Sofia Summer Jaquiery (Monash University)
My time as a self-proclaimed feminist is short, although I believe I have always aligned myself with feminist values. I was born in Singapore, and had the opportunity of living overseas for seven years before moving to Cairns, Far North Queensland, where my Mother grew up. Immediately, I was thrown into a huge family, where men outnumbered women at the time. I grew up among boys and considered myself as ‘one of the boys’. At the time, I was desperate to be associated as being ‘one of the boys’ because of how much attention and respect it received in my family. Over time, hormones and biology got in the way and intercepted my social ability to be a boy. These wishes, I now believe, were an unconscious way of desiring equal treatment.
Since leaving my hometown, I have realized that there are ingrained gender roles that are assumed upon everyone whom lives there. Rural communities tend not to be the most progressive regions for gender equality and the overall treatment of women comparatively to metropolitan centers. All of the women in my family, after having children left the workforce, and if they didn’t, they worked sporadically for the family business. I don’t wish to devalue or defame the career choices of these women, because they are still the source of my inspiration and their role is still integral to the functioning of society. However, as time has gone by, I have begun to question why it was almost expected that they stop working, and also why these women have, in my opinion, been less respected in their familial settings?
The answer is set within Australia’s rural, regressive community expectations. There, the woman listens to her husband and always agrees with him; there, the woman bears the fruit of life and sits in ostensible servitude until the child is of age for school; there, the woman has restricted agency in matters of family issues and direction. The list goes on. What is most surprising about these patriarchal standards is the indifference that people, both men and women, hold towards these values. When it was evident that I was moving to Melbourne to pursue my academic interests (I am the second woman in my family to start tertiary education – the first being my Mother – and hopefully finish it), my supportive and caring grandmother asked of me to not become ‘one of those feminists’. To my dismay, I answered saying that sexism is not an issue that females face anymore. I can’t blame my grandmother or myself for the request and answer, for issues of sexism and voices of feminists are non-existent in Far North Queensland. If my grandmother had been told that a feminist is one whom believes in the equality of men and women, she would absolutely support the notion; unfortunately, her knowledge is restricted to the radical bra-burning feminists that were widely opposed by the conservative population.
It wasn’t until I had moved to Melbourne, started university and met some incredibly influential women and men, whom asserted themselves as feminists, that I passionately involved myself in studies and discussions of gender. Now, I don’t want or feel the need to be publicly seen as a boy, for I know that the powers of women can be equal and be as substantial to that of men. It is a shame it took me 19 years to come to this conclusion, but as is very true in the phrase, better late than never.
In my opinion, the only way to achieve gender equality is through the inclusion of gender studies into the national curriculum of Australia. If half of the population is unaware of the concept or the issues that face women, then no effective change will be achieved. Knowledge stimulates discussion; discussions can reach and inform society; information can instill values and those values can achieve change. Feminism does not have to be a touchy subject, in fact it shouldn’t be a subject avoided at all. It should be a collective goal that everyone holds, for equality is not an unfavorable objective.
Feminism has given me a voice, and is the moral compass that reminds me to speak up against subjugation and perceived gender roles in society. Although my beliefs are in contest with that of most of my family, I know it is still important for me to stand up for what I believe in, even if it causes discomfort to others. Once discussions of feminist values spread, the backlash of discomfort felt by others will lessen. I am lucky that in this day and age, a majority sees feminism as a positive movement, and that is exactly what it is, positive.