Unlearning and Relearning: Ok This Is Pure Opinion Piece.

As of October 2017 over 1.7 million tweets have been found to mention #metoo.

Over the past two years, more specifically, last year; there have been so many scandals, disappointments and cases of sexual harassment, abuse and misuse of authority from men in positions of power, each one shaking our society’s perception of gender inequality, sexism and changing how we function in their own ways. There are so many facets to this discussion and I admire anyone who attempts to even begin to answer some of the bigger and scarier questions that have arisen as a result of this cultural shift we are experiencing.

On my front, I, like many other women have been facing something much more unspecific and difficult to articulate. A question has manifested in the minds of thousands that encapsulates all the worries, fears and anxieties that cases such as Weinstein, the Larry Nassar (US Gymnastics Doctor) case and with even more ‘grey area’ issues such as that Aziz Ansari Babe article, have brought to the forefront of our minds: just how much of my life have I been the unwitting victim of instances from mild to more severe abuse, assault, harassment, prejudice and discrimination because I am a woman?

I say ‘unwitting’ because I don’t see myself as a victim and I think it perfectly describes my personal experience of harassment and all the afore mention possible experiences, especially as a teenager. Until attending University I wasn’t even fully aware that I was part of the political and moral belief system that is so widely known today as ‘feminism’. In fact, the word ‘feminist’ felt like an insult, so effective was our society’s demonisation and twisting of what feminism really was, the very word was abject to me. From having to put up with boys my own age being inappropriately sexual at school, male teachers sexualising me or other girls, male teachers punishing my tendency to be vocal while my fellow male pupils and students went unscathed, being sexualised as a 14 year old walking home from the school bus by adult men: whistling, shouting lewd remarks; the injustice was apparent to me from a young age but it seemed to me that this was just the way the world was.

The first time I stuck my middle finger up to a group of builders who were working outside a building on my walk from the bus home, I was in my maroon school sweatshirt that I wore up til year 10 (I would have been 13/14) of High School and I remember walking away with my arms crossed over my chest trying to hide what I felt like always attracted unwelcome attention. I started developing a chest from a young age and by the age of 15 I already had problems fitting into a lot of high street bought bras that most of my friends wore. I felt guilty for looking older than I was because of something as stupid and biological as, basically puberty. My outward dramatised anger and trivialising of such experiences was the only real way I felt like I could deal with it. I might have been half smirking whilst I told those men to ‘fuck off’ but inwardly it made me feel a way that I knew I shouldn’t have to at the age of 14.

By the time I was 16 the injustice, discrimination and harassment I had experienced up until that point did a great job at making me cynical, stand-offish and abrasive to many boys my own age. And yet still, ‘that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?’ was the most prevalent and pervasive idea to explain away all this shit I’d had to put up with, as it will have been for most girls.

Imagine my surprise then, when I started at University, at the age of 20 and we were being taught that this wasn’t okay, nor was it how society needs to be and definitely isn’t how young girls and women of all ages should have to accept that society will always be. The idea that not only could I seriously call out a man that I felt was harassing me or another woman, but that it was severely wrong, ethically, morally and even legally speaking was entirely foreign to me. At a University predominantly populated with women I found myself surrounded by a whole host of women who were discussing the flaws in our patriarchal society and their own experiences with it.

At this time I also met my now dear friend and for 2 years of our uni life fellow housemate, Hannah. When we first met my impression of her was that of a woman so sure of herself as a feminist and a person and of her responsibility to educate and invite other women into her belief system, but also and almost even more importantly, to educate men on reality of what feminism is and why it is essential to our society’s progression and improvement of equality. She – probably at the time – won’t have known but she changed my outlook on my own experiences and on how we as women experience the world as a whole on a day to day basis.

As of 2014 the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’, having launched in 2012, had received 60,000 entries, from women in over 20 countries worldwide.

My life since that first year at University has been a long, arduous process of unlearning and relearning:

The ways that society had taught me to feel about my treatment, my sexuality, my appearance, my worth as a girl/woman.

How I perceive other women, how I judge them, stereotype, apply gender roles.

How I react to treatment from men or anyone that I believe to be sexist, harassment, prejudice, inappropriate. 

The ways in which I try to communicate and discuss problems I have faced with men I have come into contact with, be it in personal, educational or professional life. 

It has been 4-5 years of accepting that I am not ‘the finished piece’ as it were, I am still in development and should accept all forms of learning, informative experiences and knowledge from other women who have had both similar experiences to me and entirely different ones. I must admit, at times I have struggled with the ability to remain patient and calm in the midst of discussions on topics such as harassment and experiences of ‘everyday sexism’ with many men, and have found that there are some things that women experience is such singular ways, ways in which men are taught by society to not care or think about, that these discussions often become confused, miscommunicated and convoluted. But I am still trying, and I definitely agree that we, as feminists, shouldn’t give up.

More apparent than anything else to me, on this day in 2018 is this: those figures in bold I have included in this post tell me one thing loud and clear, we aren’t accepting that ‘it’s just the way it is’ any longer, we are ready to unlearn and relearn, we are ready to share and talk about what has been happening to us since we were young girls and hell yes are we ready for change.

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