Sometimes we underestimate the fact that we can do whatever we want. We easily start confusing what we want with what other people want, until it morphs into something repressive. We want to please those we love. We want to provide for those we care about. We want approval from our peers. And that’s ok if other people aren’t our sole focus. Because people shouldn’t dictate what we can do and what we can’t do. People shouldn’t confine us with labels and rules. People shouldn’t make us feel small or inferior. They might try. But we don’t have to let them. And really, it’s whatever we want to do that will shine onto the world and make everyone else glow too.
From a young age, we are ingrained with a sense of needing to belong. Some of us grow out of it, but many of us still battle with belonging. Our idea of belonging is wanting to fit in and not wanting to end up being labelled differently. But we all belong. There is a place for all of us. Where we are now is where we’re meant to be. But where we are now is not where we’ll always be. We can decide where we want to go. We can decide where we want to stay. And we’ll always belong. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.
Our selves are made up of a spectrum of intricacies: not just our past, not just where we come from, and not just who we associate with. We are not just one thing. We are not defined by other people’s labels. And we do not have to impose labels on ourselves. We are ever-changing. We learn about ourselves with each situation we encounter and each decision we make. We manoeuvre, adapt and grow, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes naturally. Let’s be open to the evolution of our selves. Let’s grasp all our dreams tightly. Let’s march into the future bravely. Let’s not apologise for who we are or for wanting to change our minds. Be who you want to be at this point in time, and act upon it.
(Image: Created myself using Picmonkey; Picture: silvercitytourism.com)
We don’t know the people around us on the level that we pretend to. Let’s be mindful of our flawed perceptions, our weak understanding and our vision that we are somehow omniscient. Let’s spread kindness. That person might be at their tipping point. The words we say may be a lot more powerful than we realise; let’s use them wisely.
Why is it in our human nature to categorise people? Why is it that a label draws us to a person or turn us off a person? Why does a person’s ‘label’ define their entire being? And is this why people are scared to label themselves as anything? Labels seem to come with the price of a strict definition, but when are labels ever black and white? If somebody identifies themselves as a communist or a Christian or a feminist or a geek or overweight, that doesn’t mean they are exactly the same as everybody who identifies the same way.
We shouldn’t shame people for identifying a certain way just because we have preconceptions about a particular type of person or because we’ve heard a story about someone of a similar identity. We shouldn’t shame someone because we’ve pinned our own label on them without even knowing them. We need to stop. If we label other people or if we use people’s own labels against them, all we do is create cracks in the world to the point where we create unnecessary conflict and isolation. We perpetuate this by passing the same insecurities through generations. Let’s be more accepting and open-minded, more thoughtful and curious. Let’s ask questions instead of assuming answers. The answers might be the same as we expected, but if not, then we would have missed out on a great opportunity. Labels are powerful, but that doesn’t mean that they contain everything that we need to know. We need to look at them in the right way.
At university, for a module about the avenues of criticising and analysing literature, we were asked to put up our hand if we were feminists. The auditorium was filled with over two hundred students, predominantly female. Hardly, anybody put up their hand. I was shocked by the outcome. To me, “Feminism” is the social, economic and political equality of the sexes. I’m a feminist. ‘Shouldn’t everybody be a feminist?’ I thought, ‘If not everyone, then at least every woman?’. Nowadays, I hear women publicly identifying themselves as not-feminist. It has got me thinking that do we shy away from the label ‘Feminist’ because we actually don’t believe in what it advocates or are we afraid of the label? And if we are afraid of the label, what has feminism become?
Feminism has grown to mean to many things. Most significantly, it has become associated with man-hating and only a movement for the benefit for women. Maybe in some ways, I was contributing to that by thinking that all women, at least, should be feminists. In truth, all men should be feminists too and feminism should bring equality to men where women thrive more. Now, I understand the conflicting messages about feminism. The ideas that men should still be chivalrous and that male violence against men is nothing compared to male violence against women are confusing to the idea of gender equality. What’s more, certain feminist movements bash other feminist movements for their actions or their beliefs. Some feminist movements take things so far that it feels suffocating.
But maybe the word ‘feminism’ isn’t even important. I don’t blame people for not wanting to identify themselves as feminists, I just find it sad; every person should want women to have control over their own bodies. Every person should want men to be able to be express themselves. Every person shouldn’t want it to be that men feel they can’t lose to a girl because being weak is associated with being female, and being strong is associated with being male. Every person should want men and women to be rewarded equally for the same work and to have the same opportunities. Every person should want women to feel safe walking down the street without being verbally sexualised and harassed. Every person should want issues of a similar nature to be dealt with in equal importance whether the issue affects women or men. Perhaps the latter is what we still need to work on to make everybody feel included in the idea of feminism; violence against women, for example, is a terrible issue that needs to be addressed and is high on the feminist agenda, but we also need to take violence against men into account.
Underneath everything, feminism, at least to me, is about equality between the sexes. It is a broad statement, but still a very important one. It isn’t one only designed to help women. Feminism needs to become more than just helping women, even if this makes up its core. We can’t give up on it.