By Ashlan Andrews
Growing up as a middle-class female in South Carolina has had its fair amount of privileges. I’ve had struggles throughout my life the same as everyone else, but issues of race, or sexuality, or even religion are never things I have had to deal with because I’m white, I’m straight and I’m a Christian; I don’t face half of the issues women of color, other religions, or different sexual orientations do.
One thing all women have in common, though, is the feeling of inferiority that I believe every woman feels at some point in her life. I remember the first time I realized something was off in our patriarchal society: I was 17 years old and taking a science class with three of my guy friends. They were the only people I knew well in that class, so all four of us sat together; being the only girl I was an easy target to get picked on. The majority of the time, they picked on me in good fun — I’m shorter than the average girl by about 3 inches, standing at 5’1, so I’m an easy target for the short jokes… one could say there’s no shortage of jokes I’ve encountered throughout my life about my height (sorry, I had to do it).
Anyway, one day the joking started to get on my nerves when they began taunting me about how superior men are to women. “Name a woman who has done half the things a man has. A man invented the car, the telephone, electricity; women haven’t done nearly as much stuff as men” are just a few of the things I remember them saying to me. And the sad thing is — even though I knew plenty of women have contributed in wonderful ways to science, the arts, the economy — I couldn’t name a single woman who had done something meaningful. Part of that was due to the anger I was feeling listening to them; I was so taken aback by their comments that I wasn’t thinking clearly.
Of course, there are scores of women I could have mentioned: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth I; yet as I tried to argue back and say women have contributed just as much to society as men, they continued to talk over me and would not let me speak. I’m a quieter, more withdraw person by nature, so I eventually stopped arguing and was left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a desire in my heart to one day show the world that I am just as capable as a man of achieving my dreams and making the world a better place. I also believe our schooling plays a large part in our ignorance. Growing up, most of the things we learn about history concern men. I could name at least 10 influential men right off the top of my head when I was in high school, yet I’m not sure if I could have immediately named 10 influential women. This is harmful to our society because it not only plays into the constant belief that men are superior to women, it also takes away pivotal role models for young girls.
Take, for example, the release of the movie Wonder Woman last year. I teared up several times during that movie, and not because the love of her life dies at the end. No, I teared up because it was one of the most uplifting, amazing feelings I have ever felt as I watched this woman superhero do the exact same things men superheroes have done for years in those types of movies. The scene where she fights off the axis powers in dead-man’s zone was easily one of the best movie scenes I’ve ever watched, and finally proved to the rest of the world something women have known all along: we are just as capable as men in all aspects of life. Until society recognizes that women have the power to shape and change the world for the better when we are given free rein to do so, the world will continue to suffer because we are literally putting down half of humankind.
And so, this leads me to the reason I chose the title of “It’s Humankind, Not Mankind” for my essay: I know it’s a small thing, really; just a word and something society has used for centuries to describe both men and women. But why do we continuously refer to humans as mankind when describing male and female? Isn’t that just one other way girls are forgotten about in society? I am not a man; I am a Woman. And I believe we need to begin to refer to people as humankind as a simple, yet quietly powerful way to shift away from the patriarchal world we are still inhabiting in the 21st century.
Just the other day, I was texting my younger sister and giving her some advice concerning something she is scared to do. Most of the time, when we want someone to be brave, we tell them to “man up” or “grow some balls” which are, all things considered, rude, vulgar phrases that portray women as weak and men as strong (which is ironic because, scientifically speaking, balls are easily the weakest part of a body). Instead of telling Meghan to man up, I told her to woman up. Again, a small change. Not noticeable in the grand scheme of life, but something that we can all start doing, little by little, to incorporate a bigger change in society. Instead of saying things such as “don’t cry like a little girl” or “you throw like a girl” we can start saying “embrace your tears and cry if you need to because it’s the natural way your body releases emotion when you’re happy, sad, or mad” or maybe “you throw like someone who’s never played baseball before and that’s OK because baseball is a pretty boring sport, amirite?!”
Granted, those are a little lengthy, but you get the gist.
When all else fails, just remember the wise words of Ginny Weasley from the Harry Potter series, who once said, “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” Us women know that better than anyone. It IS possible for us to have amazing careers all while raising children and running a household. It IS possible for us to become CEO’s, Presidents, engineers, authors, activists, actresses, athletes and superheroes. Society will push against us; it always has. But we will continue to push back, because we are Women, and we are strong, fierce, loving, emotional, feminine, gentle, caring, resilient, smart, beautiful, determined and bold. Every one of us.
Ashlan Andrews is a graduate student at The Citadel getting her MA in international politics. She is focusing on women’s rights in developing countries in her program and is working toward combining her love for writing with her desire to bring awareness to the struggles women face around the world. She’s lived in Charleston for the past year and a half and absolutely adores the city. She enjoys running on the Ravenel Bridge, Sunday brunch at Shelter and paddle boarding in Shem Creek.