March 1 2014 – Feminism Takes Balls
In honor of Women’s History month
Feminism Takes Balls
Why our Fathers, Husbands, Brothers and Boyfriends Should be Feminists too
There is perhaps no label more misunderstood, and therefore maligned, than the title of ‘feminist.’ It is popularly misconceived as something that requires time and effort or something that a rational person may optionally choose to be. Reason offers us no such choice. Feminism, in its entire controversial splendor, is the radical notion that women are people and should be treated equally. We should be living in a world where proclaiming that you are not a feminist is as socially acceptable as public nudity. The purpose of this paper is to suggest one necessary part of what will likely be a multi-faceted solution. If feminism is going to thrive and accomplish its goals in the 21st century, than feminism is going to need balls.
Somewhere along the line feminism became associated with “man-hating”; I’ll leave the task of figuring out exactly how that happened to future historians and late night comedians. A 2013 poll conducted by the Huffington Post found that 37% of those surveyed believed that feminism was a negative word. Only 20% of those surveyed self-identified as feminists, despite the fact that an overwhelming 82% of those surveyed said they thought men and women should be “social, political, and economic equals.” The disparity between those respondents who agreed with the definition of feminism but failed to recognize themselves as feminists is staggering. It also gets at a serious problem. The perpetuation of this stereotype deprives women of a powerful concept to invoke when they experience prejudice. It would be like trying to point out the problem of segregation in the 1950’s south, without any appeal to the concept of racism. By making “feminist” a dirty word, we have needlessly deprived ourselves of a powerful conceptual tool.
While neither men nor women identify strongly with the label feminist, women are more likely than men to recognize the historical importance of the feminist movement and to think it might be needed in the future. A 2009 CBS poll found 69% of women believed the feminist movement had made their lives better and just under half (48%) thought it is still needed. Though I think these numbers in isolation are horrifically low, they appear superb by comparison to the responses given by men. Men are divided almost perfectly in half on whether the feminist movement has made their lives better or worse (47% to 46% respectively) and just over a third of men (34%) thought that the feminist movement was still needed. Only 14% of men initially identified as feminists though this number increases to 58% when supplied with a definition.
So it’s clear we have a conceptual problem from both men and woman. The most telling statistic is that only a third of men believe that the feminist movement is still needed. This is the statistic I am the most concerned with. The reason people denounce feminism is because of the misconception that its agenda to validate women results in emasculating men. Men see it as an attack and women are quick to support them. Women are unique from many other historically oppressed groups in that most are not psychologically distant or removed from the dominant power group. Asymmetries aside, men and women will continue to be friends with one another, fall in love, and raise boys and girls together. This is overall a good thing; we shouldn’t want animosity between the sexes. However if men can start to understand the importance of equality then woman will feel more comfortable joining them in the fight against gender oppression. So long as little girls look up to their fathers and young women have male friends (platonic and romantic), their normative expectations for how they should act will always be influenced by the men in their lives. Most women love the men in their lives so they need to feel like they aren’t taking a stance against men but that they are taking a stance for equality. We don’t need every man in the country to start this movement we just need to increase that 14% enough that woman can see there are men out there who are on their side.
We should be aware that this movement would have resistance. If we are successful in spreading the popularity of feminism amongst even a third of men, woman will likely become empowered and aware of when they’re being oppressed. This awareness will cause animosity. Not between men and woman but between feminists and people of both genders who renounce it. This lack of tolerance towards people who don’t support equality is the most important part of progress. When we judge and reject people for their bigotry and biases, they succumb to peer-pressure. Some positive news about this difficult battle is that we live in a time, that with the right direction, social media can expedite this method dramatically. Just look at how influential marriage equality was. That was a battle that had little mobility for decades but as social media flourished, within roughly a year of social media peer-pressure, we saw progress in our legislation. So how do we get men on the forefront of the social media battlefield? We talk to them. For both men and women alike, spreading the word can be as simple as talking about what the definition of a feminist is and why it’s a negative thing to not be one.
The problem with this conversation however is that from the perspective of privilege the world will intuitively always seems fine. Until men can take the problem of gender inequality seriously, they will always be limited in their ability to foster the right kinds of attitudes and dispositions in their daughters and loved ones. We might be tempted to respond that this isn’t a problem for men to be dealing with at all. That perhaps, while men should not impede the progress of feminism, they have no obligation to support it either. I think this is misguided. It’s true that there may be practical limits in men’s ability to empathize with the condition of women but it’s no different than our limits to understand any other group we might be foreign to. For instance the limits of straight individuals to empathize with homosexual individuals; while at first it may feel foreign and unimportant when place ourselves in their shoes our perception changes. We support things like civil rights and marriage equality because while we might not identify to one or both of those groups, the people in them matter to us. Part of what it is to love someone, a girlfriend, a wife, a daughter, a sister, is to take their interests seriously. So our inability to take on the perspective of another gender poses as much threat to our conceptions of love as it does equality.
I have one of the most supportive loving fathers that someone could ask for. He’s the only person who really supported and pushed me to go to school to study film; he says “if you want to do big things, you have to take big risks”. He’s my biggest fan, constantly bragging about what I do and showing off my work to his friends and colleagues. He believes in me even when I struggle to believe in myself. That being said when I tell him stories of what it’s like to work with my male classmates his reaction is off putting. I’ll tell him about how even my male friends, who enjoy my presence and humor so long as I take a back seat in discussions; will continuously treat me with less respect. The most frustrating form of disrespect is when they constantly reject my ideas only to later take them as their own after the fact. It seems clear that they’re good ideas; just not when they’re from a woman. My father’s response to these things is that I need to adjust my behavior. His advice is often framed around the idea that in order to beat them at their own game, I need to act more like a man. The problem is that’s not how double standards work. Without going all in for a sex change, if I were to treat them the way they treat me I would find myself alienated. My father goes on to suggest other techniques and even management styles in hopes that I might be able to manipulate my colleges. His inability to understand that I’ve already tried these things and that they are helpless to the issue brought me to tears. Suddenly he listened a little closer, “Nora you have to know I’m always on your side”. I asked him if he’s really on my side why he didn’t consider himself a feminist. His response was heart breaking; he said that he supports me having it but just because something was my cause it didn’t mean it had to be his. I told him if he didn’t believe men and women should be equal, then he quite literally was not on my side. Taken aback he rebutted that he did believe men and woman should be equal. After a brief silence I asked the most important man in my life something that made me very vulnerable, “then say it. Say that you’re a feminist. Say the word.” I knew I was throwing a lot of things at him that he had never had to analyze before so I was prepared for the worst, but after another moment of silence he confidently proclaimed that he was in fact a feminist. It was a small victory for not just womankind but for the human race; one more person stepped over to the right side of history and left both ignorance and the tolerance of ignorance behind them. These are the conversations and small victories both men and woman need to be having if we want a shot at progress.
Of course we need to give our loved ones some time to become acclimated with the idea of identifying with feminism. Especially our male loved ones because their ability to empathize might take a little more time. Eventually the next step is going to be to take our intolerance of anti-feminism to war. The battlefield will be all around us; we will combat ignorance in our living rooms, in our offices, and on social media. It won’t be easy, we may have to pick and choose our battles but our greatest hope equality is to join men and women in the fight. Together our persuasion and intolerance can be powerful. I think our first plan of attack should be a storm of peer pressure on social media. I encourage both women and men to post this status:
Feminism: the belief that men and woman should have equal rights and opportunities.
I am a feminist. Not being a feminist is ignorant and immoral.
This by no means will create change overnight but it will get people talking about it. Much like there is a gay straight alliance in which people do not have to be homosexual to support their freedom we need a men and woman alliance for women’s equality. The first steps to creating that alliance will be breaking down misconceptions with statuses like the above.
When we talk about Cultural norms, theory and situational interaction theory, the way women are viewed and treated often comes to mind. I think it’s extremely true that media tells us about relationship and what is normal. However I think it’s also true that Social learning theory that promotes pro social behavior cannot just establish or add cultural norms but actually change the ones that already exist. Many women have not only zero concern for feminism and gender equality, many women actually try to distance themselves from the word. In my opinion the only way someone can be against something that benefits them is because they are miss informed or mentally ill. Some of the films we’ve watched haven’t necessarily advocated for the mistreatment of women, but they certainly reflect the reality of where women are in the world. If the media isn’t doing something wrong they at least aren’t doing something right either. Tough guise for instance is a perfect example of pro social behavior that would benefit gender equality. Unfortunately tough guise isn’t a sitcom or 20 something’s reality show, it’s a documentary. If we want cultivation theory to work we need to install ideas of gender equality in the setting of normalcy in the media. Not that feminism is different or morally correct but that feminism is normal and the lack of it is immorally wrong.
Trilogy: Persuasion, Information, Entertainment