“Sooo …how are things going with Brad?” a girl asks her friend at my science table.
“I mean…do you think he’s the one?”
The other girls around the table blush and squeal at the words that to me sounded more like the title of a low-budget horror movie you watch when nothing else is in theaters. The anticipation gnaws at her answer in the same way the girls’ braces do their lips, freshly glossed and somehow always frozen in a perpetual pout, as if they had been petrified in the middle of blowing out a birthday candle. The other girl sighs and gazes at the ceiling, surveying it for answers.
“I dunno. I’m still waiting for him to ask me out.” For a moment, she lets her perpetual pout sag into a frown and tugs at her hair, confused. “I mean…it’s been almost three weeks.”
“Why don’t you just ask him out?” I ask. All six pouts melt into looks of disgust as the unmistakable word, cold and metallic, slithers out of teeth both clenched and bracketed.
Ew, a reaction I had grown used to getting in regards to me calling myself a feminist. Feminists don’t shave their body hair. Ew. Feminists don’t wear bras. Ew. Feminists obviously have no intention of being with men. Ew. Feminists are women supremacists. Ew. Feminists aren’t actually feminine and have to behave in masculine ways. Ew.
Regardless of how false these stereotypes are, the question of why I would submit myself to such a title always seemed to come up. “So, why are you a feminist?” or “When did you choose to become a feminist?” or the most painful one, “What are the things you have to do to become a feminist?” They say this like feminism was some sort of a cult where you had to have your chakras realigned and your spiritual being reconstructed in order to be accepted.
The honest truth was that feminism wasn’t something that I had a choice in, which sounds ironic considering the fact that one of the leading bases of feminism is giving women the right to choose what they want. I never chose to be a feminist. I’ve simply always been one. Even before I wanted to be. I can still recall faint childhood memories of defending female rights in front of my preschool teacher.
“Maya, are you a feminist?” she would ask. I would instantly scrunch up my face, turn my nose up and spit out the word, “No,” not knowing what “feminist” even meant.
Had she said, “Do you think girls should be able to do the same things as boys?” I would have spat out a clean yes, and an enthusiastic one at that. Plenty of other girls I know would as well. You would think of such a notion as one big step in the right direction, except the only problem was that to many girls the notion, “Girls being able to do the same things as guys,” sounds like something to be advocated, while the concept, “Guys being able to do the same things as girls,” practically the same idea, is forgotten.
When I look back at the situation at my science table, it was obviously anything but fair.
“What’s so wrong with a girl asking a guy out?” I asked
One of the girls laughed, shaking her head at me in the triumphant way one of the kids in a Trix cereal commercial would before saying, “Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids!”
“Everyone knows that if a girl acted right, she shouldn’t need to ask the guy out,” she concluded, folding her hands like a deck of cards she was skilled at playing. She seemed to know more about the science of how dating works than she did about her Biology textbook. “The girls who do ask guys out are usually the ones who just can’t wait,” she told me.
“Can’t wait for what?” I asked
The girls began to laugh one by one, shattering into a fit of laughter like dominoes around the circular table.
“Oh,” I said embarrassed. I couldn’t believe it. A guy asks a girl out and he’s fine, but when a girl asks a guy out she seems desperate or even as far as promiscuous. Confidence and independence in women, a remedy for gender inequality seemed to come with negative connotation as its side effect.
“But doesn’t that bother you?” I began. “I mean…haven’t you ever wanted to ask the guy yourself?”
They shrugged, “Nah. When you think about it, it’s actually pretty nice. I don’t have to go through the anxiety of asking, or even worse, getting rejected.”
It was then that I noticed, “When you think about it,” that wasn’t very fair to guys either, always being expected to ask the girl. Don’t get me wrong. I’m confident that plenty of guys or even the majority of them would like to do the asking considering that they have been known to assume powerful roles in norms of society, but what about the ones who don’t? The ones who would rather be asked? And what about the guys who always have to pay the bill at the end of a meal? Or the guys who are always expected to be the worker and provider of their family? Or even the women who would like to be the worker and provider of their family?
When you think of the big picture, the girls that were looked down upon for being forward with guys could grow up only to look down upon the girls at the science table for doing something like choosing to stay at home with their families instead of pursuing a career. The girls at the science table could grow up only to look down upon the forward girls for choosing a career over their families. But in the end, should the choice matter if it is what they genuinely want? If a woman truly wanted to be at home with her family, should she have to go to work to appear feminist? If a man truly wanted to pursue his career, would he still have to stay at home with his kids if he didn’t want to seem sexist? Living in fear of giving off the wrong image would disperse more oppression, this time among both genders. Sure, the playing field would be leveled but not for the better.
The idea isn’t that women should swap places with men or that they should turn themselves into men in order to be treated with the same respect. The idea is that women should always be given the choice to do things that men can do and in return that men can be given the choice to do things that women do. In applying this concept, more equality will develop where it’s needed. Feminism can be carried out successfully, giving it a better name, and giving girls and boys once cocooned in the fear of being called things like “man hating” or, “women supremacist,” the opportunity to metamorphose into people confident in their beliefs in gender equality who can call themselves feminists (If they want to).