What It’s Like to be a Woman Now
It is 2016 and I am a woman living in one of the most privileged, balanced societies in the world in terms of gender equality. Aside from all the obvious opportunities I’ve had the pleasure of having access to, I am happy to note that I am treated as an equal by all males I am acquainted with.
I’m in a relationship where the only time my boyfriend has ever really gotten angry at me is when I fed his dinner to a street dog when he wasn’t looking. I employee several male staff, all of whom show me the utmost respect. My boyfriend’s male friends treat me as an individual human, not as an extension of my boyfriend.
But it wasn’t always like this for me.
I grew up on the Gold Coast in a culture of strong hetero patriarchy, where from my environment I learned that slut-shaming, possessive jealously and general disregard for women was the norm.
I was once in a relationship where my boyfriend wouldn’t talk to me on a night out if I dared wear a g-string under my clothes. I once had a boss who tried to coerce and then bully me into having sex with him, only to spit at me to not dare tell his girlfriend the next day, then proceed to ignore me for a week. I once went to bed alone and blind drunk at a friend’s birthday party, and woke up at 4am to someone I’d met earlier in the night with his fingers inside me.
I have a male friend who cut up his girlfriend’s simcard so that no boy who had her number could ever contact her again. I have a male friend who had sex with his ex-girlfriend – someone he once loved – knowing full well all his friends were hiding in a cupboard filming everything. Hell – I even have a male friend who attempted to secretly film a random sexual encounter the other day because he thought it would be funny, and that friend is a university-educated working professional.
Two years ago, I left Queensland and started meeting, dating and interacting with males from other parts of Australia. They pulled me up frequently on what they called my “weird” and “skewed” perception of how I thought they viewed me, how I thought they viewed the girls they slept with, how I thought they viewed women in general. I started to realise that the subtle but deeply entrenched misogyny I had grown up amongst was not, in fact, normal.
When I returned home recently, over a couple of vinos with some of my closest girlfriends, I voiced my observations. Everyone had stories to match mine. Everyone agreed that outside of the Gold Coast, their interactions with males is completely different.
“I’m the only girl in the house I live in,” said one. “If I’m in a group conversation with the boys, I’ll never get a chance to tell my story. No one will ever laugh at my jokes. If there’s a joint being passed around the circle, I’ll usually get skipped.”
“It’s just like that around here,” chimed another. “When I was with my old boyfriend’s friends, I wasn’t Isabelle. I was just Jesse’s misso.”
I am aware that this is not just an issue of place. I am aware that not all males in south-east Queensland perpetuate chauvinism towards women. I am aware that those who do were, for the most part, unconsciously conditioned to, and probably don’t mean to offend, don’t mean to marginalise – maybe don’t even realise that what they are doing is wrong.
But it is wrong. It is not okay to think you have ownership of your girlfriend and her actions. It is not okay to secretly film a girl you or your friends are having sex with. It is not okay to disregard a girl’s opinion or presence just because she doesn’t have a penis, and it is definitely not okay to get into bed with a drunk girl who is sleeping and touch her vagina.
As Australian women, we have come so far in the way that professional society views us. But we still have so far to go in the way we are viewed on a social and personal level – not just by men we don’t know, but by the men we do. Love is not possession; love is not jealousy; love is not control. Love is mutual respect, and on this day—International Women’s Day—I ask all the men I know to reflect on the meaning of that word.
Cover by Léa Dubedout