Over winter break, I got to take a women, gender, and sexuality studies class (or WGSS 101 at my college), and it was one of the best academic decisions I have ever made. I have been a strong and stubborn feminist for many years, but I learned so many new concepts in the class. Now more than ever I am ready to be an activist for the cause, and I am educated enough to do so. And I believe everyone else should educate themselves too. Even if you do not label yourself a “feminist,” it will help educate everyone who doesn’t know the struggles women face. It is not just based around feminism and women’s rights, but also discusses gender, sexuality and the difficulties of having to conform to a gender role (whether female or male). It redefined feminism for me, and allowed me to learn how to promote it.
One of the biggest issues in society for my age group growing up was always conforming to your gender role. If you were a boy you were supposed to be masculine, wear sports clothes and play sports. You weren’t allowed to cry or talk about your feelings. If you did, you were outcast and shamed for expressing yourself.
Girls were expected to be quiet and docile. To dress modestly, but feminine. We weren’t supposed to be too loud, hyper or blunt because we were un-ladylike. I loved this topic, because I still see many people in my life deal with this, even in 2022. I think many people label feminists as “man-hating,” and discount their opinions and knowledge.
While some days I may dislike men a lot, and I may even joke that I “hate men,” this is not true…entirely. Personally, I feel bad for men. Yeah, I said it. I’ve seen so many men fall apart, but not be able to talk about their feelings. Instead, they find unhealthy ways to cope and are labeled angry, mean, deadbeat. In the class, they taught that many boys learned toxic masculinity from their mothers. The women in their household expected them to be “masculine” and strong all the time and perpetuated the toxically masculine attitude. They were never allowed to cry and talk about their feelings.
Now imagine if you were never allowed to just let out a good cry and talk to your friends for moral support. I hear so often “guys just don’t do that.” But why? If you are calling yourself a feminist, you must not stop at just opposing toxic masculinity, but must also help men unlearn it and feel comfortable expressing their emotions. If we don’t, then we just perpetuate the patriarchal ideals that have been ingrained in America forever.
Honestly, before the class, I always thought boys were the issue. But it makes sense that some mothers encouraged these ideals, which in turn created misogynistic and emotionally unavailable men. Now, in no way am I blaming women in society. But I do believe as feminists we have a responsibility to create a safe environment for men to be whoever they want, and encourage them to break free of the toxic masculinity shell.
Now, onto women (yay). Two big ideas really stuck with me: intersectionality and the pressures society puts on women. First, intersectionality. On Google, intersectionality is defined as “the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider anything and everything that can marginalize people.”
The example they have in class really helped me understand better. If an African-American woman were to press charges against a company for discrimination, she would have to either choose discrimination based on gender or discrimination based on race. She could not make a case for discrimination based on the intersection of race and gender. But, the company hires women. And they also hire African-American people. So, why wasn’t she hired? People discriminate more against minority women than they do white women. That is intersectionality. The most discriminated-against individual in America is a minority woman in the LGBTQ+ community. She is not only discriminated against for her gender, sexuality or race but rather the intersection of all three.
It is a hard concept for me to explain in so few words, and I highly recommend that everyone do their own research. I included the TedTalk that we watched in class, and the woman explained it extremely well. We cannot stop at just fighting for each cause individually, but instead fight against discrimination in all senses.
Finally, I want to briefly touch on the pressure that society as well as the patriarchy has put on women, and how it has negatively affected them. From the time we are born, we are expected to be quiet and sweet. Loud girls are literally trained to be docile as they grow up. When we started getting older, we were flooded with images of models and actresses, and told we needed to look like that. We’re told we need to be “sexy,” but also “modest.” We need to be “quiet” but “interesting.” The patriarchy forces images of women in sexual roles literally any chance they get, which causes all women to be seen as sexual objects, and nothing more.
I’m sure some of you have heard about the uproar about the green M&M no longer wearing heeled boots. But think about that for a second. A chocolate candy makes a female M&M whose only job in the commercial is to look “sexy” in heeled boots and with long eyelashes.
I’ve known it was a problem for the past few years, but I didn’t truly understand until I took this class. We read articles, watched documentaries and saw firsthand all the ways women are devalued in the industry. I recommend visiting all the links I included, because it is important to see to understand the weight behind all of it. The documentary shows clips of well-known senators being sexually objectified. They didn’t talk about their politics or how they were successful women, but about their bodies, clothes and sex appeal. But with the men? It is all about what they believe and how they act. There is a clip of Tracy Morgan, a well-known male comedian, saying that Sarah Palin, a successful female politician, was “good masturbation material.” There are countless clips and pictures of successful women being talked about in a crude, sexual and disgusting manner. In my angry feminist state, it is hard to truly explain the extent, and I think everyone needs to watch to truly understand. It is important to learn and educate ourselves so we can stop the disgusting patriarchal view of women as sex objects.
I could go on for days about everything I learned in my women and gender studies class, but I digress here. Everyone should take this class, or a similar one, to educate themselves on issues. Even men, who I think would honestly benefit from it the most. Encourage your fathers, boyfriends, brothers to take the class or even a shortened course. They may not understand how they perpetuate the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, but when it is put out in front of them in this way they cannot deny it. Even as a strong feminist, I learned monumentally more than I knew before, and it will help me actually make a change in my life, and hopefully in the world. If you truly want to educate yourself and help make a change, take this class.