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[Author’s note: this is not a discussion of the events of Friday night, but rather a greater social issue. My deepest condolences to those directly affected by the tragic deaths this past weekend and to the rest of our community. May we heal through our strength and solidarity.]
In nearly every respect, I was raised as my older brother’s equal. We wrestled together, played the same sports, both excelled at math and science and were both raised to believe we could accomplish whatever we set our minds to. There was only one circumstance wherein I was told that my gender prevented me from doing something my brother had the freedom to do: walking home alone. Growing up, I lived around the corner from two of my best friends and would always walk along the short stretch of sidewalk between our two streets. But when I tried to do so at night, my parents always made sure someone was walking with me.
Initially, although I found it frustrating, I assumed this was because I was younger than my brother. But when I reached the age he had been when he was first able to walk around the corner by himself at night, I began to protest. I argued with my parents that Stephen gets to walk by himself all the time and I should be able to do so as well. I always remember their response: “But you’re a girl. It’s different.” By nature I am stubborn and independent; because of this and the fact that I was still innocent and unaware of the real dangers I faced merely because I was female, I did not find this a justified response. I remember countless times when I passionately argued with my parents that being a girl shouldn’t make me any different from my brother. It took me years to reconcile with the fact that it does.
It would seem from reading this personal anecdote that I was a self-proclaimed feminist from the womb. However, I was more of a self-proclaimed anti-feminist. Early on I recognized that masculinity meant power and therefore predominantly identified with the more masculine sides of my personality. I ridiculed feminists as angry men-haters, believed in the inherent differences between men and women, obsessed over “the perfect man,” and saw the fact that I excelled in the STEM fields as evidence that I was a rare exception to the rule, instead of seeing how my female counterparts were made to believe by others, including me, that their gender made them naturally less qualified to succeed in subject areas that centered around logic. I distinctly remember arguing with a good friend of mine just this past summer about the lack of necessity for feminism. Because I am someone who generally has always been open-minded and hyper-aware of social issues, he was shocked by my ignorance, which made me question my position for the first time. That fall I signed up for Fem Studies 20, and my entire perspective was flipped.
I have not tried to hide the fact that I am a survivor of sexual assault. I was assaulted when I was 15, in the midst of my steadfast anti-feminist view of the world. Until taking Fem Studies, I had never acknowledged the fact that I had this traumatic experience solely because I was a woman. I never saw that I had dismissed my own femininity because I wanted the power my brother had as a male, or how much that hindered me. I had never considered that my female peers avoided the STEM fields not because they could not succeed in them, but because they were told they would not succeed in them. I was ashamed of my own ignorance — in some ways I feel my lack of support was a greater problem than the lack of understanding from men. Accepting a feminist perspective of the world has been enlightening in the most infuriating of ways. I can no longer ignore the daily oppression I face as a woman when I walk onto the pool deck to referee a men’s water polo game, or when I am forced to call a CSO late at night and take 30 minutes to get home rather than two.
While many of my perspectives have been broadened, my stubborn independence has not been changed by this newfound awareness. Even though I used to do it with 911 on speed-dial and pepper spray in hand, accepting the fact I cannot walk by myself at night has been a long process for me, much to my male-friend’s frustration. On Thursday night I finally used a CSO for the first time, and accepted that no matter how unfair, it simply is not safe for me to walk alone in Isla Vista at night. The only factor in my being able to accept that has been hope. I have every right to be stubborn and independent. I have every right to be able to decide that I am just going to walk alone if my friends are taking too long to join me. I have every right to write an article with a blatant feminist perspective without fearing the negative backlash I will get from angry misogynists. I cannot do these things and/or fear doing them not because of inherent gender differences, but because we live in a world where violence against women is a very real and imminent threat. I have an undying hope that this world can change. I have to believe that while it may never be in my lifetime, future stubborn and independent women like me can walk home alone without any greater threat to their safety than their male counterparts.
So when you see the #YesAllWomen hashtag floating around your Twitter and Facebook feeds, take a second to really consider what it means. If you’re a woman, I guarantee you’ve shared at least one experience with these women, and I challenge you to question why you’ve had that experience rather than accepting it as a natural part of being a woman. If you’re a man, I ask you to keep in mind where the hash tag was born from: #NotAllMen oppress women but #YesAllWomen share these experiences. The hashtag does not intend to spark an attack on men but rather raise awareness for the struggles we face as women. I advise you to start considering the small things you take for granted that women battle daily and join the fight to change this oppression. We must recognize the fact that there are limitations in the current world we live in today and do everything in our power to protect ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it as permanent.
Emily Potter can’t wait to walk home alone one day.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students