Gender equality has come a long way since the suffragettes fought for the right to vote just over a century ago, and yet half of the planet’s population still faces outdated taboos every day. Women are still required to tiptoe around the realities of their own lives (we’re looking at you periods, body hair and pay gaps!). Just by existing on this planet, women are automatically at a disadvantage. In fact, women are often oppressed before exiting the womb — gender-reveal parties and sex-selective abortions are pretty powerful examples of why we still need to fight so hard for equality.
Unfortunately, the list of stigmas women face on a daily basis is too long to tally up here, but we’ve chosen 10 stigmas that still exist — and seriously shouldn’t.
The period stigma
Matsui believes we need to speak openly about periods because they are totally normal. “I actually feel like we can go a step beyond periods being normalized to them being celebrated, or at least respected! Periods deserve some respect, dammit!” She explains, “The implication is that being female is still othered instead of being the standard or the norm.”
The employment stigma
According to statistics published by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, full-time working Indigenous women earn 35 per cent less than non-Indigenous men, and women (working full-time and part-time) make just 89 cents for every dollar men make. Women are also overlooked for important assignments more than men, and can be perceived to have given into sexual bribes when they’ve climbed the proverbial corporate ladder. Additionally, women have to suck up the possibility that having a child will likely damage their careers. Workplace gender biases eat away at women’s confidence and make it extraordinarily difficult to truly get ahead, which might explain why only 7.4 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, with only three of these women being people of colour.
The childfree woman stigma
In one analysis of 40 years of data of 50-to-70-year-olds, researcher Nicholas H. Wolfinger found that women with two children are less happy than their childfree counterparts by four percentage points, and women with one child were even less happy than that. We need to acknowledge that women can be fulfilled and happy without bearing children — a fact that should be supported and accepted.
The body hair stigma
Body hair on men is considered sexy, natural and manly, while on a woman it is thought of as unfeminine and ugly. This can make women feel their body hair is too controversial and unappealing to show. The patriarchy has been policing women’s bodies and profiting from their ‘manmade’ insecurities for so long that we don’t even realize how ingrained these judgements are. Luckily, there are some brave body brands, like Billie, that are crusading against the hairless female stereotype and show real BIPOC women with real hair in their ads. The first step towards de-stigmatizing natural body hair on women is to acknowledge that we all have it and start showing it, not only in advertising, but also in the real world.
The female orgasm stigma
Meanwhile, women in same sex relationships experience more orgasms than their straight sisters. Taking agency over our sexual pleasure is a much more complicated process than just doing so, especially when there is so little focus on how healthy and normal female pleasure is.
The angry woman stigma
By calling out hard truths and highlighting areas for much-needed change Michelle was accused of emasculating her husband, a threat apparently too confronting for many to bear.
The need for women everywhere, and particularly BIPOC women, to censor their anger and outrage is an upsetting reality that really needs to shift. Luckily, women like Michelle Obama are smashing the stereotype so that the strong, passionate, powerful BIPOC women who come after her might not have to fight quite so hard to be heard and understood.
The breastfeeding stigma
Women who breastfeed in public without a whole fortress of cover still get awkward and uncomfortable looks, and even demeaning comments, from passers-by. Women who don’t breastfeed at all, or breastfeed for any less than the recommended year, are criticised for being selfish or depriving their infant.
Women are just doing their best, but their best is never enough! It’s infuriating for breast-feeding mothers, and sad for their little ones, that their life-giving elixir is spoiled by the sexualization of their breasts.
Luckily, there are trail-blazers supporting and normalizing breasts, like Mother, an independent London-based agency. These fine folks partnered with Elvie, the creators of the world’s first silent wearable breast pump for Mother’s Day and erected five massive inflatable breasts in a variety of sizes and skin tones in busy parts of London to help empower women to breastfeed confidently and fight the antiquated stigma of public breastfeeding.
The general gender stigma
Nearly half of girls aged seven to 21 interviewed in a Girlguiding poll in the UK said they didn’t feel they could speak freely because of their gender, and that this directly affected their participation in school. Think of all of the brilliant ideas lost because young women are made to feel uncomfortable or fear they won’t even be heard just because they are girls.
BIPOC girls are often the victims of institutional racism and are more likely to be unfairly punished and then boxed into an even more detrimental stereotype. Ever so slowly, the tides are changing and there is movement towards empowering young women by recognizing their character and achievements instead of their physical appearance. But girls everywhere are still discriminated against, made to feel that their only virtues relate to their appearance and that subjects like science, math and sports are for boys. It is vital that we continue to challenge gender stereotypes by speaking up and calling out educators who pressure children to conform to archaic notions of what makes a girl a girl, and a boy a boy. Maybe then girls can grow up, becoming the women they really want to be and not who society thinks they should be.
The age stigma
It can be a socially alienating and depressing experience for older women who are often just beginning to live their best lives, but who are made to feel worthless. With age comes experience, wisdom, success and achievement, and if a woman does find herself in a position of power, she has to work extra hard to prove herself, often dealing with a disproportionately high level of physical scrutiny.
Take Hillary Clinton, whose Ivy League education, ambition and successful career was still not enough for the sexist media that criticised her for not fitting the traditional wife and mother mold. At the time, Clinton was consistently lambasted for her choice of clothes and hairstyle. Now, we can break the cycle of invisibility by not only noticing older women, but by giving them a compliment, acknowledging their wisdom and being excited to learn from them.
The feminist stigma
The core of feminism is gender equality. Intersectional feminism brings awareness to how peoples’ social identities overlap and can lead to even more discrimination (white cis women may not have as many opportunities as white cis men, but systemic racism and homophobia compounds a Black lesbian’s experience with discrimination even further).
Because there are negative connotations to the word feminist, many women feel uncomfortable disclosing they’re feminists unless in the company of other feminists — a disturbing fact that further oppresses women and stalls the progress for women’s rights and minority women’s rights. So, not only do we need feminism, we need intersectional feminism.