When do you poke someone and mention that you’re a feminist?
On the bus!
The last time I ended up telling someone I’m a feminist was on a bus ride to Oregon. She was asking what my plans were, and I told her I was travelling to record a feminism podcast with my friend, who is a woman. I always will be asked the gender of who I’m recording with, so I try to lead with that information to avoid the image of a white man telling women how to think. She was delighted, and, at age twenty-eight, told me I was the first male who identified as a feminist. She explained that she was from Alabama, but that not all Alabamans were sexist. She pointed out that sometimes declaring yourself as a feminist can close a door, because people have a stereotype in their head of an angry person decrying all men when so many virtuous men exist. We talked about Emma Watson’s HeforShe movement. For those who don’t know, HeforShe is an open invitation for men to join the conversation about gender equality throughout the world, it’s a push to get everyone to sit down and work towards a common philosophy of equality. My bus riding companion thought it sounded like an excellent middle ground for men and women to meet up.
I’m lucky that several of my coworkers identify as feminists. I’ve had the great experience of hanging out with one of my friends from work when his phone alarm went off.
“Guys, it’s 9:30 in the evening!” He said.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s for my girlfriend’s birth control.” He explained. “Just because it’s not my body doesn’t mean it isn’t my responsibility.”
My thought was: Hell yes. What a great mantra. Just because it’s not my body doesn’t mean it isn’t my responsibility. Just because it isn’t my gender being oppressed doesn’t mean it’s not my responsibility. Just because it isn’t my race being oppressed doesn’t mean it’s not my responsibility. It was a great moment.
Of course, not everything is sunshine and roses. This week, as the pop culture reveals of Shia LeBeouf coming forward and saying he was raped, and several women came forward and reported that Bill Cosby raped them, the two were linked in several jokes until I just told people it was time to change the subject because it wasn’t funny. We had a good discussion, and I feel like my coworkers listened to me, which is a sign of how lucky I am to work with the people I work with. Still though, the next day, again, after another off color joke that hinged on rape, I explained again that shit like that just wasn’t funny.
One of my female coworkers deadpanned, “You mean jokes about rape just aren’t funny?”
Damn right they aren’t.
Moment of Silence
Today, I went out for breakfast with my girlfriend. She’s great. In case you were wondering. We’re out, waiting for our menus and food to arrive. The two men next to us are loud, but it’s not really a problem. One of them is complaining about the inability of the younger generation to understand the art of The Goonies, The Never Ending Story, and Star Wars. At first, it’s just a conversation about a late twenty-something having an early midlife crisis, but then changes, when suddenly there’s a woman he’s talking about who just keeps calling Star Wars “stupid.” His response?
“All she does is talk about Pinterest while I’m trying to engage with culture from other decades. If she mentions Pinterest again I’m going to slam her head into her computer screen.” Sounds like he’s missing out on our current culture and how preaching violence against women is an asshole move. Or maybe he’s more in touch with our current culture than I am, it’s hard to tell.
The hard part for me, was that it’s difficult to butt into a stranger’s conversation and say “Hey, I’m really concerned about the women in your life based on the violent disposition your speech indicates you have towards them. Also, as there are at least ten women in your immediate vicinity, I can’t help but worry that they, as well as me, probably don’t feel very safe just by your presence.” There doesn’t seem to be any polite way to communicate that without causing a scene, so my girlfriend and I contented ourselves to disgusted looks and pretending to jab silverware into our ears.
I just started reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I know, there’s a ton of hype around it, and so far all it’s doing is reminding me of Moby Dick, which I like to read, but can put down easily. Anyway, there was a part in the narrative that sat up and screamed theme at me. The scene takes place after several men explain why they stayed silent while another culture was massacred:
“As many truths as men. Occasionally, I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach, it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent.”
I like this line, because it points to a deeper problem in our culture, where there are often problems pointed out without solutions.
Glad you asked. One of my friends on Facebook recently pointed out that a bunch of the articles I share just point to things men should stop doing. While I like to think most of my friends, regardless of gender, are capable of reading articles that I don’t think are inflammatory without becoming defensive, I think she has a point about positive reinforcement and positive asks. A few good actions that men can take are:
Often times the temptation is to point out that we aren’t the ones at fault. It can work better to validate what is being said by others, and accept their experience at face value. This can be hard, especially if it feels like you are personally being attacked, but once the step is taken to be a supporter, the smoke clears and that feeling will go away. I promise.
Remember social context
My friends at work, when they say things that I find to be problematic, are basically never trying to condone rape, sexual assault, or even catcalling. If asked directly, I am confident they would all say those acts are reprehensible. However, many statements still carry the weight of societal context behind them. For example, one time I went out for a doughnut with a friend. Our server was a woman, and, after she left, he leaned in and said “Man, wouldn’t you like to bounce on her belly?” My reaction was just to say that the comment was inappropriate. This person and I make several sex jokes on a regular basis, but they rarely go beyond ourselves or other friends who are in on the joke and expressed their comfort with them. Putting the joke outside the boundaries of our friendship and social circle perpetuates the objectification of women as sex objects. At that point, it’s a Yoda-esque pathway towards worse and worse sexism. If women are sex objects, and objects have no will or personal desire, then having sex with these objects at any time would be okay. It makes me cringe writing that, and hopefully you cringed reading it, but that’s the logical conclusion that can be made by making sex jokes or catcalling women.
If you feel like your question can be answered by a Google search, maybe try that first. It could end up giving you an even more thoughtful perspective, and maybe give you an idea for some extra reading! I know Audre Lorde, and the book The Bridge Called My Back are both on my to read list.
Obviously, I don’t always know how to do this, especially with the example today of a man telling his friend how he wanted to smash a woman’s skull in. Sometimes it might not be safe to speak up, but, like being an ally and supporter, the more often you do this, the easier it gets. As Watson mentions in her HeforShe speech, change is riots and revolutions, but it is also the little victories. Anything helps.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you know everything, and it’s easy to feel attacked when challenged with a new thought. If those feelings of defensiveness can be put on hold so that – connection to number one – you can listen to understand, and then listen to respond, it can result in a more fulfilling and two sided conversation where both people come out the better for it.
So, there it is. I’m a feminist. I mess it up, and don’t always do it right, but hell, I’m going to keep doing it.