OpEd: Conforming To Yourself by Shedding Stereotypes, Standing Up For Gender Equality  

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Much of our lives, we will spend as not enough. I will never be tan enough, to fit everyone’s stereotype of a Mexican. I will never be thin enough, to fit society’s favorite pair of size 6 jeans.

As a woman of color, I will never be enough. I will never be equal to men as long as they are continued to be paid nearly 12 percent more than women for the exact same job.

Author Natalie Ayala
Author Natalie Ayala

Both women and men unfortunately do not have respect for one another all over the world. In June of 2013, a 14- year- old girl was raped and taken from a shopping mall. Her attacker wasn’t found and charged until last month. In that time he had already found another victim.

Sexual assault, is unfortunately the more violent end of the inequality spectrum. Still, a wage gap – although nonviolent – is still a large part of our imbalanced equality relationships. And we are constantly reminded of the imbalance.

Author, creator and star of HBO’s “Girls,” Lena Dunham, spoke out recently about her own rape and said how hard it is for women to come forward. Even with her fame from the popular and acclaimed series that starts another season this week, she acknowledged how society blames female victims.

Living within ignorance is not a just life.

If you believe in gender equality, whether it is about wages or the right to be free from assault, others should not tag you with stereotypes. Even if you use the term feminism, you seem to scare off many.

Many feminists are deemed “manly and aggressive.” Yet who is there to definitively state all feminists are actually this way?

What people believe in and how they appear to be do not always match up. Unfortunately, this often results in judgments and for young women, it results in slut-shaming.

Has the practice of blaming victims and labeling women a certain way from what they look like been around forever? Yes. Is it still growing strong? Unfortunately, yes.

You may be just wearing your favorite dress, yet it may deem you a “whore” because it might be bit too short for everyone’s liking. Wearing what you want is not a privilege to only men or only women – although sometimes, what a women wears may entice a person’s “judgmental spectrum.”

Everyone deserves to wear what they want. Man or woman, you rock those short skirts.

Appearance, for some reason falls into the category of what you believe in. That may result in wrong assumptions. Although many assumptions are not offensive, what is offensive is when you are being stereotyped.

When expressing my feminist beliefs recently, I was asked, “Are you a lesbian? You’re a lesbian, right?”

When I responded with “No,” the person immediately shot back, “It’s only because you’re young, that you believe in that stuff.”

The fact is, you will meet people who don’t understand your beliefs. But it is up to us, who believe in that “stuff” to make an impact.

I  believe in gender equality because despite much buzz around this myth: both men and women get raped. I believe it is important because every 107 seconds another person is sexually assaulted. And I believe women are hit harder because 17,342 pregnancies were a result of rape in 2012.

I believe in gender equality because I am a person. And I believe that should be enough.

Allowing yourself to be conformed into what categories others put you into, plays a large part in why women have not made a leap into equality.

Sometimes that leap is squashed by fear. It is not about fighting the system. It is building up confidence in women.  Building confidence is not only a mental but a physical action.

Confidence allows for people to make an impact, to stand up for what they believe in. Being able to stand up to someone without fear that you will be laughed at, but only acting in confidence that even if you are rejected respectfully, you made an impact by bringing attention to a topic you deemed relative.

Building respect and healthy relationships between men and women should be all of our priority. Making sure opportunities are based on experience, personality and intelligence and not your gender is worth our support.

Yes, you are a person. Yes, you are a woman or a man. Yes, we will all have hardships. Yes, we will have gender equality.

Only then is when we will all consider ourselves to be enough.

Natalie Ayala is a 16-year-old sophomore at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago. She is a participant in The OpEd Project’s Youth Narrating Our World program.

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