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.