This is what a Feminist Looks Like

I am a twenty year old university student, with a very close relationship with both my brother and my father. As a young girl, I was extremely close to my grandfather before he unfortunately passed away. I am in a happy long term relationship, where I have always felt respected and been treated equally and fairly, and some of my closest friends are male. Yet despite this, I am a Feminist. 

Feminism is a word so frequently used it is hard to avoid nowadays. But despite it's frequent use, its meaning still seems to become confused and instead of representing a movement advocating womens rights and equality between the sexes, it is often misconstrued, and many would argue that the two statements above are contradictory. The point I am trying to make is that feminism is not a movement for 'men hating' females. It is a movement about equality. At the forefront of the most recent viral feminism campaign 'heforshe' is Emma Watson- also this month's cover star for the Elle Feminism issue. I admire Emma, she is truly one of my role models (and not just because of my *slight* obsession with Harry Potter), but because she is a woman who isn't afraid of standing up for what she believes to be right. However, with all this press about feminism floating around, it really got me thinking: what impact is this having on men?

We have come to live in a world where women are so used to being belittled or judged, that we no longer take time to notice when this is not the case. Only the other day I was walking down Oxford Road when I was called 'sexy' and 'a miserable cow' by two separate men at two different points on my journey. When did it become OK for a man to make a judgement about my mood or my looks, without knowing anything else about me? The unfortunate reality of this situation, however, is that I probably walked past 40, 50 or even 60 men on my journey, and only two of them disrespected me in this way. Yes, I completely agree that that is still two too many, however, the point is that it was those two that stuck in my mind, not the 58 other men who know how to behave, know how to respect women, and treated me as an equal as I walked by.

I have already admitted that I share many close relationships with men, yet somehow I still find myself being guilty of generalising and stereotyping- the very thing that feminism criticises men for doing to women. Even today I am guilty of such a generalisation. I was sat in the sauna at Manchester Aquatics Centre when a male of around 30 years old struck up a conversation with me. My initial reaction was panic. I felt uncomfortable. There I was, sat in nothing but a bikini, feeling vulnerable and insecure. I judged the man, assumed his intentions were only of a flirtatious or sexual nature, and instantly started to rationalise in my head how I could partake in the conversation without 'leading him on' or 'giving him the wrong idea'... was I to tell him I had a boyfriend? Would I been accused of flirting back if I didn't disclose this information? Was it my own fault for wearing a bikini?... and while all this was going on in my head, I didn't even take a minute to assess the truth of the situation: this man was only being polite. He was only asking questions about what I studied at university and what I did for Halloween, he was not flirting with me at all. Yet somehow, we have come to live in a society where women's instant reaction to men is fear and panic. And that is not OK. 

 I am completely ashamed of the assumptions I have made about men in situations similar to this one, and hope that some day I can bring a daughter into the world who will not feel intimidated or suppressed by the opposite sex. However, I equally hope that I could raise a son who won't be categorised as this intimidating suppressor. 

So in our quest to find equality for all women and all men across the world, we have to remember that although it is easy to blame men for the mistreatment of women, and although some men need to change their attitude towards the female sex, as women we have a responsibility to do the same. How do we ever expect to be treated as equals, if we don't see ourselves as equals? How do we expect to walk down a dark road at night alone and be safe, if we instantly stereotype every man that we pass on this journey? And most importantly, how do we expect to be judged not by our looks, our race, our sexuality, or our gender, if we don't stop judging others by their gender too?

Maybe it's time that we stop classifying others by the actions of their peers and start judging individuals as individuals.