Unraveling our sexist cultures: how we can actively contribute every day to gender equality

From our in-house Gender Studies Specialist, Charlie Brook.

Another year, another International Women’s Day!

Since the start of this tradition back in 1908, women identifying people around the world have gathered every March to demand equality, empower one another, celebrate our triumphs, and bring attention to what still needs to change. 

While modern day feminism is merely just a blimp in the full herstory of the movement, we’ve watched feminism evolve rapidly over just the last decade. From a shameful label to a cool liberal niche to a ‘grammable social trend and even a worldwide phenomena. 

But where have we landed now? 

With a movement that’s lasted over a century (and let’s be real it was happening wayyy before that too, we just didn’t have a day to mark it), it’s hard to keep up the stamina and feel like we’re actively taking steps towards equality. 

So in honor of allWomen’s Week, I’d like to take a look at the changes we’ve achieved to better understand where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we have left to go – so that we can all find ways to actively contribute to future progress. 

Where we started

While I could rail on forever about the history of the feminist movement (and would love to do it), let’s just do a quick little rundown of the toxic cultures that have undermined and oppressed women identifying people for basically all of time:

A culture of inferiority

Throughout history, women have been conditioned to believe that we are inferior in terms of strength, intelligence, power, status…and, really, most other things. Then, when you include racial bias in the convo (which we always should), women of color have been doubly hit by cultures of inferiority. 

I guess women are maybe considered superior when it comes to emotional intelligence, but even that’s used against us on the reg so you really can’t win! 🤷

A rape culture

This culture of inferiority paired with the sexual objectification of female bodies has created a worldwide rape culture that has normalized sexual assault, male entitlement over the female body, workplace sexism, and lots of other uncool things that continue to make women feel unsafe in their own bodies today (particularly women of color and trans-women who have received the brunt of this nasty culture). 

A culture of control

Because we live in a patriarchy, women have been raised to believe that they need male approval in order to feel validated. This is not great! So naturally, history has used this power to control women, who are only beginning to learn how to break out of the inherited confines that define what’s acceptable for us in terms of our work, clothing, partners, even body hair…again, not great.

A culture against women

And probably the most distressing thing that this culture did was teach women to see other ladies as a threat. Yep, so not only have we been dealing with all of the aforementioned cultures, we were also putting our sisters down in the process. Honestly, devastating!

Now to stop this from becoming a depressing post about all the ways in which women have been wronged (and have we ever!), we’ll stop there.

But the important thing to take away here is that the historic oppression of women is a complex culture, people. One that has taken centuries to slowly unwind, as we – both women and men – begin to recognize the shackles that have impounded us and finally have the voice to say, “Yah I think we’re done here!” 

Luckily, we live in an age that has truly given this voice a main stage platform, and you better believe that we’re using it. 

Where we are now

It’s strange to think back to before the #MeToo movement, which blew the lid off of the well kept secret that is the oppression of women. I’m sure many of us felt like we had been screaming about these topics to any person who would listen, mostly to be ignored or pitied but never really understood (except by other enlightened women who also didn’t know how to change it).

Then suddenly it seemed like one random day our mainstream culture decided to believe women. 

As thrilled as I was that women were finally being taken seriously about sexual harassment, workplace sexism, and the general sexualization of women, it was also jarring to see people going from disreguarding these issues to seeing and accepting them overnight. On one hand, it’s satisfying to be heard. But on the other, it’s devastating that our culture spent so long ignoring and discrediting women’s claims only to open their eyes to them within mere moments.

It’s hard to get over the clear dismissal of these problems for all of those years before (and by years I do mean centuries), even now that they’re finally being acknowledged. Mostly because we know that solving them is not as simple as just accepting the truth; nope, something needs to be actively done to fix it. 

So while it was exciting to see feminism becoming much more widely accepted – something cool, trendy, even fun – this has also come with a band-aid effect. We’ve started to see many people, entities, and corporations lean into the trend by presenting as feminist but not really living up to the ideals. The same thing that’s happening with other movements for racial and LGBTQ equality.

Because noticing is just the first step. Then comes the deliberate effort of untangling ourselves from these cultures in our professional lives, at home, with friends and family…that’s the real work. 

I believe we’re still in this stage and will be for some time. We’re in an age where it’s easy to talk about the need to have more women, particularly women of color, in management positions or represented in the media. But actually making it happen is still a fight because of the cultures that have been designed to limit us for so long. 

This work can be incredibly overwhelming. We can only hold so much anger and passion for change for so long. And many of us don’t work as activists or have outlets for this kind of labor in our everyday lives. 

Or so it seems!

But I promise that you do have outlets for putting in this kind of work, and I’m going to tell you exactly how to use them. 

Where we’re going

Back before our mainstream culture listened, women had to do all of the work themselves. They had to show up in spaces where they weren’t welcome and change them. It was their very existence and persistence in these spaces that got us where we are today – and for that we are truly grateful!

So what can we learn from the ladies who came before, who have fought so long for female voices to be heard, understood, and BELIEVED?

Show up

First of all, we have to show up. We have to find the spaces that still don’t love having us around and infiltrate them with our pussy power. We have to make other people uncomfortable to feel comfortable ourselves. And this is hard because (SPOILER ALERT) our cultures also conditioned us to be quiet, small, and appeasing! 

But the more you arrive, the less out of place you’ll appear and – hopefully one day – feel. 

So we, as women, need to show up everywhere: in media, science, sports, comedy, technology. Any space that doesn’t seem to want us, that’s where we want to be. 

And men: your job here is to make the space. 

Then speak up 

While it would be great if just showing up was enough, the next step is sharing our experiences. 

Women have spent so long observing, feeling, and internalizing. Then going straight back through the cycle before ever fully recovering. We did this because we were taught that other people weren’t really listening and that our problems were burdens to be kept to ourselves.

But today people are listening. Whether or not they want to hear it is another question…but they are listening. So we need to stop internalizing and start talking. 

Stop internalizing, start talking

When we see something that doesn’t feel right, let’s trust that intuition. Let’s find another lady and ask her if she feels it too. Let’s share our experiences with others and use the power of female empathy to make these spaces safer for everyone. 

The best work that can be done to make active change is the work we do inside our homes, in our relationships, within our friend groups, in professional spaces, and talking to the people in our communities. 

It may not seem like work that contributes to the cause – but it is. 

The more women (and men!) who start observing, feeling, and sharing – rather than internalizing – the more we’ll start to change these cultures in important ways that matter on the ground. 

We do have the power to make an impact. Your presence, your voice, and your empathy is enough to change one person’s mind. And that’s truly all the work there is, girl.

Charlie Brook is a specialist in Gender Studies and is the Content Queen at allWomen. You can read more of her writing on women, gender, and feminism at HerMeOut.com.

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