The Issues with Male Feminists

The other day, in my Spanish class, my teacher brought up feminism. At first, I was so excited- it’s rare to see a teacher, especially a male one, bringing this up and educating their students about it. But as the discussion (or, more accurately, lecture) proceeded, I became aware of how problematic this teacher was turning out to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact that my teacher even brought up the subject is a massive step forward in the right direction, and I certainly appreciate his efforts. But, the problem with his rhetoric was that it was male-oriented. For the duration of the class, my teacher spoke about feminism- his personal view on it. When the women in the class attempted to speak about their experiences, he shut them down very quickly.

Why is this a problem? Let me explain. While it is wonderful that more and more men are becoming allies to feminism, the fact remains that, for the most part, the movement is not about them. When we speak about things like the wage gap and sexual discrimination, the war on reproductive rights, and other, horrific things that happen to women, we’re not looking for men to tell us their opinions on these subjects. We need to listen to the stories of women who have actually endured these things. Men need to learn that sometimes, their voices are not the most important. It’s a hard lesson to learn, when society constantly amplifies mens voices, but it is a necessary one.

It’s the same thing white people have to learn when discussing race- let People of Color tell their stories and amplify the marginalized voices. It’s the same thing cisgender people have to learn when discussing trans issues- let the marginalized group tell their stories, and feel safe doing so.

While every single person who identifies as a feminist and supports the movement is helping the movement progress and grow, every one of us needs to learn how to best support the movement. For men, that is ensuring that women’s voices are heard, and sometimes, learning to be the listener rather than the speaker.

 

 

In Defense of Being an Unlikeable Woman

I’ll admit it: I can be a rather un-likeable person. At least, that’s what some of my peers have told me. Since “un-likeable” is such an ambiguous term, I’ve pressed some of these aforementioned peers to clarify what exactly about me they don’t like (simply to satisfy my own morbid curiosity). The answers usually go something like this: “You’re too opinionated.” “You’re too loud.” “You talk too much.” “You’re too aggressive in your beliefs.”

Essentially, what my peers are telling me is that being a woman, and daring to have an opinion, and *gasp* sharing that opinion, makes me unlikeable. This speaks to a troubling trend in society: when women share their opinions, or express their anger at something that should make them angry (racism, sexism, harassment, etc) they are labeled as “bitches”, or other derogatory terms. On the other hand, men who share their opinions publicly are often lauded for speaking out or having the courage to share their beliefs. See the double standard here?

Furthermore, the fact that being a feminist makes me inherently unlikeable worries me. Feminism is such an integral part of who I am, and to have that be inherently unlikeable upsets me. I want people to understand the movement, and adopt it as part of their lives too. I want it to be inclusive and intersectional. I think the problem is that, because I believe so deeply in the movement, and I care so intensely about it, is that it colors everything I say. I truly have changed since becoming aware of social issues and feminism. I know more about the world now, and have changed my dialogue and everyday manner to fit this new awareness. Some people might have a problem with this change, because I’m no longer a timid little girl, afraid to share her opinion. Feminism has given me a voice. It’s given me a megaphone to share the things I have always believed in, but have never had a unifying name for.

Truthfully, I used to care what people thought of me. I still do, to some extent (I don’t want to unnecessarily offend or hurt someone), but since becoming a feminist and educating myself (becoming #woke, as many like to say) I have realized that being unlikeable means I have a voice. It means I’m voicing my opinion. I’m standing up and being counted. I am never going to sit back down, now that I’ve found my voice. So, call me unlikeable. I don’t see it as an insult- to me, it’s a compliment. I’m daring to speak out. And that’s pretty awesome.

Why We Can’t Just Call Feminism “Equality”

A friend of mine recently asked me, “Why can’t you just call feminism equality? It would make it easier for people to understand and support.” Truthfully, I sputtered and wasn’t quite able to give an eloquent answer, rather stating “You just can’t!” Not my proudest moment, I’m aware. I should have been able to give a better answer, but I was kind of shocked that someone would even question why we call it feminism. The entire history of humans is called “mankind,” so why on earth would someone take issue with a movement for gender equality being called feminism? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that we should never reduce feminism to just the simple term of “equality.” It is so much more complex and multi-layered than that.

What stood out to me in my friend’s statement is that it would make it “easier for people to understand and support.” The point of feminism is not to be easy. It is meant to be difficult. For me, a white woman, it means confronting the ways that society has given me advantages simply because of my race. It means confronting the fact that I am incredibly privileged, and have never experienced the awful reality of things such as police brutality, poverty, etc. It means often being the only voice in a room trying to talk about difficult topics. It means sometimes being made fun of, or called names. For a woman of color, it means fighting against an oppressive society designed to help whites and suppress black voices. For a transgender youth, it means struggling against a society that may not accept him or her. Feminism is not designed to be easy. It is not designed to be simple. It is a complex movement, designed to be intersectional. Everyone has their own take on feminism. Everyone applies it to their life in different ways. We cannot sum up such a complex idea in a neat little term like “equality.” To do so would be to diminish the very real strides that feminism has made for women all around the world.

Risk & Being Alive.

My father manages risk for a living. He looks at a stock, does a cost-and-benefit analysis, and advises people on where to put their money. His work has to do with finances, but this risk-averse nature is brought home. Whenever I want to jump into a new activity situation , my father always wants to analyze the risk involved and use all the data/statistics available. I have grown to hate this.

I don’t disagree with using statistics and data to do research. I believe they have their place in life. But I strongly disagree with letting risk stop me from doing something. While I’m not going to do something that will almost certainly hurt me with no possible reward (like driving without a seatbelt), I don’t believe in letting the presence of risk prevent me from an opportunity where there is a chance for a reward. I’m a strong proponent of “the greater the risk, the greater the reward.”

Before you think that this post is personal and has nothing to do with feminism, let me explain. I’ve adopted this “take the risk to get a great reward” approach to my feminism. When I first began to identify myself publicly as a feminist, I got a lot of pushback. My family told me that I wouldn’t ever be able to find a guy who would date a feminist, and I would lose friends for my strong beliefs. My friends thought I was crazy. But I wanted to express my beliefs, and guess what? I am still reaping the rewards. I have learned more about the world, and my eyes have been opened to so many different issues that I now feel incredibly passionate about. I have become a stronger, more impassioned debater and speaker, and I certainly have learned more about other cultures than I ever would have learned within the walls of my school.

The point I’m making here is that, with feminism, you often have to take a risk to get a reward. It’s a risk to express your views publicly, but you are met with a mostly open community, willing to help you learn. It’s a risk to educate yourself and perhaps learn some things that make you uncomfortable (ie; learning about privilege can make you feel guilty), but it makes you a better person. I’m advocating for a risky approach to feminism: Take the biggest risks you can take. You’ll never know if you can fly if you don’t take the leap.

Experiencing Feminist Burnout.

I am one of the most passionate feminists in my community. I will discuss issues at length with anyone who engages in debate with me. I spend hours writing this blog, reading my heavily feminist twitter feed, scrolling through Tumblr, and reading other feminist blogs. But sometimes people’s ignorance really gets to me.

I spend so. much. damn. time. explaining the same concept to people. Despite the numerous times I have tried to get my family to understand why they can no longer refer to Caitlin Jenner as Bruce Jenner (her pre-transition name), they continue to make jokes about her, referring to the reality TV star as a him, or making fun of her work advocating for transgender youth. It’s disheartening for me, when I can so clearly see that what they are doing is wrong, to see that my careful explaining and emailing of informative links is doing nothing.

Another example, this time an occasion where I came very close to losing my temper, was on a train with a friend. He repeatedly insisted that we don’t need feminism, and we should just call it equality. Not only that, but he shared his thoughts on how feminism is so annoying, and feminists are so loud and abrasive. I wanted to scream. I am loud because the opinions of feminism (that I am voicing) need to be heard! People like you need to read and educate yourselves! Keep in mind this guy is a white, cis, straight male. He is the epitome of privilege. This complete ignorance of numerous social issues just made me want to pull my hair out.

I don’t mean to make this all about me. Feminists everywhere have to deal with people misunderstanding the movement, making fun of them, shutting their beliefs down, and otherwise discrediting feminism. No one can possible correct every ignorant human being, no matter how much I desperately want to. That’s really hard for me to accept- I want to fight every fight. I want to debate with people for hours (and hours), and I do, but sometimes I just get exhausted. I have cried during debates with my family, not because they are personally attacking me (though sometimes they are), but because I am so sick of hearing the horribly ignorant things they say, like Donald Trump has good views on immigrants, or All Lives Matter (AAARRRGGHHHHH I hate even writing that phrase), or when they bring up black on black crime (which isn’t a thing). I consider myself well-educated (I’m entering my junior year of high school), but I have been reduced to stomping my feet and screaming in frustration when I cannot get through to someone (not in front of them though. In private.)

Even though I desperately want to right every social wrong, I physically can’t. I don’t have the emotional energy to correct every person who makes a rude, ignorant statement. As a feminist, I have to accept that I cannot single-handedly change every person’s views, no matter how much I want to. It’s really disheartening. But at the same time, if I can get even one person to change their views on something, I’ve made a minor improvement. I’ve taken a step forward. And that has to be enough.

How to be a Feminist in High School

Being a feminist in high school is admirable and wonderful. To be aware of the many issues plaguing society, and to want to help fight them is a great thing, but sometimes being a feminist in the sea of misogyny and sexism present at most high schools is tiring and downright shitty.

High school feminists have to face things like sexist dress codes, because the mere sight of a female’s shoulder or bra strap is just so distracting to those of the male persuasion that they will instantly lose all ability to focus and learn. Your peers will tell you that being a feminist is why you’re single, because having respect for women makes you a “man-hater”. You’ll have to listen to people slut-shame girls for having sex, or calling them prudes for choosing to wait. You’ll have to overhear rape jokes constantly, and when you try explain why they aren’t funny, people will be very confused. You’ll have to sit through sex-ed that only focuses on abstinence, instead of educating young people about healthy relationships and sex.

This post isn’t meant to discourage you from being a feminist. The fact is, most high schools are hostile environments for feminists, not only for the issues above, but also because there is a culture of silence around the issues plaguing women. Not many schools offer classes in women studies, nor do they have clubs for students to learn more about feminism. This lack of education contributes to the many misconceptions young people have about feminism, and spurs harmful stereotypes, like the beliefs that feminists are  “man-haters”  and “bra-burners.”

Since high schools don’t offer their students this education, take it upon yourself to learn about feminism. Seek out classes at local colleges, or summer programs. Read feminist literature (some good places to start are Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit and Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay.) Use the internet to your advantage- explore blogs written about feminism, like the FBomb and Feminist Culture. Look up TEDTalks that focus on women and gender equality, like this one by Jackson Katz. Give yourself the education that your high school won’t give you.

Even though choosing to be a feminist is difficult, it is a worthwhile struggle. And when someone tries to bring you down for being a feminist, remember these words from Kate Nash: “Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs or a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke, it means that you believe in equality.”

Debating as a Feminist.

I love debate. I love hearing other people’s viewpoints, ideas and beliefs. It expands my knowledge of the world, as well as increases my ability to think critically about my own beliefs. However, a recent debate about feminism specifically got me thinking about what it is actually like to debate as a feminist.

As soon as I make it known that I am a feminist, I am almost immediately hit with a barrage of statements against feminism. These vary from, “Feminism is just man-hating,” “well, I’m actually a meninist,” or, my personal favorite, “The wage gap doesn’t exist, therefore feminism is full of crap.” (Clearly, I’m paraphrasing here). The fact is, feminism carries a bad rap. Some argue that the movement should not even exist. In the majority of my experiences, the people arguing this have been white cisgender males. Let me tell you why this is extremely problematic.

Feminism exists because, in our current state of affairs, gender equality simply does not exist. This is indisputable. Currently, we have more women heading to college than men, which is a significant change from even a decade ago. However, globally, women are much more likely to be illiterate; worldwide, 75% of the more than 855 million illiterate adults are women. This is often attributed to the fact that some cultures do not believe in the importance of educating women. Another example of how gender inequality is still rampant is that primary responsibility for child care, domestic work and caring for elders still falls on women. While women should be able to choose if that is something they want to do or not, the point of feminism is giving women the choice. If the pervasive cultural attitude is that housework and childcare are female jobs, it prevents women from having the choice to fulfill those roles or not fulfill those roles.

An argument commonly used against feminists is that we promote lies. The most common one referenced is the wage gap. I’ve encountered many men, and some women, who claim that feminists have “made up” the wage gap to bolster their “man-hating regime.” While the wage gap may not be as wide as it used to be- a common number referenced is 78 cents- it is still an issue. Pew Research estimates that women earn 84% of what men earn. Based on their estimate, women would have to work a year and 40 days to earn what a man earns in a single calendar year. There is validity to the argument that perhaps this wage gap stems from what jobs women are choosing compared to the jobs men choose. However, this is also an example of gender inequality in the workforce. Women are the members of society who get pregnant. Because it is not yet required by law to provide paid maternity leave, women are often forced, out of necessity, to take jobs with fewer working hours or not work at all in order to care for the children. Even if the male in the relationship is willing to care for the children, the woman still has to take time off to have the child, as many places of business have rules about how far along a woman can be in her pregnancy before she has to stop working. Without paid maternity leave, their jobs might not be waiting for them when they come back. This job insecurity often contributes to women’s job choices.

The problem extends even further back than that. It is physically impossible for a male to get pregnant. So, if a teenage girl gets pregnant, the male has no obligation to provide for her or the child. The woman is the one that suffers, as more than 50% of teen mothers never graduate from high school. Furthermore, less than 2% of teen moms earn a college degree by age 30. This lack of education severely affects the job opportunities available to the mother and the money she can make. Individuals who do not have a high school degree make approximately $19,000 a year. Raising a child from birth to the age of $18 costs $245,340, so per year, it costs $13,630. That leaves a young mother with very few job prospects, a child to raise, and only $5,370 to pay taxes, groceries, bills and any other expenses. The wage gap exists because there are indisputable facts about each gender that change the opportunities available to them. Obviously, there are multiple factors that also play into pay differences, but the fact is being a woman often gives you a disadvantage, simply because you are biologically capable of getting pregnant.

The fact is, while feminism has moved gender equality forward leaps and bounds, we have in no way achieved gender equality. The concept of privilege exists because certain people are afforded with positive beliefs about them, simply because of their innate characteristics. Who has the most privilege in society? White cisgender males. As the most privileged, they cannot comprehend the social inequalities in the way that people actually experiencing them would. This is not to say that they can’t be understanding, or can’t be helpful in changing the status quo, but they do not have the right to deny the existence of gender inequality as they have never been the victims of a system that oppresses women. If you are in a position of privilege, you do not have to feel guilty for the privilege that society affords you. You have an obligation to educate yourself and others about social inequality, and fight to end it.