Friday, 5 April 2013

Okay, fine, so I am a feminist


A while back, I posted about all the reasons why I'm not a feminist. And my concerns were actually really well thought out. I wanted things that I still want, and I wanted to achieve them with a human rights movement, and so I went on to say how feminism alone wasn't going to cut it.

But the thing is, I've been diving way deeper into feminism in the past two months than I ever have before. And part of that has been amazing conversations with other men and women who see things in ways that I hadn't considered before.

One major thing I failed to consider in my last post was the potential for feminism positively impacting men. It wasn't something that had ever occurred to me, because after all, isn't feminism about women, not men? The truth is that I definitely had a limited understanding of what feminism actually is, and that was largely why I said I wasn't a part of it.

Looking at it now, and checking out what I've been compulsively posting on my Facebook wall for the past two months, I've come to realize that feminism is exactly the movement I've always been part of. I just didn't know that was the word for it.

There has been a lot of talk about rape culture lately. And I have gotten up to my elbows in those discussions, because I honestly believe that rape culture is rampant and completely unacceptable. It doesn't take a feminist to notice the template that our descriptions of rape victims follow. Usually they start with whether or not they had been drinking, and then move on to what they were wearing, and most definitely whether they were out walking alone at night. You know, all things that the woman made a decision about. If this isn't old news to you, then most likely, you've never paused to think about it (now's your chance!), but it seems pretty straightforward to say that there are many elements of it that appear to blame the victim, at least on some level.

Thanks to SlutWalk Kingston for the image!
Of course, if the rape hasn't been proven yet, often the woman is called a liar, a slut and any number of other unsavoury names. If it has been proven, she's still often shamed for coming forward. Sometimes this even seems friendly. I once heard a woman tell her rape victim friend, "Well, it's definitely brave of you. I mean, I'd never tell anyone if I got raped, 'cause it would make me feel like everyone's staring at me all the time if they all knew, you know?"

A lot of people (feminists and even those who don't identify as feminists) have been outraged at the way that the Steubenville rape case has been handled in the media, and it's not surprising. If you look at the coverage, the whole formula I just outlined is right there, complete with a full-blown personal attack on the victim through social media, launched by her schoolmates. The only thing grown-ups seem to talk about is how ruined the promising football players' lives are because they're going to be sent to prison. Nobody seems to want to talk about the teenaged girl who was raped, the girl who did not have control over whether or not those men would decide to rape her, and whose life is also ruined (arguably, much more so). And did I mention that a major news outlet even aired the victim's name? (Why not violate her basic legal protections, to add insult to injury?) There is this idea that these young men are somehow victims in this, as though some supernatural force took hold of them and forced them to rape a girl, and now their lives are over. News flash: they made a choice. They decided to rape a young girl, and the consequences of that are that they will go to prison. Will that affect them for the rest of their lives? Quite possibly. But let's not forget that they committed a crime and they should reasonably have expected that there would be serious consequences.

I wish this case was as isolated as some would like to believe. But the truth is that as long as we talk and behave like, "If she wore that skirt, she was asking for it," we also perpetuate this idea that men are weak, one-dimensional beings that are incapable of self-control. I mean, if a girl walks by in a mini-skirt, of course a man has to rape her. It's just as simple as 1+1=2, right? There's no reason why he might stop and think, "Hey, I wonder if there's an option not to rape this girl. You know, even though she's asking for it by wearing that skirt..." (I'm being facetious. I would hope men don't actually consciously think that way.) You know, I bet there are even men who would instead think, "That girl has great legs. Oh, shit. I just looked. I'd better keep walking and look straight ahead. She's probably thinking I'm going to attack her or make some rude comment."

The truth is, by acting as though women cause rape just by being in a situation where they could be raped, we take all agency away from men. Men become mindless, reactive animals that don't reflect any kind of inherent decency or ability to develop a complex personal value system and live by it. Men are just raping women because the opportunity presents itself, and why wouldn't any guy rape a woman if he had the chance, right?

There was this great meme that someone shared on Facebook one day, and I think it sums up really, really beautifully the relationship that could (and I feel should) exist between feminists and anyone fighting for men's dignity.

Every day, I'm surrounded by decent men. Really, really decent men. Men who blush if they realize they've just inadvertently suggested that I'm not capable, and men who treat my body as neither a sexual object nor something to be ashamed of. I regularly spend time with men who bend gender stereotypes way out of shape and make me love them for who they are, not how well they fit into a cookie cutter.

So for me, the saving grace of fighting for women's rights is that these same men I love are also at the receiving end of the positive things that come out of it. When men grow up without thinking that rape culture is OK (check this out--it's not nearly as revolutionary as the host would have it sound), they have more positive interactions with women and aren't committing as many violent crimes, being more likely overall to lead dignified lives outside of the prison system. (FYI, don't even get me started on the prison system.) When men are not assumed to be domestically inept or incapable of caring about things slightly outside of the expected few things, then maybe we'll see a shift in custody trials, where parents have the right to care for their children because they're actually just good parents, not because she is supposed to be a naturally good parent and he is not. Maybe, just maybe, men will be able to live by their own values and be morally strong on their own terms without the fear of judgement and ridicule if we're able to do away with this ridiculous set of standards we set for men (Tony Porter calls it the "man box"). And, to get down to the fun side of things, feminism just might have some ideas as to how to make sex way sexier for both parties involved. (That's what I call a truly win-win situation.)

I know it seems crazy, but it's the feminist in me that believes that we need to empower men to create positive change. And until men and women are working together on gender issues, and really talking about creating a shift away from discriminatory (in either direction) practices in our society, I fear it might defeat us.

But hey, we created it. That means we can fix it, too.

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