| by Meera Mahadeo |
I frequently think back to the time that I told an attorney that I had interest in becoming a lawyer. At eleven years old, I confidently declared that being a lawyer was the right path for me and eagerly waited for what I hoped would be an encouraging reply.
He lowered his voice and said “being a lawyer is a tough place for a woman. There are a lot of late nights, what’s going to happen to your marriage? And what about kids? It’s extremely difficult for a woman to maintain a home whilst being a lawyer. And with all those late nights, there is ample chance for you to be taken advantage of and sexually assaulted. Why worry your pretty little head? Pick something less stressful.”
I was stunned with his reply. At eleven years old, the first concerns that were being thrown my way were already classifying me into a role where I was expected to consider being a wife and a mother before my own career. Even scarier, is that I was told by choosing a career with late working hours I was making myself available for the possibility of such assaults.
Unfortunately, this conversation is of a similar variation to what most girls experience at some point in their lives. When we are young, we believe that we can be anything that we want to be. We played imaginary games where we wore capes and were the heroes to our own stories. We would play pretend and dreamed of doing the unimaginable, from going to the moon, being a scientist who developed a cure for cancer, or even running a marathon.
But as we get older, the boundaries change and instead we are judged by society for pursuing the things that we enjoy, no matter how traditional or unconventional they may be. We are judged for our bodies, abilities, ambitions, and the preconceived notion that our gender somehow affects our ability to succeed in doing such things.
As I grew older, instead of listening to that lawyer, I decided to go study an even more aggressive field: politics. As a politics undergrad, there are many late nights and I still face backlash when people learn of my field of study. The words: difficult, aggressive, and harsh consistently appear before me by other people critical of a woman’s role in such a field.
I’ll never forget the first time I decided to answer a question in my first politics lecture. I confidently gave my answer, only to be rejected by my professor. Shortly after, a boy sitting in the row above me answered the question with theexact same answer. With a huge smile, the professor praised his cleverness as the rest of the class chuckled at his dismissal of my own.
I learned that day that I was going to have to work harder than my male classmates to have my work recognized in this field of study. This is just a small example of the challenges that many female students experience on a day to day basis, regardless of their faculty. The same prejudice can even be seen against female professors; when a male professor is stern and sarcastic, he’s regarded as “a boss” by his students. Yet, when a female professor displays the same behaviour, she is called derogatory names and has her authority questioned. When women are confident, and commanding we are perceived to be bossy and harsh, but when a man displays the same behaviour, his voice is deemed worthy of attention.
As a result, we continue to keep fighting. We stand taller, work a little harder, and stay persistent in pursuing our endeavours. In the Queen’s community, there are women young and old who fight every day for their work to be equally recognized and it is imperative that we support one another. I look up to those female professors who through their work, break barriers every day and continue to inspire the young women that they teach.
Whether we dream of starting a business one day, or of being role-models to our family’s, a woman should have the choice to pursue whatever her calling is without being told where her place is or being judged for it. To quote Beyoncé, “I’m not bossy, I’m just the boss.” As we embark on this journey, from our education to our careers, we must put our imaginary capes back on and keep moving the dialogue forward, regardless of the challenges around us. After all, every woman has the potential to be the hero in her own story.
Written by, Meera Mahadeo, second-year political studies major, global development minor, certificate in business