When I was younger, I went to private school (a place that proved too stuffy and stifling for me, but that's a different story). The girls I went to school with were the first people to open up my eyes to typical gender roles. On the playground, we weren't supposed to play with the boys in the jungle gym. We were supposed to leisurely hang around on the grass. We weren't supposed to run in skirts because it wasn't ladylike. Heck, we weren't supposed to speak out of turn or get to aggressive because it wasn't proper.
(I never felt like I was in the middle of pureblood society more than I did there. I mean, come on. I bet even Draco Malfoy grew up to figure out posh society had stupid stupid rules)
Feminism still wasn't a word to me yet. No one had bothered to explain it to me.
It became too much for ten year old me as I came home crying one day, begging my parents to let me go to public school. I thought that that would be the place I would be accepted (I later realized the reason I wanted to leave was so I felt less isolated thanks to culture, gender, and heritage stereotypes). Instead, I found another layer of the sexist puzzle. In middle school, I didn't really fit into any particular group. I was the awkwardly smart kid who transferred schools late in the game. The only friends I had were family friends my parents knew from temple or mutual friends of temple friends. Needless to say, that was a disaster. I learnt then that girls, especially in the Indian American community in my town, had a whole new level of expectations.
For girls in my town's Indian American community it was as follows:
Strike one: You can't be opinionated.
Strike two: You can't hang out with too many boys.
Strike three: You can't think about anything other than academics. Friends, boys, movies, anything. It's taboo if it doesn't affect your report card.
Strike four: You can't wear shorts or skirts like normal kids because they're slutty.
Strike five: You can't be smarter than any of the other girls or boys. You have to hide it.
Yup. I was screwed in middle school. All these stupid rules for me destroyed my soul. Middle school became an even darker place for me than elementary school. Growing up was proving to be an increasingly lonely experience for me. I didn't fit in with the expectations in elementary school, so I would come home crying weekly because I would get teased or because I would simply just be invisible. Middle school I would come home crying once again because I didn't fit into the expectations. But I also would come home crying because I was known in my classes for not fitting the mold. It was the cause of constant mocking. The boys in my classes thought I was an annoying swot who shouldn't be there. The girls all thought I didn't belong. And my few friends there seemed scared to say anything. Granted, middle school for everyone is always just a terrible time.
Throughout it all, my parents were my rocks. They constantly told me everything I was doing was okay. While they grew up in what I consider sexist environments (in India where it was culturally appropriate), they tried their best to not make me feel weird. They have always been the most supportive and loving people (even though sometimes we argue to the point of not talking for a while).
In middle school, I was vaguely aware of the word feminism, but I knew that it was a word that would get me mocked and teased. I did not understand its true definition.
High school: a place where you're supposed to find yourself, but, instead, the place where I ended up getting lost. On the bright side, sexist comments were at an all time low for me. Well, that is, if you don't include all the joking comments one of my now best friends would make. (Yes you Tage, you lovable moron)
High school turned out to be the place I truly learnt what feminism was. I never really had a label for what I was. I just knew that I did not believe in gender norms. Hell, I was a girl who liked to play fight with her friends, who regularly explored the woods, who liked power tools, who actively hated skirts, who didn't and still doesn't believe in the concept of dating, who is never planning on getting married. I have zero maternal instinct, for now. In so many stereotypical aspects for my gender, I fail. High school taught me that that is okay. It's okay to just grow up and be your own person.
Unfortunately, high school also made it blatantly obvious that sexism occurred in other ways. In my magnet school, two boys and I were up against each other for everything. And at times, it felt like I had to fight three times as hard. After a while, I just gave up and took my own alternative method for everything. I mean, it worked out in the end for me right?
One of the worst moments though was in sophomore year when my dad and I got into an argument about my summer plans (I wanted to go volunteer in Ecuador and my dad was just having a crappy week). We got into an argument that was essentially inconsequential, but because he was already in a terrible mood. He attacked my shorts and used a word that I hadn't been called since middle school: slut. I immediately burst into tears, slammed my door, and threw my desk chair into it. Aggressive I know. My door still has the break in it to prove it unfortunately. I learnt in that moment that no matter how much love my dad has, he still grew up in an environment starkly different than the one I was. His perception of things would never be like mine. I just never expected him to say that word. Neither did he because he proceeded to sit outside my door and sleep outside it until I finally came out (something that took more than 24 hours because I forgot to eat lunch at school that day and had my backpack). When I got out, his face looked just as horrible as mine, as if the two of us had spent all those hours continuously crying.
From that moment, my dad actively tried to be an open person, trying his hardest to make sure that any inkling of sexism stayed hidden.
I almost forgot the way the world works until college applications. My parents were hell bent on me being a science major because the humanities was apparently the expensive way to becoming a permanent housewife. That destroyed me. I always loved politics, journalism, and anthropology way more than I ever loved biology or physics. I did do as they wished and eventually went into my freshman year of college as a bio-engineering, biotechnology, student.
After four years in an environment that let me explore what it meant to be me and be a feminist, I was in for some culture shock yet again.
My first week of college ever, I met a girl who actively tells everyone she doesn't believe in feminism. Growing up with all the experiences I had, that was just not a person I wanted to get to know. Somehow though, she was just around. So I tried to become friends, well I tried and failed. I tried to give up my inhibitions, but I can honestly say I will never bother to remember her once I graduate. She's just not worth it. I to this day can't understand how a person can not believe in equality for everyone. Equality is a basic human right, and a tenet of every major social revolution for as long as I can possibly tell.
Apparently, feminists were too aggressive, too demeaning, and a bad example of female. Well, shoot. What am I then, an example of the scum of the earth? Oops, call me one of Satan's gatekeepers then because it sure as heck sounds better than being a good example of female.
As I go through undergrad, I keep meeting more and more people who say stuff like that. Feminism has somehow been warped to "feminazism", a term I find horrible, demeaning, and criminal. Just because a sect of feminists believe the way to equality is through verbal aggression does not mean we can put them on the same plane as Nazis.
For everyone lost on what feminism is, here's the definition.