A man recently found out that I, the completely normal-looking and friendly young woman he had been chatting with, was a feminist.
This must have really shaken him up (I assume he’d never met one of us IRL before), because his next question was:
So you think women should be superior to men?
Naturally my first response was to assume he was kidding and laugh. Because… wut?
But no. This man was deadass serious. I have no idea what kind of people he had been exposed to, but he was completely under the impression that, since gender inequality no longer exists, feminists are trying to oppress men so that we can run the world.
The interesting thing was that this man really believes that since women are paid the same as men (false lol) and we can vote and own land now, so basically… any woman who feels oppressed at this point is just playing the victim card and want everything to be handed to them.
He also seemed to feel very strongly that identifying our movement according to gender is just “divisive” and that we should be focusing on “walking together” rather than “pitting ourselves against the good men trying to help us.”
Anyway, after this conversation turned sour, I got to thinking. Not about him, because he had nothing to offer but privileged nonsense, but about some of the beliefs we was spouting. I hear echoes of his views all the time, from good people who are genuinely struggling to understand why is feminism still a thing again…?
It’s very easy for people (aka people who aren’t actually reading feminist texts or following feminist leaders) to completely misunderstand the goal of feminism. They hear bits and pieces from snarky and inaccurate third-party sources like FOX news or whatever, and come away with the belief that feminism seems stupid, dangerous, or unnecessary.
If you frame it like “women whining about injustice instead of doing something about it” or “women wanting to oppress men,” then yeah, the whole thing is pretty unlikeable. Duh– that’s why so many anti-progressive (right-wing) sources spin it that way!
But those views are based on nothing more than malevolent gossip; a smear campaign designed to invalidate a movement that causes trouble for people who want to maintain the status quo.
That’s why I decided to set a few facts straight, and tackle some basic shit about what I’m fighting for when I say I’m a feminist. Obviously this is a much bigger topic than one essay’s worth, but I’ll do my best.
Q: Why do we still need feminism?
A: Because there is still gender inequality. There is still sexism, and discrimination based on gender, sexuality, and gender presentation. There is still exploitation and oppression based on gender.
Q: What is the goal of feminism?
A: There are many serious legislative and structural issues at the core of the feminist movement, like fighting for access to full reproductive health care and rights, access to affordable and high quality child-care options and paid family leave, an end to sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and fighting for better representation in media/entertainment as well as a more equal percentage of women in elected office, CEO positions, leadership positions.
Not to mention of course the right to not be sexually harassed/assaulted/raped, the right to not experience domestic violence, and equal pay for equal work. Oh, and the right to be LGBTQ or transgender without the barrage of violent and marginalizing fuckery that currently comes with that.
Note: It’s also important to acknowledge the intersections of oppression that cross categories such as race, ability, class, age, weight, etc. Intersectional feminism is about recognizing and fighting the various intersecting systems of power that marginalize and oppress people, because a black woman’s experience is completely different than a white woman’s experience, and a fat woman’s experience is completely different than a thin woman’s experience.
I wish I had more time to tackle the complicated intersectional landscape, but for the purpose of this essay, feminism’s goal is simply to end sexism, gender inequality, and gender bias.
Q: Who is the enemy of feminism?
A: Spoiler alert: it’s not men! Feminism is not anti man. Again, we’re just anti-sexism, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression, and anti-exploitation. The “enemy” is sexism, discrimination based on gender and sexuality, and gender inequality.
Q: What do you mean by sexism and gender inequality?
A: If you’ve never personally experienced gender or sexism inequality, they can be completely invisible.
So here’s the deal: Our culture is obsessed with gender differentiation. Before a baby is even born, we are consumed by the desire to categorize them based on their genitals (which is super creepy if you think about it), and we wrongly identify both sex and gender on a binary. You get to be just one of the two options, and anyone who doesn’t fit into one of those has to just pick whichever is “closest.”
Interestingly, intersex people are born all the time with a variety of unique reproductive organs and genitals that make it hard for them to check the box of either “boy” or “girl.” These people are often surgically altered at birth to make them fit whichever box is most convenient.
Isn’t that pretty fucked up? Like… we have a binary system and these babies don’t fit in with it, so we cut their bodies until they do. Oh, and in case you think this is a super rare occurrence, it’s not: intesex people are born at about the same rate as redheads.
Ok, so I take issue with the way our culture fetishes sex and gender right out the gate, and forces everyone to choose a binary option, but from there it only gets worse! Due to our obsession with gender, we shove gendered clothing, toys, and treatment on our children.
Our implicit gender biases (aka: biases that are below the level of consciousness) get passed on when we praise little girls for being cute, nice, pretty, and well-behaved, and we praise little boys for being smart, strong, fast, and clever. They get passed on when we buy our girls dolls and our boys trucks. They get passed on when we permit our boys to be aggressive and wild, but shame our girls for the same. They get passed on when we permit our girls to be sensitive and emotional, but shame our boys for the same. They get passed on when we put our little girls in dresses that limit movement and have no pockets, teaching her that her body is for looking at, not for doing stuff.
In short, we socialize our children to see their gender as the most fundamental part of their identity, and we teach them how to appropriately perform their gender so that they fit in with our sexist ideas of what gender should be.
It doesn’t get better from there though.
The perceptions we hold of each gender get stronger throughout a person’s life, and we chalk it all up to biology rather than the way we socialize children since before they’re born.
We perceive men as better at math and driving. We perceive women as better at nurturing and childcare. We see men as smart, and women as social. We assume men are better leaders, and women are better at domestic skills. We take for granted that men love sports and women, while women love shopping and makeup. We unconsciously believe men need to feel like useful providers, while women need to feel beautiful and desirable.
In short, most of us internalize the performance of gender that we got stuck with based on our genitals at birth, and apply it both to ourselves and to everyone else. We know that people who break the rules are severely punished and marginalized. Think: a feminine gay man who spends his entire life being shamed for not being “manly” enough, or the way a woman is slut-shamed and victim-blamed if she tempted a helpless man into assaulting her.
We all have implicit gender biases, and women and non-conforming gender individuals get the short end of the stick. Both men and women view men (especially tall, white, conventionally masculine men) as more trustworthy and competent, for example, so it starts to feel completely natural that they hold more positions of leadership, and make more money, and otherwise rule the world.
When we talk about living in a patriarchy, it simply means that this culture was historically built by men, for men, and most of us still view this as the natural order of things due to implicit gender biases that we keep passing on to our children. The patriarchy determines who is suitable for which job positions, who is believable in a trial, who gets access to bodily autonomy, and whose problems matter most.
Q: But… what about biology?
A: Many people really, really want to believe that men and women are each naturally drawn to all the gender roles and gender performance we shove on them, and they use “biology!” to defend their gender-obsessed actions.
First of all, I certainly recognize that there are some inherent differences between men and women beyond genitals, but it’s very difficult to tell the difference between which is nature and which is nurture when it comes to gender. Socialization is powerful shit, and we don’t have a gender-blind control group to see what would happen. (Trust me, I dream of this world often.)
That said, I feel like… if it’s really biology, then nobody should have a problem with us fighting the gender-based socialization. Because that would mean that even without teaching girls to be sexual objects and people-pleasers, they would become that way anyway! And even without teaching boys to feel entitled to women’s attention and bodies, or to repress all of their feelings except anger, that they would become violent, stoic, and emotionally stunted anyway!
I mean really, if biology is so strong, nothing would change if we stopped shoving gender performances down everyone’s throat. So maybe just let us try?
Most importantly though, using the “biology!” response is very rude, because if biology explained all of our gender biases and performances, then we wouldn’t have a feminism movement because nobody would be bothered by anything. But people are, well… bothered.
It’s kinda like how we used to think women weren’t capable of voting, owning land, having jobs, running a mile, being fulfilled without children, or anything else. They used to cry “biology!” to that shit too, and we’ve slowly proved it allllll wrong. When I hear the biology argument, what I hear is that you simply don’t want things to change because the status quo is working for you.
Q: Why do we need to talk so divisively about gender, why can’t we just focus on coming together as humans?
A: It has to be about gender because it’s already about gender. This question, though usually well-intentioned, would be like asking your doctor: why does my treatment have to be all about cancer? Well… because you have cancer, my friend. It would be silly to treat you as if you didn’t have cancer, just because cancer makes you uncomfortable, right? Yeah. That.
When gender is no longer a divisive issue, we’ll stop treating it like one.
But gender determines how people are treated and perceived, what life chances and opportunities they’ll get, what standards they’ll be held to, and how they’ll be encouraged to view their role and identity.
This isn’t healthy for anyone of any gender, but women and non-gender-conforming individuals are disproportionately negatively impacted by both implicit and explicit biases, discrimination, exploitation, and marginalization.
This is why we fight, my friends.
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