Sometimes when I wake up at odd hours of the morning, I find myself stumbling through comment threads on Facebook and Reddit. It never takes long to find a comment disparaging feminism and feminists. Recently, a well known vlogger even came out in opposition to feminism, saying that she doesn’t need it.
I need feminism, though. And even if she doesn’t think she does, I still think feminism is necessary for society.
But why, Resa? Why are you a feminazi? Why must you be a shrill harpy with too many opinions? Can’t you please stick to cooking? You’re really good at it. I mean, your blog is about domestication. Doesn’t that make you a bad feminist?
Let’s talk about what feminism is
I know a lot of people define feminism in different ways. Some definitions are more inclusive than others. Some are more extreme.
I believe feminism is a movement which seeks to help women achieve equal treatment in society by breaking free of imposed gender norms. Any person of any gender (and ethnicity!) should be able to pursue a career or life they want.
Simple enough, right? Maybe not.
Let’s talk about what feminism is not
Feminism isn’t about hating men. It’s not about making women greater than men. It’s not about dominating anyone. Feminism isn’t about taking rights away from anyone. It’s not about taking away opportunity from people who already have it. It’s about extending opportunity to those who don’t.
Let’s talk about the root of the problem: gender roles
The core of this idea is the understanding that gender roles (binaries, if you will) are imposed on us from an early age. Men are dominant, women are subservient. Men are fighters and conquerors, women are nurturers. Men are strong, women are weak. Men are aggressive, women are docile. Men are logical and stoic, women are emotional and expressive. Men are the breadwinners, women are the homemakers.
Come on, we’ve gotten way past this in our society. No one really believes this.
Considering that I hear the expression “boys will be boys” nearly every time I go to the park, a preschooler getting stitches after a boy hit her was told “I bet he like you,” and the fact that there was widespread backlash over Target removing gender labels from the toy aisles, I’m willing to wager that we as a developed nation still have some issues as far as imposing gender roles.
How is that even a problem? Boys like boy things, girls like girl things, what’s wrong with that?
There’s really nothing wrong with a boy liking trucks and super heroes. There’s also nothing wrong with a boy liking My Little Pony and baby dolls. Because My Little Pony is rad and life affirming. And so are babies. But when a boy likes to play with dolls, people take issue for some reason. There is something wrong with a boy doing something traditionally feminine. Herein lies the rub.
The problem with gender roles is that they generally hinge on women being lesser (and historically, women have been treated as such). They assert that being or acting feminine isn’t as good as being manly. They demand that men be forceful, that they be greater than women. They insist that husbands should make more than wives. When a husband doesn’t make more than a wife makes, he’s been emasculated. If a man is raised to believe that he’s supposed to be greater than women, but women are now his equals, he’ll end up feeling inferior, not because he is, but because she isn’t.
It’s no small wonder that many are rankled by the idea of feminism – women who seek to break free of this gender norm of subservience (note that the prefix sub- means under) certainly agitate this cultural expectation of male superiority and female docility.
Consider, too, that men have significantly higher suicide rates than women, arguably because of a social expectation that they should be stoic breadwinners whose only acceptable emotional responses are approval or anger. When a man feels inferior, fearful, when he’s not living up to society’s ideal of a man, what does he do? He’s not left with many socially in-line options but retaliation. Blame someone else. Avoid introspection. Or self-destruct. It’s a dangerous combination.
How interesting, Resa. Why are you focusing on men here? I thought you said you’re a feminist.
How interesting, indeed. The thing is, gender roles affect EVERYONE. If we adhere to the prescribed gender roles, a woman is demure and gentle, a man is strong and bold. So when we break those gender molds, when we step out of those binaries, there are clear reactions. If a woman is assertive, she’s thought to be bossy. Domineering. Argumentative. A bitch. When a man is assertive, he has balls (tender, crepe-like sacks that are arguably the most externally sensitive parts of the human anatomy – WHY IS THIS SYNONYMOUS WITH STRENGTH?). He’s got nerve (in a good way). He’s got that special something.
Let’s look at a few different situations wherein our perceptions may be altered by our understanding of gender roles.
A girl is dressed in a tight top and a short skirt. It’s not demure and dainty – it’s sexy as hell. You go girl.
This girl gets raped while she’s out drinking with her friends.
How did you react? Did you just think, “well she should have dressed more modestly and shown some self-respect”? I truly hope not. A woman is not to blame for a man’s inability to control himself. A woman is not to blame for a man’s decision to rape. No matter what she is wearing. Just because a woman doesn’t fit into the prescribed gender role of being delicate and demure – just because she doesn’t dress the way a “lady” is supposed to dress – doesn’t mean she should be punished for it.
A man is being abused by his wife. She is financially controlling, limiting his access to money, frequently threatening to leave with their children, and she frequently hits him hard enough to leave bruises.
“How can a man be abused? Why can’t he just get his woman under control?” That’s an odd question to ask, isn’t it? Relationships shouldn’t be power plays, and partners shouldn’t be in control of one another. A man shouldn’t be expected to have control over “his” woman. This woman should be held accountable for abusing her partner, but he may never report it because the police may not believe him. How could a man be abused by a woman? He may not report it because he already feels emasculated and humiliated. Gender roles tell us that this shouldn’t even be a possibility. By adhering to expected gender roles, we’re neglecting this person who is in peril.
For that matter, adhering to gender roles permits us to turn a blind eye to a wife who is “out of control” and needs to be “put into her place” by her abusive husband.
Are we on the same page now?
So why don’t you just call yourself an egalitarian?
It would certainly be easier to call myself an egalitarian – there would definitely be less backlash, but there’s the problem. There is still backlash about being called a feminist.
The idea of feminism is a challenge to many peoples’ worldview, and it all comes back down to the gender role-enforced notion that femininity is still considered lesser. People are still bothered by this idea of women wanting to ascend in society and achieve equally with men. People still adhere to strict gender binaries that are incredibly harmful to both men and women.
I’m not going to call myself egalitarian to make someone else more comfortable.
Until calling a man fem or girly isn’t considered an insult, I’ll still call myself a feminist. Until women aren’t judged for their social skills rather than their actual skills and penalized for negotiating skills, I’ll still call myself a feminist. Until parents and toy companies alike become comfortable with the idea that boys can play with dolls and girls can play with race cars and neither is the lesser or greater for it, I’ll still call myself a feminist.