Allow me to preface this by stating that I am a feminist. It took me some time to warm to the idea because I initially had such a dreadful notion of the average feminist. Various media through the years informed me that feminism was synonymous with female chauvinism — the “religion” of the quintessential angry, man-hating female. It wasn’t until I had matured into my mid-twenties and had incorporated the learnings from my social sciences courses, as well as extensive reading on the subject, into my daily ongoings that I began to truly to comprehend the simplicity that is feminist thinking.
For the sake of clarity, it simply means equality between and among the sexes, but the term ‘feminism’ is used so as to maintain focus on the sex that has historically and is currently experiencing systematic inferiority: females. This is why it is not called ‘egalitarianism,’ or any other similar, yet not-quite-applicable, term.
That said, I simply cannot develop the anger that necessarily seems to coincide with feminist sensibilities. Allow me to explain.
About a week ago, I read an article on some conventional social medium describing how an actor recently jumped aboard the feminism caravan. Many of the responses in the comments section expressed sentiments of excitement to receive a new ally — and one not only in action, but also in legitimate verbal disclosure. I was pleased to see males and females coming together in these instances.
However, and to my dismay, I shortly thereafter noticed some less positive bits of feedback, including a female proclaiming sarcastically that we should not be applauding someone for finally joining a movement in which he should have already taken part.
I just don’t understand this perspective.
Should we also admonish toddlers for not knowing how to speak at a faster pace? I do not see why this attitude is acceptable — even encouraged — among many feminists. It is exceedingly apparent that this is one of the key elements of popular feminist thought and behavior that is actively discouraging people from feminism. The phenomenon is often referred to as ‘callout culture,’ and it certainly increased the difficulty I faced in admitting my own feminism in my earlier years of feminist thinking.
To be fair, while I completely disagree with offensive language and aggressive methods, I do see the purpose these methods can serve and have historically served. Radicalism, for instance, does bring awareness to neglected issues.
My concern, however, is that less friendly approaches typically attract more negative attention than positive.
For example, anger is an effective tool when employed with discretion. It can communicate severity of issues and garner support from unlikely areas. However, when exercised carelessly, the approach appears belligerent. Such use of these methods often results in backlash, and furthermore, potential opposition based on shallow distaste alone. Unfortunately, many of today’s combative third-wave feminists do not recognize that systematic accusations, insults, and belittling of others for their experiences and views typically produce this type of rebuff.
Calling out is not so different from reprimanding an employee in front of the entire staff. It is a public action seen as a result in itself, but without any tangible results. It resembles a grandiose performance at the theater, an excuse for the speaker to other people based on a single act, and ironically, the sort of behavior we are by and large striving to eradicate.
The second issue I take with popular feminist thought is the practice of attempting to limit others’ speech. We cannot predict or control the words others will speak, nor the ideas they will construct. They do have the right to say what they wish, whether it is moral, or just, or not.
Many feminists have a tendency to condemn anything that affects our feminist sensibilities in a negative fashion. The usual approach is some endeavor to stop these things from existing, for fear of influencing others to think in such a manner. In my experience, this is pretty much a waste of time. The truth is, some people may be influenced by the misogyny that surrounds us. Some women may even internalize it. People accept and reject all types of narratives all the time.
The only way to change the damaging stereotypes — to attack the root of the problem, and not the symptoms — is to represent ourselves as people of depth and ability (and yes, even the disabled among us have abilities, and deserve the right and opportunity to use them). Until we can do that, people will continue to treat women as objects, and until women can learn to no longer adhere to that narrative, we will see women who abide by it.
Part of equality is behaving as equals, and if we continually place all blame on the patriarchy for our problems, we will do ourselves no service, as well as cease in any sort of advancement. Half of this is our battle as individuals — as humans.
That famous catchphrase, “it’s not our job to educate you,” is true. People have to come to their own conclusions in their own time. Some may take a long time, and others may never reach sound conclusions. Part of feminism is creating accessibility to information; however, removing someone’s agency in making decisions is categorically wrong.
My take is, we can permit every bit of misogyny that surrounds us to enrage us, or we can extract the enjoyment from misogynistic media and simply view it as thinking that has not yet been corrected. Of course, we can rectify flawed ideas when proper opportunity arises, but until then, is it not exhausting to attack everything with which we do not agree? I would prefer to procure the absurdity from, say, a misogynistic commercial, or enjoy the catchiness of a misogynistic song, than walk around indignantly all day because I am offended that people objectify females. If given the opportunity to discuss it, I will address the misogyny and the wrong, but until then, the only difference is that in one scenario I will carry anger, and in the other, I can carry on with my day.
Unless someone is directly being affected before our eyes, we can only try to steer the narrative in the direction of fairness. We can correct something where we see proper occasion, but it is crucial to remember that not every battle is worth fighting — nor is every battle ours to fight. The narrative will begin to change as we fight the proper battles and the outcomes continue to help women. We will see it in manifestations of popular thought. We already are.
Within feminism, like other social and political movements, there are differing perspectives, a range of very particular goals, and many approaches to reaching these varying and specific objectives. We are all joined by the major tenets, but because of our differences, feminism serves as an umbrella term for anything relating to the equality of women to men, and of all people.
I really fail to understand why we can’t each be a feminist in our own way, without criticism. The irony is not lost on me in that this is a piece criticizing the negative behavior I have observed, but I am appealing to our higher sense of cordiality, and of compassion. It is discouraging to see somebody reach that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, only to be met with a verbal mauling for not having arrived sooner or shot down for expressing a differing opinion.
We each have a distinctive and unique ideal for the world. Some wish to create a utopia where no one is ever hurt or offended. Mine is for people to live, and love, and hurt, and make autonomous choices while acknowledging and respecting the autonomy of other people. There is no direct highway to this goal, but without a doubt, taking individual action to better our lives, combined with objective thinking, respect, and compassion is the route I’ve seen most effectively change minds in our favor.
I argue this despite my belief in autonomous and free thinking, and despite my belief in relativism, because, when representing any sociopolitical cause or movement — in this case, feminism — we are no longer speaking for ourselves alone. We are speaking for the benefit of many, and to raise disadvantaged communities up to equality. It’s not that aggression appoints a person to the position of the sole arbiter on the subject of feminism, or makes that person the sole determinant of whether the direct audience will endorse the cause, but it indisputably does amplify the difficulty faced in garnering support. In business, we avoid insulting our customers, no matter how irksome or wrong they are, because we can almost guarantee they will never return. We should not view vital social movements any differently.
I am not suggesting anyone sugarcoat views through apology or anything else; I am only encouraging certain feminists to stop conflating healthy discussion with aggression. At best, it is driving positive attention away from us, and at worst, turning people against us.