By: Shreya Prabhu
In recent years, feminism has strayed from its intended goal: to support women and provide them with the same rights as men. Instead, it has been categorized as a “man-hating, bra-burning” movement. The greater public often misunderstands feminism as women against men, when in reality, feminists are against misogynists. I understand why. If it doesn’t seem as though women are treated unfairly, look beyond the surface, because there are problems that need to be spotlighted before it’s too late. When I was younger, my mother, an assertive, type-A feminist, taught me lessons that have shaped my life in undeniable ways.
I can still remember the day I came home, covered in tears and snot, because a boy told me I had a mustache. I was only in third grade, still in my early formative years. He said the words with so much conviction that I believed him. Later that day, as I glanced at myself in the mirror, I noticed that I did have an array of delicate black hairs sprouting from my upper lip. When I told my mother, she looked at me, eyes twinkling, and said, “If he says you have a mustache, does it make it true?” At the time, I didn’t realize how significant her words were. It’s inevitable to have insecurities, whether it’s a mole on your face or your body structure. But her words still ring through my ears today when I feel compelled to change something about myself to fit in. Changing myself to be liked will only trap me in a never ending blackhole of arbitrary social acceptance.
Fast forward to the end of sixth grade when I was entering the overwhelming world of middle school, full of cliques, trends, and twisted social circles. One ordinary day, I went to the bathroom and was surprised by a red streak of blood in my underpants. I anxiously called my mom and she came to pick me up from school shortly after. The way she reacted surprised me: she didn’t ask me if I was OK, or if I wanted to lay down and rest. Instead, she patted me on the back and told me to get up and finish my homework. Unlike most mothers, she didn’t treat my transition into womanhood as a milestone, but rather an ordinary occurrence. She even told me to go to swim practice the next day. The way she acted in that turning point in my life gave me the courage to continue to play like a girl. She didn’t complain, or treat me differently, she merely accepted the fact and moved on.
Even though failure is a stepping stone to success, we don’t often treat it as such. Many people, young women especially, are plagued by the desire to be perfect in all areas of their life, whether it's appearance, school or work. As many corporate women, including Sheryl Sandberg, can testify, this constant phobia can actually make people less likely to take risks, and therefore be less likely succeed. It’s so devastating that girls are more inclined to drop a class where they get a B, when boys are more likely to persist until they get a good score. The problem is with our culture that raises girls to be gentle and less assertive, often causing them to lack confidence in their natural abilities.
My mother has done a remarkable job helping me navigate my way through that gap in our culture, instilling in me the willingness to fail. For example, in sixth grade, I tried out for a new swim team. This wasn’t just your average, run-of-the-mill team; it was home to national and state champions, so you can imagine just how nervous I was when I walked into the building. The pool deck was filled with lean, muscled swimmers who looked like they could lap me by miles. After I swam, the coach talked to my parents. When they came out, they looked wide-eyed and shaken. The coach had told them that I had no technique whatsoever, and that I was far too slow to join, but in a more blunt tone. My parents were shocked; they thought I was an above average swimmer. My mother persisted against the coach’s rigid frame of mind and persuaded the coach to let me attend at least one advanced team practice the following week, and continued to support me in the demanding sport. Finally, I was offered a spot on the team all because of my mother’s (and father’s) tenacity.
My mother is the greatest role model I will ever have who has displayed strength in vulnerability. She is an ardent feminist and has raised me with ideals I will never compromise.