Anyone who knows me knows I am a feminist, through and through, and a proud one. I hate to blame any problem I have on being a woman. But there are some things in life’s experience that only women can truly understand. And I am slowly learning that it does not equate to me being less of a feminist to look at situations through the guise of a woman. In-fact, I feel it has made me a better feminist. It’s made me understand that not all things can be controlled, that sometimes in life you need to roll with the punches to survive, and above all, to call out sexist arguments for what they are.
I recently saw a meme that dealt with racism, and the quote said: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude, it’s a question of power.” Same can be said for the feminist fight. I cannot let every sexist remark bludgeon me, but I can work to improve the climate for women when it comes to power. And part of that is speaking up, pointing out problematic thoughts and beliefs, and utilizing my voice as an instrument of change. But what exactly could, or should, that entail…
I am an emotional and empathetic person. My go-to reactions are typically positive, until it gets to a point of sheer exasperation, and then the positivity curdles. I am not particularly proud of how I have handled issues in my past, and as a result I’ve become fully committed to enacting positive change, such as removing negative influences from my life, taking a stand against detrimental verbiage and ideas, and essentially calling out behavior I believe perpetuates misunderstanding. Especially when it concerns my person. And my life.
My husband listens to me. And he hears me. I have plenty of people in my life who I believe listen, but they don’t hear me. The difference boils down to one thing: my husband trusts what I say. When I say I am sad, he trusts that I am just sad. When I say I am angry, but not at him, just frustrated in total, he trusts that I am angry, but not at him, just frustrated in total. That’s the difference between listening and hearing. It boils down to trust. And I know I have caused many in my life to not trust me.
Not only have I bold-faced lied, due to my own insecurities and immaturities, I have often refrained from speaking because I didn’t believe I would be heard. Years and years of continued silence on subjects gave a false sense of security, which is proving to be more difficult to reverse, or be understood by others. And the thing is, I must ultimately realize that their lack of understanding or willingness to believe what I say is their problem, and no longer mine, especially since I am speaking up, I am saying when I am hurt, or calling out behavior I view as, and is, detrimental to a continued relationship with me. I own up to my faults, and I will continue to do so, but that does not mean I am the sole problem within a relationship or dynamic. It means I am one half of a whole, and my responsibility is to speak my thoughts and my feelings, with respect, because ultimately that is all I can do. How it is received, how it is understood, whether it is believed, that is on the other person.
How does this tie into feminism? How does this tie into being female? The connective tissue exists in how we, collectively, listen to, and treat, women. It correlates to believing, and not judging, when a woman uses her words to defend her emotions and mental health. And it means understanding the root difference between men and women: biology. And that is the only difference between men and women.
This is not an excuse. Men and women differ greatly in their respective biology. Men’s hormones are different than women’s not only in kind, but also quantity.
There is an episode of Big Bang Theory where Howard uses estrogen cream on his mother, and he begins to experience hormonal side-effects because he forgot to use gloves when applying said lotion. He begins to act out the PMS symptoms all women know and experience. With his intolerance to estrogen, it means he is a weeping, food-craving mess who is over-sensitive to criticism. And while this is a fairly comical portrayal of having the female hormones course through you, it is a fairly accurate one, as well. When Howard asks Bernadette why she doesn’t exhibit the same symptoms, her quote is: “I’ve had years of practice riding the dragon.” And many women know what she’s speaking of.
The dragon is not just the hormones, it’s curbing the side-effects of those hormones so you don’t get called “bitch” or made fun of because you cry at everything. It means taming the wild side-effects that emerge having estrogen and progesterone course through your system in higher doses at differing times of the month. And it means maintaining an acceptable societal behavior that does not take into account that ever changing biology. That’s right, folks, I am saying that part of being a woman is not only contending with these biological factors, but also contending with society’s reactions to those biological factors. And what is deemed acceptable and the societal pressure to conform.
A boy throws a punch, he gets reprimanded, but he is also told that this is how boys and men handle their emotions. A woman screams or cries, swears or punches a pillow, and she is called hormonal and told she must control it, told she is behaving un-ladylike, or is told she has no excuse for such behavior despite her brain and endocrine system being flooded with the same powerful hormones that help to create life. The ones that literally alter the physical appearance of a woman while pregnant (you know those huge breasts that women get while pregnant, hormones; you know that nausea, hormones; you know how pregnant women pee all the time, hormones; the constipation, the bloating, the tiredness and restless, the physical aches, all hormone related). The same happens for men. That’s why they go through aggressive phases, it’s why they engage in risky behavior, all of it links back to hormones. But it appears, to me, that it is far more socially acceptable for boys to act out their hormone induced indiscretions than it is for women. In-fact, women are often told to hide their reactions and behavior.
Why is this unfair? Because just as a man’s hormone induced actions are symptoms of biological factors, the same goes for women. I remember there being times, in my teenage years, where it felt like an avalanche. Once it began there was no stopping the onslaught of emotional anguish. Even when I desperately wanted to NOT be upset. I just was. And I would sit there crying and feeling helpless because no matter how much I tired I could not not cry, I could not not hurt. But when I would state this, a lot of the time I wasn’t believed. I was told there had to be a reason. And for the longest time it made me believe I was defunct, messed up, wrong, or crazy. But the reality was I was caught in the torrent of hormonal imbalance. Add in the truth that I was also dealing with the biological factors of major depressive disorder and clinical anxiety, and I must say I am utterly shocked I was not a suicide statistic by the age of 18. Though I did come close.
I am sharing this because it is important. It is absolutely necessary to understand that there will be, and are, times where a woman may not know why she is upset. She may just be upset. And that should be accepted and trusted. She knows her own body better than anyone. There doesn’t always have to be an emotional reason, or a mental one, sometimes it can be purely biology that pulls the person along. Does this mean we accept negative behavior and allow it to happen? No. But it also doesn’t mean we condemn women for their emotions, because recognizing these factors and then attempting to work with them is brave and difficult and utterly exhausting. And it doesn’t help that women are made to feel weak because of these biological factors. These are the same biological factors that allow women to build life; to forget pain (that’s right, women are wired to forget pain, it’s how our bodies naturally promote reproduction); to be the conduit for the next generation, something requires unbelievable amounts of strength, mentally, emotionally, and physically. And that should be respected equitably between the sexes. And to believe otherwise is sexist, plain and simple.