The F Word

Two of my friends recently (in completely unrelated circumstances) asserted that they could not publicly identify as being a \”feminist\” due to mainstream feminists asserting that \”it is impossible to be a pro-life feminist\”. My friends, who are (staunchly) pro-life , just cannot be associated with feminism because they cannot implicitly support abortion and that mainstream feminists demonize these ideas as being inherently \”anti-feminist\”. On one hand, I can sympathize with their plight. No one wants to be demonized for something they strongly believe in and I understand how someone would go as far as not wanting to state feminism as part of their ideology due to this hostile environment.  I can see that.
However, on the other hand, I think it\’s extremely sad that this issue divides and ultimately weakens the feminist movement as a whole. I find it detrimental to allow this hot-button political debate to be the sole determining factor to feminism in the eyes of the public when there is so much more that feminism works towards. If I believe that women have been historically systematically oppressed and I believe that\’s wrong, I am a feminist. If I believe that people should be treated equally regardless of gender, then I\’m a feminist. If I believe that the world would benefit by the voices of women, I am a feminist.
I think it\’s important to be a feminist, to identify as a feminist, and to speak out as a feminist because the true meaning of feminism goes far beyond the pro-choice / pro-life debate. I would even go as far as saying the pro-choice / pro-life debate serves as a convenient distraction that can weaken the feminist movement from tackling other, more widespread problems of misogyny.
I Hate the Abortion Debate
 
I, personally don\’t like getting involved with the abortion debate because debating legality vs. morality isn\’t necessarily the same thing and I think the issue is much more nuanced than people give it credit for. I tend to think of it as an easy issue to get super intense and divided about without actually having to be personally affected by the results. This idea that you are \”pro-life\” or \”pro-choice\” has been dividing people (and women) for decades. I also think this is an easy topic for Americans to have strong opinions about because of how little it will actually impact their daily lives
(obviously not all people, but many MANY people will never have to make the conscious decision to keep or abort a baby). It\’s really easy to say, \”YOU should / shouldn\’t have abortions\” when you know you will never be in that situation yourself. You don\’t nearly have the moral argument and debate (and publicity and protests) regarding global warming or obesity issues which are way more rampant and pressing to the general population. I\’ve never seen a protest at the capital where one side said \”Soda shouldn\’t be allowed! It\’s destroying the sanctity of the body!\” and the other retaliates with \”We should be able to have all the soda we want because we have the right to fatten it up and slowly die from obesity related diseases.\” Where is our boycotting of companies that deny global warming or outsource manufacturing overseas and pay workers practically nothing? We claim to care so much about human rights and the sanctity of life, but we turn a blind eye to genocide, the death penalty, atrocious exploitation of minorities, denying people basic healthcare, etc. Why do people vote straight-ticket on the abortion issue alone when there are a ton of other (probably more impactful  / worthwhile) issues that need our consideration.

I think I went off on a tangent. The point is, I tend to think the media/church/society hypes up the abortion this issue to pit women against other women. Divide and conquer. If women spend their time and energy arguing with each other about these \”hot-button issues\”, then they won\’t have the time / resources / allied community to address other, and in my opinion, more pressing issues plaguing women today. I wonder who benefits from this intense debate? Is it the women who actaully may have a stake in it — probably the unmarried, young, minority, urban dwelling, poor women who are statistically more likely to get abortions? How represented are they in the protests, I wonder?

I would just like to note here that I tend to believe most people don\’t actively like abortion itself and that if I talked to anyone (pro-choice or pro-life) that I would get a similar response of compassion for the women placed in this situation. I think both sides truly believe that their stance is for the absolute betterment of society and will help women overall. There are merits to both sides. I can see both sides. I understand that both sides are really trying to make the world a better place.

This is why I have a hard time getting really worked up on an absolute solution. I\’m not sure I know what the solution is in this case. I don\’t exactly have  expertise / experience in this issue, which is why I am way less eager to want to debate it. I have experienced rampant and pervasive societal misogyny in other forms.

Everyday Sexism

The reason I firmly believe that being a feminist is important is the blatant, rampant, everyday sexism and sexual violence that women are constantly subjected to. This ranges from \”Why is no one listening to me\” sexism to \”being groped at a club is totally normalized\” sexism. Let me give you some real life examples I have, from my own life that may illustrate what I mean.

I like to play cooperative board games with my friends, and oftentimes this happens in mixed company. *Note: These men include my husband and my dear friends. Yet, even among, who I would call \”good, well-intentioned, morally upstanding guys\”, I still find myself having a variety of this conversation over and over again that go a little something like this:

Me (talking to Guy A): I think you should probably play your Cleansing Downpour card so that we can heal up before the next round of attacks.

Guy A: *silence*…I\’m not sure what is best to play, should I do the Chain Ball Lightening?

Guy B: How about you play Cleansing Downpour, so we can heal up?

Guy A: That\’s a great Idea! Thanks Guy B, you are so good at this game!

Me: I literally just said that. Why does no one listen to me?

Guy A & B: We\’re not sexist! [Enter some \”reason\” why my statement didn\’t get the same response].

Now I understand that this is a seemingly silly example, but it illustrates a pattern that I see over and over again. The issue here is not being ignored on a case-by-case basis, but the problem lies in the pervasiveness of the general \”being ignored / dismissed / excluded\” attitude. The bottom line seems to be that women are just not important given our societal practices.

But Karen, you may retort, maybe it\’s just you, maybe it\’s a personal quality that you yourself are not worth listening to in this particular instant. Believe me, I\’ve thought about this a lot, especially whenever the issue of sexism comes up. However, I don\’t just see it with me, I also see it happen over and over with my female friends. I see it with my mom while she talks to my dad. I see this happen in so many different contexts, situations, and about different issues that I cannot not see the pattern. There has to be some underlying misogyny that propels this stuff forward.

No one ever says the reason everything I say inevitably has to be repeated by a man in order for another man to listen is because of sexism. \”It\’s because I [insert your favorite excuse here] (i.e. \”wasn\’t listening\” or \”didn\’t hear\” or \”don\’t think you\’re great at this game\” or \”think he\’s got more authority\”, etc.). In almost every situation where men (even some of the best, most progressive men I know) are confronted about how a behavior is sexist, the defense goes up and the brain thinks of another logical explanation that can explain the underlying, preexisting bias that society has drilled in the brains of all of us since before we were even born. Our brains have a wonderful (and slightly terrifying) ability to make up stories that validate and rationalize our already existing prejudices which can be created to justify all sorts of decisions like why I have to play Monopoly with the terrier dog every time (I cannot possibly remember I was the thimble, or was I the shoe…) or why white cops routinely kill unarmed black teenagers.

And I understand that it makes them upset, because almost no one wants to consciously be a dick. The point I want to really stress here though is Misogyny is a socially constructed, institutional form of prejudice that impacts all realms of life and that almost everyone (women included) reinforces this cultural norm unconsciously through interactions in our everyday lives. This is a way bigger issue than just individual men being personally sexist. Most people I know don\’t want to actively be sexist, but they are truly not cognizant of their own biases. It\’s the unconsciousness we need to fight against, not men.

The real reason I get so passionate about this issue is not because of these unconsciousness minor offenses, but what this unconciousness inevitably leads to.

Raise your Hand If You\’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

There is a prevailing statistic that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime, but that number was calculated using past abortion rates to project out, which is misleading because abortion rates have actually dropped significantly in recent times, so it is very doubtful that that statistic still holds true.

However, there is ALSO a statistic that says 1 in 3 women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.  So let\’s just say that both of these issues affect roughly the same amount of women. Now we can pretty much ALL agree that rape is bad, right? No one should be forced into having sex. It\’s pretty much just wrong. It doesn\’t have the moral ambiguity that runs rampant in the abortion debate (is it really a baby? Is it really unethical?). Rape is pretty much always a bad thing.

But what I really want to talk about is sexual assault: the precursor, gateway, little brother of rape. In a lot of ways, I believe that our normalization of sexual assault / harassment creates an environment in which rape is the sad, but inevitable conclusion. The issue I struggle with is that most people don\’t seem to even know what sexual assault, much less fight against it. So let me paint you a scenario:

I, a woman, decide to go out to a club. Let\’s say I want to go dancing with my friends. First, I have to pick something cute enough to fit in with the downtown scene and fun and flirtatious, but not too revealing in case someone uses that as an excuse to rape me later on in the evening. It\’s like when you try and adjust the temperature in the shower, it\’s either freezing cold or molten lava. Lose lose. Anyways, let\’s say I finally pick something out and get together with my friends and we go downtown. We soon start dancing in a circle, facing towards each other so we can have fun, but primarily be safe. Then, all of a sudden I feel something, someone against my butt / back / hips. I turn around a bit taken aback, who is this person who thinks its their right to grab me by the hips and start humping my ass like I\’m his personal sex toy? And since when is this considered dancing? But he continues to grind me, pushing up against, his hands on my hips and his hard-on up against my butt. I give my friends a clearly uncomfortable look that I pray they recognize so they can save me from this completely unasked for invasion of personal space. Mind you, this entire time he hasn\’t spoken one word to me, not a \”would you like to dance?\” not a \”hi, what\’s your name?\” not even a freaking headnod. I am literally his masterbatory piece of flesh at that moment. It\’s disgusting.

But can I say anything? I look around at everyone else in the club and no one else is making a scene. Maybe this is just normal, I think (or at least that\’s what I thought when I was 20). Maybe this is just appropriate clubbing behavior. Maybe I\’m overreacting. Besides, even if I do speak up and stand up for myself, what will happen then? This guy is bigger and stronger than me and could seriously do some damage if he felt upset (especially if he\’s been drinking). No, the safer bet is to seize up and wait for it to be over or to find an excuse to go somehwere else.
And how many women does this situation happen to? It\’s happened to me a number of times and I don\’t even go out much. They say that 1 in 3 women will be raped, but what about these not quite assault, but also definitely not consented form of sexual force. These scenarios don\’t get reported because we are made to think that they are normal. We are made to think these are appropriate ways of behaving in this enviornment and we are made to think that we don\’t have a voice or a say in what happens to us or our bodies. I took a sociology class and one girl who had been a bartender had said that she had one instance where a drunk man followed her to her car and pushed her up against it. The teacher expressed her sincere sympathy towards the girl and her response was an emoptionles, matter-of-fact-statment that \”these things just happen\”. And I can\’t blame her. These things do happen day in and day out and no one ever calls anyone out on it because they are afraid.
And this stuff doesn\’t just happens at clubs or out drinking. As a freshman in college, I was sexually harassed at a Denny\’s amidst my best friend and a handful of other people I trusted. Not one person stood up for me in that moment. Not one. Fear of retaliation, violence, and being socially shunned makes the stakes just too high to be able to confront these things in the moment. There is too much to lose, it seems better to just deal with it in the moment and let it pass and deal with the psychological trauma later.
I am telling you this because my story is not at all unique, or even uncommon. This is the cultural norm in the society in which we live in. How many women can tell these stories? How many women (who will never make an abortion decision) will experience this? Is this not worth fighting against? Feminism is a voice that says, this is not right. Women are people and deserve to be treated as such. Period.
Men Need to be Feminists for Feminism to be Accepted
 
I can spout off all day on why feminism is important for these issues, but I can only go so far. The real kicker is, I am just a woman who is socially not as valuable as a man and therefore the pervading sexism of society suggests that my voice doesn\’t get heard anyways. We need more voices of men, who already have social capital, to stand up for these truths as well or the goals that feminists have will never come to fruition. So I ask whoever is reading this to really think about the world you want to live in. Do you want to live in a world where sexual violence is just a normal everyday thing? Do you want to live in a world where half of the population is afraid to travel or be alone in case they get blamed for \”deserving\” whatever violence befalls them? Can we honestly tackle this social justice issue without supporting the equality of women? <– That\’s what feminism is about. That\’s why you should say you\’re a feminist: because women matter and deserve to be treated that way.
 
 

5 thoughts on “The F Word”

  1. [Part 1]

    As one of the two people Karen talked to, I thought I'd just speak my mind a little. This might ramble on – you've been warned:

    “…the true meaning of feminism goes far beyond the pro-choice / pro-life debate”

    I think this is something that everyone can agree on. There's no doubt in my mind that feminism, as a larger trend, has been a force for good not just for women in general, but for society. In theory, when women are given a voice – one equally as important and valued as men – society benefits in a manner that dignifies both women and men through mutual respect in all its forms. In practice, evidence is pretty clear that as the woman's voice has gained more credence, our country has grown significantly closer to the moral values expressed in the Declaration of Independence. [or even Christ's ideals, if we were to go there]

    Moreover, I'd say that the woman's voice is distinct, and critically important to discovering who I am as a man. For me this also has a religious/natural law component. If God wanted men alone to rule the world… He could have came up with some method of asexual reproduction that excluded the possibility of a complimentary gender. But no, we're instead made to be co-creators of society. This might be bold, but you could potentially take that to mean we're supposed to listen MORE to the opposite gender than to our own.

    Semiotics is also on my mind lately, I could also put this in those terms: my existence and perspective as a man is unmarked as I experience it. The female perspective, being distinct in nature from my own, is highly marked. If I (subconsciously) ignore the female voice as if it wasn't as relevant or pertinent, I fail spectacularly to understand what society, the world, life itself, should mean to me as man. Maybe this is why I like talking with you so much Karen. 🙂

    We might disagree the most on this: I believe that a failure to be open to earnestly listen to people different from us (whoever 'us' is in a societal context) is ultimately rooted in the selfishness of individuals. A cultural bias that stems from this lack of selflessness is a symptom, not the cause. Sometimes the patterns are learned and can be fixed if pointed out. But often times, the systemic issue is under the surface. We can't always expect changes to the rules of the game to fix the problem – in some cases, it merely compartmentalizes the game itself, and doesn't actually challenge intent of the participants.

  2. [Part 2]

    What you said about clubs strikes me as related. I'm thinking back on what dance halls might have been like 70+ years ago. It might be easier today to get away with inappropriate touching given club culture today. But I certainly wouldn't believe that men then were less misogynist. Perhaps the deeper rooted issues back then led to these problems now. Most men today are very outward about saying how much they respect women's rights – and yet most women can't go to a club without fear of getting assaulted. For too many men, I think THESE are the rules of the game: say you're a feminist and entirely pro-women, then go out there and touch whoever 'liberated' woman you want, or even, watch whoever 'liberated' woman on the internet you want. I'm more of the mindset that men shouldn't be mere opportunists. Especially since many of us guys have an uncanny ability to block out the larger picture.

    Maybe that's why I find it difficult as a male to identify as a feminist, as it stands today. It's not even the abortion issue I get hung up on. It's the men who think that all they have to do is be mindful not to step over her boundaries (…or merely find a woman who has none). Is there a feminist critique of that sort of man? Of this man when they self-identify as feminist? I'd be interested to hear it.

    There's a few gripes I have with the abortion part of your post. But if you want, I could bring those up in person sometime. I don't want it to be the focus either.

  3. EDIT: One small clarification in my post I didn't see at 3am last night 😉 :

    “(…or merely find a woman who has none).” I don't believe there is such a thing. Not legally, and not personally.

    I thought I'd also mention, Karen, that my history probably plays into all this. I think I've told you before that the most misogynistic person I've ever met was a sex ed speaker and self-identifying feminist who spoke to the guys at our high school about rape. Everything he said came from the perspective of being as opportunistic as the law allows for, and to experiment with other women if we're ever denied sex when we desire it.

    My opinions are probably stronger given that I've seen this impressed on ~80 guys at a time, totally unfiltered.

  4. Hi Brad,
    I realize it's been over a month since this post, but I feel like I should try and respond to you partiocularly because you took the time to comment on my post which I support and encourage.

    The first part of your comment is pretty much exactly what I mean when I say that I'm a feminist. All of those things you listed in the first 3 paragraphs are indicitive of having a feminist ideology.

    The part where I feel like the argument falls apart is when you start talking about what we most disagree with, which if I understand your comment correctly, is that these problems stem from an individual selfishness rather than a systematic cultural ideology that we have created. I feel like at the root of this argument is that human nature itself dictates the social structure without being affected by it. This can start getting a bit philisophical about the original state of souls / original sin / etc. but it also justifies that the way our soceity is, is simply a logical progression that couldn't be avoided. The world was destined to be this way and social institutions such as the patriarchal structure goes against human nature itself. I believe this is a fallacy. If you look at this issue as if it were race, I thihnk yo0u would agree with me that racism is a socially constructed issue. You aren't born hating other races. In fact race isn't something you even know exists unless you are taught what it means in the first place. I think to refuse to acknowledge that the rules of the society game largely dictate individual behaviors is sorely naive and shortsighted.

    Your continued comment becomes less and less cohesive and valid. What you are arguing against is not feminism. It's not even males outwardly stating they are feminists. You are arguing against a completely misunderstanding of what feminism actually means, which my post was attempting to discuss. Men that claim to be feminists but are not really feminists in the way in which they conduct themselves does not make them feminists. But by not claiming the title yourself, you are effectually allowing that misdefinition of feminism to become the gold standard among men. This is all the more reason I believe it's important for people like you, who clearly have feminist ideals based on the first section of your comment, to fight for the feminist cause which is about supporting equality and the dignity of women. By seeing feminism only within the context of how some people are using it in the current political and cultural structure of today's society is like seeing Catholicism in only the context of the Inquisition or the Crusades.

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