Growing up, I suppose I more or less always identified as "one of the guys." In many ways, I strived to epitomize the son my father never had. This soon became an essential part of my identity. At the time, this seemed entirely normal to me.
It wasn't that I consciously tried to act like the males with whom I hung out. My behaviors were simply natural inclinations for me.
I made friends by playing sports, dressing how I wanted, speaking how I wanted and exploring my childhood. I did so without fear of or regard to gender restrictions, as to me, they didn't yet exist. I simply knew my identity as my own, without any specific definition.
As I grew older, I realized that a divide exists between men and women, which has developed from our understanding of gender roles. At a certain age, it became inappropriate for me to play sports with the boys as I always had; suddenly, it had to be separate.
Soon, my relationships with males changed, as well. Genuine friendships could be interpreted to possess blurred lines or suggestive undertones.
In my teenage years, girls who hung out with more guys than girls were seen as trying to “market” themselves in a certain way. We had become sexualized beings and were considered more for our romantic or sexual motives than for our independent desires or decisions.
Eventually, I realized that certain jobs were seen as "unfit" for me simply because I am a woman. When I began pursuing journalism, sports-related articles I wrote often earned negative comments from men, who questioned my sports knowledge. Again, solely because I am a woman.
I even dated men who seemed threatened by my need for independence and general rejection of typical machismo.
Suddenly, I became aware of the pressures women face to define themselves and their choices according to gender-biased standards, which had never mattered to me in my childhood. I, along with many other women, choose to reject this archaic ideology.
While this truth inspired me to explore feminism and female empowerment, I found myself at a point of contradiction, much like Emma Watson touched on in her groundbreaking speech for the UN HeForShe Campaign.
While many of us have likely experienced sexist undertones, limitations and stark double standards, we also struggle with social connotations of being "feminist." Somewhere along the line, "feminism" became an undesirable, misunderstood identification — a loaded concept of sorts.
At one point, when asked if I identify as a feminist, my answer was always "no." The only reason I can conjure for this was my understanding that feminists are often viewed, as Watson explained, as man-hating, argumentative and bitter toward the male species.
I'm not entirely sure when our understanding of feminism became misconstrued on such a global scale, but many of us have spent years avoiding the word and the movement altogether as a result.
Through this, our generation has developed a group of "inadvertent feminists." We have been a part of the equality movement this entire time, but not on the forefront, because we were often shifted into submission by the very cultural connotations that contribute to the gender roles we hope to diminish.
Thankfully, many female role models are breaking down the mold that surrounds modern-day feminism. This is groundbreaking, as we are finally embracing what it means to truly advocate for yourself.
The issue isn't necessarily just changing gender roles, but also eliminating them entirely and being open to having the conversation and identifying however you, personally, want to identify.
In a culture that strives to micro-analyze every possible trend, behavior and belief, we become susceptible to a "this or that" mindset.
We often strive to fit into a particular, accepted mold and place a great deal of importance on the specifics, which apply to the way we view and develop our individual identities, as well.
When it comes to human nature, we must realize that there is no right or wrong; male or female; black or white. Human nature is about being human, regardless of what this may mean to you.
We all have a right to feel and express our natural identities without the fear of cultural misjudgment.
Feminism isn't about beating men, and it was never meant to be a war; it is about striking a balance that honors men and women to live their lives, free of prejudice. It is a joint effort with joint effect and, as Watson explained, it needs to be an open conversation and movement.
The issue is not whether or not you identify as a feminist; it's the ability to ask yourself what equality means to you, what you stand for and how you wish to express your identity.
It's about compassion, fairness, the desire to advocate for yourself and others and the ability to connect in a mutually beneficial movement toward modern equality. It's about breaking the gender mold altogether.
As a woman, I believe that women should be able to live their lives in a way that is equal to any man. I believe in my sexual, emotional and professional rights and freedom, just as I believe in them for men.
I believe in the need for human expression, connection and an even playing field. I believe in ambition and strength, for both men and women alike.
More importantly, I believe we have the potential to create a world that is no longer defined or controlled by misconstrued gender roles. We are a generation that thrives on change.
With a collective open mind, we can shift from a generation of inadvertent feminists to one that embraces equality and empowerment, regardless of gender identity.
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