You ever been to what could have been an amazing party- drinks flowing, nice little hors d’oeuvres, great DJ, swanky space- but hardly anyone shows up? That’s how I feel about feminism sometimes. The persons responsible for putting the party together are great, but maybe some of the promoters could use a little help in getting the word out…

OK. Enough of my bad analogy for now. You get the picture, right? Great.

Whenever I tell someone I’m a feminist (or when they somehow deduct that fact from something I’ve said), the reaction more often than not involves some remark about how I don’t fit “the stereotype”. I wear makeup, shave pretty much anything that can be shaved and I heart boys. And I say things like “I heart boys.” I do those things because I like doing them and I can and that’s essentially what feminism is all about: empowering women to do what they please in a world that is safe and provides women with the same value and rights as men enjoy. I promise you, that’s it. There’s no secret plot for global female domination, no plans to sequester men off on some island somewhere or to make them our minions. We don’t even feel the need to give them a taste of the same oppression and maltreatment we’ve experienced on the basis of gender.

You’re welcome, fellas.

For all the talk of the “stereotypical man hating feminist,” I’ve come across far more women who have loving, healthy relationships with men as individuals and as a concept, be these women gay, straight, old, young, Black, White, etc. The irrational, spiteful feminist has been allowed to become the dominant image of feminism in the minds of many because that best suits the needs of the patriarchy. Same as terrorists who happen to be Muslim have been used to illustrate Islam, or as Black Nationalists have been depicted as bitter, misinformed haters of all White people. A mission, movement or ideology should not be defined by its most fanatical members, but instead, those who best uphold its tenets.

That said, there are women who identify as feminists who can be somewhat to wholly irrational in the way in which they attempt to spread the gospel of feminine equality and those individuals do us all a disservice. I think it’s less a matter of spite or bitterness than it is poor reasoning at times. There are instances of blatant woman hate that call for vociferous anger (rape, abuse, willful discrimination in the workplace, for example). But there are also times in which sexism occurs due to a lack of understanding, societal condoning and pure ignorance.

It’s unreasonable to be surprised by sexist behavior (on the part of men AND women), when you live in a sexist society that sustains itself on sexism. And while that doesn’t reduce the need for pure outrage in certain situations, we feminists would do better to react in ways that encouraged people to listen and consider adopting some of our ideals. If you were teaching a person who had never taken an algebra class and they failed to comprehend a complicated equation, you wouldn’t say “God, you are just so f*cking stupid! You don’t know anything!” Well, for the average person, the exposure to feminist thought has been slim to none. And if even women who have been told “You have much to gain by embracing this school of thought” reject feminism, imagine the amount of prodding with which a typical man needs to even consider a school of thought that essentially says “Your position of power in this world is unjust and unearned. Are you willing to give that up?” AND then imagine that you’re a Black man and you believe that you occupy one of the lowest positions in society to begin with. Not exactly an easy sell.

If you’ve ever attempted to discuss race with a White person who had yet to have the realization that even those of them who feel they ‘aren’t racist’ are both privileged and subconsciously biased on the basis of race, then you can imagine how challenging the sale of feminist thought can be. And if a non-feminist person has only experienced exposure to the school of thought by someone who was intolerant, unreasonable and angry with their approach, their willingness to buy-in is likely to be non-existent. If you want someone to consider something new, you have to make plain the value it has to their lives and to the world around them.

This wasn’t the easiest lesson in the world for me and, well, I’m still learning. When I present someone with what I feel to be very clear evidence of sexism (or racism or colorism or…) and they refuse to acknowledge it, at times I can’t help but to think “Well, you’re just f*cking stupid and you’re holding us all back.” But by verbalizing that, I’m not really helping anyone. And what may look like ‘stupid’ to me is simply a difference in ideology that maybe I’m not smart enough to break down or challenge myself.

However, while we should ensure that our approach is respectable, reasonable and palatable as possible, that doesn’t mean that we need to bake cookies and twirl our hair in the face of unrepentant sexists. There are folks our here who are beyond reason and being a good spirited feminist does NOT mean befriending woman haters. But if we are mindful of the ways we approach those out there who haven’t taken on our cause célèbre we may find that we have more potential allies than foes after all.

46 Comments

  1. Bee Gomez

    “Well, for the average person, the exposure to feminist thought has been slim to none. ”

    The average 6 year old maybe. There are people alive today who remember when women couldn’t have their own bank accounts. While you make some good points, there’s a whole lot of generalization going on.

    “the US is a sexist, racist, homophobic, heterosexist, ableist, oppressive society and that they have internalized the lessons of that society.”

    You’d be amazed at how many people, both men and women, are able to ignore the less attractive aspects of the allegedly dominant culture. This means you don’t have to believe everything you hear in class, read on the internets or see on TV.

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  2. ThirdGradeFeminist

    Awesome post. I think one of the most difficult problems for any non-dominant group is the inclusion of a more dominant group that doesn’t understand its struggles. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from women, people in the queer community, POCs, etc. about having to educate people outside their group. It’s truly a burden and a lot of times, the outside party doesn’t get it. That’s why the language of alliances is so important. Feminism needs more male champions; it shouldn’t be “just a Women’s issue.”

    On the other hand, striking a balance between inclusion and providing a support community/safe space is tricky. I went to a women’s college and work in tech and it was an incredible experience to have my introduction to what is a male-dominated field be in an all-female environment. It highlights for me the gender-constructive impediments to women in my profession. Explaining to outsiders – even other women – why it’s such a unique and worthwhile experience to have spent time in an environment where you are the majority, where your opinion matters, where issues that are endemic to your community are the main topic of conversation and are respected, is a burden, yes, but it opens a dialogue. We can’t expect men to automatically understand what it’s like to feel like you’re constantly underestimated on account of your ostensible membership in a non-dominant community.

    This is even more important for an issue like race (specifically, being Black), where the notion of what defines a given community is fragmented. My college had a group for Black students and it was always a point of contention because membership required being superficially connected to the Black experience. On the one hand, this meant that there was a safe space and a structured community for Black women to have support from peers who had similar experiences. On the other hand, White students complained every year that they weren’t allowed to join and some Black students got flack for not joining. It’s a tough balance between providing community support without having to explain to outsiders what the issue is or put up with assumptions and looking exclusive or intolerant.

    To the outside world, a Feminist looks like a privileged White woman. This isn’t to bash the experience of privileged White women – it is also difficult to live in a cage of perceived privilege and have complaints of discrimination viewed as shrill whines. I’ve found that White women do an abysmal job of supporting each other and anecdotally believe that support for other women is marginally better in minority groups because it’s easier (and culturally encouraged) to recognize similarities. White women tend to discount their shared experiences and believe that there is no such thing as White culture because it’s imbued in their every day experiences. They can’t see it because there’s little in their every day lives with which to contrast it. Add to that class issues and you have a whole mess of conflicted feelings and alliances.

    Obviously there are other identities I’m not discussing that have different dynamics. I’m new to this site and look forward to reading more about these issues.

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    • ThirdGradeFeminist

      Also, I read this and posted before checking out the website (followed a link to another article from feministing.com), so sorry if the post sounds very Jezebel-y.

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  3. Weber

    Excellent article! Thank you for tackling the male’s perspective as well. We know both parties are responsible for judgement based on extremists. (“All men are potential rapists”, “Feminists want to oppress men”), so it’s important to tackle them as a separate entity.

    It’s also my personal opinion that most of the issues feminists tackle may be runoff from core male issues.

    For instance, from a social perspective, many guys are belittled, beaten, and humiliated for not “meeting the level” of other guys. The abusers do the same thing to women, where it is then called sexist. However, these men are attacking within our gender as well, if not more so.

    For every girl I know who has been beaten up, I know about 5 guys who have dealt with the same. Rape, on the other hand reverses this, I know far more raped women than men. I believe homophobia may be (to some degree) responsible for this bias.

    There’s a lot of stigma about what a male should or shouldn’t be. When it goes too far against our own nature, it creates a ton of tension, like a rubber band about to snap. To me, the fact that men dominate the crime scene shouldn’t be treated as evidence that “men are the problem”, as some would say. I think it shows more that the biggest issues may be targeting the male gender. I guess it’s like this: “If the owner kicks the dog, the dog will bite the visitors.” I’m writing so much about this because I feel the importance of men’s issues is critical to the safety of all, so gender equality will need more than a “women are the only victims” perspective.

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