Proud To Be A Woman
When it comes to gender inequality, I have some very strong feelings about it. As a woman, I know that being treated differently has significantly contributed to my mental illness and general functioning. I’ve had to work harder than others to get to where I am today. On a regular basis I still experience misogyny in various forms in both my personal and professional lives. Some days it gets to me and other days it drives me, however no matter in what way it manifests itself, I have resolved to not let it chart my path. This wasn’t always so.
I grew up in a culture that valued men over women. As a child I knew that even though I was loved, I wasn’t viewed as an equal to the men in my family. Nothing was ever explicitly stated, but you knew it was there beneath the surface. I know I was expected to get married and have babies and manage a household, even as I had many other ideas about my life outside of that context. There is no hate in my heart towards my family for this as I know much of it was the culture they too had grown up in. For me, at a young age, I somehow knew that the same path wasn’t part of my journey and I fought against the stereotype, sometimes at great personal cost.
There’s a funny story that a friend of mine told me one day about an elderly client she had assessed in my small community. Of course, due to confidentiality, she couldn’t tell me who it was but the story itself made me both roll with laughter and seethe with anger. She mentioned to this gentleman that I was her friend and he proceeded to tell her “we don’t think she likes men but now that gay marriage is legal maybe she’ll be happy”. Wow!! I had no idea anyone thought that of me! I am not gay and my anger came from the fact that just because I hadn’t gotten married and had babies by this time that somehow it meant my sexual orientation was not heterosexual. While it gave me and my friend a good laugh, it also showed me just how much the culture I had grown up in affected the perception of who I was to others and to myself.
Every group I have ever been part of, every workplace or volunteer experience I’ve had that was male dominated, has had me fighting to get my voice heard. Luckily, I have a pretty loud one along with a stubborn streak that doesn’t often let me back down. But there have been times when I would sit in a room and feel less valued, less of a person, because of my gender. I’ve had conversations with men who claim to be all for equality and yet their actions don’t match their words. Many moments I still recall as if they were yesterday and the hurt that comes with it never really goes away. As a person living with mental illness who already felt different and marginalized, the idea of my gender being a factor in how I was perceived has played a significant role in many crisis moments over my lifetime. There have been times when I have been shot down in incredibly horrific ways and made to feel as if I was the problem, rather than a person who was pointing out inequality and wanted to make change. I’ve never been able to understand why having a vagina makes me somehow worth less in society; why I’m expected to be or do certain things rather than what is best for me. I know we have come a long way, but I also see each and every day how much further we have to go.
I’m constantly inspired by my thirteen-year-old niece and how strong and capable she is. I love our talks and hearing the confidence in her voice when she discusses her future plans always makes me smile. She is being raised in a much better time than me, even as I know that she will come up against some of the same challenges at different parts of her life. But I am confident she can weather them well and I hope that in some small way the fights I continue to be part of for gender equality will help pave the way, not just for her but for every other girl coming up behind me. We owe them nothing less than our best efforts.