Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign
Last Friday, actress Ellen Page came out in the most dignified and beautiful way while on stage giving a speech at a Human Rights Campaign event on behalf of the LGBT community. She exclaimed “I am here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference.”
I have long been an admirer of Ellen Page, mainly because of when she said this: “How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?” But Friday, she became a hero to me. She rid herself of self-doubt and fear in front of a crowd of people and she showed the world it’s not only OK to be who you are, but necessary. Necessary for your mental health, your spirit, and your relationships, as she pointed out in her speech.
What struck me the most about this moment from a feminist perspective was her focus on gender constructions and how they are shaping our culture and affecting our youth. She slammed the social constructions of masculinity and femininity and professed how constricting those ideas are to people growing up, including herself. Mainstream ideas of gender and what it means to be male and female are huge contributors to sexism and ultimately why we need feminism. We have all grown up being taught that to be female is to be demure. We are taught that acting like a lady means being kind and compromising and un-opinionated. We are taught that to be male is to be strong and brave and dominant. Acting like a man means suppressing emotion and rejecting any sign of weakness. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her now well-known TEDx talk, gender “prescribes how we should be, not how we are.” People experience gender on a continuum in the same way they experience sexuality on a continuum. It is experimental and personal. In the end, no one should have the right to tell a person how they are supposed to be and no one should feel the pressure to be something they are not. Ellen Page is just one example of a person who not only believes that, but proved it Friday night. And my hat goes off to you, lady.
So why does Ellen Page matter to feminism? Because she is bold, opinionated, and uncompromising. Because she is rejecting traditional expectations of gender. Because she is a woman unapologetic and unafraid to be who she is and encourages people to do the same. The world needs more like her.