I’m still learning to break away from this expectation that women in politics have to uphold a particular image and persona; otherwise face scepticism on their political expertise.
The world, as we know it, creates what I would refer to as different camps for women.
One camp that is popular with the rise of Instagram is what I’d call the “appearance-focused” camp. If you take lots of selfies, you like to be in front of the camera, to model, and wear make-up, you belong in this camp.
Then we have the political camp. This is for women in politics, who are expected to devote the entirety of their lifes to politics. It almost prohibits taking selfies. And it requires women to be more focused on the axis lines of evil, rather than the contour lines on their cheeks.
And, well, if you are a woman who loves make-up and selfies as much as you love politics? Your political abilities are put to question.
Why can we not have a camp for women who love both?
For the past few millenniums, women have been assigned with social norms to uphold.
Last month, I told a cab driver I have just graduated in International Relations. He responded with, “you don’t look like someone who has been to university”. I have also had people suggest that I don’t mix my selfies with my politics if I want to come across as serious.
Several times, I’ve posted videos or content of my political opinions. And several times, I’ve been told by trolls to stop speaking on topics I have no clue about. The majority of which, of course, comes from men.
Where does this assumption that I have no clue on politics even arise from? Is it because I have not included my degree in my bio or printed it on my forehead? Or, is it because I like to glam up, and my Instagram is full of photos of me, myself, and I?
I ask myself these questions all the time. And often I feel guilty for posting pictures of myself. Because I think I’m now doing a disservice to political causes.
So I delete the political posts, and my impostor syndrome unfolds into full effect. I begin to get anxious to speak on politics, and start to think my knowledge isn’t enough. I wonder will people think, what does this girl even know about politics?
But, I will no longer be doing this. Nor will I be allowing any woman or girl in my life to fall into this patriarchal trap.
At last, I have arrived at a point of acceptance that as women we are allowed, and should feel free, to be multi-faceted.
We do not have to remain in these camps that have been created for us. Women should not be pressured into giving up a part of their pleasure and identity, to fit into a socially constructed expectation.
We have to begin to fall in love with our authenticity, and begin to develop norms and values for ourselves. We must seize the opportunity to make our own camp; instead of being pushed into ones that society tells us we belong in.
I used to have to continually fight the urge to create a new social media page only devoted to politics, or a page solely devoted to selfies of me and my make-up skills. Now, the urge is gone. I am not erasing my existence to appease the current stereotypes and norms of women in politics. Instead, I will allow my platform to remind women we have every right to stand against these roles that are assigned to us, and give ourselves permission to be all we desire to be.
It goes the same for any aspect of my life. As a Muslim woman, I can pray and still go on a night out and wear bikinis on holiday. I should not have to feel that I am not enough, because the stereotypical camp society has created for Muslim women does not represent me. I do not need to cover up more and miss out on a night out to be a “good” woman. The same way I do not need to wear less make-up, and take less pictures to be more of a politically knowledgeable woman.
We belong to ourselves.
Society and its cult of ignorance do not own us. When we seek permission from society, that is when they begin to take ownership of us. And so the only approval we need should come from ourselves.
Breaking free from social norms created for women on the intersection of race, class, religion, profession, sexuality or religion is a struggle, but worth the journey. The more social norms and conditioning I unlearn, the happier I become.
The road to freedom remains long, but I have never regretted ever making that first step. Neither should you.