How do women experience the patriarchy and how does that shape their feminism?
There is not one single experience that isn’t uniquely based on the surroundings, expectations, the circle of people, where the person grows up geographically, and how they react to what the world throws at them. Although ultimately, systemic powers control the manner of living for almost everyone, our viewpoints are shaped based on our individual experiences.
For women specifically growing up under a system made by and that favors men can require effort just to get equal, never mind how much more effort it takes to get ahead in life. Here are four women sharing how they grew up learning about feminism and the effects the patriarchy had on their mindsets.
Medina Terziu, 21, says that at first, she didn’t use to overthink these ideas, or rather, the differences between men and women. However, growing up she did also think that “girls should look girlish” and that “pink is cuter for girls to wear, playing with Barbie dolls is for girls, etc.” In general, though, the key differences she noticed between men and women were only in appearances.
“When it came to school or playing sports, I strongly believed that whoever tries, can achieve what they want, no matter if you’re a girl or a boy,” she adds. Nowadays though, she says she can’t define femininity anymore, not in appearances or personality-wise. “Make-up or dressing up isn’t something that defines femininity to me,” she adds.
Moreover, about her role in the family as a woman in relation to that of her brother, she says, “I live in a society where the patriarchy partially still exists. My ideas of feminism were shaped based on that reality. I couldn’t agree to have different roles for me and my brother at first. And, although they don’t say that is wrong for men to wash the dishes or change the baby, I’ve seen them plenty of times never helping their wives doing those tasks.
On the topic of the way language is used towards young girls versus towards young boys, she states, “when I see girls being raised around the kind of language that calls them pretty, but not strong, brave and intelligent, that ultimately teaches them that they can be doctors and teachers but not that there are countless more career paths they can follow, especially not as a firefighter or a police officer, because they aren’t strong enough as girls.” She doesn’t believe that there should be separate roles for men and women in society, and ends by saying “I’m powerful and capable of anything exactly equal to a man.”
Festina Sallauka, 22, grew up in a big family in Kosovo. Most of the women were unemployed within the family and she says that “being a woman to me meant to marry some guy one day and look after him and his family.” Growing up in a small country such as Kosovo, she says everyone gets taught that there are fundamental differences between girls and boys and also that boys are superior. “The entirety of my understanding about feminism was constructed on the basis that women alone should look after the house, the kids, and especially the husband.”
Although now her ideas of femininity and what being a woman means line up more so with words such as “ambition” and “career-oriented”. It was in high school that her ideas and concepts of feminism first developed. “It all started when I started to see how many injustices there are towards women in society, in school, and at work, and the way women were not allowed to have a voice.” First noticing the issues and then reading about it is what made Festina wake up and start breaking barriers. “Here in Kosovo we also often refer to strong women as ‘burrnesha’ which is basically aligning her strength as if it’s inherently man-like.”
Lastly, she ends by stating her hopes for the near future, “My hope is that the mentality here in Kosovo changes and that the citizens developed a bigger sense of understanding regarding feminism and women in general.”
Fjollë Caka, 31, is a 90s kid from Prishtinë who grew up in a very liberal family of four. When it comes to appearances and femininity, she says, “Due to my looks and elegant behavior, I would often be described as “feminine”, but at the same, I would be given “man-like” characteristics when I displayed fearlessness or engaged in cold/rational interactions.”
However, gender has not been a determinant of who she was or who she has grown up to be. Through learning to “pursue my interests, wear as I pleased, speak my own mind, agree to disagree, but also to stand strong and fight back when needed” she has developed her character to who she is today.
Growing up, she became aware of the existing gender disparities by exposing herself to wider social circles and different cultural settings. Later on, in a professional environment, she says that there have been occasions when she needed to over-perform to prove her expertise to different partners and stakeholders, which has not been the case with her male colleagues. In terms of the way sexist language has been used against her, once she would prove her knowledge or show her CV, she says, “I would be praised on how “surprisingly” well-articulated or educated I am.” On another work-related occasion, she experienced further sexism by being “asked” by a male colleague: “Why did you choose spatial planning, it is such a “heavy” profession [alluding that it is very broad and complex and requires a lot of holistic and multidimensional thinking, which a woman may not be able to do and instead should choose something smaller and less complicated]?” She expresses her rightful frustration: “Apparently my ongoing academic and professional development was just not enough.”
In the meantime though, she finishes off by saying, “I continue to pursue my dreams and further increase my efforts on making more sustainable, climate-savvy, inclusive and gender-responsive cities and communities – regardless of what people say I should or should not be doing.”
Djellza Trolli, 22, is an Albanian–French woman who has a unique perspective on the matter. She grew up a “tomboy” as she describes it, with short hair and got haircuts from the same barbers as her brothers. She did not enjoy traditionally feminine things. As a kid, she hated playing with barbies and her favorite color has always been blue. It’s her older sisters that in the meanwhile took care of her “feminine looks”. The only thing she noticed that was different between the girls and boys her age was that boys were “more brutal”.
As far as what she thought was a mother’s role vs. that of a father, she mentions very traditional values in the sense that the mother stays at home and the father goes out to work and provide. Nowadays though, she sees no such notions as “femininity” or “masculinity”. “On one day, I can wear feminine presenting dresses and on another, I wear my dad’s clothing,” she says. Based on stereotypical differences, she notices masculinity in beards and body hair in general, adding, “Accessories are another thing that I notice women do a lot more of.”
When it comes to showing emotion, she says she was lucky enough to grow up in a household where crying was accepted as something normal no matter if it’s coming from a man or woman. She adds she was also lucky enough that “The expectations from my family have always been the same as those of my brothers”. She learned early on to see every person as an individual and hopes that “everyone’s feelings are taken seriously no matter any background differences we might have.”
Clearly, there is not just one approach to be a feminist or an exact set of experiences that you’ve needed to have gone through in order to grow more aware of the problems that hinder society’s progress. After all, as Australian feminist writer, G.D Anderson once said: “Feminism isn’t about making women stronger, women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
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