A Feminist Encounter

I got checked out by a student in the hallway today…again.  But this time was markedly different:  it was by a girl.  I am by no means implying that there’s anything wrong with being checked out by a female of the non-heteronormative persuasion.  I am actually pretty sure this girl was straight.  This was quite definitely a “checking out the competition” situation.

It was her expression that gave it away.  From the furrow of her brow to the disdainful purse of her lips as she blatantly looked me up and down, suspicion and distrust oozed from this girl.  I felt incredibly objectified—my worth reduced to her opinion of my aesthetic—but at the same time it saddened me.

I recently liked Everyday Feminism on the book of faces, and it’s led me to some very interesting information.  While I’ve considered myself a feminist for several years now, the articles and posts and images they share have made me realize we still have a long way to go.  It may be immensely better for me than it was for my bra-burning fore-mothers, and better still than the suffragettes had it in the early 1900s.  But that doesn’t mean hurray we got our feminism and we’re done.  Women still don’t get paid as much as men; in my state it’s something like eighty cents on the dollar.  There is still huge debate over whether or not government and religious politics belong in our vaginas.  The number of domestic violence and rape cases still rampant in this world is sickening.

And that’s all because in many ways, being a woman is still considered a lesser state.  We are stuck in a world where our genitalia and one chromosome immediately categorize us into gender norms and stereotypes that have been forced on us throughout the history of civilization.  Women can and have run countries, fought wars, called the shots, and done it all as well as (if not better than, in some cases) men.  But the patriarchy continues to tell us we’re delicate, in need of protection—essentially weak.  And more importantly, we believe them.

I’m not saying men and women are exactly alike; there are obvious biological differences.  But that’s all it is—biology.  Even studies that say our brain chemistry is different or that our minds work in different ways, it’s still all biology.  We’re all people, and we should all be treated like people.

But this culture, like most cultures before it, emphasizes a woman’s need for a man in her life.  I’m as much to blame as anyone else; the other day I couldn’t get a jar opened and wished I knew a big burly man to come do it for me.  Eventually the craftiness of a female friend helped me find a way to open it myself, but my first thought was, “God, if only I had a guy around here!”  It’s ingrained in us from day one:  we need men to do things for us, to open the jars and lift the heavy things and save us from the bugs and the critters and our loneliness.  A man who doesn’t marry is a bachelor; a single, aging woman is a spinster.  A woman who takes pride in her sexuality is a slut; a man who does the same is just being a guy.

The worst thing, though, the absolute worst is that we as women are taught to see each other as competition.  If we want to get a good “catch”, we’ll have to be the prettiest and dress the nicest and have the best hair.  And all that does is lead us to look at each other with envy and prejudice.  If I’m not as pretty as her, she’ll get all the good guys and I’ll be stuck with nobody.  It leads to low self-esteem, strained friendships, and jealousy.  Instead of letting feminism bring us together, teaching us we’re all beautiful and wonderful just as we are regardless of the patriarchy’s antiquated views on aesthetics and gender norms, we call each other sluts and whores and spend thousands on new noses and bigger boobs and obsess over our body fat content and compare ourselves to every other woman we meet on the street.

Or in the hallway at a college.  That’s what made me really sad this morning, when that girl looked me over from the size of my boobs and my waist to the knock-off Chucks on my feet.  That calculating look in her eyes, assessing and evaluating me—and probably herself compared to me.  A part of me wanted to say, “Bitch, don’t look at me like that!”  Another wanted to hug her and tell her she was perfect just as she is, no matter how I or anyone else looks in comparison.

In my ambivalence, I just let her walk by.

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