Feminism. The word makes some people uncomfortable. Too many men and women have come to see feminism as superfluous, as something that we stopped needing once women could vote. Usually these are the same people who think race is something that is behind us too, who have also been convinced affirmative action is unfair because it disturbs some (imaginary) free and equal society. People think feminism is radical, is “man-hating,” and that it just doesn’t apply to them.
But it does. I didn’t post this because I represent feminism. I posted this because as a man I have a responsibility to fight against the media that keeps telling men that feminism is of no consequence to them, and that they shouldn’t be critical of how we live and what we think. Critical of this media, in the form of mainstream news, blogs, and friends, that tell men that false rape accusations are an epidemic, that female promiscuity is a deficiency of character, that the jokes and stories we share that belittle and objectify women are of no consequence and exist in a vacuum of free speech (which somehow excuses mysogyny).
And for the heterosexual men who grew up in my generation, I was there too, getting the same messages. In every story the male protagonist was rewarded and validated by a woman’s love (imagine what message that gives to someone who is young and queer). Amidst a sea of adolescence and newly discovered sexuality, we were reminded that the girls who had sex with other guys were sluts. We dealt badly with rejection from a girl because it shook our sense of being of value, of being the hero of our own story. We replaced our myth of cooties with the dreaded friendzone. We saw men who were assholes, who were belligerent and predatory, hooking up with girls (Maybe you were that guy), and we said to ourselves “whats wrong with her?”
The same thing said about women in abusive relationships, women who are exploited in the sex industry and other workplaces, and even women who are the targets of sexual assault. “What’s wrong with her? Why was she so drunk.. Why doesn’t she leave him.. Why didn’t she work hard in school?” Questions that do nothing but excuse violence and criminals and accept that women should always be afraid, that they should obey expectations or else their trauma is their own fault.
It wasnt until I confronted toxic ideals of masculinity that i realized the absurdity of the self-loathing I had as a teen. The same ideas that reduced women to objects told me I wasnt a man unless I was validated by someone else, that I wasnt powerful unless I subjugated someone else.
I realized that these messages I had received told me to follow and not question. They told me to be afraid of women, to hate myself, and if I still listened to them now maybe I would be afraid of the word feminism now too.
But coincidentally, about the time I started focusing on others rather than myself and examining my own immense privilege (another scary word for some) as a well off straight man, the more I realized how narrow and misguided my perspective had been.
I never had to fear that someone would take advantage of me at a party.
I never feared that my sexual history would speak for the purity of my character.
I never feared that I was giving up or losing some valuable part of myself when I had sex.
I never had to spend too much time and money to make myself feel attractive (even though I can’t say I didnt worry about my body and appearance.)
I never had to be the butt of joke that assumed my gender was less capable, less rational, less coordinated, and destined to live in the kitchen or bedroom.
I was never taught that my body is the most valuable part of me, and that age would take it away.
I never worried about politicians limiting my reproductive rights.
I never worried that if I was a survivor of assault, people would question my behavior and actions rather than that of my attacker.
I never worried that people would care more about my attackers reputation being protected than protecting other people from assault.
I never was dismayed that in almost every piece of fiction, my gender was only there to provide dialogue centered around men, or bodies for sex, or a damsel needing saving.
I never feared that I would be judged as less capable when applying for a position, or that my appearance would be deemed a distraction, or that people would feel comfortable harassing me and then telling me to relax if i became frustrated.
the more I started realizing how small my world of experience had been, the more I was able to start loving myself too. I freed myself of many similar regressive ideas about my gender.
I’m not trying to incite argument, but I hope people realize that being a feminist means believing that women and men and everyone deserve the same rights and freedoms. Thats hopefully something we all can agree to, and maybe you can decide to be comfortable with and identify as a feminist.
“Invite your fear into consciousness, and smile through it; every time you smile through your fear, it will lose some of its strength. If you try to run away from your pain, there is no way out. Only by looking deeply into the nature of your fear can you find the way out.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
“I stay up just late enough until I am just exhausted enough that I can fall into my bed and sink into immediate slumber. Because I can’t stand lying in a bed in a dark room alone with just my thoughts for so many hours and hours.”—Unknown
“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits - anything that kept me small.
My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”—Kim McMillen
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good, either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”—Roald Dahl