I am a feminist. To me, that means that I believe in treating people equally, regardless of whatever gender they choose to identify with. Equality is important to me: ever since I became aware of the issues surrounding gender, equality is the principal on which my fundamental beliefs have always rested.
From the age of 11-18, I went to a girls’ secondary school. While there were many things that I enjoyed about my school, the pupils there were completely isolated from boys for a lengthy period of huge physical and mental growth, unless you had male friends outside of school. Fortunately for me, I did, but I knew a good number of girls at my school – far more than you’d expect – who only had female friends and got ridiculously terrified at the prospect of having to speak to a boy (even more than is normal for a teenage girl!)
The majority of the teachers at my school were very strong feminists. While I admire people who have firm principles, this meant that nearly every subject (History, English, and Biology included) was taught from a feminist angle. Long discussions would take place about the victimisation of women, and teachers would often speak with real anger and frustration about their experiences in which they believed they had been treated a certain way because of their gender.
I certainly felt that I was more likely to attain higher marks if I wrote from my teachers’ feminist perspectives. I would often totally regurgitate my teachers’ views without taking a moment to consider how well these views sat with my own beliefs.
When I first left school, I felt a lot of anger towards men – this anger was very strong, and I couldn’t understand where it came from. If a male stranger tried to look at or speak to me I would immediately assume that they saw me as nothing more than an object. I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that this anger was somehow the ‘correct’ response, that it was almost my duty to act like this around men on behalf of the injustices faced by many women.
Now that I am a bit older, I have finally begun to challenge these attitudes towards men. I have realised that this bitter hatred is not in line with my beliefs in gender equality – I had been immediately dismissing people based on the single fact that they were male. Now that I can acknowledge that being male is not synonymous with the objectification of women, I am much happier and finally understand my own beliefs much better.
In hindsight, I don’t believe that a girls’ school – a place in which, apart from a few members of staff, men are not represented – is a healthy atmosphere in which young girls should be bombarded with constant messages about men objectifying and undermining women throughout history. I think that it is particularly dangerous to be hearing such powerful, angry messages from teachers, who are in a position of power: since a school is a learning environment, it is too easy to accept what teachers tell you as a given.
I am not saying, by any means, that many women are not still victims of gender inequality. But I am acknowledging that there are far more good men in the world than there are misogynists, and it is important to recognise that.