I walked out of the first Women’s and Gender Studies class I ever took. It wasn’t because the professor said something to offend me or that it was an unsafe environment. I just didn’t feel like the class would have any impact on my life. Some of my family members congratulated me on my decision to major in sociology instead. “It’s better than turning into a man-hating feminazi!”
These sentiments are the inevitable consequence of a patriarchal society that objectifies, devalues and vilifies femininity. Turn on the TV and you’ll eventually run into an over-the-top theatrical show with girl drama and catty fights. Flip through a magazine and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a scantily clad woman using her body to sell perfume. Scroll through social media and you’ll find an advertisement for Montreal’s Pizza Week, where a woman holds a slice of pizza in front of her crotch to market the upcoming event.
It’s no wonder that we — men, women and every-gender — have to work to unlearn our harmful socializations before we can begin to change the systems of domination themselves.
Considering that these messages are ubiquitous and pervasive, it’s no wonder that we — men, women and every-gender — have to work to unlearn our harmful socializations before we can begin to change the systems of domination themselves. Before we can hold society accountable for the ways in which it oppresses us, we must hold ourselves accountable for the ways in which we continue to support the oppression.
Understandably, this is easier said than done. The act of unlearning takes a considerable amount of privilege. I have the privilege of having a group of friends and family that supported and stayed with me throughout my journey of unlearning. I have the privilege of being financially able to return back to higher education to gain the tools needed to affect change in the world. I am privileged to have been accorded all the opportunities that have brought me to this very moment, writing to you.
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome is ourselves.
Nonetheless, we must realize the ways in which we have accepted sexist ideals to be true before we can begin to break down the interlocking systems of domination in place. We have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about our privilege and take responsibility for the ways in which we might have succumbed to the system to get ahead. We have to continuously work towards confirming and disconfirming our biases and beliefs collectively so that we can undo the systems that hurt us.
This process of unlearning and learning, confirming and disconfirming, is ongoing and lifelong.
My decision to walk out of that Women’s and Gender Studies class all those years ago was a by-product of my internalized misogyny, and it had to be unlearned slowly. It took many a soul-search to begin to get to a point of open-mindedness where I would be able to accept my own faults as faults. And my journey is far from done. My journey took me back to the University of Alberta to pursue an after-degree in the same subject that caused me to walk out so many years ago.
Unlearning harmful lessons so that you can begin to make a change in the world is a difficult task. More often, it feels impossible because it feels like you’re giving up something that is so quintessentially you. But sometimes, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome is ourselves.
Because we cannot hope to improve the world without first improving ourselves.
Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.
To learn more, you can watch Roxane Gay’s TedTalk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist”: