The Importance of Women Speaking Up About Their Sexist Experiences

One of my favourite African American female writers is Zora Neale Hurston. Reading her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God as an eighteen year old was instrumental in my realisation that truly sexism is universal. 

Her novel made me understand that true freedom for women will happen when all women abandon barriers of race, class and ethnicity to form a solidarity that is defined by mutual respect and shared sisterhood.

Ms. Hurston also has a quote that I often think of when I need courage to speak up and to do so without feeling shame or self loathing. It said and I quote: “If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” 

I often think of that quote when I need a reminder that often times, it is women sharing their health and relationship experiences that ensures other women know what to avoid and even what to look out for in terms of healthcare, vaginal care and cervical and breast cancer.

However, there is no doubt about the fact that women who are vocal about issues concerning women often face derision and scorn. And we all know why. 

The reason is that the more women share their stories of divorce, being childfree and living away from the conventional roles of wife and mother on social and traditional media, the more young women know that there is a life to be lived outside the servitude of men. 

For the women who are married and feminist, the more they encourage women to choose themselves, to not be afraid of divorce and only partner with men who truly value and respect them, the more young girls are aware that even if they desire marriage and a family, it is very okay to leave if their desires are not met.

There is great importance in women documenting our lives, our wins and yes even our overcoming of situations like sexual assault and emotional abuse. It not only reminds others watching that there is the possibility of joy, it lets women we may never meet know that their lives do not have to be defined by trauma and negative experiences. 

Furthermore, when we as women speak about sexist experiences boldly, it serves as a middle finger to anyone who wants women to cower in shame. It reminds the perpetrators of things like rape that some women shall be ungovernable and it threatens those who want to use rape and assault to silence women.

In the office and workspace, women sharing their career journeys often provide life saving advice and steps to young women who are also aspiring to be in their shoes. 

By simply sharing how they overcome sexist career experiences in the newspaper, social media or radio, it becomes the manner in which older women mentor younger women without actually taking on any mentees.

Speaking with Josephine, a medical student, she explained that women sharing their stories can be instrumental in issues of healthcare.

In her words: “Women talking about our experiences is the first step towards finding solutions to societal equilibrium on some level.  Because I feel like women don’t really know what it’s like to be a woman despite being surrounded by them their whole lives and we finally have the opportunity to be vocal about it. 

Women’s reproductive health is an underrated conversation that needs to be had as frequently as possible especially to young women who don’t know as much yet. Things as small as yeast infections that I didn’t know about till I was thousands of miles away from my mum and I thought I was dirty and I didn’t know I was just wearing the wrong underwear. If there was more conversation about it that outcome would have been avoided. PCOS does not have enough awareness as it is a common disorder that women have. More people are supposed to speak about it so women who are just finding out they have it don’t feel alone and they know how to fix the issues early on.”

Josephine went on to say: “I think women on some level are seen as a concept and not real people. A guy I dated was so weird about periods and I never understood it. Didn’t you think that happened to me? He got stained one time and damn near had a seizure ????. When we are humanised and not just a concept or an object you’d have to deal with us as people and that can be tedious when they have painted a picture of what we are supposed to be for so long. I think on some level it comes from a place of fear of a new society. 

The amount of hours I have put into thinking of a solution and still have come up empty is crazy. Have you ever argued feminism with a man? You’d feel like strangling him because what you’re talking about is the most basic thing ever but this person is constantly trying to belittle this important issue with the most mundane unnecessary things. And then when your emotions start showing even a little bit you’re shut down like what you’re saying isn’t important just because you can’t physiologically help yourself. 

But I have learnt a few things in my short life that aren’t solutions per say but I guess it’s what I’ve gathered. If someone sees that they can show you shege they won’t hesitate even for a minute. That’s just human fact so make sure the person knows I can show you shege too if I wanted to but I decide not to. Always do what’s best for you cause if the roles were reversed 90% of the time he isn’t going to do the same for you so pick yourself first. Extreme measures are the only way men see reason. I have no idea why but that’s always been the truth.” 

The more women own our truth, the more younger women know that it is okay to stand for what you believe in.

As the brilliant poet Maya Angelou said: When a woman stands for herself, without knowing it, without claiming it, she stands for other women.

May we be women whose lives and words stand as testament to defying sexist dictates.

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