“Equality” is a big word… For me it is about equal opportunities. Granting everyone the same chance to succeed, that includes achieving the little things. Even the little successes that would seem trivial to the privileged.
I come from a family where the gender roles were reversed. At the time, it was unusual to have a ‘stay at home dad’ and a successful mother in the city. I never thought twice about it. It wasn’t until I started to hear strange presumptuous comments from other children and even teachers that I began to feel angry. Angry about stereotyping. I guess it’s because stereotypes and closed mindedness oppresses people into boxes. If you can’t squeeze into those four walls then you’re a bit stuffed. You will face stigmatisation. Almost definitely.
This doesn’t just apply to gender either. Labelling and categories are dangerous things.
My university is located in Brighton. A liberal, vibrant city; brimming with creativity and character. So as you can imagine I was expecting a particular kind of demographic to be spending my student years with. I couldn’t wait to start! However I have to admit I was quite disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I met lots of lovely people! But they didn’t care about that word… “Equality”. I guess to me that’s the big stuff. It’s the feminism and LGBTQ+ rights and talking about the uncomfortable things the media brushes over.
What I found so disappointing was the lack of intellectual curiosity amongst many of my fellow students. Of course I do not know everything, and I appreciate I have a lot more to learn. However, I am always keen to expand my knowledge and understanding. I enjoy challenging my opinions about things and even the odd heated debate or two. It is tension and friction that causes movement.
I decided that at university I was going to be myself, being open and honest about who I was and what I thought about things. I faced a very mixed response. You get a lot of ‘banterous’ comments, especially when I came out as a feminist. Came out as a feminist, what a provocative statement. But it’s very accurate if you ask me. The reaction is either “yes, high five” or full of anxious questions and silly statements. For example, “But I don’t hate men, I have lots of guy friends … so I guess I can’t be a feminist” or “I want to shave my armpits” and the list goes on. A perfect illustration of why young people need to be educated on such important movements. It’s great to see celebrities using their status to raise awareness on issues that government often avoid discussing publicly- for example Emma Watson’s recent UN speech (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-iFl4qhBsE). Highlighting how to tackle the inequality many of us experience day to day.
Similarly I experienced a lot of invasive questions and comments when I revealed I had a long term partner, who happens to be female. A lot of it comes from lack of understanding, but also socialisation, at home and with their peers, in schools and in the media. Many authoritative figures who have the platform to shine light on the big stuff miss this opportunity greatly. Even some of my lecturers now. Considering I study Business, I find it mind boggling that not once has the pay gap been mentioned. We touched briefly on gender and leadership, but I feel it was a missed opportunity to get the young minds of today really thinking.
Education is key. Curriculums should include the big stuff. We should be educating young people about LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, mental health, disability and the ageing population- just to name a few! We also need to develop ways to educate other age groups- a lot of these issues have been in the shadows for some time. It is now that we should ensure everyone can learn about injustice in our society. But also, arguably more importantly, ways for parents, grandparents and friends to truly understand the challenges their loved ones are facing. This will also allow them to offer a sturdy support system.
To conclude, it is never too late to educate yourself and it is never too late to create change.