Today’s personal account of trying to engender equality comes from Michaela.
I’ve never been the most feminine of girls. I have brothers and a sister who taught me how to defend myself. My father often sarcastically remarks how sorry he is that he raised his daughters to be quiet, timid, meek girls. My parents have always treated us kids equally. When I was a little girl and wanted to play with hot wheels and action figures alongside pink dolls, that was just fine. When I was more inclined to go fishing instead of join ballet with the other girls, I was never discouraged.
So when I decided to get a job in construction, I wasn’t expecting to have a hard time. Probably a little naïve – but I’ve always been just fine in boys’ worlds. But what do you do in a boys’ world that doesn’t know you? How do you remain true to yourself? I could feel that I wasn’t being taken seriously. They weren’t believing I could work as hard as they could. I would hear comments like “This is why you don’t send a woman to do a man’s job.” Sometimes jokes, sometimes not. I wasn’t being given the same opportunities as the boys. They were hesitant to give me the heavier work. I began to feel myself toughening up. Clenching up. Putting on a nasty face. Holding myself differently. Pushing the girl in me away. Feeling I needed to be more masculine in order to be accepted. I felt like I was representing all of womankind – but I couldn’t even do it like a woman. I was stuck wanting to be accepted by my coworkers while remaining resentful of them for not accepting me based on my gender.
I was in unchartered territory. Who do you look to for advice when no other women I know have been in my shoes? Women in these roles typically tend to take on the masculine traits, and that’s how they are accepted. I realized that by taking on these male characteristics, I was being just as harmful as my coworkers who were making hurtful comments. Through my actions, I was essentially saying that yes, there is no way a woman can do this job. The only way a woman can do this job is if she becomes like the men. I didn’t want to cop out like that. I wanted to be a woman – without the disguise.
And then I thought about my parents. How they raised me to be my truest self – always. And I remembered that despite the fact that I played with action figures, I still could play with dolls every once in a while. Remind myself that there was no weakness in being a girl. There is no weakness in expressing to my coworkers my feelings. It was time to forget that I was in the boys’ world, but instead it is a world that we don’t define by gender roles. My standard was no longer the boys’ standard but instead it was time to redefine this standard and acknowledge the woman in me – strong and unflinching. Holding myself to the same standard that my parents held me to, and I would want to hold my daughters to – to recognize their given, feminine attributes, and seeing them as strength. Not a weakness.
I still falter sometimes – too eager to prove myself and my strength. But it’s a process. And it is a process that we are going to have to face if we want true equality.
One last thing – I just want to tell all the women out there that if we are going to achieve that equality, it is going to require us to step outside of our comfort zones. Start small. It’s okay for you to carry the groceries, play catch with your kids, or learn how to drill (take it from me, it’s actually quite easy). Just remember that femininity doesn’t need to be defined by masculinity.
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