I am a feminist

Let’s face it: this blog title sounds a bit odd. It does to me. Aren’t feminists those people with hairy armpits and heavy boots?

Let me correct myself straight away: no, they’re not necessarily.

Being in a lab with 11 men and one other woman is to say the least interesting and for our lab meetings 3 more men are added to it from my supervisors wife’s lab. Before coming here, I’ve never really thought about women’s rights or feminism – lucky me! Boys and girls go to the same schools, can do the same sports, have similar opportunities and are equal really, or so I thought. At least in my home country, the Netherlands.

But then small thoughts started nagging. Like last conference I went to, why was clothing so much more of an issue for me than for my male companion? He just put on his same old trousers, t-shirt et voila. Ready to go. But I, who usually just grabs whatever is on top of the pile of fresh but not yet sorted laundry, spent a significant amount of time wondering whether this dress would be too sexy, this shirt too businessy, and can I actually walk on those pumps?

Or at lab meeting, where I point out that nobody but me seems to care about deliveries to the lab. My PI may think he is supporting me as he says “yeah guys, you should help her, especially with the heavy stuff”. I replied to him that I can lift heavy things just fine and don’t need help, but that people ought to take their share of responsibility. It’s not my job to sort things out for everyone, but I inevitably end up doing it if nobody else does. Afterwards, the other female came to me to say she was really happy I countered that comment because she thought it was sexist and missed the point I was trying to make. Sadly, only one of the men remarked the same. Or after going on a little trip with three of the men, after which we got the comment “you’re three boys but let the girl drive?” to which I simply replied I enjoy driving and don’t see the point he’s trying to make.

On a more personal level: there’s a woman at work not wearing bras. I must admit I didn’t even notice. But others did and felt the need to point it out. Why?? Why should it matter to others what underwear we wear? If she doesn’t want to wear a bra, fine! Why did someone point out I have a “moustache”? Yes I do have some hair living there, I know, but I really can’t be bothered to have myself tortured with hot wax every two weeks for something I don’t see, feel or hear. It doesn’t interfere with anything, so why bother, why invest time & money? I’d rather spend those resources on something enjoyable or useful.

Being on my own for a while has been good to think about these things. I got caught up in an automated life, trying to squeeze into the woman society likes, including getting rid of moustache & beard, cooking, baking, letting myself be driven by my partner, you name it! I feel like I’m slowly shaking off those shackles and get to enjoy doing whatever I want. This Sunday, I’m going to play paintball with a bunch of men and I’ll again be driving. For only one reason: I want to. I didn’t cook anything all week, because I didn’t want to. Instead, I was out there having a beer, playing board games and enjoying life.

For me, feminism means the right for every woman to determine every little detail of her life herself, just as men can. As long as there are things where I’d ask: “would a man do this too”? and the answer is “no”, we’re not there yet (with a few obvious exceptions such as questions concerning specific things like periods…). I’ll not go as far as to step onto the barricades shouting out that I’m a feminist, but I will keep pointing out sexist remarks and trying to show people it’s okay for me, a woman, to do what I want. Maybe that might inspire others to try too.

There is one thing I haven’t decided on yet though. I love swimming and usually go 3-4 times a week at a local swimming pool. I’ll be going on holidays with some of the men from the lab next week. What I can totally see happening, is that I’d like to wear a bikini on the beach instead of swimming suit but then get fed up with the upper part being unstable whenever I try to actually swim. Referring to the paragraph above: a man wouldn’t have to put up with this. Should I ‘free the nipples’, like they do? We’re going on a trip together as friends, not colleagues, so it shouldn’t matter. I’m pretty sure they would be plenty uncomfortable if I were to free the nipples, but is that my problem or theirs? I’ll probably end up not doing it, which means that despite all of the above, even for me women are still not as equal to men as I thought and there’s work to do…

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