#HeForShe: Yes, I Am A Feminist
For a while, I was really hesitant to call myself a feminist.
Not because I dismissed the idea of feminism or the cause of feminism or the history that is baked into the movement — but because I didn’t feel like it was a title that I had earned. I didn’t feel like it was my space to share. I didn’t feel like a very good feminist, really — I got things wrong then, still get them wrong now. I still possess the privilege that comes with being male and sometimes that means my privilege blinds me to behaviors or language that can be hurtful (not merely offensive, which I accept and embrace, but hurtful, which by my mileage works to diminish and damage others). And so it felt a bit fakey-fakey, like I was a heathen in a church pulpit, a meat-eater at a vegan restaurant. I thought, oh, you’ve actually struggled with the mantle of feminism. Me, it’s no struggle at all. I can waltz in, put on the hat and the nametag, give a couple of thumbs-up and boom, FEMINIST. It costs me nothing. It’s so easy. Too easy.
I was more comfortable calling myself an ally, then — as if I was a member of another nation entirely willing to support your nation’s coalition. “Yes, of course I’ll vote for that,” I say from my mountaintop lair at in the capital of Mansylvania. “Please place your feminist agenda in front of me and I will rubber-stamp it. Whatever you need, please, consider me your ally.”
But that’s horseshit, really.
Not the part where I support feminism, but the part where I consider myself separate from it.
Because of course I’m not separate from it. (And this is where I ask you to forgive those dudes who suddenly figure it out by extending their empathy to those women around them — mothers, daughters, wives. This is their first step into realizing that they’re not separate, that they’re part of it. Be gentle with them and give them time to see that it’s not just about their own family and friends but extends out to everybody, to all women. Empathy is not always immediate and far-reaching, and sometimes it starts with those closest to you.)
Emma Watson gave a resonant, heart-struck speech about feminism at the UN (the entire text of that speech can be found here), and made it very clear that gender inequality was an issue for men, too. She threaded the inequalities that affect men into the inequalities women face, and made feminism an overall human issue. Feminism through that lens isn’t just about being pro-woman, but also about correcting the overall imbalance — because though men have privilege, the wibbly-wonky gender imbalance affects men, too.
(Disproportionately, I’ll add, which is why it’s still called feminism.)
The correction of the imbalance isn’t about bringing men down, but lifting women up.
So, let’s just put this right here:
I am a feminist.
Not just an ally — though, I am that, too. But a feminist.
Not always a perfect one. Certainly not the one you asked for. But here I am.
I think it’s also worth noting that these are the things I believe about women and feminism:
I think that when Emma Watson offers what is ostensibly the most male-inclusive version of feminism we have yet seen, that she’ll still have her outfit critiqued, she’ll still have threats against her (some of which are apparently a marketing hoax made believable because of the toxic realities behind women speaking up for themselves), and there will still be a countermovement called #SheForHe (which is itself tied into the Women Against Feminism movement, which is a movement that makes me very sad in the same way disbelieving in evolution — the awesome force that got us here! — makes me sad).
I think male privilege is real. I think it’s imperfect and not absolute, but that doesn’t change its reality — male privilege is ever-present and difficult to deny.
I think that privilege is blinding.
I think there are real issues affecting men, and that doesn’t diminish the need for feminism.
I think that rape culture is real. I think that rape culture is a passive frequency — background noise — that opens the door to (and softens or eradicates the punishment against) misogyny and assault and the destruction of safety for women. I suspect that some deny the existence of rape culture because they misunderstand it as being active. As in, “If I’m not actively promoting rape, then clearly a culture of it doesn’t exist.” But they miss how so many subtle, unseen, unrealized things contribute to that culture: in our language, in our expectations, in the media we consume.
I think that #GamerGate, the celebrity nude photo hack, #NotAllMen all serve as negative resistance to real positive cultural change (the dinosaurs snarling at the meteor, the wasps stirred before winter wipes them out) but that this resistance is still dangerous and must be addressed.
I think that feminism is a many-headed, many-hearted movement. Feminists don’t all get together in a room once a year to determine the agenda for the next 365 days.
I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. As noted: many hearts and many minds.
I think that it’s not a man’s job to be a hero for the feminist movement but, rather, to help them be the heroes — it’s not our job to hold the sword and protect them but to put the swords in their hands. Not knights, perhaps, but squires. Or maybe knights in service to queens? (Or maybe medieval framing and phrasing is a troubled road no matter how well you walk it. All I know is that there are nasty dragons out there and I want to help you slay them.)
I think it’s more important for men to listen than it is for them to speak on the subject of feminism. (And I recognize the irony here — I’m using the blog to speak, but the blog acts as a much better mouth than it does an ear. But I promise, I am listening. This blog is a direct result of me listening — and, as Anita Sarkeesian notes, me believing your experiences are real.)
I think it’s more important for men to signal boost than it is for them to take over the signal.
(But I also think it’s vital for men to be a part of that signal, too.)
I think a lot of this begins with teaching our kids this stuff — yes, I know, blah blah blah children are our future, but seriously, this is critical if we’re to overturn a lot of the nastiness that’s been institutionalized, that’s been stamped into the mud of our history with hard boots.
But I think we must also be active in social media, in politics, with family, with friends.
I think that it’s very easy to dismiss feminism and claim egalitarianism instead, but realize that the two are not mutually exclusive — and, by denying feminism, you misunderstand that the imbalance here is particularly and troublingly one-sided.
I think that most Men’s Rights Movements talk very little about men’s rights and seem to be peculiarly focused on diminishing women, instead.
I think watching a dude mansplain feminism to a feminist woman is really uncomfortable (WELL LITTLE LADY, SOMETHING SOMETHING EQUALITY TAMPONS, ABORTION SUFFRAGE, LADY PARTS, RAPE ALLEGATIONS, BUT NO REALLY, BUT WHAT ABOUT ME AND MY NEEDS). I think watching men mansplain feminism is like watching climate deniers explain the climate to climatologists, or watching non-parents explain how to parent (or worse, how to parent an autistic child). And again I recognize the irony: this post probably reads like me mansplaining things, but I assure you that at the very least my intentions are not to explain facts about women to women but rather to give voice to some ideas and hope that other men might listen.
I think men get championed for being feminists and women get taken apart for being feminists and that’s sad, though I don’t know what I can do about it except signal boost and support and battle the fungal rot of male privilege and dudebro toxicity where it lives and breeds.
I think FUCK YEAH SOCIAL JUSTICE. Anybody who wants to poison that term — “social justice” — might as well try to poison other nice things like apples, or cake, or equal pay, or autumn. I am happy to be a social justice equal pay cake apple autumn warrior. YOU HAVE MY STEEL.
I think that pop culture is a vital arena for feminism. Because pop culture is the media we consume and we are what we eat when it comes to that cultural diet. I think if it’s in the water and the food (so to speak), it’ll grow from there. The stories we tell are the cultural seed-bed.
I think as writers and creators its therefore doubly important we think about these things.
I think male writers should think about them, talk about them, and act on them, too.
I think that means reading more diversely and writing more diversely, too. A balanced diet is good for us all. You can have a cookie, but you also have to eat some kale. (And you’ll soon discover that kale is actually pretty fucking amazing if cooked right, so shut up.)
I think that empathy and logic make a powerful one-two punch.
I think it’s getting better.
But I think we can all do better, too.
I don’t think it gets better on its own, is what I’m saying.
And so that’s why I’m here. Saying these things.
I want it to get better for women and I want to be a part of making it so.
And thus, I’m lending my voice — small as it may be, wrong as it can be — to feminism.
I am a feminist.
I am #HeForShe.
And so should you be.