I saw two very young girls at the pool one afternoon, holding each other, looking nervous. The water seemed like something new to them. Like they are to the world. They were new and young and adorable. They looked very different from each other. One was slightly taller and thin, and the other was chubby with a really cute face that reminded me of Rae Earl from MMFD. They looked very different, and yet they held on tight, both needing each other. Both wanting to be there for each other.
It was really cute and a bit surprising to me, for reasons I felt I had to process. I eventually figured that it was seeing an endearing form of sisterhood, seeing them hold on to each other at that age. When I was that age, all I depended on were adults or much older children. And it took me a long while to feel that sort of sisterhood that I read from their gesture. Growing up, whenever I was beside a thinner girl, or a prettier girl, or even a shorter one, which was silly, I eventually somehow learned to want to change or shrink myself. Or otherwise, to feel like I'm the better one. Even if I needed them around me. Even if they needed me around them. I didn't want to be compared. But I ended up doing most of the comparing.
Even though I might never know what made me feel that way, I always felt like I was being compared, it felt like I was being put in a competition I didn't sign up for. But I learned to play it anyway, because it seemed like the only way to go about things.
This girl is prettier and thinner, but I'm smarter and do this and that better. Oh, but people still like her more... Um, that's okay, that probably means I'm just better than any of them. Somehow.
Didn't mean anything if I was winning or losing whatever competition it was, it felt a bit uncomfortable to be around other girls, it felt bad overall. It felt corrupt. It didn't feel like how a child is supposed to feel. But I felt many things that didn't feel like things I was supposed to feel, so I never got to process this particular one.
Now that I'm older though, I'm more sensitive to clues that point to where my insecurity might have come from. I can see clues when watching women interact with each other, watching men interact with (or objectify) women, even just watching the news, or reading a magazine. (I'm specifying the experience of women here because it's my experience, and there's a different level of pressure given to women by default when it comes to appearances and social roles.)
Everywhere are signals for women to either prove themselves, or to compete with the next woman.. And a lot of signals about a woman's appearance determining her worth.
And a lot of women internalized this. Including me.
Luckily though, most of this went down before I even considered myself a woman. Now that I'm older, I've learned to celebrate other women's triumphs and encourage their happiness, and genuinely care about them and love them and come from a place of support. And if I do feel jealous at times, I always try to pull myself back, take a breath, and let things that inspire me in, while letting the rest just fall away. I'm still able to be critical of things that need to be critiqued, but I try my best to check if it's coming from a place of jealousy or sexism now. (some people still interpret my criticism of things as me being jealous of course, but that's from their own internalization of this competitive culture among women.)
But being a young girl in a world like this can be really tough. I always feel a tinge of hurt when I see chubby girls get teased, when they grow to be bitter or sassy as a result, and receive more ire and criticism for dealing with it that way when they probably can't help it. (They're kids! I mean really..)
But now that I'm grown up, I can sense a huge wave of change taking over. The good thing about the internet age is that you can surround yourself with information you want to be surrounded by. I surround myself with positive messengers of love, people who see through the double standards the world puts on certain people, and try to be equal and inclusive about language and representation. It feels encouraging, inspiring, and I aspire to be this kind of voice in the world. And it's reassuring to see the next generation of parents be this way. Most of them anyway.
But after logging off, it's of course, a different story. In my day-to-day life, and media that I don't get to pick and choose (and what most people are exposed to by default) the inequalities I faced as a kid are still rampant, widespread, and most of all, unrecognized and unchecked. To me, that is the worst part. When a horrible thing is normalized, it makes otherwise well-meaning but not very critical people vulnerable to its influence. I see many people I know doing things and saying things that I now see are symptoms of a society that lets oppression run free, so long as you have a certain kind of conviction or you pay the right price.
And this isn't me putting groups against each other, because I often see, for example, women policing other women's clothes, life choices, appearances, and therefore being complicit and even contributing to their own oppression. Or in non-gender-specific sense, people selling their votes to people who will just perpetuate the kind of dysfunction that puts them in that place where they need to sell it anyway.
In the end, it's not any single person's ideas about the world, but a general culture where any person's bad ideas about the world are left unchecked, uncorrected, and even promoted, perpetuated, even institutionalized. Because the human species is a social one. We need each other to learn. We need each other to help more people. We work in groups, we have an innate need to touch each other's lives. And we will save SO MUCH MORE TIME in cooperating if we stop trying to control each other, boxing people up in clear-cut groups, or ostracizing those who are different (and, ehem, policing and obsessing over other people's sexual lives and bodies hellloooo?!), and start taking advantage of our differences and nuances to see how they positively contribute to the whole group. Because this is how we can stop children thinking something's wrong with them and growing up to be people focused on doing things and getting out there into the world, rather than trying to change themselves. I sure could have used that growing up.
So I guess, if you're new to this whole feminism thing, the takeaway is to check yourself. Before saying anything bad about a female celebrity, or your daughter's friend, or your cousin's new girlfriend, think about three things:
- Would I be spewing this garbage if it was a man?
- Is it my business or responsibility to say this piece of ~information~*
- Did I take the time to get to know her as a person and not just how she appears (or is marketed/covered by the media) before making conclusions?
*term used loosely
I want to wake up someday in a world where the people I care about no longer project their insecurities on each other by bringing them down, and therefore encouraging more insecurity. I want to put the sense of mutual support and love I saw that afternoon from those two girls in a jar, to save it, to remember it, so I will always remember what to aim for.