For decades, feminism and female rights movements have been opening doors for women and girls from all around the world: from the ones struggling for equality in the USA to women fighting in secluded towns in the Philippines. Although feminism has solved many issues that women in different nations face, we still fail to recognize the need for such movements.
Some decide voluntarily to ignore or oppose it, and some don’t understand the actual influence on their lives. I was the latter one.
Although I’m a feminist now, it wasn’t like that for most of my life. I recognized how misogyny affects me as a woman only when I was entering my twenties. And even back then, I was so scared to say the word and call myself a feminist in front of other people because feminism was something only for angry and sad women that no one likes. And I wanted to be liked.
I don’t give a damn now, and I even enjoy saying I’m a feminist just to see some faces change. It might sound weird that in the 21st-century, people react like this, but I grew up in an Eastern European country. Lithuania is known for its patriotic roots and a fierce fight for freedom, yet not so intense for women’s rights.
So it comes as no surprise that I grew up in a profoundly sexist environment. No one in my environment talked about gender equality, and if someone (by accident) mentioned it on TV, everyone would call that person an angry spinster, who just needs to be f**ked good.
My family was a real-life representation of those attitudes. My mom was usually coming from her day job to the evening shift at home. She religiously used to wake up every morning or stay late in the evening to make lunch for the family (she still does that) and then clean the house every weekend while my father watched TV and complained about the vacuum noises.
My brother and I used to see this every second of our lives, which formed a distorted image of a mother. And of course, a woman. I wasn’t forced to do much of housework because my mom “didn’t need any help.” But she also didn’t feel bad about it, after all: isn’t her duty, as a woman, to take care of kids and the husband?
She, as many other her generation women, believed and still does in the stereotypical female role. From things like you should always make a man feel superior, stronger, and smarter to men don’t like women who don’t cook or clean for them, and how you should use your “female magic” to manipulate them in supporting you financially.
No one has taught me how to be a strong woman. Instead, I was taught how essential it is to get approval from men, while other women are usually there to demean you. But when I turned to look for that approval from men, then the same people say that boys don’t like girls who “hang out” with a lot of boys.
Even back then, when I thought it’s natural for a woman to slave in the kitchen, be slut-shamed, and called stupid, I felt these words were wrong. But I was only a quiet teenager afraid to have her own opinion.
I was taught that being a female is inferior, and thereby I should try to hide my nature. During my life, I tried so hard to be “one of the guys,” “not like other girls.”
Until I started to feel empty and misunderstood. I didn’t enjoy sexist jokes about lousy female drivers and woman’s place in the kitchen, but I still laughed because I thought if I do, then I will be accepted as a “cool woman.” Yet the more you act like it’s not a big deal, the more you normalize it only to get hurt more and more.
I couldn’t fight that inner battle anymore, and it was back then when I started to look for other perspectives, found feminism, and realized how deeply I resonated with other women. I started reading books about feminism, following inspiring female rights role models and even wrote my bachelor thesis about female representation in Lithuanian television.
However, sometimes, I’m still struggling to see myself enough as a woman. Childhood memories are rooted inside me so intensely, it might take me years or a lifetime to learn how to oppose such a mindset.
How Does Growing in a Sexist Family Affect You?
It wasn’t only my family, many others were the same. The late Western influence, censored media, and forced family values created a social vacuum full of hate and resentment. And as Lithuanians have learned in a hard way that resisting government will kill you, they turned that hate on each other, and women were the easiest target.
Of course, now it’s better, but sexism is deep-rooted into our society, which resembles in families. It’s quite evident that sexism creates a hostile environment for both men and women, but when it also comes from your family, you’re almost screwed.
The first years of your life shape you the most.
Early child development is when we form the foundation for our social, cognitive, and emotional skills.
If you tell a little boy that crying makes him look weak, and at the same time discourage a girl from playing outside because it’s not lady-like, you lay the groundwork for adults who will act as such.
The Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago study about The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination, shows that sexist attitudes women experience in early development can cause them to earn less. It means that women who grew up in a misogynistic environment tend to choose less paid jobs or become financially dependent. They also avoid asking for promotions and other workplace benefits, as it might picture them as too ambitious and insolent.
Perhaps, as a kid, you forget those discouragements and move on with your life, but then somehow later in your thirties or twenties, you are drinking till blackout because you don’t understand how to shut those emotions or find yourself quitting your goals because they don’t match your gender.
You Are Not Doomed
Whether you’re a male or female, you are in charge of your life and decisions. Your family, childhood friends, and other peers might have formed a toxic foundation, but it’s not decided. Like many women who are feminists now, I was sexist towards other females before. I didn’t know better because I was taught that it’s ok to derogate women. But I changed because you might not be in control of the place you’re born in, but you can change the way you live your life later on.
If you find yourself in the midst of doubt, always determine how it affects you and others. Perhaps it doesn’t affect you at all, but that doesn’t make the problem any less severe. Keep your mind open and develop critical thinking, and don’t be scared to doubt your parents and family. It’s important to understand that they can still be your family, even though you disagree with their point of view. Then step by step, we will be able to raise a more open and feminist generation.
Originally posted on Medium: https://medium.com/@eglrakauskait_32617/growing-up-as-a-feminist-in-a-misogynistic-environment-761f638f795