Yeup. I am.

Truth be told, netfolk, I certainly haven’t always been. I’ve ridiculed feminists and viewed them in the same negative light they are often portrayed.

I’ve laughed at “get in the kitchen” jokes.

I’ve viewed women as decoration.

Here’s what changed.

I can remember when it happened. I was reading an article on shakesville, a (pretty great) website that I had never visited before, and that had they not had an interesting headline, and been linked to from some other article I was reading, I never would have read. In fact, it was the author’s Helpful Hints for Dudes series, which being a dude, and recognizing that occasionally I can use a helpful hint, I was intrigued by.

This was the inciting incident, but it helps to have some context as well. At this time, I was also getting to know a girl who I grew to respect, care deeply about and view as an equal (something my slightly arrogant self often denies both genders). Reading through the article, I was struck by one simple, unshakable fact: our society, still, in this day and age, marginalizes women as a whole, which naturally included this incredible girl. Would I have felt anything terribly pressing had I read this article in a different context? Almost certainly not, because women’s rights had never seemed like an issue that held any relevance for me.

All of a sudden, I was faced with the realization that in my ignorance, I was a part of the institutional repression of a group of people, a member of whom I “claimed” to care about. Then I thought further: my mother, my aunt, my cousin, my grandmothers, my good friend, my other friends, that girl I held hands with in kindergarten, the girl I hurt, the girl who hurt me — any girl I’ve ever cared about is living in a society that (carefully, and often quietly) tells them they are not as good  or that they are “different” (in a less-good-sort-of-way) because they’re female.

The beauty of this article is that it did not pander. It was not somebody who believed men were incapable of understanding these things. It did not explain to me why I should care; that was not its purpose. Its purpose was, in fact, to give a set of guidelines for men attempting to understand feminism. This made me get my back up, because I don’t need bloody guidelines to understand a topic. I know perfectly well what issues are at stake and the sort of people who are holding women back, and I’m happy to say I’m not one of them! I’m not part of the problem! And then I read her fourth point:

Because of the way cultural dominance/privilege works, marginalized people are, by necessity and unavoidability, more knowledgeable about the lives of privileged people than the other way around. Immersion in a culture where male is treated as the Norm (and female a deviation of that Norm), and where masculinity is treated as aspirational (and femininity as undesirable), and where men’s stories are considered the Stories Worth Telling, and where manhood and mankind are so easily used as synonymous with personhood and humankind, and where everything down to the human forms on street signs reinforce the idea of maleness as default humanness, inevitably makes women de facto more conversant in male privilege than men are in female marginalization. That’s the practical reality of any kind of privilege—the dominant group can exist without knowing anything about marginalized group, but the marginalized group cannot safely or effectively exist without knowing something about the privileged group and its norms and values.

And I thought, “Maybe I don’t know all of the issues. It is plausible, at least, that I don’t know all of them, I guess.”

I read on and began to see how subtle the problems really were. They weren’t that all men abuse women, or even that society is tolerant of that, because we don’t and it’s not. But when somebody decries a woman for not leaving her abusive husband, something insidious is going on. And it’s the same as when somebody suggests that for women to be safe they shouldn’t wear skimpy outfits and should watch their drinks. But I’m cherry-picking my arguments right now, by only using women as examples. But that’s because it’s so hard to think of equivalent examples with men. These ideas are practically cultural stereotypes, whereas I can’t bring to mind a single way in which men are frequently the brunt of victim-blaming. “Huh, weird.” I still felt that I wasn’t part of the problem, though. Then I read her take on why rape jokes aren’t funny. “Now,” I thought, “is when the feminist comes out: the How-many-feminists-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb?Just-one—and-that’s-not-funny kind of feminist; the existing-solely-to-steal-joy-from-mirthful-males kind of feminist. But I read it and the argument was basically this: even if you don’t make the joke, and even if it is legitimately funny (which she acknowledged some were) if you laugh at it then you’re not just laughing with your other non-rapist buddies– because you don’t know everybody, and some people do think it’s okay.

And you’re not laughing at the same joke as he is. The joke he’s laughing at is the one where raping women is funny, and when he hears you laughing he knows that he’s with his compatriots. He knows he’s with like-minded people. He knows that you approve of what he does. He knows that you’re a rapist too.

These were smart, and scary arguments, coming from a dreaded feminist, and all of a sudden I asked myself, “Maybe I’m not part of the problem, but am I part of the solution?”

The answer was no. As I went on in my life, I began to realize the subtle ways that I was contributing:

  • I had been thinking of this important girl as “a credit to her gender.” Hmm. A compliment, undeniably. But what else am I saying? I might just be saying that of all of the women I know, you are especially great. But then, why wouldn’t I say “a credit to the species?” Perhaps it was just a stylistic choice. But it wasn’t. The implication is that most women are not smart and clever and even-tempered the way you are (true), because women aren’t usually like that (false).
  • Or how about the fact that when I see a woman my first inclination is to evaluate her physically. Okay, no problem, maybe I’m judgemental… except, I don’t do that when I see a guy. Well, I’m not evaluating guys as potential partners, so we’re okay there… except I claim to value more than aesthetics in my partner. So I’m left with being shallow, or naturally objectifying women, and I’m not shallow. Is this because I’m a bad person? Nope (some would argue this, but let’s go with it), I’m pretty normal for society. This is because women are supposed to be sex-objects first, and everything else second.
  • Now, my defensive reaction to this realization was, “Well I wouldn’t mind being evaluated as a sex-object all the time haha,” and then I really thought about it. To have people decide whether they would respect my ideas based on how I was dressed; based on how nice my haircut was; based on how much “effort” I put in; based on how big the bulge in my jeans is; to be yoked with the responsibility of arousing the people who look at me. I realized that if I don’t find a woman attractive, I don’t chalk it up to an incompatibility; I blame her. I actually would mind being on the receiving end of that.

Here’s where things really got out of control. What about fat women? It’s okay not to like them, right? I mean, I totally don’t like fat guys too. They’re utterly repulsive, right? All of them.

But the same argument applies. It’s none of my business. They are not maintaining their bodies for me. It’s not that they don’t care what I think; they very well may. It’s that I have no right to judge them as people for the way they look. I can completely disagree with the way they treat their bodies. I can hold the opinion that if I was them, I would do better, but that opinion is hardly worth the matter it takes to store it; the time it takes to construct it, because I’m not them, and strictly speaking, if I were, then I’d be in precisely the position they’re in.

So then who is it okay to dislike? If nobody can be judged for what they are, then who can I hate?

And just as quickly as the question came, so too did the answer: nobody.

Granted, I have freedom of speech(mostly) and certainly freedom of opinion and I can hate whoever I want. But maybe I can’t look at myself the same if I do now that I know. Maybe, I can’t judge women-who-play-the-victim-because-they-were-totally-asking-for-it. Maybe I can’t judge flamboyant-gay-guys-because-there-are-lots-of-them-who-don’t-have-to-throw-it-in-my-face. Maybe I can’t judge transsexuals-because-they’re-just-so-fucking-weird. Maybe, I can’t judge thieves-because-they’re-too-lazy/greedy/selfish/immoral-to-get-a-job. Maybe I can’t judge racists-because-they’re-an-archaic-vestige-of-a-cultural-disease. Maybe I can’t judge child-predators-because-they-pervert-the-most-fundamentally-innocent. Maybe I can’t judge anybody. 

That doesn’t mean I agree with what everybody does, or that there should be no consequences for people’s actions. That also doesn’t mean that I think a woman dressing in a way that I find provocative is the same as a man preying on a child. It does mean that hate is hate, and judgement is also hate, and if I hold hate in my heart, I am part of the problem.

So this is my feminism: we are all people with the same rights and freedoms and hopes and dreams, and to waste a single moment of this life in hating another (which is what all judgement boils down to) is a crime against all of us.

When they hated the fat, I did not speak up,
For I was not fat.

When they hated the sick, I did not speak up,
For I was not sick.

When they hated the LGBT, I did not speak up,
For I was not LGBT.

When they hated the women, I did not speak up,
For I was not a woman.

And when they hated me,
There was nobody left with a voice to speak up for me.

I’m not perfect (you’re shocked, I can tell). I hate people all the time, but when I notice, I try to correct it. I don’t mean I correct what I say, but I try to see the world as they do. I try to imagine how their life is, and to remember that they are somebody’s child, and that they are a product of their genes and their surroundings, and that I am not always (or even often) right and if I have nothing nice to think, perhaps I should think nothing at all. When I meet somebody I disagree with, I try to see what common ground we have before asserting my own views. When I hear of somebody who has done something heinous, I try to feel for the victim and the perpetrator, because the perpetrator has in some way had a life gone awry (but in no way does that take away from the victim’s pain. Steubenville reporters, I’m looking at you).

And when I meet a woman, I try to see her point of view before I try to see down her shirt.

Sometimes I try to see down her shirt too.

I’m a work in progress.