We have always been told that it is hard to live in this world as a woman. However, for many women in 2020, it is difficult to understand what it is like to live in such a patriarchal society.
Since I was a child, I would always speak up about things I didn’t like and would always try to find solutions for these. I remember how it didn’t make sense to see inequalities between people because of their gender, religion, ethnicity… I never understood how people couldn’t embrace the concept of human beings being equal, each of them with their authentic selves. I now realize that deep inside, I always knew I would be a change maker, even though it would mean hate comments or accusations of not respecting the tradition. I knew what my truth was and nothing could stop me from speaking my mind and sharing my truth with my community.
I am a 17-year old gender equality activist from Istanbul, Turkey. I think living in Turkey had an impact on my work. Gender-based stereotypes, gender norms, and roles are still playing a big part in women’s lives in Turkey. Luckily, I think our generation is more aware of what is going on around Turkey and around the world. We have a global view on controversial topics thanks to the internet. I have observed that Gen Z is very much ready to change things; we have many innovative ideas, we want to take action when we see a problem and we are not discouraged by close minded people.
The struggle of being a girl begins at birth, with societal expectations impacting how we are raised. There is the perception that we are born as princesses. Beginning when we take our first shallow breaths, society begins to teach us what we should look like, how we should dress, how we should sit, and even how to laugh. This can have numerous negative impacts on our mental and physical health. By the time we are seven, we start to imagine our wedding dresses and husbands, rather than a career that could make us leaders in our field. We wait for our prince to save us from the dragon instead of standing up for ourselves and carving their path through life. We are taught that a happy ending — a happy life — means being married and taking care of kids.
I would like you to visit the first children clothing store you come across. You will notice the boys’ clothing focuses on power, being the hero, and saving the world. On the other side, girls’ clothing focuses on fragile symbols like butterflies and rainbows. Messages like “I am too pretty to do math’’ are printed on t-shirts. As girls grow up, they, unfortunately, do not automatically outgrow this clear message from society that they have less potential. The issues we face also grow as we do. Young girls, trying to live up to the standards that society sets for them, pursue unhealthy eating habits which could end up hurting their health in the long run. According to PSYCOM, eating disorders can start as early as the age of 12. BBC says, anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness and ANAND reports that each year, 5 to 10 out of 100 patients die due to anorexia. This societal standard also increases the toxic effects of social media on women around the world. Social media fosters an increasingly hostile environment; on average, 150 million photos are deleted by their owners because of hate comments. These statistics truly demonstrate the overwhelmingly negative impact of the combination of societal expectations and cultural norms with social media can have on women.
Over the years the little “princesses” grow up and begin to work so they can make money and support themselves. Society tells us that we have the same opportunities as men that is why there is no need for feminism. However, this only fuels pre-existing social inequalities such as the wage disparity between men and women. Both in Turkey and internationally, statistics show that men are earning much more money than women. Yet, many members of society still claim that the wage gap is a myth. We must teach tomorrow’s youth the facts: these disparities are real and women need equality in both the workplace and in their wages.
As John Sheran said, “The best fortune teller of what the future awaits us is what happened to us in the past.’’ We should focus on the past to start exploring the question: How did the belief that men are superior begin? I grew up in a patriarchal society; because of this, I’ve had the chance to observe the social structure of Turkish people. In my opinion, the patriarchal structure in Turkey is due to our past wars. Historical figures such as Karafatma and Halide Onbaşı dedicated their lives to their country, but these women have never been as appreciated in history. They weren’t appreciated then, and they aren’t appreciated now.
Women in the 21st century have proved their existence, their brains, and their intelligence at the forefront of social advancement. For decades we have had to fight, and though this fight for our rights might seem daunting, we can look at women who have made their own in this world. It is important in this time to not only acknowledge women of power and thank them for what they’ve done, but also to use them as an example for ourselves to stand up and try. Just look at Aylin Uysal, the Senior Design Director at Oracle, or Ayşegül İldeniz, the Vice President of New Technologies and Strategies at Intel, who are both extremely accomplished women. They got themselves to a place of importance by fighting against the hardships of this biased world. We owe it to ourselves, our daughters, our sisters, and our mothers to create a world in which we don’t need to fight to prove our worth.
In conclusion, from the moment a girl is born, reaching their full potential is a constant struggle. Fighting against the toxicity of social media, the patriarchy, as well as societal norms is a task only surmounted through unity and empowerment. Therefore, it is important now more than ever to come together and fight for change that all women can benefit from, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or religion. No one ever said that being a woman is easy, but it is easier to make an impact if we stand together. It’s time to be united, so we will not fall.