First-year undergraduate Rhea Ravindra reflects on personal experiences to assess the progression of feminist movements.
I feel like as a young woman; a politically aware, socially active student on the cusp of daunting adulthood, I should relate. Relate to the stories of gender inequality, the instances of gender discrimination, and the struggles of being a woman. But I don’t. Not as much as you would expect.
Amidst a world characterized by sexism and a country rampant with patriarchal structures, my childhood revolved around the strength of my sex. While my mother showed me female success in business and industry, my father showed me what equality and respect for women looked like. I was taught to sew and to fight, to braid hair and to ride a motorbike. I was told that Snow White saved herself from the evil witch and that Black Widow was the coolest Avenger. For the first 12 years of my life, I studied at a school with a unisex uniform where I challenged the words of teachers who told me to “act more lady-like”.
But as I grew older, I began to notice that not everyone thought the way I did. While my first period was a celebration, my friends were being told that they couldn’t enter the kitchen because they were bleeding. While my mother encouraged me to get stronger and fitter, my best friend was told to stop playing football with the boys. While I was convinced that I could do anything, girls around me were being told that they couldn’t.
I was confused. In my (admittedly so) childhood ignorance, I had just assumed that the world treated women the way that my family treated me. Was that not the case? Was this not how it should be? Was this not how it would be, in the future? As I began to ask more and more questions, I was given increasingly unsettling answers. Little had I known, that before being recognized as the woman who could close any deal, my mother had been told that she was “too pretty” to be taken seriously in the industry. In fact, even before she could begin to shape her career, colleges told her that as a woman they didn’t consider her further education to be a worthwhile endeavor – “what’s the point when you’re just going to become a mother?”
From my mother’s stories to the experiences of hundreds of women around me, even today, society’s misogyny shocks me. As I have grown to see and understand the world from an increasingly feminist perspective, I am constantly reminded of the privilege that I hold. My life of empowering statements and equal opportunities has been led in a world of wage inequality, education gaps, and female infanticide. As of 2019, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 14.1 % below those of men in the EU; 1 in every 20 adolescent girls aged 15–19 years had experienced forced sex, and it was estimated that it would take 108 years to completely recover the gender gap. I didn’t know.
Now I know. It has taught me that every woman’s experience is unique. Whether we attend a feminist rally because we feel directly impacted or simply want to demonstrate solidarity, what matters, is an understanding of the female condition. An understanding that women’s struggles are numerous and diverse, but equally valid and relevant. An understanding that some of us are lucky, but none of us should be ignorant. Where do you come from? What was your childhood like? What is being a woman like?
As we continue with our feminist fight, whether as women or men, students or business people, those blessed with empowering environments and those not, I hope we can envision a world where a childhood of equal opportunities and a life of gender equality are no longer a privilege, but a basic right.