I enrolled in my first Gender Studies class my sophomore year of college, and I remember from the first day, our professor stressed that if there was one thing to take away from her course, it would be to “question everything.” When she said that, I couldn’t help but think, “Hell yeah, I do that anyway so this class is going to be a perfect fit for me.” If only I knew then just how wrong I was, and how angry I was about to be.
The class was a simple, introductory class about the way gender effects our everyday lives – what we see in the media, the way we interact with others, how certain perspectives are dictated by (hold for dramatic effect…) the PATRIARCHY. I learned more in depth about the strict gender roles society assigns to us from the moment we’re born, the fear of the word “feminist,” as well as the damaging constraints of the gender binary. I was familiar with some of the topics we discussed, but looking at them from such a focused lens was a whole new experience. It was fascinating to me, and once again, angering.
I couldn’t help but notice that more often than not, I would leave my eighty-minute class deeply frustrated and confused. I tended to direct a lot of these emotions toward my professor. Was she thinking too deeply about these issues? Did everything need to be so analyzed and dissected? How could she not like Beyoncé? (A completely different story for another time). I spent most of my semester telling my friends and family that while I loved the class and the material that was being taught, my professor sometimes took it a little too far. I thought of her as a very passionate – and quite angry – feminist. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but I didn’t think it was productive to let her own personal opinions fuel our lectures.
I don’t remember exactly what the turning point was for me. I think I was on the subway returning to my dorm. The subway, I had come to learn, is a breeding ground for gender stereotypes. It’s a microcosm of sorts, so it’s not always reliable, but nonetheless, it was enough for me to realize something. Being able to apply such a specific example from class to my simple commute home clarified that it wasn’t my professor that was making me angry. It was the fact that she was right. About EVERYTHING.
The fact that she spent an entire lecture discussing Robin Thicke’s music video wasn’t what made me frustrated, it was the fact that it was indeed problematic and not enough people were recognizing it. She didn’t discuss the origins of marriage because she was against getting married, but it was rather a way to deconstruct the heteronormative expectations we’re all so familiar with. Maybe instead of focusing on stricter dress codes, we should be focusing on teaching kids not to sexualize one another.
The clarity was overwhelming. I was relieved to know that all of the things that I had so often been frustrated about had a name: feminism. I clung to this title and owned it. Still do. I promise, it’s not scary. To put your fears to rest, I’ve provided this simple chart:
As I continued to take more classes about gender, I learned more and more about the complicated dynamics of society, motivated more than ever to be a part of a change. I was a lot more comfortable with being angry. Anger motivates change. Emotion breeds action.
A gentle reminder, though… I don’t advocate being hella salty at all times. (For the older folk who aren’t as hip and cool as I am: “hella salty” = “very disgruntled”). Do you have to have an argument with people who use the phrases man bun or guyliner? I don’t really think it’s worth it. But being conscious and aware of the problems of gender inequality, heteronormativity, and other forms of marginalization is something I think we should all continue to work on. The more attention that is brought to a problem, the harder it is to ignore. This could mean anything from posting on social media to having a simple conversation with a friend over coffee. Anyone who knows me is aware that I know exactly how to get the party started: heated discussions about pronouns and gender politics. Aw yeah. It gets pretty wild.
All we can do is try to stay educated about solving these problems. How, you ask? QUESTION EVERYTHING. Eventually, you might start finding some answers.