It seems mad that in the 21st century I’m writing a post on feminism. I believe feminism would be good for the mental health of all. I don’t claim to know the feelings of others so this post can only be based on my own experience and impressions. Therefore, I appreciate that some of the ideas expressed here may not map onto the experience of others. You may be surprised. Hopefully something may resonate. You may gain a new perspective or be confused about my entirely different one. But here are my thoughts, at least at the point of writing.
At times it feels like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. Self-care is about prioritizing yourself and your mental health. It’s the switch to making yourself a priority; not an option. When we engage in self-care, our brains learn to prioritize our own needs. This in turn boosts our confidence and self-esteem. We literally learn our own importance. This is something I struggle with or have in the past. And it may be because of my unique biological make up combined with life experiences. But my life experiences are defined by my identity as a female. And whilst it’s easy to think women are treated equally now. It’s not that clear cut.
Now that I have a daughter, I have a new perspective on this too. I don’t want her to ever feel on the back foot because of her gender. I hope she never feels unimportant. And yet my sense is that without change, there will inevitably be life experiences when she feels secondary. With a lack of female representation in many areas, and women often pigeonholed and stereotyped, I have concerns. I”m worried she will be held back from what she wants to achieve. Not seeing adequate role models around her. Or not hearing the voices of women advocating for issues which we often struggle through in isolation. From the gender pay gap, the lack of representation of women in key societal roles, maternity discrimination to the historic pink tax. More and more, we’re aware of the pervasive inequality women face on a daily basis
A Man’s World?
My daughter will live her life in a world where decisions – at least historically – have been made by men. In a world where life is still largely designed by men, for men. It’s sadly not completely inaccurate to say it’s a man’s world. Although I acknowledge we have made strides in this area. We cannot be complacent. For more on this I recommend the book Invisible Women. From removing snow from the streets, to the placement of toilets, and access to accurate diagnosis and treatment. This well-researched book shows the inequalities women face every day which many of us are blind too. It makes sense that we can’t expect decision makers to know what they have never experienced. But it is certainly their duty to hear a diverse range of experiences. Or to give people with different experiences, namely women, a seat at the table. Without women’s voices to advocate for problems surrounding women but also to share their own unique perspectives and solutions on problems which we all face. We not only don’t progress, but we actively hold it back.
Having a Voice
When we think someone or something is important. We give it time and space. We also give it a voice. Feminism gives me a voice. Women are too often rendered mute. Their voices unheard. By a lack of representation or a seat at the table. But when women have a seat. Men can still drown out women’s voices. I know mine has. In many ways, I admire men who pronounce their ideas as the best or only option. I long for the day where I have that kind of confidence. But when that confidence slips into arrogance. Leading to dismissal of other ideas, often women’s, then we’re in dangerous territory.
For Why Our Feelings Go Unheard read here.
We know that when we are unheard, the impact on our mental health can be huge. We’ve likely all had moments when we’ve felt invisible, undervalued or let’s just say it unimportant. I don’t want that for myself, my daughter or any of the wonderful women I do or do not know. I fear the toll on their mental health, the sadness or pain of not being recognised. The gradual chipping away of their self-esteem and confidence. Their voices silenced, possibly forever.
Communication is coloured by gender. Both verbal and non-verbal. From the way we talk about women. To the way we talk to women. Society use adjectives to describe women which they don’t use for men. Women are bossy or hysterical. Men rarely if never are. This language degrades women, casting them as problematic. When people will admire or praise similar behaviours in men; but spoken about and described differently. It’s also how we relate to talks that impact women more then men. Whilst the pink tax is now historic, it’s ridiculous that tampons were a luxury item but men’s razors were not. The way we bestow importance on these topics is clear from how we talk about them. There women’s issues; not everyone’s issues. And yet women’s menstruation and fertility are men’s issues. There everyone’s issues given they allow us to continue to populate the planet. And yet, they’re often the burden of women to advocate for them. And when there’s not adequate representation in government etc. these needs go unrecognised and without solution.
When I’ve been spoken to, and it’s often to, and not with. They have drowned me out or outrightly dismissed me and my ideas. People, usually men, make assumptions about what I like because I’m female. Then there’s the dog-whistling and shouting at in the street. There’s a non-verbal component here too. I’ve had taps on the shoulder making me feel like a petted dog. Men have physically moved me out of their path. An obstacle rather than a human.
Women at Risk
Whilst I defer to Laura Bate’s fabulous books on the subject, women are at risk. Not only the impact to our mental health when daily life is that much harder for a female in a man’s world. But the violent and abusive behaviours; the risk women face. We cannot disconnect or untangle the way we view, talk about and treat women from the tragedy of female violence. When women have to fight for a seat at the table to have their views heard. When we pay women less. And we don’t give women the same opportunities for advancement. When men can shout over our voices or take possession of our bodies. When we aren’t a priority. Rather undervalued, unseen, unheard, unimportant. It lays the foundation to ignoring women’s needs and rights. Until in some cases, women stop being seen as a person at all.
Why I Need Feminism?
In short, I need feminism for my mental health. In the short term, it empowers me and gives me the confidence to speak up. Whether in the workplace or out with friends. It reminds me that my experience as a female is important. Not just for me, but for all women, and by extension wider society. By boosting women’s mental health, we all win. It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure women’s voices and ideas are heard and considered. This empowerment boosts my mood and my confidence. Whilst the sisterhood and companionship, the feeling of being understood and in this together, is another bonus.
For 4 Ways to Check In with Your Mental Health read here.
Longer term, feminism gives me hope. Hope that we are seeing change. It allows me to feel positive about the future; both mine and my daughters. So, she will feel valued as much as her male counterparts. I hope she will see her needs considered on the world stage. She needs to be able to go out with friends at night, have fun and not worry about how she will get home safely. I don’t want to be up all night worrying about it. As a female, she needs to know she is important and valued. I want us all to know that. Feminism is a part of that.