At this point, you’re probably tired of hearing, seeing, listening to and arguing about feminism. I’m not too big of a fan of the word either so please don’t go ballistic just yet. Read on, try to keep an open mind, which I know is crazy hard, but how ’bout we try for just one sec?
Things are better for women now. I mean, of course they are, any woman can walk to the bank and open an account, any woman can walk up to a university’s admissions and apply… I could go on and on. However, I’d first like to make sure we’re all on the same page: I’m talking from limited experience as a white woman in Western Europe. I don’t pretend to know about anyone else in any other position. This doesn’t make what I have to say any less relevant, but it makes it my own: I just have a thought to share.
We keep letting anger get in the way of these important discussions, too concerned about how we get personally offended by what people have to say instead of remembering we all have opinions, right or wrong as we may consider them to be. It’s tiring to want to explain something to someone and having to yell to make yourself heard, it’s tiring to focus on the bad and forget the good, and it’s tiring to focus on the good and remember the bad.
I’m writing this down because I knew if I tried saying this out loud, I would probably let myself get angry and completely ruin my point. This way, I know where I’m headed.
I’m going to tell you a true story. This summer, my sixteen-year-old brother told me with disappointment, and some sadness too, that he didn’t understand the women’s rights movement. He told me he felt a bit disheartened that it was all about equal rights but not equal responsibilities. He said he had a hard time understanding the movement when every time he looked at the truth, he was faced with hatred for being a man or the veil of politically correct limitations that has come to surround most big social challenges. I was sad to hear him say that, but also proud to see that he had been able to, calmly and rationally, give voice to the opinions a lot of people, women included, hold.
He was factual, he was calm, he was also open-minded. When I told him he was mostly thinking of what people like to refer to as ”femi-nazis’, he kind of agreed. I told him the ’real’, ’original’ feminists wanted to have opportunities and choices just like guys did. I told him I was a feminist, and to me that meant being allowed to go out at night without being scared, sitting wherever I want on the bus without being subjected to lecherous stares, walking into any university (humanities and science alike) and seeing fifty-fifty ratios. It also means looking at the top earners and seeing as many girls as dudes and not having to choose between career and kids. Men never have to, they never even consider that possibility! I have nothing against men, particularly shirtless ones. Oh wait… How does that feel? But… I’m not here to hate. I really want to make a fair, rational point, and if anger is part of what sparked this piece, it has no place in its realization. I was recently in one of the most frustrating, anger-inducing, disappointing, saddening arguments I have ever been in. I was told by privileged white young men that inequality between men and women didn’t exist anymore. I’m going to let that sink in. Sunk in? They said that. Now, I think they meant they didn’t understand shit about women’s minds and position in the world. I’m not here to hate or blame them. I’m here to say that it’s sad that conversation happened. You see, they told me, amongst other things, that women made the choice by themselves to put family before career because it ultimately made them happier, that it was ’natural’ and ’biological’ for women to be closer and more involved with their kids than men, and that it was OK for women only to make the choice between children and career. They told me the feminist discourse of equal rights and opportunities was backwards, overturned, antiquated. I’m going to give you a moment to let that sink in too.
I’ll admit that sexism is no longer an issue of men against women per se, and truth be told I think equal rights do - theoretically - exist. Sexism is a matter of society now, of preconceived ideas that we, young men and women, impose on ourselves for some reason. I said that. Those two replied with something similar to, “society? That’s just bullshit excuses to fuel bullshit causes.” Ain’t that bullshit? It’s like an old Dove advert that my friend pointed out: kids of both genders were asked to run like a girl: the eight-year-olds all ran the same, and fourteen-year olds ran like constipated dodos.
I swear to you all those guys assured me it was true girls ran weird. I don’t know if they thought that maybe I just wanted to run their faces through a wall at that point? Wait. I promised no hate. Much less violence.
This actually brings me to my last point: biology. So yes, there is a biological factor to the whole male-female dynamic. This is Imperial, and while we love making fun of our bio friends, we do recognise their existence. Guys buffing up at ethos, girls dieting, guys dieting, girls buffing up at ethos, we do it all to be more attractive. That’s true: we biologically want to reproduce. Our generation likes referring to it as ’being horny,’ but we’re smart, evolved creatures too, who can control primal biological needs with this mysterious thing called reason (also referred to as common sense, education or normalcy). I was angry, it didn’t mean I punched anyone, I was sad and disappointed, it didn’t mean I cried or shouted. The same way that just because you like someone you don’t have sex in the middle of the freaking hallway. The same way that just because you ’think’ it is manlier to be the provider doesn’t mean you’re emasculated by having a successful wife! I mean, watch the Intern! Anything wrong with a stay at home dad?
Let’s speak the truth, boys and girls, we’re all at fault here! We don’t have to be sheep. But I mean feel free to wrap yourself in curly white wool and move to a field of grass and do what all the others do. Well… What the fuck. We can do better. It’s not even about rights, responsibilities, choices, freedoms, whatever. It’s about respect. For yourself, for others, those who are like and unlike you, those who came before and fought for change, those who come now and fight for change, those who will come to fight for change. Because things are never fine, they never will be. But that doesn’t mean we stop making them better, and a little less bad.