By Yasmin Norvill
Among the people in my life, it is no secret that I am a feminist. A glance at my social media or a few deep conservations at a party about the world will soon reveal the determination I hold for spreading the message of equal rights among the genders. Recently when speaking to my friend about this, she asked me how I regularly find the courage to engage in debate or proudly promote feminism to people who are yet to call themselves a feminist. To my shame, I had to inform her this was not always the case. In one conversation, I was transported back to a time where I believed appearing different from the majority of my gender was something to be proud of. A classic case of the mortifying phrase “I’m not like other girls.” I grew up with three brothers, and as a result, my childhood became more frequently dominated with masculine energy. While I have tried to dress them in princess dresses as well as encourage any activity traditionally viewed as “girly”, I still ended up waiting for them at their local football, rugby, volleyball or cricket matches. While most of my friends received hand me downs in the form of pretty dresses or ballet shoes, my house had an abundance of football boots in various sizes and baggy sports jumpers.
At four years old, I was so excited to go to school. Surely here I would find a friend who will be excited to join me in making bracelets, imaging we were in a pop band or watching Disney films. To my dismay, on the first day of school I arrived to find out that at my small primary school in the middle of a quiet English village, I was the only girl in my year group. I was the sole girl in my year group for my whole time at school up to the age of eleven. At the time, this experience didn’t seem too bizarre. Still, as I’ve gotten older and traded stories with my peers about our memories of junior school, it was soon revealed my experience was dissimilar to theirs. They spoke about sleepovers and talking about their adolescent crushes. It reminded me of the time when I practically pleaded with my mother to buy me match attax trading game cards which were a hot commodity throughout my school, all in an attempt to bond with the boys in my year. Honestly, I don’t think I had much interest in owning a vast collection of football-themed trading cards. However, at that time, I remember enjoying the feeling of being included in something that a “boy thing.”
As I progressed to secondary school, a handful of nasty girls (who were most likely all facing their problems as well) made it quite challenging for my young mind to distance a few mean individuals from girl-kind as a whole. It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly interested in the mainstream music every girl seemed to love. As I walked into school wearing my Doc Martens at age fourteen, hoping to illustrate (what I thought to be) my fresh alternative style inspired by the likes of You Me At Six or All Time Low, the distance between us grew a little more.
As I look back on these anecdotes as an adult, I have tried to reconcile for whom and why I was acting this way. If I truly did enjoy different things from what is deemed stereotypically feminine or whether I just enjoyed the individuality of it all, or worse, was the male gaze so deeply pressed upon me from an age so young that I wasn’t doing this for myself at all? In truth, I think I spent a lot of my teenage years suppressing my femininity when I so dearly wish I had celebrated it. Or in contrast, maybe the enjoyment I found within dismantling female stereotypes from an early age foreshadowed the feminist beliefs I would soon hold in the following years. In a world of binaries, I usually shy away from using the terms masculine and feminine as they convey outdated misconceptions of what it supposedly means or does not mean to use those labels. However, if I am using the term femininity to describe my sensibility, empathy and compassion, then I think it is my greatest strength. These qualities have allowed me to navigate life with kindness and sympathy for others which have only ever benefited my work, my friendships and well-being as a whole.
Now, I am the epitome of a “girly girl”. I spend an unholy amount of money on false lashes. I am not too fussed to follow or engage with sports teams and (even though I am still slightly embarrassed to admit this) can binge-watch a horrifically trashy love-based show on Netflix in a matter of days. By all accounts, I am stereotypically quite “girly”. The difference now is that I am incredibly proud of that fact. Better yet, I can be that and call myself a feminist. Believe it or not, a “feminist” is not an indicator of a person’s interests and self-expression methods at all. When I realised that a feminist could be either girly or tomboyish, confident or shy, stubborn or timid, everything changed. Like most women, I got older and could no longer ignore the brutal treatment of women that surrounded me. After being catcalled, targeted by advertisements of which their sole aim was to make me feel bad about myself and my body, and listening to my friend’s stories of assault, I was fearful to even walk home at night. I have had enough. At this moment, I spoke to my male friends and realised they had never experienced these issues on the scale my female counterparts had. Suddenly, I felt this bond with women that ran so much deeper than what music we liked or how we dressed, which seemed to be all that mattered a handful of years earlier. These ladies were my support group, through bad dates or choosing birth control methods to standing in solidarity when one of us faced unwanted and unconsented attention. Now I realise the empowering truth that I am exactly like other girls and to be so is such a privilege.
When I’ve had discussions with people who don’t identify with the label of feminist, more commonly they have an issue with the word itself. Many times I’ve heard a rendition of the phrase – how can it mean equal rights if it is for females. To combat this, I explained that feminism is the celebration of the feminine in both men and women. It extends to creating a space whereby men can discuss their own emotions and mental health and show a more emotional side that rigid patriarchal stereotypes intend to mock or discourage. The internalised sexism captured by the “I’m not like other girls” phenomenon is heart-breaking. Albeit, I am relieved that with a helping hand from meme culture. The ridiculousness of it all is exposed. There is not an innate quirkiness to drawing attention to the fact you only eat junk food or never wear make-up, enjoy gaming or living in sweatpants. Interests are not mutually inclusive, and even more so, they don’t inherently bind you to your gender. I wish I could reach out to that little girl who wanted to play or that anxious teenager so desperately wanting to craft an identity for herself and explain how imperative her womanhood would become. Nowadays, I have to admit that I am like other girls, and I take extreme pride in being so.
Yasmin is an English Literature undergraduate currently studying abroad in Denmark, educating herself on all things hygge. She is a sustainability and women’s rights activist. Yasmin is co-founder of a bi-weekly lifestyle and media podcast, Tea for Three, which addresses topics that range from body positivity awareness all the way to funny first date stories. Tea for Three is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. If she’s not listening to Bon Iver then she is probably watching a Louis Theroux documentary. You can follow her journey via Instagram (@yasminnorvill).