It’s hard to keep up with the boys.
That’s something my sister and I definitely understand. We learned how to shoot guns and hold back our tears. To this very day we’re known to be a bit “wild,” but we’ve never given much thought to a little eyebrow-raisin’. Some people will just never get who we are. Sometimes we don’t even understand who we are.
The backdrop of our childhood was naturally wild. Acres upon acres of forests, woodlands and fields. And sky. Wide. open. sky. There was a freedom in its openness. We forged our identities in the wooded groves of the Arkansas prairie wetlands. We climbed magnolia and apple trees. We fell out of them. We ran in our backyards, uproarious and joyful, shameless and utterly content.
We were fierce in our happiness, part of a small rural town in Arkansas. Clean-cut around the edges, with adventurous hearts. We had safe neighborhoods to ride bikes in; and we had schools with teachers who cared about us. The fields by the roads flew by in parallel rows, but we grew wild, without the pruning of hollow flattery and polite reserve. Raised by tough men and hard-working women, we were unabashed and independent, innocent and wild.
For all the blessings in my life, the greatest one to date has been sisterhood. My mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers and girl friends have given me the chance to express myself free from a bias that infiltrates almost every aspect of our world. Sisterhood promotes honesty and laughter, courage and kindness. But, perhaps most importantly, it encourages self-respect and confidence in a patriarchal society.
Today I’m writing to all my sisters out there. Music lovers, artists, thinkers, mothers, waitresses, dreamers, dancers, writers, teachers — I believe women are powerful influencers in this world, and in a world full of hatred, fear, pain and suffering–a woman’s touch can go a long way.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that the structure of our society is bound together by sexism. We are paid less than men. We hold fewer positions of power. Our sensitivities are often dismissed or overrun by a societal aversion to vulnerability and emotion. Just because we don’t feel the sting of everyday sexism, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Preconceived notions of gender norms, like all biases, tend to hide in our collective mental blind spot, keeping us out of touch with what we are not in a position to see.
Within prescribed gender norms, women are dedicated to the happiness and well-being of others. We carry children in our wombs, nurse them, teach them and care for them, but I think what we actually inherit from womanhood is far more powerful than what society can dictate. Not only because of our biological identities, but because our hearts are wild and ungovernable, except by our deepest convictions. We are undeniably human, but also undeniably different than men.
In a world that is largely a boys’ club, sisterhood is an oasis of freedom. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that feminist issues are “just between us girls.” Husbands, dads, grandpas and brothers can be our best friends and biggest supporters. Our friends and family members are the ones who inspire us to move forward, to get better, to heal and find happiness. Their confidence gives us the freedom to express and explore who we are, and the more we show of our true selves, the stronger our hearts and our voices, and the more good we bring, together.
“If not me, who? If not now, when?”
Emma Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador