By Christine M. Dibiase
As a woman, I am constantly aware that I am a woman. While that may seem unnecessary to point out, consider that I have to be aware that I am a woman before I am aware that I am a person. Imagine a neon flashing sign on my forehead that reads “FEMALE,” and never ever goes off. When I wake up in the morning, I go on the internet and see the hate and inequality we accept as normal. I have to watch what I say and what I post, so as not to be deemed “crazy” or “emotional,” among worse things. When I walk to my car, I feel the eyes burning into me. I worry if my shorts are too short or if my top is too low cut. In class, eyes roll and people snicker if I am too opinionated on a subject.
When I get lunch, I have to make sure that I am not eating too much or too fast and that I am taking small bites and chewing with my mouth closed. I also have to try to sound as far from pretentious as possible when asked why I’m not ordering what everyone else is ordering, because saying, “I’m a vegan,” tends to cue the eye rolls. When I meet new people, I have to give a handshake that is not too strong or I will be viewed as manly and intimidating, but not too weak or I will be viewed as a joke. When I walk to my car at night, I fear the catcalls and the men who utter them. I fear what could be hiding around the corner or behind the bush. I am hyper-aware of each and every move I make throughout the course of a day. Being a woman is exhausting, and the worst part is that men have absolutely no idea.
How could they? Cisgendered, able-bodied, (typically) white men live in a harshly contrasted world. They have never needed to be aware of their gender, or live in fear because of it, because they are on the opposing side of the struggle. They are able to take everything for granted because their ignorance is bliss. They do not realize what obstacles women face in every aspect of daily life, and because they don’t realize they exist, nothing changes. When women do speak out, men hush us and tell us to stop being dramatic (playing on those stereotypes which hold us down). The system and institution were built against us, to keep us in a role of submission. Because of this, men today don’t even realize their ignorance. This way of life is so widely accepted as normal and never questioned that it is ridiculously difficult to get men, and even some women, to open their eyes and realize the imbalance of power, control, and comfort.
College did not gently shake me on the shoulders to make me see clearly, it beat me over the head with a two-by-four and ran me over with a steam roller. I was unaware of the issues with this system until recent years. Of course, I knew that women were treated like this, but I never understood that it was a systematic mistreatment, built into the very foundation of our society, and not grounded in any truth or evidence. After repeatedly being treated like I was a lesser being in society over the years, I began to question what was actually going on here. From attending too many misogynistic frat parties in grimy basements and getting treated like an object to be controlled and won, getting educated about and involved with feminist groups online, and then taking a Gender Studies course at my university, I finally realized that this is disgusting and needs to be fought against.
On top of all of this, I am a vegetarian and transitioning to veganism. I have been a vegetarian my whole life, which has forced me to learn to deal with the criticism. This adds a whole other piece to the feminist struggle. Not only do people typically see it as a silly life choice, but they never seem to understand why. They joke about it and shove meat in my face, asking if I want any. I don’t do this because I feel like a special snowflake, which is what they all think. I do this because the treatment of animals at farms is disgusting and unacceptable. I share the graphic videos and images online, then get harshly negative feedback from my Facebook friends that it is inappropriate and too sickening to watch. Do they not realize that they are living it and contributing to it every time they eat one of these animal products? The dissociation is so severe that they do not even realize the huge role they play in those videos. They are why the events in those videos happen. Without a consumer, there would be no market for these products. Why do I get taunted for my compassion?
A link between my feminist struggle and my vegan struggle is that animals are objectified the way I am. People don’t see a hamburger as the remains of a dead cow in the same way they do not see me (a woman) as a person. They ultimately understand that they are the same thing, but there is no instant, conscious link between the two ideas. As Carol Adams discussed, the idea of the absent referent plays a prominent role here. It requires thought to understand that they are one in the same.
This mistreatment and misrepresentation is something that now, after getting an education on the inner-workings of the system, I am fighting. I no longer second guess what I say or do, I am unforgivingly opinionated and outspoken. I will eat what I want and stand up for those without voices. I dress how I want and do what I want. I am not sorry for being a woman. I am not sorry for having a mind and a voice. I do not care if you have something to say about it. I identify as a woman and that is not something I should spend my life asking forgiveness for.
Christine is a senior Elementary Education and English major at Monmouth University. She has been a vegetarian since age two and an animal rights activist in training since shortly after. In her teenage years she became increasingly involved in the animal rights movement, and is now transitioning to veganism. Since college, Christine has discovered her growing interest with the feminist movement and discontent with society’s inequalities.