So what is all this fuss about feminism? I have been all into it. Going along with the notion that anyone worth their while, male or female, goes along with it too. I am very clear 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 (but really though!). And yet, with some sadness, I recognise that the word ‘equality’ has not been enough – obviously! So I have toddled along, firm in my belief, almost egoistical in the finality of my ideas, that modern men or women, at least like minded ones, would agree.
Until today! Until I had a conversation with a man. A good hearted, dear, sensible and successful man. A friend whose intentions I would never doubt. Who I know respects all people, in his words and actions and particularly in his work. And he said, with about as much passion as I have ever heard him speak, ‘I hate feminism’. I was stunned. I started telling him about why it had been necessary in the first place. How the intention had always been equality, how so many men I knew were feminists and some other stuff. And he went quiet – and then when he spoke he just said, ‘there is no point. I will never be heard on this.’ And I was stunned. And then I listened. He told me that he felt that as the word feminism derives from feminine, fighting for feminism denoted an automatic denial of the masculine, in men and women. He said he knew it was needed, but that the most vocal proponents he had met, had been people full of fight and talk but no action, and not enough sensitivity. They went into communities and shouted about feminism, with the result that the community became even more closed off, making working with them harder (he works with what we would call ‘third world communities’!) I mentioned ‘empowerment’ of the women in the communities he worked with, (I asked for it there!) and he made the point that talking about empowerment, automatically presumed you were more powerful, and could bring them to power. Of course I understood this! I am after all a psychological therapist. I have learnt and taught all about power imbalances, and have worked hard in my counselling room to reduce any affect these may have.
But of course all this got me to my favourite group of topics – linguistic stereotypes or linguistic bias, or in this case, more specifically, gender bias. Of course all unconscious! So we were talking ‘unconscious gender bias’! (For an enlightening discussion of what this is please watch Kristen Pressner’s powerful TEDx talk “Are You Biased? I Am” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq_xYSOZrgU).
An Open Letter to my Friend
‘So my friend! I am not letting you off the hook! I think you have fallen into the trap so many 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 that is possibly partly due to your gender bias. And I also sense your notion that feminism may play havoc with time honoured roles and traditions. I got this when you talked about equality=sameness and how this was an argument for why equality wasn’t possible. It’s not! Because equality doesn’t mean sameness.
And yet I give you allowances. I allow for your upbringing. Amidst strong women leaders, in fact dominatrices in the psychological sense, who made the men look weak, and where any expression of masculinity in men, was crushed. I too grew up in a similar environment, so imagine how ill prepared I was for the world that I went into. The dominatrix, as undesirable as she was, I could handle. But the men who thought they were superior and defined my role as shutting up and keeping house? I still struggle with that one and always will.
And I struggle because I am lucky. To have grown up in a stage of history where I can say that is my birth right! And I can give that to my daughter. And do you know who we owe that to? Yup the feminists! Because even if they didn’t call themselves that, that’s what they were. The women who marched for the right to vote, the first women to go out to work, the women who forged the way for an equal right to education. They are the real feminists. And if they threaten you in any way, then so be it!
I present to you the dictionary meaning of the word feminism – ‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’ (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com). I KNOW you don’t disagree with that. Because I know you as a person. So examine your views on feminism, outside of the context of the people you have encountered, and your personal experiences. Because there are thousands of people like you who base their views only on their personal experience. So if you have seen discrimination close up, you know it exists. But if you haven’t, then you doubt it’s existence.
And yet I understand – you are way ahead of us in some ways. And I wish the world was where you are. Working to change things with a clear sense of the way things should be. Equality of the sexes with full acceptance of the feminine and masculine as complementing each other and equal yet not the same. Yet the unconscious gender bias is there – I have seen it in previous conversations we have had. And 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. Because I will become more aware of this in dealing with my children. I will try to stop expecting my daughter to be more ‘caring’ and ‘sensitive’ than my sons (watch the video up there!), and I will try to stop expecting my sons to always be ‘assertive’ and ‘driven’. I will catch myself on as much as I can – because that is what I want for my children, and for all generations to come!’