“I only want friends who are less pretty than me, so I can get a boyfriend.” This is what one of my brightest middle students in South Korea told me. When I did a Dreams lesson with the 14 year-old students every one of the girls listed “Get Married” as the most important goal. In this country gender stereotypes are more ingrained, more conservative than I am used to. But the source of statements like this is a very different culture than my own, where being the same is more important and respected than standing out. Sometimes hard to fathom, but more understandable considering the cultural norms here.
What is more shocking to me is sharing dinner with other native English teachers from first world countries and having them tell me that they aren’t feminists. That really men and women just aren’t equal. That they are not really interested in woman’s issues. It physically hurts my brain to understand how this range of independent, educated women can be so blasé about the issue.
Women who are scared to confront the issues or are ignorant of the issues because ‘feminist’ is such a terrifying word for them is a huge challenge for the feminist movement. This resistance hinders our ability as feminists to reach many women who would otherwise be assets.
My daughter will be 16 in about 2035. For those of you who are quick at maths you will realise that I don’t have a daughter yet. But in some senses, that is how I choose to live on a practical level. I choose to make decisions about my own life, the actions I take and the expectations I have, to create a better world for my daughter as a representation for all the women in my life and country. I want to ensure that I will be a positive role model in the midst of negative mass media representations of women. I employ this tactic to encourage women to be part of the feminist movement giving them examples that will make sense to them. In speaking about the practical applications of improving situations for women and by speaking about situations that can directly influence someone they might care about (friends, daughters, sisters, themselves) I show them how feminism is relevant for them.
Perhaps as feminists we need to do a marketing overlay. Let’s go for the magazine mantra if we must: INDEPENDENT, STRONG, INTELLIGENT. Use words that the majority of women do want to live up to. Then use those words to encourage women that it is necessary to become more involved in their communities. Instead of challenging them to speak to someone about women’s issues, we could challenge them to:
- find an organisation that works to aid women or girls and get them involved in it;
- encourage them to help to put together a scholarship for one girl who needs it; or simply
- encourage them to live bigger dreams, to expect better treatment from life and treat other women with more respect.
If ‘feminist’ is such a scary word then we would be better off involving resistant women in the practical application and allowing them to discover on their own that feminism is not a scary word, but a necessary action.
I want my daughter to be proud of me one day. I’m not going to get that right by saying all the right things, I’m going to do that by doing the right things. We can talk and we can shout, but our success as feminists lies in the wide majority of people taking the right actions to make positive change. So perhaps it’s time to speak less and show more.