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I have been living my life with the notion that anyone worth their while, whether a man or a woman, gets and supports feminism.
I am quite clear about what feminism means to me, and that is simply equality. I do not wish in any way to claim that women are superior to men, and yet, with some sadness, I recognize that the word “equality” has not been enough. Well, obviously not.
So I have toddled along, firm in my belief, almost egoistical in the finality of my ideas, that like-minded, modern men and women would all agree on this definition of feminism…up until today.
Imagine you knew a good-hearted, sensible, and successful man whose intentions you would never doubt, and whom you know respects all people, through his words, actions, and, particularly, through his work.
And yet, this man, with as much passion as he could speak with, says, “I hate feminism.”
I was stunned.
I started telling him why it had been necessary in the first place, how the intention had always been equality, how so many men I knew were feminists, along with some other stuff. He went quiet…and then, when he spoke, he just said, “There is no point. I will never be heard on this.”
Once again, I was surprised. But when I intently listened, he told me that he felt like the word feminism derives from feminine, and that fighting for feminism denoted an automatic denial of the masculine, both in men and women. He said he knew it was needed, but that the most vocal proponents whom he had met were people full of fight and talk but no action, and not enough sensitivity.
He said they went into communities and yelled all about feminism, but the result was that these communities became more closed off, making working with them even harder. When I mentioned that the empowerment of women in the communities he worked with was important, he made the point that talking about empowerment automatically presumed they were more powerful and could bring them to power.
Of course, I understood all of this. After all, I am a therapist. I have learned and taught all about power imbalances and have worked hard in my counseling room to reduce any effect these may have on me.
But all of this got me to my favourite group of topics: linguistic stereotypes, linguistic biases, or, to be more precise, gender biases.
Of course, this was all done unconsciously, so we are talking about unconscious gender biases. You can learn more about this in Kristen Pressner’s powerful “Are You Biased? I am” TED Talk video.
So, I’ve decided to write this open letter to my friend in defense of feminism and to defy gender biases:
So, my friend, I am not letting you off the hook. I think you have fallen into the trap so many other people do, which is precisely why they hate feminism. I actually think the word feminism is a very polite way to put it. I could think of some much choicer terms. Yes, I know that feminism is associated with headstrong, loud, and occasionally angry women. But the reason you dislike this might be possibly and partly due to your own gender biases. I also sense your notion that feminism may play havoc with time-honoured roles and traditions. I got this when you talked about how equality equals sameness and used it as an argument for why equality wasn’t possible. Well, it’s not, because equality doesn’t mean sameness.
And yet, I give you allowances. I allow for your unique work experiences and your upbringing.
In fact, I grew up in a dominatrix-like environment, so you can imagine how ill-prepared I was for the world that I went into. I could handle the dominatrix, as undesirable as she was. But I still struggle, as I’ll always will, with men who thought they were superior and defined my role, and forced me to shut up.
I struggle, but I am lucky. I am lucky to have grown up in a time in history when I can say that this is my birthright, and I can give that to my daughter too. And do you know who we owe that to? Yup, it’s the feminists. Because even if they didn’t call themselves by that term, that’s exactly what they were.
The women who marched for the right to vote, the first women to go out to work, and the women who forged the way for an equal right to education were the real feminists. And in case they threaten you in any way, then so be it.
I present to you the definition of feminism according to the Oxford Dictionary, which is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” I know you don’t disagree with that because I know you as a person. So I ask you to re-examine your views on feminism outside of the context of the people you have encountered and your personal experiences.
I understand. You are way ahead of us in some ways. I wish the world was where you are, working to change things with a clear sense of the way things should be. But equality of the sexes is achieved by fully accepting the feminine and masculine as complementary and equal to one another, while not being the same.
Your unconscious gender bias is there—I have seen it in previous conversations we have had. That is not a judgment, because guess what? I have it too.
And I am so thankful to you for having the conversation we had today. It will make me become more aware of this in dealing with my own children. I will try to stop expecting my daughter to be more caring and sensitive compared to my sons. I will try to stop expecting my sons to constantly be assertive and driven.
I will try to catch myself as much as I can because that is what I want for my children and for all generations to come.
Connie, a feminist.