What is Feminism?
A lot of people are confused about what feminism is. I've heard all kinds of interpretations about what people think feminism is from both men and women. Some of the answers I get vary from the well educated to the absolutely frightening. For the purposes of my post today I am going to define what feminism means to me. I understand the impossible task of generalizing such an umbrella of issues under one definition; that is not my intent here. My intent is to provide a general starting point and expand from there.
Feminism is the idea that women and men should be treated equitably and equally socially, economically, lawfully and in all affairs. Let's take a moment to look at those two words: equitable and equally. People often get confused here and run off on tangents in an attempt to discredit feminism. Equity means the same amount, quantity whereas equally means the same quality. Feminism is the idea that women should be given the same amount of opportunity with the same rewards as men. Now language becomes a bit of a speed bump here if we're not careful. Rewards do not necessitate materialistic gain; it can be emotional, psychological, etc.
This is a rather general explanation but the most important idea to retain here is this: feminism is about improving rights for women in all areas of society; it is not discriminating against men and taking away their rights to give to women. And this leads into the next branch of my post.
What feminism isn't.
Because feminism is so often misunderstood, I am going to take a minute to list off what feminism is not. It is not about taking away rights from men. It is not discriminating against men. It is not man-hating. It has nothing to do with sexuality despite some less than intelligent claims by trolls that being a feminist makes you a lesbian; it does not. Feminism is not violence. Feminism is not just for women. Feminism is not hairy armpits and legs. Feminism is not strictly for women. Feminism is not going away.
Try not to take this the wrong way but this is one of my favorite words. Why? Because it encapsulates so much of the male contribution and propagation of the continued discrimination towards women base on their gender. It covers it all. In one simple word, granted that it is properly understood, sums up so many ideas that need to be addressed. I will provide a definition of misogyny from Wikipedia:
Misogyny (//) is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women. Misogyny is evident within many mythologies of the ancient world as well as various religions. In addition, many influential Western philosophers have been described as misogynistic.
Misogyny in language
Let's talk about misogyny, big and small (well, I think they are all of equal importance; bad is still bad no matter how you slice it). One of the biggest changes I had to learn was my language. So much of our day to day language is patriarchal (male-oriented/dominated) in every way. When we see a group of our friends of mixed genders our tendency in greeting might be to say, "Hey guys!". Let's examine this for a moment.
Clearly in a mixed gender group there are both men and women so why do we call that group by a male pronoun? To be blunt about it, brainwashing. To be a little more complex, it is the continued indoctrination of society through education, media and institutionalization. We are programmed with this patriarchal language at the very onset of birth and it continues on into adulthood. There is no escaping that; it can only be addressed through changing the way we speak. While is may sound funny to say something to the effect of, "Hey everyone!", it is most likely because we are so accustomed to our way of speaking.
This is just one 'small' example of misogyny in language and I've had the rebuttal that I'm just being picky with this; that there are bigger feminist issues, bigger world issues; that I'm going overboard. I am not, you are not going 'overboard' enough. To dismiss this lack of respect towards women as individual human beings is no different than dismissing a 'minor' racial slur; it's wrong no matter which way you slice it. There are worse examples of language that you can dig up, that is certain, but the idea here is to provide a common example that everyone can relate to. We've all used this expression without so much as a second thought to the fact that it supposes, like most patriarchal language, that men are dominant over women (who are submissive). Just because you don't agree with me on this does not make it any less true.
Misogyny in media
I expected that this could be the longest portion to my post but I am going to try and keep it as brief as possible. I want to clarify that when I use the term 'media' here that I am speaking about all forms of media: news, movies, music, television, magazines, etc. Our media is inundated with misogyny and built on a foundation of the objectification of women.
Men and Women
As mentioned, oftentimes the stereotype we see in the media is men being tough, women being sexy. This notion of what it means to be a woman or what it means to be a man is part of the foundation of misogyny and sexism. The biggest problem is that not all women are the same and not all men are the same. Both genders come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. We're all a little different from one another and through growth, development and environment we become more complex human beings; more complex men and women. Our ancient and out-dated strict binary definitions of men and women are the first contributors.
What does it mean to be a man? What is male? What does it mean to be a woman? What is female? This enters into an area where the discussion can rapidly go astray. The aim of these questions and upcoming assertions/statements is to make you think and not necessarily a concrete reflection of my own views or interpretations. When we're born, our gender is determined by the physical characteristics of our body (that can change later and I'll touch upon it shortly and briefly). From there we begin the 'grooming' process. Girls play with dresses, boys with ripped jeans; girls like pink, boys like blue; girls like princesses, boys like soldiers; etc. The list goes on and on but sadly and unfortunately not one of those things defines what it means to be a man or a woman.
The continued confusion about genders we are educating our children with is causing serious psychological sexual development as well as emotional and social. By stating you're a boy if you wear ripped jeans, like the color blue and enjoy playing soldiers serious limits the infinite possibilities for character development on any child born with a penis. The same works against women. Being a man or being a woman goes beyond you physical characteristics and has absolutely nothing to do with your subjective interests; it has to do with how you identify your gender. Assigning gender to inanimate objects and ideas promotes the idea that those things are off limits to the opposite gender and that is absolutely not true.
Gender identity is a much larger and vast topic and subject to discuss and I am not nearly as informed to write at length about it. What I will say is that it is the individual that decides how they identify. Some women figure out they are men and some men figure out that they are women; they identify with that gender or sex even if their physical body does not reflect what their psychological mind does. It is the psychology here that is important; we can change the physical. Many do and rightfully so for them. The subjective idea of gender association plays an even more detrimental role in case of gender identification in young people trying to discover themselves in a world where they are constantly being told what they should be finding.
Rape and sexual assault
Rape. It is the most vile form of misogyny. The complete objectification and dehumanization of one individual upon another. The damage inflicted upon the victim is maximized through psychological, emotional and physical violation. Of the two binary genders, women are far more likely to be the victim of a rape or sexual assault than a man. That is not to say that men are not subjected to sexual assault or are not raped; they are and this is equally serious. For the purpose of the rest of this portion we will be talking about rape and sexual assault against women.
We all have a general, albeit disturbing, idea of what it means when we hear the word 'rape'. We conjure up vile images of sexual and physical violence of a man against a woman. I'm not going to get into descriptive writing about how we generally imagine rape but I now that you have that thought it is extremely important and crucial that you understand that that is only ONE form of rape; there are others. Chances are, you have been raped and so have I. If you ever had a partner who pressured you into having sex after denying them consent, you've been raped. If you were ever legally intoxicated and had sex, you've been raped. If you ever had to be convinced to have sex, you've been raped. Not every rape is violent; not every rape is apparent; and worst of all, not every rape is reported.
Why? Why aren't all rapes reported? Because, traditionally and currently, the victim is crucified at the hands of the law, the courts, their families and the public. So often, victims are blamed for the atrocity committed against them and the perpetrator quite often escapes any form of justice whatsoever. "What was she wearing?" "Were you drinking?" "Were you alone?" All questions that are irrelevant to the fact that someone was violently violated without consent. The only question we should be asking victims is what we can do for them. Over time I my eyes have been opened to how predominant a reaction it is for people to blame the victim. The victim is innocent, stop punishing them.
As there are many forms of rape, so too are there many forms of sexual assault and harassment. Sexual assault can be seen as touching someone in one of the 'private' areas (ie: breast, buttocks, vagina or penis) but is not limited to just those things. Inappropriate touching, kissing, groping and advances are also sexual assault. Again here we too often see the victim blamed for the actions and behaviors of a criminal or sexual deviant. This continues across the board into sexual harassment as well. My most loathed form of harassment has got to be cat-calling/street harassment.
If an attractive woman wearing an attractive outfit happens to cross your path on the street it is not an invitation to objectify her and treat her like smut. She did not get up this morning with you in mind; she did not get dressed thinking of you. She did these things for herself and when you open your mouth and harass her about it you are punishing her for loving herself; for being confident in herself; for having self-respect. From your whistle to your vile and crude comments, each one is a nail in the coffin of herself as a person. Here is another area where people will often tell me that I've gone too far with feminism; that it's ridiculous. I've even had women tell me they enjoy it and I have to say, that is your right however many (possibly most) do not and this is just another way that misogyny objectifies and degrades women.
Many people like to put a label on feminists (discussed above What feminism isn't) and write them off as extreme man haters whose sole aim is to subjugate men and take away their rights. This couldn't be further from the truth (though in any idealism you will have extremists; just look to organized religion for a plethora of examples). Feminists come like people: different shapes, sizes and most importantly, different genders. Feminists aren't all women, though predominantly I would wager they are a good portion. Some, like myself, are men who have become aware of the stark contrast between men and women's rights.
Two of the most influential feminists I've come across are Laci Green and Anita Sarkeesian. Laci has a number of different social media platforms where she communicates some extremely important ideas on feminism and also on sexuality in general, I highly, highly recommend you check out her YouTube channel if you want a clear, easy to understand explanation on feminism and a number of feminist issues. Anita is another inspiration to me and you may have recognized her name. She has recently been making headlines after her Women as Tropes in Video Games series was released on YouTube (her channel is the Feminist Frequency). While she continues to receive death threats, rape threats and vile communications, her videos on women in video games were enlightening and educational. If you have kids and they play video games I strongly urge you to watch her videos.
I don't expect to change any minds; I expect only to open them. While today's story in the Herald was a catalyst to this post, I am increasingly frustrated by the vast amount of misogyny and sexism towards women that is imbedded in our society and it's continued propagation on such a startling and alarming level in every facet of society. I am increasingly angered by the number of people who dismiss and disregard every day sexism as 'things that just happen' or because 'that's the way it's always been' or 'stop being so sensitive', etc., etc., etc. There is no excuse for it. Women and men are both one thread from the same cloth; that we have managed to create a social structure where one is valued more above the other is nothing short of deplorable. We can do better.
We can do better by each choosing to change the way we speak, the way we act and the behavior we find acceptable. Stand up to misogyny in whatever form it finds itself, wherever it should find itself. There is no excuse for the purposeful and intentional degradation of another human being; period. You will make new enemies; you will lose friends; you will be ridiculed; and you will be attacked (character and possibly physically) but you will be helping to making a change we so desperately need.
It is absolutely astonishing to me just how many people accept the way we treat women in the world. We all have a connection to women be it a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a lover, a wife, a daughter, a niece or just a friend. Would you tolerate even the subtlest of these types of behaviors towards them? Would you ask your daughter what she was wearing or how drunk she was when she was raped? Is that even a conceivable question for a parent? It's so easy to dismiss feminism because it's so easy to disassociate; look how good we've become at turning women into objects.
I have a profound and deep empathy for women, all women in all places. I have only recently joined the ongoing struggle for women's rights and it has been one of the biggest wake up calls of my life. Never before have I reexamined so much of my core philosophies, ideologies and morality then I did when I died a misogynist and was born again a feminist. I have so much more to learn and sometimes I make mistakes but I am learning; I am seeing what it is that women must endure and struggle through on a daily basis; on a moment by moment basis.
I have only really begun to involve myself with ideas of social justice and activism in the last few years but it has been most enlightening. What has been perhaps the most disturbing is while I have been criticized for the ideas I've supported, I have never received more criticism, more hate, more personal attacks then when speaking about feminism and women's rights. If this absurd and ridiculous amount of hatred is but a taste of what women must endure when standing up for their rights it is evidently clear to me that women are by far the stronger gender.
I empathize as best I can but I will never know the fears and nightmares that must be endured by women simply from being a woman. I can only listen, learn and share. I will continue to do what I can because feminism is not just a women's issue; it is a men's issue and a very important one that we must come to understand. While this is not the first time, nor the last, that I have written about feminism (see blog post YesAllWomen) and won't be the last, it is so imperative that we do away with the absurd notion that feminism is no longer needed; it most definitely is.
While I know I didn't talk about everything I wanted to and I didn't go as in depth into what I did touch upon as I had anticipated, I have done my best in this rather brief post (in relation to feminism as a topic) to identify some of the important ideas about feminism that I have. It is nowhere near comprehensive but it's far from empty. I hope that it will start you down a road where you begin to question the way women of the world are treated (not just in the Western world). Thank you all for taking the time to read and as always, love each other. Oh, and for those of you who are constantly telling me to stop wasting my time on a non-issue, this is in part for you because feminism IS an issue; a very real and disturbing issue.