Feminist club’, preaching to my 8-year old school friends the myriad of reasons why being a girl is so darn special. We had purple and green headbands – not making that up.
Despite this enthusiastic feminist upbringing, teenage problems hit me like they did probably every other reader and writer on this forum. New surroundings, new responsibilities and opportunities, but almost most importantly: I liked boys, and I wanted them to like me. The Feminist thinking that once had me telling all my friends to never EVER change their last names, was overthrown by the utter desire to be cool and make sure the boys knew it.
Fortunately, this phased out by the end of secondary school. And looking back on that time is really challenging – believing that your sole purpose is to be an appealing female is a scary thing to admit. My distorted beliefs were that appealing females must look beautiful and hear from males that they are beautiful, dumb down their intellect, and always put down other females who didn’t meet these criteria. Adolescence is the most thrilling, yet undeniably horrifying period of one’s life.
Onto young adulthood and much has changed. Feminism is back in my life and I don’t see those years growing up as betrayal to my belief in being a strong independent woman, but rather a challenge to test this belief. Growing to be 194cm tall has helped – being a physical incongruence to society’s expectations of a woman has allowed my mental incongruence to bloom. Playing elite women’s sport has provided the ideal arena for building and creating new feminist knowledge; what’s the difference between a male and female athlete? How do the media portray these differences? Who watches males sports compared to female sports? Why?
Every single woman has the right to her body, the right to be educated, and the right to be free and safe. For young Australian women we have the task ahead to ensure we continue to push change – safe environments in which we live, empowerment to lead, inspire, to be confident in ourselves and those women around us, and to expect equal rights as those given to our male counterparts. Young Australian women need to know that they are not defined by the perceptions of males, they do not have certain traits nor do they need to develop certain traits because they are women. And they certainly should not have to accept that their gender is a firing point for another person’s perceptions of flaws.
Now to find those headbands.
Erin Hoare is a psychology graduate currently studying her PhD in Health and Social Development. She believes in life free from prejudice and inequality. Erin couples her studies with being an athlete and hopes to contribute to empowering women through sport and free thinking.