(I wrote this back at the beginning of the year. I was waiting to post it until I’d written its Feminism & Fairy Tales follow-up post but haven’t been able to get to it, for health reasons. We’ll see if I pull it off later. Meanwhile, I should actually post this before the year’s up….)
So, the topic came up and so I decided to write it all out, as that’s easier for me than trying to come up with sound-byte style pithy spoken statements to address all the concerns about feminism, what it is, and whether or not feminists are manhaters.
The short answer is no, feminists as a whole haven’t hated men (they’re evil, don’t marry them, don’t sleep with them, etc.) since the feminist wave in the 60s, but you have to remember what the 60s feminists were reacting to and pushing up against. But I’m not going to go into the history of feminism and feminists here. The only thing I can really speak to are my own experiences. So. The shorter answer is no, I don’t hate men.
Now for the longer answer: how I became a feminist.
Stage 1: “I believe in the power of women but I’m not a feminist.”
I grew up really privileged to have a father who is kind, thoughtful, reflective, humble–but also compassionate, patient, intuitive, and empathetic. Even though the chores around the house and yard were mostly split along traditional gender-role lines, my father not only embodies a lot of personality traits that society has delegated to women, but he was always open to watching things like chick flicks, reading the female-led books I practically shoved in his hands growing up, and whenever I expressed opinions about the world he listened and responded to me as an equal. I also saw how my mom was allowed to pursue her goals, to become a professional on her own terms and timing.
I thought the whole world must be like this. And, if the whole world is like this, where traditionally feminine things are given equal value to traditional male ones, then the world clearly had no need for Feminism and Feminists. One of the things I have always disliked is when people complain about their blessings, or complain just to complain, irregardless of whether or not the thing actually needs improvement, and that’s what I thought feminists did.
That’s not to say that the world I actually lived in was perfect. But it does mean that I ignored all the imperfections, just “letting boys be boys” or “men be men,” because it was easier to deal with a lot of the ways I was treated or the misogynist things I experienced by not dealing with them or confronting them at all. Plus, I was told over and over that feminists are only really adamant about things like “equal pay for equal work,” but I didn’t know anyone who’d ever earned less than a man. But more on this later.
Stage 2: Too many dramatic, eye-opening experiences.
This attitude of mine continued for many years, even through many unpleasant experiences, until finally in 2009-2010 I reached saturation point. I finally had enough. I could no longer deny my own experiences and observations.
In 2009 I started living and volunteering in Armenia. Now, Armenia is a place where bride-kidnapping is an accepted cultural norm, (though not necessarily a wanted one). To demonstrate, let me give you a few slices of life.
-From my first week or so there, I got to deal with an insistent man/stalker trying to follow us home. Luckily I’m tall and can be very intimidating, but it was the first in a long series of varied incidents over the year+ I lived there. Leering drunks, stalkers, unwanted propositions and proposals, kidnapping threats, harassment at home, etc., etc. And I had it so much easier than most of the other female volunteers because I’m tall, curve-less, not super blonde, and I cut my hair boyishly short.
-The words we heard used for “kidnap” and the word for “elope” are the same word in Armenian. The excuse I heard was that getting married requires an “expensive” license, though I never found out how much it actually costed and whether or not it was expensive because it wasn’t free.
But this concept of kidnapping and eloping meaning the same thing meant that once, when we’d heard a girl had had this done to her, we had to track her down to figure out whether or not it was voluntary–it was. She felt that it was her only way to get married, and so she took being kidnapped as a compliment.
But I remember clearly the day I innocently asked a young mother at a dinner I’d been invited to how she and her husband had met/married, and she told me the story point-blank that “He asked me to marry him, I said ‘no,’ he asked me again, I said ‘no,’ so he kidnapped me.” And since once you were married you become touched, spoiled goods culturally and can never marry again, she’d resigned herself to it like so many women before her.
To add to this underlying horror, I met a man who bragged about the women he’d chloroformed and helped kidnap for his friends. And on television, soap operas often portrayed women being kidnapped–but with the happy ending of being rescued by their fathers and brothers.
However, the woman I know of who was rescued by her father from kidnapping is now culturally shunned because even though she wasn’t raped yet no one would believe her word on that.
-Changing to a less dramatic example, in Armenia women are not allowed/encouraged to drive. Female drivers are… extremely extremely rare. And few women sit up front/ride shotgun.
-Extended families often live together, and these dynamics can be… really eye-opening, as well. Daughters-in-law are the lowest in rank and treated like servants doing the housework for everyone while the matron sits back, her reward for doing her duty to her own mother-in-law when she was young. The men laze about as well, going off to drink and play games with their friends, minus the single father-figure who provides for the family. However, it wasn’t just the work-sharing dynamics that felt off. We also encountered too many men who beat their women, including sons beating their mothers–I even knew young, five year old sons beating on their mothers who were allowed to get away with it, as if it were “expected.”
This isn’t to say that everyone in Armenia was like this, because they’re not. I met good men in Armenia and good women and functioning families with tender relationships. I mean no disrespect towards these good men and women living like candles in a much darker world, nor to all the families who live surrounded by these things and are strong enough not to participate in them.
But my point here is that I was also exposed to a lot of extreme, dramatic examples of this dysfunctional relationship between men and women on a cultural whole, and I can’t deny that.
(And you know what? It doesn’t matter that the people who made me hit my saturation point and opened my eyes were Armenian. There are sectors of every culture and society where the disparity is frankly rather obvious.)
Stage 3: Once I saw and acknowledged the dramatic examples, I began to see the subtle.
After living surrounded by men not respecting women in dramatic, rotten ways, my whole perspective changed. I began to pick up on the subtler trends I’d encountered all my life that I’d previously ignored. For example,
-how I learned quickly in elementary school that boys would flip my skirt to see my underwear unless I wore shorts beneath.
-anything girly or feminine was “stupid” or “boring” or “silly” unless a boy liked it too (pink was only cool because Michael proudly/defiantly loved hot pink)
-I began to hide my love of ballet and instead talk more of jazz and tap to my friends.
-I eventually gave up skirts and became a rough-housing tomboy because those aspects of myself were far more acceptable than my more feminine half.
-I loved and could identify with books/films with male protagonists but none of my guy friends ever gave girl-led books the time of day, and though this made me feel sad and often lonely, I dismissed the feeling every time: they were boys, they didn’t have to like the stuff I liked, even if I liked their stuff.
-Once I hit high school and started working at Sears, I was often sexually harassed. My body and its sexiness–or lack thereof–was often put on display, talked about, and ridiculed by my coworkers and the store’s patrons, both male and female. Then, whenever I worked in the hardware section, I dealt with customers often disrespecting my knowledge of the tools we sold, where they were, what they did, what they were called. These things hurt me, but I dismissed them all as “expected.”
-Then I hit college and that opened a whole new can of worms. The most awful was how when I would tell people “no” or “stop” they wouldn’t. My no’s meant nothing. “No that hurts me” became a phrase to laugh at or mock or dismiss, not take seriously. I realized I was just a body, a receptacle, an object, a bystander. My feelings and wants meant less than a man’s, no matter the situation–I won’t go into them here. You will just have to take my word for it. Can you?
-I counted and realized that 10+ of my female friends had been raped by people they knew, including family members. I counted the number up several years ago, and since then I’ve met more.
-While in college I had fellow students (both men and women) tell me that 1) women are terrible writers they should stop writing books, 2) women could never learn to be fluent in another language they should just stop trying so hard, 3) women aren’t as smart as men. And yes, THIS IS THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. I also had a professor mock women who make money off their hobbies as part of our class discussion, to enthusiastic agreement, specifically mocking mothers who write books while raising children. I stood up to him and called him out on it, and he later ended up hiring me, but still. Too many incidents.
-My grandpa often tried to correct my driving. Not in the “oops you made a mistake” way but in the “you can’t possibly know how to drive well, you’re a young woman, so I’d better tell you everything you need to do” way.
-All the anti-woman jokes. As an example, an uncle once made a “let’s us men sit in the front and keep women in their backseat place” joke that I let him know was not funny. Y’know, considering all the men I’d encountered who fully believe that, not just 50% believe it. Because if no part of him believed it, the joke never would have occurred to him.
-All the times I’ve participated in a discussion and my opinions are dismissed (by a man), and then the only topic they want to know about/from me is whether or not I have a boyfriend.
-All the entertainment about women we take for granted and that persists in popularity. Like Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing that was turned into a popular Joss Whedon movie in 2012. Watch that, but picture every dynamic about the female leads being real, because it was, and still in the world that is.
-I got a bunch of 1950s comedies for us to watch when I was taking care of Grandma. 1950s are supposed to be the golden age of clean, wholesome entertainment. But what I saw instead, with all these experiences behind me, was the stand-up comedian joking non-stop about inane women and women’s work and women’s lives; the comedy duo arguing about who gets the gorgeous, personality-less girl who cleans up after them, makes them food, cleans their clothes, and does their housework; Annie Get Your Gun that changed history to an ending where she gives up her career so that a man doesn’t have to compare himself to her anymore. Needless to say we only watched a few before I had to put it all away for both our sakes.
So, What is Feminism?
Feminism is not about man-hating. It’s recognizing the trend that on the whole, women are still treated like they’re a step beneath men, that feminine is valued less than masculine, that a woman’s word is valued less than a man’s, that women are still objectified, that women’s voices and stories are given less representation, and so on.
As an example of women being treated as less than men, think of the disparity between women reading books and watching films with lead male protagonists written by male writers vs. men reading books and films by women with female protagonists. Why is there a disparity? How are male characters seen as universal or a default but female characters are seen as specific and niche or deliberate? Why do boys see “girly” stories as “beneath them” or uninteresting? We’re just as interesting and just as human as boys. But the inequality is at the subconscious, cultural level.
As an example of how culturally “feminine” things are seen as a taint to be avoided at all costs, look at the trend of naming. When girls are given boys names it feels like a step up, like they have something to prove to those above, that they’re being edgy and cool. But then once that “boy” name is given to a girl, it can’t be used for a boy anymore. It’s tainted, it’s girly and gross and the boy will be mocked forevermore if he’s given a girl name. This is proof that women are treated like something less. If women were valued and honored, then having a girl’s name would be a blessing for a boy, not a curse. It would be cool and edgy and unique, too.
As an example of how culturally women’s word is valued less than a man’s, look at the story of Cassandra–the prophetess who spoke the truth but wasn’t believed–versus the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the boy who lied again and again but was continually believed despite proof from the beginning he was a liar. These two stories keep replaying themselves in life. I keep encountering stories in the news about women who are raped but how their rapist is given the benefit of the doubt, not them. She isn’t believed, and if she was drunk then she was “inviting” it. Being devalued is just expected. A man’s reputation is by default protected over the woman’s.
As an example of how women are objectified culturally, let’s take a brief look at how we teach modesty in conservative communities. We’re taught that women need to cover up to protect men from seeing things that might give them lusty thoughts. In other words, it’s the woman’s job to protect a man from himself, and that whatever she’s wearing is at fault, that a piece of clothing or lack thereof is a provocation. But arousal is more complicated than that. Sight-based arousal is as much about what you’re used to seeing as what you’re not used to seeing, so what arouses a man will vary from community to community and from man to man, thereby making it impossible for a woman to protect all men from themselves. I’ve also learned that wearing “too much” clothing is as “provoking” as wearing too little, to further add to the impossible job of man-protecting. I’ve been propositioned, cat-called and wolf-whistled and shouted advice at in all kinds of clothes and situations and cultures. But the point is, it all comes down to being taught that my body is not my own but belongs to the eyes of the beholder, specifically to male eyes. And people wonder why there is such a huge problem with pornography addictions in conservative communities…. Mental boundaries are not taught about anything except respecting the bodies of your sister, your mother, your daughter. (And even then….)
As an example of how women’s voices are given less representation culturally, I’ll briefly mention the 70/30 principle. The principle states that when we “feel that women and men are given equal representation, that in fact it’s not a 50/50 split but a 70 male/30 female percentage split, and when it’s actually a 50/50 split then we feel like women are dominating or taking everything over.” Andrea K. Höst recently counted up all the male and female characters in a book she wrote that she thought she’d skewed to lean female as an experiment. You can see the interesting results here. Related to that, the Washington Post just published an article studying male/female ratios of dialogue and dialogue content in Disney princess movies. The results might surprise you.
Though I’m trying to stay away from statistics, since numbers can be easily gathered then twisted to say whatever you want them to, I think both of these links provide good examples of the trend. One prominent female character generally “needs” to be balanced out by a lot of men in order for us to feel comfortable.
thedatingfeminist said on Tumblr: “Feminism didn’t teach me to hate men, but it did teach me to stop prioritizing them over women. And it turns out a lot of men think that’s the same thing as hatred.”
Why is Feminism important for everyone, not just women?
Assigning traits like compassion and intuition, colors like pink and purple, occupations like child-carer, careers like fashion or elementary school teacher, and interests like self-care and health to women and then simultaneously valuing them as “less” hurts and limits everyone. It puts people in boxes and devalues anyone, male or female, who is compassionate, who likes pink, who stays at home to raise kids, who wants to teach children, who is interested in living healthily, and so on. It also builds resentment and adds to the burden, if your partner simultaneously devalues housework as “women’s work” and also as “too hard” and “not my problem.”
I have heard young men complain over and over again about women being “too hard to understand”or “too hard to date” who don’t read books written by women with female protagonists. I can promise you that once you start seeing women as people, with stories of equal value and interest, the quality of your relationships with women will go up.
I have also heard lots of men complain about women’s tendency to be passive aggressive. But…they rarely ever stop to think how women, as a whole, got that way. If nothing you say is listened to, believed, or matters, then you’ll find ways to express yourself in a backhanded, backwards, upside-down manner. If all the women in your life can’t speak to you directly, then maybe you should ask yourself if you’re the problem. Trust me, I hate it when I’m blocked into being passive aggressive about my thoughts and wishes, too.
There’s another angle to passive aggressive-ness that I should mention, and that is that women are often forced to use it as a defense mechanism. Women can find themselves stuck in situations where denying a man can either lead to a dangerous repercussion (such as being kidnapped or killed) or on the more day-to-day level, disagreeing with a man can lead to his rage, offense, or hurt. He may see it as his authority being questioned, his opinion being set down, his self-esteem belittled because this woman-creature beneath him dared to disagree or hold her own inconvenient opinion as his equal. When you have to protect someone else’s ego in order to survive from day-to-day, it’s really hard to consistently say what you think to whoever holds the power.
As for how feminism is needed in religious communities, think about the traits you say are “divinely delegated to women” and which are “divinely delegated to men” and then ask yourself if your very masculine, father-figure God is kind, merciful, compassionate, nurturing, loving, intuitive, empathetic, and emotional. If you’re a man who believes that you’re incapable of nurturing–or that it’s somehow beneath you–because that trait wasn’t given to you but to women then think again. Please. For all our sake. (You will note that even though women are taught that we are emotional nurturers from birth, that we still often seek to develop stereotypically/”divine” masculine traits like courage, strength, foresight, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, leadership, stoicism, fortitude).
And last but not least, to the men in my life who are compassionate, intuitive, patient, understanding, thoughtful and considerate but find themselves walked over, made fun of, or verbally and emotionally abused by women or men for possessing these “weaker” aka “feminine” traits, then feminism is definitely for you. Because, at its core, it is about respecting all of human nature, and finding value in all of its goodness.
The Political and Corporate Side to Feminism.
Feminism is an ethical and social-consciousness battle rather than a political battle, first and foremost. So I’m not going to spend very much time on corporate or political topics such as equal pay or equal work and the legislative battles there. However, I should say that, due to the efforts of feminists, laws allowing women’s right to vote and laws against domestic abuse exist. Legally, the definition of rape and sexual abuse didn’t include abuse within marriage until the 70s/80s. It was not legally possibly in the United States to sexually abuse someone if you were married to them, before.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in arguments about whether or not women are paid less or whether or not companies pass over women when hiring, and use those arguments to oversimplify and then dismiss everything feminism is asking for. But you should always remember: if someone tells you about their own personal experiences, you should give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to them. Being skeptical and wanting to wait for more evidence is allowed, but never dismiss someone’s experiences out of hand.
All this is to say —
Feminism is about seeing the trends of inequality between men and women and about how this trend hurts all of us, both men and women. It’s not about subjugating or hating on men. Observing and pointing out trends is not hatred. Asking to be treated with respect and equal value is not suppression of male voices. (Though I do agree with the insight that the men who are afraid of being oppressed or losing their current male privileges and unquestioned voice are generally afraid of being treated like women already are).
An Apology to my Friends.
I want to formally apologize to my girl-friends who tried to convince me of the need for feminism before I finally hit saturation point for myself. There was a lot I didn’t see because of my home-life, and a lot I didn’t see because I didn’t want to. I also want to apologize to my friends who confided in me how little their husbands respect their opinions/words/experiences and how I blew you off, too, choosing to take your husband’s side automatically and instinctively. I still cringe whenever I think about how I treated you. I didn’t think. I’m sorry.
Next up: Feminism and Fairy Tales.
(I delayed posting this because I wanted to write a follow-up blog entry about feminist expression within fairy tales, but this year has been hard health-wise so I’m not sure when/if it will get done.)