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

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?

Why I’m A Feminist

Caution: contains some language as reference/quotes.

Gender Roles.

In society, females are born into a world that will constantly put pressure on them throughout their lifetime. Pressure to be beautiful, pressure to be sexy. Pressure to bear children, pressure to be emotional and maternal. Pressure to keep a good home, pressure to look after the men that surround them.

Equally, males are born with the expectation they will be “men”. Pressure to be dominant, successful, strong, independent, high-earning, emotionally-absent figures of authority.

When we try to challenge these gender roles that been involuntarily assigned to us, the people around us seem to think we’re crazy, weird or just “different”.

I am a feminist because I would prefer to live in a world where every human being, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, can become whatever person they damn well want to be. Without being questioned or disliked for it.

Rape Culture

Both men and women are raped in this destructive world. But what is rape? It seems that through the media we are exposed to, the lines have become very blurred as to what rape or sexual assault is.

We are programmed to think that we are not actually being sexually assaulted at all if we’re not actually being raped. In fact, women in today’s world experience casual sexual harassment in their normal lives and don’t even question it, because it has become so normal to us.

All you have to do is watch some modern music videos from big artists to see some casual sexual harassment and objectification. The R’n’B genre particularly features dominant male leads singing about “hoes” and “bitches” and “fucking them”. We’ve become so numb to it that we don’t even question it anymore.

pic 1 why i'm a feminist

But the music video that particularly comes to mind of course is “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I have never seen such blatant sexual objectification in mainstream music. In a nutshell, the lyrics and music video describe men chasing women to have sex with regardless of whether they have consent or not. “I know you want it” is repeatedly played throughout the pop song; a common opinion held in society, which ultimately contributes to rape culture like nothing else.

Any sexual activity between two parties must be consensual. This does not just refer to vaginal sex. This refers to any sexual contact. Otherwise, it’s sexual assault.

Mainstream media such as this is a big reason as to why I’m a feminist. I would love to see women being represented as equals in the media (men do not have to be dehumanized in the process to make this happen.)

3. Men and women in business

“European Commission statistics show that Irish women earn, on average, 14.4 per cent less than men.”

“In 2009, men in Ireland had an average income of €34,317 while the average for women was €25,103, or 73.1 per cent of men’s income.”

In the United States: “Today, women earn about 81 cents on the dollar compared to men — a gap that results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages. For African-American women and Latinas, the pay gap is even greater.”

These statistics are worrying. Some will turn around and say that it is “the fault of women”, that “no-one is stopping them from progressing in their field”. But this is simply not the case.

It is a direct product of our upbringing and our society that women do not make the same numbers professionally as men do.

As women, we are taught to only have a certain amount of ambition. We are taught to be modest, silent. Men are taught that they should be as successful as they possibly can be, without feeling guilt or pressure in their personal/family lives. Women, on the other hand, are indirectly taught that their ultimate focus should be their family; that their career should always come second.

I am a feminist because I would like to see both women and men equally reaching the top of their profession in the modern world. Women aren’t making it to the top post in any field. I can’t just step back and accept that as being normal.

A world where both men and women are equally represented would be a better world.

Why am I a feminist? These reasons, and many more. I encounter casual sexism on a daily basis. Often, not towards me personally, but towards other women and indeed men. I see women being catcalled for just walking to and from class. I see men listen intently to other men but not to women. I see women being spoken to differently. I see other women treat other men like they’re messy, untidy etc without even knowing if they are or not.

I am about equality. I’m not a “feminazi” (whatever that term means.) I am a human being in a misogynist world.

I would like to be a feminist without having to put down men in the process. I do not hate men or disrespect them. But on the same token I do not hate or disrespect my fellow women; yet I still somehow see them being represented as inferior. Sexually inferior, professionally inferior, socially inferior.

I would like to live in a world where women could be taken seriously without being judged first and foremost by their appearance.

Would you?

We should all be feminists, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would argue.

feminist