I posted the above graphic on my Facebook page the other day and it elicited a good bit of discussion. I had started writing a response to someone’s comment and it was getting a bit long so I thought I would turn it into a blog post since it goes to the very roots of how I became a feminist. Actually I would rather say “how I began my journey to become a feminist” because I don’t know if I truly am yet. It takes a lot of time to overcome social conditioning in a world tilted against half of the population.
It wasn’t until the age of 23 that I had really fallen in love and had what I considered my first serious relationship. Her name was Anna (well still is) and she was just a wonderful human being. She announced to me early on that she was a feminist and studied gender sociology. The word feminist at that time, and even still today, had a negative connotation and I was not unaware of it, but I’ve always been one to go beyond the label to know the quality of the person, but one can’t help but have the only ideas that you know about feminists in your brain, even though I knew that there was no reason for men and women to be treated differently, and so I had no problem having her teach me more. The fact that she was crazy about me made me feel pretty good about myself because it meant that I wasn’t like other guys and that there had to be some spark of equality in me that made her feel safe. She taught me a lot of things, but it’s interesting how academic it can all feel. Not that I don’t take academic research seriously, or even feel a certain level of outrage, but sometimes things don’t hit home until you really see it and it becomes personal.
We were both grad students at the University of Oklahoma and while I had roommates she had her own place and our relationship got to the point where I was spending most nights there. One night we were fast asleep in bed, when the phone rang, which was next to her bed. It woke me slightly and I heard her pick up the phone and say “Hello?” A few seconds passed and she once again said “Hello?”. And then after a few more seconds she yelled “Oh my God!” and hung up the phone. When I asked her what was wrong she said it was a guy on the other end of the phone and he asked her to keep talking so he could masturbate to her voice. It was an incident so befuddling to me that I almost couldn’t process it in the moment. I know I held her, but I don’t think at the time I could truly understand how it made her feel. However, I did know at the moment that something was wrong. Something was fundamentally wrong in the world. This was not the first time she had experienced something like this. And it was by far not a rare experience for women in general.
Feminism has come far, fighting a lot of the big and obvious things that have been suppressing women in our society, but the undercurrent of misogyny remains. I realized the day after that night time phone call that there were simply certain things in this world that I would never have to face. While laws had been passed to protect women, to give them better opportunities for jobs, better pay, a wider variety of careers, there were certain things that I would never feel. I would never be cat called, and I would never have some creepy person calling me in the middle of the night using me for purposes of masturbation, and I would never have a guy honk at me because I of the clothes I was wearing. It would be easy to be glib here and say as guys we would love all these things, but it’s a position of privilege to feel this way because I could enjoy the fantasy and then once it’s over I would go back to being a man. Someone who isn’t judged based on the most superficial qualities about myself. No one would really question my morals for wanting to be sexy or liking sex. No one would criticize me if I wanted to be more modest. I would never have to deal with a date who seemed nice, but felt that if he was going to pay for dinner I had to put out. That he had a right to my body at a certain point, and that being physically weaker I might not be able to fight him off. I would never have to face the humiliation afterward when my body, when my very personhood was violated and reported the rape that so many women have faced by having the finger pointed at me. What was I wearing? Did I have any alcohol? Did I lead him on? Did I invite him into my home? None of these things are permission for rape. And so like so many women I might also make the decision to not say anything. Just suck it up and move on so as not to invite criticism and judgment, and possible even more violence at the hands of the person who raped me.
These incidents are not rare. They are not spread out sparsely across the multitude of women. They are common, there is no hiding from them, they happen every day. It is the totality of all these things a woman has to face. This oppression and disregard is sometimes more obvious and sometimes less so, but they are ever present. Is it any wonder that many women begin to think the worst of men? Find it hard to trust them? Find it hard to trust themselves when it comes to even telling one of the good ones from the bad ones. At times I have been one of those men who complained about women not appreciating a nice guy. I was wrong to do so, because even if I am nice, given what so many women have gone through, my compassion should always have been at the fore. And if all this isn’t sad enough, it’s important to remember that this is one of the countries where women can consider themselves having it good compared to many places.
Look, I’m not blind that there are issues that negatively impact men as well, but the issues men face aren’t even close. I also find that as we actually truly start to value those things that we consider feminine those culturally narrow definitions of masculinity also begin to fade. While I may not know yet whether I am the feminist I want to be, I know that the fight for equality is everybody’s responsibility and that it lifts us all to a better position morally, ethically, and spiritually. The only way for everyone to have power is through equality. Power combined with inequality means that someone is losing. And women have been losing for far too long.