Respect Is… 2020 winning submission

To me, gaining respect starts with defiance. I am a woman, but who does that make me? I am told to dress moderately, but not like a prude, don’t be too loud, be seen but not heard, keep my legs closed, but I MUST have children, and I mustn’t be too fat, or too thin, but if I’m proud of my body, I’m a slut. Who made these rules? And why do we continue to enforce them? In a world where society and multinational corporations’ profit from a woman’s self-hate, any small act of self-love is defiance. So, let’s talk about the society we live in, and how we can change it for the better.

Unfortunately, gender inequality is so deeply rooted in our society we have become blind to the intricacies of it, the subtle remarks. It starts young. When your grade two teacher states that she needs ‘strong boys to help move chairs’, when you get told that that boy only bullies you ‘because he likes you’, when young boys are told to ‘man up’, because any form of femininity or emotions must be weakness. I remember the first time I was called a slut. I was 10. I remember when I was 11 my friend’s dads made a comment on how my breasts were growing and that I should be ‘proud of them’ because I would ‘attract the boys’.  When we tell young girls that a boy only bullies her because he likes her, we are conditioning her to accept violence and mistreatment as a form of love. When we tell a young boy to ‘man up’ we are telling him that emotions are beneath him, and it’s okay for girls because they are inferior. What’s worse is the the phrase “boys will be boys”. No. Boys will be held accountable for their own actions, otherwise men will believe that they can get away with anything.

Children who grow up with in this toxic environment turn into men who can’t handle their emotions, and women who despise other women simply for existing. This world judges women for simply existing, and it starts with other women. Our society has been shaped in such a way that the lack of opportunities has forced us to compete with our fellow women, and it has made us snarky, bitter and just plain cruel. Why is it that when you meet a confident woman you instantly dislike her? I believe it’s because we’re jealous. We’re so intimidated by such a strong woman that we feel the need to tear her down, and it only gives men permission to do the same. There is a phrase recently coined amongst young people, called a ‘pick me girl’. It’s a woman who seeks male validation by insinuating that she is ‘not like other girls’. A woman who picks apart other women in order to make herself feel better. This toxic culture has been perpetuated by society telling us that there can only be ONE woman at the top, and that other women are your competition, but we should be bolster our fellow women, not tear them down. How can we make men respect us as equals when we don’t even respect each other?

And why is respect so hard to ask for? Do men know what it feels like to join a poker table and have all other members feel like they need to explain to you how it works? Do they know what it feels like to have to cross the street every time a stranger is coming towards them? Or having a sibling of the opposite gender who is allowed to be out at night while they aren’t? Women are told to be safe, to not walk by themselves at night, to hold their keys in between their knuckles, to not get too drunk, but why aren’t men told to keep their damn hands to themselves? This is the thing that continues to baffle me the most. The fact that when a man is asking you out, the most successful way of saying no is to say you have a boyfriend, because they’ll respect a man they’ve never met before they respect the woman right in front of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to blame men. I believe society has failed us, and the world we live in has perpetuated this idea that men are superior in many ways. I am more than familiar with the phrase “not all men”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I have a number of kindhearted, tolerant men in my life, but if the only time this phrase is brought up is to invalidate the experiences of a woman, is it really valid? I hate to say it, but our society, and the culture surrounding women is not acceptable. The fact that a misogynistic, sexist man who makes lewd comments about his own daughter is currently in charge of one of the most powerful countries in the world is shocking proof of the world we live in.

Sadly, many people, women included, don’t believe this inequality is real. They don’t believe in the wage gap, or the pink tax, or the millions of missed opportunities young girls miss out on simply due to their gender. But saying “women are equal” is a massive slap in the face to the 33,000 girls who become child brides every day, the 132 million girls denied an education, the women denied abortions or surgical sterility without their husbands permission, the Latina women who earn on average 46% less than their white male co-workers and the women who have to sit in a court room with their rapists and be asked “what were you wearing?”. During a criminal trial in Ireland in 2018, a lawyer cited the underwear a 17-year-old rape victim was wearing as a sign of her consent. He stated “You have to look at the way she was dressed, she was wearing a thong with a lace front.” The rapist was acquitted.

Do you realise that we have been in quarantine longer than Brock Turner was in jail?  A rapist, in jail for 3 months simply because he ‘had bright future’. In 2018, Julia Gillard predicted that it could take up to 200 years before men and women have equal work and opportunities. The statistics are endless, and it’s almost disheartening, almost. We can make a change, and we need to demand respect. And no, not just women. We need allies, everyone and anyone who gives a damn. Even on an individual level, it starts with calling out a co-worker who makes an inappropriate comment about a female, or telling your mates that the way they’re acting isn’t okay. Especially at unprecedented times like this where domestic violence has increased by up to 20%, checking in is so important.

We need to stop putting gender labels on toys, and stop telling young boys they can’t like pink, or play with dolls, or wear dresses. We need to normalise children being in control of their own bodies, and not having to hug that scary relative if they don’t want to. Normalise women not having kids, or even women who aren’t sexually attracted to anyone. We need to normalise self-love, and complimenting other women instead of tearing them down. Get involved in politics, because we are part of a democracy, and that means we, the people, have the power to make a change, and elect politicians who uphold the correct values. Finally, normalise the saying “you’re not like other girls” being an INSULT, because what the hell is wrong with other girls? Women are some of the most strong, beautiful, independent, talented people I know, and we deserve everything the world can provide us with and more.

Personally, I am unsure whether I will have children in my life, but I know with all my heart that if I do, I will teach them respect, for themselves and those around them. As I said, it starts young. I believe we can change the world. We can build a community that is founded on respect, respect for women, respect for bodily autonomy and respect for gender equality. I will fight for my fellow women, for they are my sisters. I will fight for every woman across the world who are denied opportunities because of their gender. I will fight for equality, and I will continue fighting until the phrase “oh, so what are you like a feminist or something?” is not meant as an insult.

From the Author

“Winning this competition meant finally finding my voice. Knowing that other people read my work and felt the same way was uplifting and gave me hope for the future. It made me believe that we can progress as a society and that there truly are people out there who care enough to make a difference.”

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