Finding Myself

I don’t know about you, but I have found it very difficult finding myself in this world. I’ve always wanted to share my opinions, but I feel that obstacles have always presented themselves…

I was born to very liberal, modern parents. They always encouraged me as a child, saying I could do anything I wanted to do. Early on in my childhood, I really believed it too. I had such confidence in myself. I was loud, boisterous and outspoken. My parents never hushed me, but other grownups found me irritating and poorly behaved. This instantly led me to believe that children should be seen and not heard. And slowly, as I grew older, I began silencing and shrinking myself more and more.

My childhood friends knew me as being crazy. I naturally have a pretty excitable personality and it was more intense during my childhood. I am not in contact with my childhood friends to this day, but I can only assume they would recall me as being crazy or eccentric and most definitely not opinionated or passionate.

That’s not to say I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was passionate and opinionated… in my mind. I became so extremely closeted in own beliefs that I felt embarrassed even trying to debate with someone or even go against a popular opinion.

I began to shrink more and more throughout my primary education. My perception throughout primary school was that being opinionated was a very negative trait to possess. My teachers rewarded classroom obedience, not talkativeness.

At 12, the free spirit I once was had more or less vanished into thin air. I remained quiet, cripplingly under-confident and entirely obedient to social and gender norms throughout secondary school.

But inside, I wanted to scream. I experienced examples of daily prejudice and regular instances of discrimination throughout secondary school, both by fellow students and occasionally, from teachers.

I will always remember the anger I felt towards teenage boys who would use gay as a way to insult their friends. I will always remember the pretentious, macho exterior presented by teenage boys, the pompous and sexist attitudes expressed by them. I will always remember how atheism was forbidden and even punishable in secondary school; how Catholicism was integrated into all aspects of our school activities and subjects.

Ultimately, and here’s the part that broke my teenage heart, I will always remember how each and every one of us in secondary school were assigned the same narrow box to live in, and the same narrow rules to live by.

At 17, I thankfully graduated secondary school and respectfully kissed goodbye to a damaging, restrictive and confidence-crippling institution.

I soon began to learn that who I had been taught to be in secondary school would get me virtually nowhere in the real world. A path of self discovery lay before me. I would have to learn eventually how to be a civilized, respectable member of society. But how could I do this? What was my life purpose? At 17, I was filled with so many questions but I had yet to find any answers.

I first began to gradually reject social and gender norms. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I was a girl. So I tried to be seen as strong. I began helping more people and showing compassion. I also finally learned how to stand up for myself, approaching 18 years old. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid, so I decided to go to college but this time study something I wanted to study. My secondary school academic performance was, overall, rather bleak.

I felt like there was something wrong with my brain in secondary school. A lack of interest combined with sheer boredom resulted in quite poor performance; particularly in my junior cycle. I was treated like there was something wrong with my brain, too. School encourages a system of putting people into boxes. I was horrendous at Maths, so I was deemed to have a learning difficulty. I was then treated differently by teachers and members of staff as a consequence.

I’ve come to realize that the term “learning difficulty” can cause irreversible harm to a young person. When a student struggles, they are examined and labeled a word and thus identified by that word. How can we expect the youths of Ireland to become confident, well-spoken, functioning members of society if we segregate them as being smart or stupid in school?

I had to unlearn the labels assigned to me after I graduated. Nearly five years later, I have completed my self healing process. I now reject the term “learning difficulty”. Instead, I choose to openly tell others (if brought up in conversation) that I struggle with the concept of numbers and spacial awareness. Additionally, I have extreme issues with organization and am prone to anxiety as a result to stress brought on by poor organization.

This is me. These are my shortcomings, but they do not make me “unable”. They do not cause me to suffer from a “learning difficulty”. They do not cause me unmanageable difficulty in day-to-day tasks. At 21, I can say that I am an active, functioning member of society. I will not be a label. I will not fit into a box of gender or social expectation. I will not be defined by what people call me, or what people see when they look at me. I will not be defined by the way I laugh. I will not be determined by who I used to be in the past, I will be determined by how I show myself in the present.

At 21, I am also aware that I still have a lot to learn. And I openly embrace my future experiences and lifelong lessons.

I have only begun to truly regain confidence in my opinions in recent months. In school, I was always shut down. But now, I can express myself freely without being segregated or labeled as a result.

I’m still finding myself, more and more every single day. But every day I notice something new. I notice a different form of inequality. I become aware of our failed education system, when I witness the intolerance and ignorance of young people regarding social issues. Homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, racist stereotypes, casual sexism, rape, victim blaming, etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the point in sending our children to public school at all from age 5-17 or 18; if we release them into the world as ignorant, intolerant or simply dismissive. What’s the point? I’d rather my child understands and rejects inequality and oppression instead of know how to do Algebra or cite a Yeats poem.

But maybe that’s just me. And who knows? Maybe that opinion will change. Because I am always progressing, changing and developing my mind. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still finding myself after all… I think we all are, ’till the day we die…

Aisling Kelleher

Studs vs Sluts: Really a Double Standard?

How many times have you heard women in particular complain about the sexual double standard that exists for men and women?  A man who has multiple sexual partners and/or a lot of casual sex is labeled a “player” or a “stud”, because it is seen as a huge accomplishment.  On the other hand, a woman who behaves the same way sexually is labeled a “whore”, “slut” or “easy”. All negative words.

While in one way I can understand the frustration of freely promiscuous women, I can also understand the reasoning behind these labels.

In general, although of course there are many exceptions, men have to try harder to have sex with someone.

Women in general are taught to be more reserved sexually; and they are taught through socialization that they should be pursued rather than pursue themselves.

Also, men in general are not as fussy about who they have sex with. Maybe this is something to do with the fact that women, due to hormones, are in general more sensitive creatures than men. While I am not for one minute labeling men as animals, maybe it’s just the truth that men usually crave lust, while women usually crave love.

I could go on about evolution here but I’d rather not. I don’t wish to speak about a topic I know little to nothing about. However, from my observation and human experience, I choose to believe that this difference between men and women is down to hormonal differences.

A woman in a nightclub could easily have a one night stand with a man in the nightclub if she chooses. What does she have to do to achieve this? She in general doesn’t need to be charming, she doesn’t even need to be well presented or funny or smart. She can select someone who is interested in a casual sexual encounter and go home with him. There is not much accomplishment involved in this.

A man on the other hand, has to try harder to have a one night stand with a woman in a nightclub. He in general has to be charming, funny, likeable and well presented.

Women tend to be fussier about who they have sex with. Maybe this is partly due the fact that we as women are prone to such severe body issues. We feel through a result of the media and socialization, that we need to prepare ourselves for sex. We need to sort out our body hair and be clean before we can engage in sex. Sure, it is in a way quite messed up that we women feel this pressure while men don’t. But this, in my opinion, is a huge part of where the double standard comes from.

A man who behaves promiscuously is normally praised socially, while a woman who behaves in the same way is shamed and possibly ridiculed.

Sure, this is wrong. I’m not denying it isn’t. But it is a direct product of our upbringing and the exaggerated gender division that we experience from childhood.

Take all of this into account, and the “sexual double standard” kind of makes sense.

When you look at it this way, it makes sense that men are labeled “studs” while women are labeled “sluts”.

Now, I want to make it very clear that I don’t agree with the “slut” label. The slut label can in fact ruin a woman’s life. These women are deemed undesirable in potential relationships as a result. Often, they are ridiculed by other females; essentially for challenging social norms.

Anyone who challenges social norms is often prone to judgement, social exclusion and ridicule. The same can be said for boisterous women and flamboyant men. Of course this is wrong. I am a firm believer of person over gender. I think that in this world we exaggerate the differences between men and women to a dangerous extent – so much so that we begin to identify women and men primarily by their gender as oppose to their personalities.

I don’t think it’s right that men get praised for being promiscuous and women get shamed. But when examined, it makes sense why.

Here’s another piece of food for thought: are women born to desire love and commitment over lust, and are men born to desire lust over love and commitment? Or is it in fact a product of nurture rather than nature? I do not have the answer. But my assumption would be that we are how we are partly due to hormonal, biological and evolutionary factors, but mainly, we are how we are due to a direct product of our socialization.

Just imagine how much freer we would be, if we could be our true selves without gender expectation getting in the way? I strive for this world, but I know in my heart that I won’t see it in my lifetime. But it is because of this that I am so determined to spread the word now, and urge others to do the same, so that one day, our world will be different. One day, there will be no studs or sluts, but just promiscuous people.

Sure, there is a double standard. But the double standard makes sense when you take the above into consideration. Personally, I think both label is damaging to both gender. I would like to see each label being used less.

Sex, Virginity & Gender Norms

I think we have many issues in the nature of sex and virginity in our current society.  As with any “feminist issue”, we are programmed to accept inequality and double standards as a natural part of life.  But, what if more of us spoke out?  Furthermore, what if more of us spoke out without the fear of being ridiculed or verbally attacked as a consequence?

Men and women are different.  We have different hormones, genitalia and in general, different ways of thinking.  Of course, there are many exceptions to this “rule of thumb”.  But what if we considered, for a moment, that men and women aren’t as different as we are programmed to believe they are?

man and woman

We live in a world that is constantly moving forward.  Once upon a time, women had virtually no rights.  They were in this world solely to service men through sexual satisfaction, to service the human race through reproduction and to service men through care and hospitality.  Women did not have the opportunities available to progress in terms of education, employment and leadership roles.  In short, women were in this world to be submissive to men.

We have come a long way throughout the years.  In the first world, women are now able to access education and advanced employment opportunities.  Women are now legally able to vote, drive cars and even wear trousers!  I would never for one second deny that women’s rights have progressed enormously.  And I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I now have as a consequence to the feminist protesting of the past.

protest feminism

But, with any movement, there is always room for improvement and progression.  Women are, in many ways, equal to men in our current, first world society.  But, there are still blatantly clear issues among us.  I have found however from my experience that even the most “blatantly clear issues” can become dangerously normalized and simply accepted as a natural part of life.

I don’t think that our future generations can remain in a world where men and women are still socially segregated to the extent that they are.  That is why I would like to speak out.  I know that in my lifetime, things mightn’t change as I would like to see them change.  And my voice alone may be small, but several voices are heard whereas one is not necessarily.  I think it’s time we all took more of an interest in our surroundings.  Without voice, without progression, humankind would not be able to lead the world effectively.

I would like to address the double standards that exist between men and women.  There are indeed numerous double standards, but today I would like to specify towards the double standards and social inequality that exists in terms of sex, virginity and sexuality in general.

gif sluts and whores

As children, we are defined by our genders on an unconscious level.  We are literally defined to such an extent that many of us are programmed to believe men and women are far more different to each other than they are in actuality.

A female child is encouraged to be pretty, well presented and reserved.  If a female child expresses seemingly “masculine traits”, she is referred to as a “tomboy”.  If a female child aspires to be a leader, she is deemed “bossy”.  If a female child chooses to reject feminine toys, and instead relates more with masculine toys, she is discouraged from doing so.  Once the gender of a female child is confirmed in pregnancy, many parents automatically assume that their daughter will be someone that she may not necessarily become.  It is assumed she will be caring.  It is assumed she will be fragile.  It is assumed she will be passive.  It is assumed that she will be a mother one day.  The list goes on.

toys

A male child is encouraged to have a strong presence.  We do this as a society by creating male-geared toys such as guns, building blocks, science sets.  We encourage our male children to take on leadership roles.  We encourage our male children to build things, to use logic and reason, to perform well scientifically and mathematically.  We encourage our male children to be physically strong.  We encourage our male children to take on the role of “protector” towards female children.  We encourage our male children to cover up emotion.  We both indirectly and very directly teach our male children that portraying emotion is negative and thus “weak”.

boy toys

The female child and the male child grow up believing that they are their gender.  But what if we lived in a world where strength vs weakness, emotional vs non-emotional, leader vs follower, and protector vs nurturer were, in fact, not defined by gender?

What if we lived in a world where boys became confident, emotionally expressive, caring, paternal young men, without the fear of being ridiculed or socially excluded as a consequence?

What if we lived in a world where girls became confident, expressive, opinionated, scientifically-minded, successful leaders without being referred to as a “bossy bitch” or “manly” for doing so?

You might be wondering at this point what all of this has got to do with sexuality and social double standards.  The answer is everything.

The female child grows up into the female teenager.  The female teenager is constantly aware of her body.  The female teenager feels inadequate and cripplingly under-confident socially, in expression, politically, in the workforce and in education.  The female teenager is taught that her personality will always come second to her physical attractiveness.  The female teenager feels that her voice is relevant to an extent; but becomes irrelevant when faced with the voice of a man.  The female teenager learns to value her personality, intelligence, capabilities, personal stamina, logical reasoning and lifetime achievements always second to her physical form.

We do this to our female teenagers by exposing them to various forms of media which were, and are, in fact created by powerful, heterosexual men.  This includes television programs, films, magazines, theater, and of course, advertisements.  We do this to such an extent, in fact, that female teenagers begin to associate the words “female” and “woman” with beauty secrets, losing weight, breast size, physical shape, makeup, hair, the colour pink, high heels, dresses and skirts.  We portray women as weak, indecisive, superficial, dependent and purely one-dimensional in many popular, mainstream films and television programs.  We then indirectly teach our female daughters that their looks and sexual appeal is in fact what they owe to society.  Not just to men, but to society in general.

body image

The male child grows up into the male teenager.  The male teenager is encouraged through the media to identify with his penis more than he identifies with his own brain.  We do this by portraying women as seductive, irresistible, physically appealing pieces of meat which are simply present to service and fulfill the sexual desires of a man.  We teach our teenage boys that it is healthy to masturbate, that it is normal.  But, in contrast, female masturbation is to this day a taboo and unspoken topic.  We teach teenage boys the value of earning money, more-so than we teach teenage girls the value of earning money.  We teach teenage boys that money/wealth equates to worth/entitlement.  Whereas, in contrast, we teach teenage girls that a sexually appealing exterior equates to worth/entitlement.

As much as we would all like to believe otherwise, all of this has to do with teenage and young adult sexuality.  The teenage girl is left expecting to be pursued by the teenage boy.  The teenage boy is left feeling it is his responsibility to claim a teenage girl/teenage girls as his own.  The teenage girl is left associating her own sexuality solely with the sexual gratification of teenage boys.  The teenage boy is left associating the girl’s sexuality as solely being present to service his own sexuality.

As our sons and daughters grow, so does their sexuality.  It is common in our current day for teenagers to have underage sex.  Teenage boys are programmed to believe that “losing their virginity” is possibly the most important part of growing up and “becoming a man”.  Teenage girls are taught to deny their own sexuality.  They are taught that they should only have sex when they are “in love” with the teenage boy.  They are taught that they “owe” their teenage boyfriends sexual activity in order to “keep” the teenage boyfriend.

What we are left with as a consequence to this is harmful underage sex.  Our sons and daughters are irresponsibly having sex, and dealing with social, physical and emotional consequences, potentially harming their development, and furthermore, harming their transition into adulthood.

Our teenage boy loses his virginity and he feels “like a man”.  How did it make him feel?  Amazing.  How long did he last?  Hours.  He’s a hero.  Other teenage boys see him as an idol, something to aspire to.  From the get-go, our teenage son’s first time receives such a social applause that he believes, as a consequence, that the more sexual encounters he partakes in, the more worth and popularity he is therefore entitled to.

jacket

Our teenage girl loses her virginity and she is socially criticized.  She is plagued with guilt from herself and her social group.  Did she “give it up too quick”?  Did she “truly love him?”  Was she, in fact, “too young”?  Was she dating him for an acceptable period of time?  Did he appreciate the “gift” she “gave him”?  Did she bleed?  Was it sore?  Socially, she is left answering these questions, both outright and indirectly.  She is certainly not celebrated for losing her virginity.  Other teenage boys may begin to lose interest in pursuing her because she’s “damaged goods”, a “slut” or “easy”.

I don’t think any good can come from teenagers having multiple sexual partners.  Therefore, I would be less inclined to say “men and women should have the freedom to have as many sexual partners as they choose!”  Of course they should.  But I would not recommend it for teenagers.

The problem is this: we praise our teenage daughters for virginity, but we do not praise our teenage sons for virginity.  But what if we praised both genders for virginity?  What if, instead of applying the motto that “boys will be boys”, we advise our boys to wait until they are 17-18 or older to engage in sexual activity?  What if we also teach our teenage boys to “respect their bodies”?  I have rarely if ever heard the term “respect your body” applied to a teenage boy.

Our teenage boys should not be taught to think with their penises.  They should be taught to think with their brains and with their emotions.  Our teenage girls should not be taught to go through their lives with sexual guilt.  I don’t recommend either gender think primarily with their genitals.  I recommend that all teenagers go into sex with caution.

There is a tremendous level of potential damage caused by labeling a teenage girl a “slut”.  As discussed, she is already taught that her sexual attractiveness equates to her level of worth.  But, if labeled a “slut”, her previous unconscious feelings on this are essentially confirmed.

I would love to see a world where both boys and girls are responsible and open-minded.  I do not feel that “losing your virginity” should ever be something that has social consequences at all.  In fact, “losing your virginity” is, in my opinion, not something to be “lost” at all, but something to be embraced, but with caution, preparation and emotional readiness.

teenagers

Men and women are different.  But, they’re not as different as we are lead to believe they are.  Both genders are capable of variable forms of intelligence, ambition, passion and emotion.  Both genders are capable of becoming leaders and protesters.  Both genders should have the opportunity to be functioning, intelligent human beings before they are ever functioning, intelligent men and women.

Men and women’s brains are not as different as we are lead to believe they are.  In fact, for instance, studies show that men succeed more than women in areas of science and maths.  But, have we ever considered that women simply do not attempt to succeed in these areas because they are programmed to believe that men are simply “better at it”?

male vs female brain

I would like to see a world that is not defined by gender, but instead defined by human ability.  Would you?

Is Barbie REALLY distorting the body image for young girls?

It seems that we are constantly hearing shudders and disapproving tuts from parents and guardians alike, regarding the Barbie dolls their young girls play with.  I am sure that I am not the only one who has heard statements such as “Barbie makes little girls think that they have to look a certain way”, and “Barbie doesn’t represent a normal woman” being thrown around in the last number of years.  But, are these disapproving remarks actually truthful? Or, is this just an irrational concern?

When I was younger, I played with barbies. I liked to make them prance around the place, often in a somewhat ‘unladylike fashion’, contrary to their flawless, pretty appearance.  In fact, I spent very little time as a young girl concerning myself with what Barbie wore.  I can’t remember ever maintaining the dainty little shoes which came with her – they always became lost in some way or other.  Similarly, I spent little time brushing her hair.  I’d roughly scrape through her plastic dyed hair with a human sized brush, and scrape it back with one of my scrunchies.  My Barbies spent most of their time frolicking around the place like they were drunk out of their minds… no shoes, carelessly dressed, often going around with missing items of clothing, etc.  I gave my Barbies certain personalities.  I remember when I was small, I was not one of these young girls to play into ‘the princess Barbie’; I always found the sporty and sociable Barbie to be far more appealing.  I know that other girls are different, and they spend all of their time sitting in their pristine rooms, brushing Barbie’s hair, dressing her, and of course, maintaining every last one of her colourful dainty shoes.

Some little girls are interested in beauty, the colour pink and fashion – and others are not.  Whichever the case, I fail to see how playing with a Barbie doll can distort their body image.

Barbie was not the only toy we played with when we were young. There were plenty – Baby Born, toy cars, teddies, board games, remote control cars, or even ‘make-it-yourself’ sets (which were referred to as ‘makey-do sets’ in my house).  I cannot speak for the general nation of children, but in our house there was rarely gender distinguishing when it came to toys.  My siblings and I shared our toys.  I didn’t adapt an unrealistic body image from Barbie, just like I didn’t aspire to be a cowboy from playing with a Woody doll.

For the most part, I feel I can speak from experience, and say that toys do not put any pressure on children to become a certain person.  Similar concerns have been expressed regarding video games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’.  My simple response to this concern is that maniacs, murderers and rapists have been around for centuries.  I fail to see how a violent video game is going to encourage children to act violently.  Also, the game is only suitable for over 18 year olds — so maybe your child shouldn’t be playing it anyway if you do not want these concerns to become reality.

I can safely say that for me, a toy was always just a toy when I was young.  I was never under the impression that girls who looked like Barbie existed.  Perhaps ‘blonde bombshells’ did, but nonetheless they were human beings with non-animated faces and hair that wasn’t plastic. I also knew that Woody from Toy Story didn’t exist, and that race cars required a driver to move, not a hand.

Toys are there for children to create, to imagine, to have fun and to even express themselves.  So, my simple answer to the title of this blog is ‘no’, I don’t feel that Barbie distorts the body image of young girls.  Barbie is just a glorified piece of plastic, with round plastic boobs and plastic white-blonde hair.  Barbie was made out of plastic – just like Baby Born was, and just like remote control cars were.  I was never under the illusion that I would someday become a Barbie replica – and I never felt any of my other friends would either.  I was surrounded by real-life women, who were not made out of plastic and did not have permanent makeup tattooed onto their faces.  I always aspired to be like these women – I never aspired to look like Barbie, or act like her (considering her personality was somewhat bland.)

If anything, we need to concern ourselves with real-life women.  I do recall aspiring to be like Rachel Stevens from S Club 7, or Emma Bunton from The Spice Girls.  Rachel Stevens was awarded the title of ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’ during my childhood; and Emma Bunton often wore very little clothes and behaved very promiscuously in music videos (although she was most probably playing the character of ‘Baby Spice’)

Are these really positive role models for young girls?  Both examples were sexualised in the media.  Barbie was also sexualised; but as I have stated, the difference is that Barbie is plastic. Perhaps we need to be concerning ourselves more with the unsuitable role models for young girls?

But for now, I don’t feel Barbie is putting on any pressure. And, if you think she is, just don’t buy her for your children. It seems pretty simple to me!

Thanks for reading 🙂