As Clementine and I were reminiscing one day, she told me about an incident that had occurred back when we were studying together. She asked me whether I remembered a Ms P, an assistant teacher who was an active feminist. That description alone was not specific enough to jog my memory – our department of English Literature was a feminist den. But a couple of teachers did stand out as particularly – how should I put it? – passionate. Ms P, as it turned out, was one of them: as she was briefing students about the upcoming exam, she made a point to tell Clementine that she shouldn’t wear a skirt to said examination. That a young woman who enjoyed wearing skirts, who specifically chose to wear them because they fit her sense of style and sense of self, should not present herself to an examination in one. Because… what? Because it was too demeaning? Because a skirt would immediately flag her as a streetwalker? Because she wouldn’t be taken seriously in what is considered a feminine attire, and thus she should renounce it in favour of her academic career?
After the initial indignation had worn off, I paused and reflected on the ludicrous recommendation. I do not consider myself a scholar of Feminism, and thus I am perhaps confused about its exact purpose and goal. But, to me, a movement fighting for women’s rights should first and foremost be about giving women a choice – the choice to be who we want to be, to accomplish what we wish to accomplish… and to wear what we bloody want to wear! If, in order to be taken seriously, we must shed everything that has come to be identified as feminine, including our clothing, then what right of choice have we won? What freedom? It looks to me like we have gone from one dictatorship to another. Previously, women had to fight society if they wished to pursue a career. Now, women have to fight society if they wish to be stay at home wives. Somewhere along the way, the concept of a woman who takes care of her appearance, who is interested in arts and crafts as well as home keeping, who genuinely wishes to devote herself to her family – all of this has become associated with lack of education, with backwardness, with imprisonment. For the sake of progress for our gender, we must, de facto, crush everything associated with it. Just like a well-meaning supervillain who plans to destroy the world in order to build a better one, we must abandon “stereotypes” and construct anew.
… yeah, I’m going to have to say no to that. What we need is to change our world, not get rid of it. We need to be able to choose. To be ourselves, freely and completely, without dreading any stigma. We need to change how we are perceived, and not change ourselves to fit existing perceptions. We should be able to be blonde, wear hot pink, attend University, and still be taken seriously. Just as we should be able to be a talented and well-educated stay at home mom, and not be told that we’re wasting our lives.
In the immortal voice of Gloria Gaynor, “I am what I am”. Kindly accept it, world.