EWB National Conference in Calgary not a week ago. There were incredible discussions about everything from foreign aid, to corporate social responsibility, to environmental issues, and I left really thinking about things in ways I never thought I could.
I love EWB. They challenge me in new and exciting ways and force me to step out of my comfort zone when I need that push. And so when I heard that Erin Aylward was going to be there, giving a talk on gender issues, I was torn. I have never identified as a feminist. In fact, living with three boys who (for different reasons) are themselves pretty marginalized, I have been known to pick out the ways in which men are discriminated against.
The funny thing is, there are few people in the world that I respect as much as Erin Aylward, and gender is her thing. And in the spirit of open-mindedness, I decided that I had to take that plunge and open my mind to gender issues in ways that I have resisted until now.
So I went. And we talked about gender in an open, honest, and decidedly not antagonistic way. We talked not about how things should be so much as how things are and how understanding that will help us do a better job of effectively creating positive change. It was inspiring.
Now, I'm still not going to stand on a street corner and shout, "Women are horribly mistreated and you men need to do something about it right now!" But I am going to keep posting things on my Facebook wall that highlight how disgusting rape culture is. I will keep informing people, when they offer me a job because I'm a woman, that there is only one kind of job that my vagina single-handedly qualifies me for, thankyouverymuch. And perhaps most importantly, I'm going to be more aware of the ways that men and women are portrayed around me, of how rich it is that this ad is sexist, but this ad is just good marketing. After all, an overtly sexual ad with a deeper message than the usual "you should buy these jeans" is a crime...
I guess what I'm trying to say is that gender issues are important. They're important because they define the way we function. All things being equal, we wouldn't have to talk about gender issues. But all things still aren't equal, and I don't mean only in one direction. Can we talk about how women are subject to sexual harassment all the time and some men just think it's paying women a compliment? And can we also have a conversation about why, if a man is being abused by his wife, he's considered less than a man for trying to do something about it?
I'm not a feminist. I'm a humanist. But I'm learning more and more that to create change, you have to properly understand the world we're living in, and like it or not, gender is part of that.