This year I felt a really strong connection to the conversations and themes behind the recent International Women’s Day. I was surprised by my own reactions because in some regards, I should’ve felt this way a year ago when I was actively building a college women-based start-up. I kept asking myself “why today, why now?”, and a few days later, I’m still curious about why I am feeling particularly strong about this. But I think I’ve nailed it down.
I feel very lucky to be living in a time where Women’s Day is celebrated by people of all genders and backgrounds. I am so happy to be alive when women are doing so much to change history and blaze their own trails. As a fellow #girlboss and someone who is empowered by the feeling of taking charge and being a leader, I am so proud of what women are achieving. I feel like we are entering a new age and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
On the other hand, I realized I felt so strongly about this day and the current movements because I see where we are still struggling. I think there are many people out there who misconstrue feminism with man-hating, and there’s part of me that has difficulty with some of the beliefs associated with feminism (example: I don’t always think chivalry should be dead), but a tension that is closer to home for me is the fact that I don’t see much social change occurring in the more personal side of relationships between collegiate men and women. In my experiences and how I have observed this uprising with the perspective of a college student, we have a long way to go.
**Disclaimer: By expressing this opinion, I should add that I have been blessed to be at a university with peers and teachers who have believed in me and given me the opportunity to be a leader and mentor in so many different positions. I have never been held back. My point of view with this piece is to look at the interpersonal relationships between students of varying genders at this age in a general context.**
To start, let me give a personal example:
In the summer of 2015, I began working on a start-up that is an online platform for college women to gain inspiration from each other and find the educational and developmental opportunities in their city in order to enhance their overall college experience. Although I am not actively working on the project at this time, it is something that I am really proud of and hope to continue to pursue in the near future. I have been really lucky to have so many friends and peers support me through this project, both male and female, and they have always believed in my capabilities and the purpose behind my vision. I also have had another kind of experience, which showed me where our society still needs to devote some energy.
A particular person, someone who – at the time – I trusted with professional opinion and fully expected encouragement, asked what I was doing with my company. This person and I had a pretty close relationship in this moment, and I shared my story with the intention of hearing his feedback and hopefully showing him that I, too, could have a company and wanted to work towards something great. However, once I explained, he had a delayed reaction and made an inappropriate and hurtful joke about it and what it stood for. I tried to ignore what he was saying, but there was part of me that was very hurt and taken back. Before that point, I had really valued this person’s perspective, and his reactions made me develop a lack of trust or desire to share any more of my story with him. I didn’t let it hold me back, and I did not fire anything in response, but it definitely made me reconsider this person’s influence in my life. I couldn’t shake it off.
This is just one specific example, but I tend to see this everywhere in other ways – a group of guys who wouldn’t listen to me or let me do my job (while I was the only female member of an Executive Board), someone who told me I needed to chill, and others who have consistently (and more than once) told me that I need to get out more and be on dating apps, for instance. While I have so many college men in my life who are my closest friends and confidants, who are the complete opposite of these people, WE HAVE A VERY CLEAR PROBLEM. There are so many reasons for me to ignore this issue, but I simply cannot let this go unspoken when I truly feel like our work is only half done. College girls are currently growing up in the BEST time possible but are not being supported in healthy ways. How are we supposed to feel empowered and encouraged when our peers can’t be there for us?
In its simplest form, I want us to start talking about how this form of college culture can become more positive and uplifting. I want college men and women to realize that supporting each other and celebrating our strengths goes both ways, and we can’t help each other develop if we don’t allow ourselves to grow. I want us to understand that insensitive jokes can often be much more powerful than a “great” or a “good for you” would ever be. I want us to think twice when judging someone’s abilities as a threat or limitation to your own progress. I want us to accept and cherish each other as we are and prove it through other ways than likes on Facebook announcements. I want us to stop forcing each other into doing things we don’t want to do. I want us to feel supported and grounded, and like we have the biggest wings on earth that are ready to soar to new heights.
I use the term “us” because I don’t believe this conversation can be deliberately aimed towards one gender – there are problems on all sides.This social change cannot happen if we do not start looking inward into how we are treating each other, and it has to start at this young of an age. There are so many discussions on how we are moving forward and what we can do to be even better, but there is a lack of focus on how the younger generation can be different in terms of celebrating women and their achievements. Thanks to movements like HeforShe, I have faith. But we have to get out of the mindset that change only happens at the celebrity or Senate-speech level. It starts here. It starts on campus.
It starts with you.