“Be safe,” my Mom says as I leave the house to go to a party.
“Be safe,” my dad says when going on a walk.
“Be safe,” my sister says when I am going to hang out with a boy.
“Be safe,” my brother says as I go to my school dance.
As women, we are constantly told and preached how to avoid and protect ourselves from situations that may arise. Catcalling, sexual harassment, getting kidnapped, being drugged, and much more. We are taught to cover up to not distract boys. To walk down well-lit streets. To stay with someone the whole time you are out.
Why are we restricting women when we should be educating men?
One day, my mother let me know that my brother would be staying at the house instead of his dorm room and that his girlfriend would be sleeping over. When I acknowledged the statement, letting her know I had heard her, she took it as if I was questioning her. She immediately said, “He is 19 and a boy.” I wondered what she meant by this.
I responded, “I know he is older, and that comes with privileges, but why does it matter that he’s a boy?” My Mom, already regretting saying what she did, snapped back, “I didn’t mean it like that.”
My mother would never admit to it, but sometimes she slips into society’s belief that men can enjoy certain privileges. But she knew the child she raised me to be. One who would question these normalities and say something to her when she made comments that normalize male privilege. She raised me to do the things she could not do in her generation.
The way a woman is raised shapes her mind and gives her a preconceived idea of how she is to be treated. I am grateful to be raised by such a strong, independent, and empowering woman. And right next to my Mom is my incredible older sister, Nicole. Growing up, Nicole was who I wanted to be. She has been an amazing role model since I was born.
As a child, I did not know much about the inequality women struggled with. However, I did notice certain things that seemed strange.
In elementary school, the teacher would frequently say something along the lines of, “I need some strong helpers today.” Everyone would rush to throw up their hands. Everyone, meaning the boys and the girls. But when the teacher went to pick people out, only the guys were chosen.
“Are we not as strong as boys?” my classmates asked. From that day, I knew that I would be treated as weaker, slower, and unequal to a man. This would just be the start of the prejudices and stereotypes I would experience as a woman.
As a young woman, you are taught how to be safe and, in my case, how to fight back. We learn these things because our parents never want anything bad to happen to us. I was enrolled in multiple classes by my Mom, from self-defense to boxing. And while she was doing her best to also educate her son, there were still millions of other boys out there not being taught respect or basic human decency.
If a girl looks uncomfortable around you, leave. If you see another man making a girl uncomfortable, say something. Make sure your female friends get home safe. If a girl rejects you, walk away.
This is the bare minimum of what men could do to make this world a better and safer place for everyone.
Women deserve the same respect men are given every day.
I am incredibly grateful to the people I surround myself with. The people I have changed, and who have changed me. Every day I get respect from the men in my life who I have been able to educate. Every day I am inspired by the women I am surrounded by. Every day is just a new opportunity to enlighten others about making a change.
Not every day is easy. There are still an overwhelming amount of people who do not understand and maybe never will. It sucks. But, I know if I continue fighting for what I believe in, I will always show appreciation for the small victories. I will always show determination and strength, as others have before me and as others will in the future.
There are things people can do to help with this movement. There are protests, petitions, and something as basic as saying something if you see inequality happening. Those can all make a difference.
Sometimes people do not even realize that they are being sexist, so remind them or even ask them, “Would you say that to me if I were a man?” Making people feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for their sexist actions or statements encourages change. Even if it gets hard being called a raging feminist or people tell you that your only personality trait is feminism, take it as a compliment that you are doing your best to inspire others to take a stand.
Change can only happen if enough people are willing to fight for the cause. Surround yourself with people who see the issue of inequality. Do anything you can to make a difference.