Sexist Family Members Beware: I'll Be Giving the Gift of Feminism This Year
Christmas time is coming and that means an abundance of food and family, which also means there will inevitably be a disruption of my inner peace. Coming back home is never easy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family very much, they are very caring and I am sure that they are more than happy to see me again. And I’m happy to see them (for the most part). It’s just, while I’m there, I not only have to step out of my peaceful Berlin bubble, but it also means I’ll have to dodge jug after jug of cold, unpleasant comments being thrown at me.
You’ve gained weight, right?.
Look at you hair, you should go to the hairdresser.
Oh, you don’t shave?
Don’t eat that much. Are you gonna eat ALL of those?
Are you doing any sports? You should really try following a healthier lifestyle.
As you notice here, all of the comments are usually directed at my physical appearance. And I am sure I’m not the only one who finds herself in the same position, especially when talking to other women who are unhappy and dissatisfied at being under the constraints of a patriarchal society.
Here’s my case.
Having grown up in a female-dominant family (a mother and two elder sisters), I was hyperaware of the struggles that females face. Cases of sexual assault and female oppression were common topics discussed at the dinner table. I grew up thinking that this was the normal way to go about your day and thus I remained silent and unconsciously accepted that male superiority was my everyday bread.
Hearing lewd comments on the streets, being harassed in bars or clubs, being mindful of the clothes I wore or didn’t wear. Hearing sexist jokes (this one probably upset me the most.)As bad as these things were, living amongst other women that shared the same stories somehow normalized these issues for me thus making me think this was the only way to live.
Thank God I grew up, changed my mind, and didn’t accept this lifestyle as my standard. Nowadays, every time I find myself behaving differently or feeling smaller because of a male presence in the room, I fight against it by making myself bigger and feeding myself with more female empowerment energy. Every time I come back home, however, I can’t but get upset when I see that things have not changed there, that the strong females I grew up with are still dependent and passive in such an oppressive society. And what I found the most frightful, is that these specific women cooperate with the male superiority by allowing sexist micro-aggression to exist or by criticizing other women for not filling the constraints of society - that big institution that rules over gender stereotypes. Then, fighting for equality gets harder. Because sexism not only exists among men, it also exists among women.
While growing up I had to be aware of what I was wearing at all times. At the age of 11, my ex-stepmother forbade me from wearing a beautiful bikini. She literally ripped it off of my pre-pubescent body, telling me I was too provocative for other men. Then, she called me a bitch. At that same age, I got my first period, and in the words of my own mother, became a REAL woman (whatever that’s suppose to mean). Talking about sex or masturbation was (and is still) a taboo topic in my family. At the age of 18, I had several eating disorders. My female friends were happy to see how skinny I was getting and how much weight I was losing. And for my whole life until the present day, I am being criticized, especially from my sisters, on the amount of food I eat and what I eat. And by now, just having turned 27, I am sure it is just a matter of time before I start hearing allusions of motherhood. And I wonder, would their obsession with my body, my weight, and my womb be the same if I had been born a male? I don’t need a millisecond to know the answer. Because we live in a society were boys get to be adventurous, silly and dominant while girls need to be pure, well-behaved and submissive.
At a point in my life where I feel the most realized, beautiful and happy, I still have to deal with women that project their insecurities and sadness onto me. As women, we all suffer from judgmental looks, and it’s not strange, since we are still being seen as objects of desire rather than human beings. You think I’m exaggerating? Have a walk now on the streets, turn on the television, go to any store where they sell girls/women items and count how many models representing us are shown in Christmas advertisements. Every time I go to H&M to the kid’s section (I babysit twins of 9 years old, a boy and a girl) I can’t help but get upset. Boys T-shirts promote strength, sell-empowerment, adventures, while girls just have to follow their dreams, be beautiful, stay shiny. It’s already there, gender inequality. Girls don’t wear dinosaurs, but boys do. Girls don’t wear Star War pullovers, but boys do.
And let’s not talk about the film industry. How many movies are out now that have a male in the lead role and a female in the supporting role, unable to make her own decisions? Now tell me, how many women do you know are incapable of making her own decisions? Because I can tell you now, that all the women I know will take whatever matter is being discussed in the movie, and solve it in five minutes. My point is, we are in the end of 2017, and we are still not being adequately represented. There is still a lot of work to do which is why I want to focus on women who are still chained to patriarchy yet might not be aware, who then project their frustrations onto other women, and then attempt to disrupt them from breaking out of the patriarchal vortex.
My advice: Don’t give up. I won’t give up. I will speak up and point at the judgements that other women make of me, and will not allow any kind of sexist micro-aggression. Talk to young girls not by approaching them and telling them how beautiful they are, talk to them about the achievements and progress they are doing. The change starts from the beginning. Don’t allow other women to tell you how you should or should not dress. Don’t shave if you don’t want to. Eat the whole plate without shame. Take another one if you want to. Wear make up if you want to, not just because society is telling you that you will be prettier with it. This is a very cliché sentence, but beauty starts from your inner self and then projects to the outside. Then, you really shine, not because a T-Shirt is telling you that, but because you are that.
What has always worked for me is to talk to other women about the problems we suffer. Surround yourself with other positive empowered women that will make you feel better after dealing with your struggles. Reflect, listen, and work on it. Work for your own rights. For your sister’s rights. Your daughter’s rights. As Audre Lorde once said,
“What’s the worse that could happen to me if I tell this truth?…Fall in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.”
So this year, I am coming back for Christmas more empowered than ever. I won’t let comments get me down. I will embrace them, understand from where they come, and give them another direction. Engage with the women that think they are liberated, but are still hopelessly chained to male superiority. I think this year, I will be giving the gift of feminism to all the people in my life.
Much love and Merry Christmas.
Like this story? Thank Helena.
Helena is from Barcelona but currently lives and studies North American Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. She loves dancing to 80s techno, making people laugh, and eating pasta pesto.