The other evening I was lying in bed reading Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. I had picked it up on a whim after seeing it highlighted in a Book Riot piece, and as I was reading through each included essay, I couldn’t help but to read bits and pieces to my roommate, who was lying in her own bed trying to fall asleep.
We ended up having a long conversation about feminism, in all its various incarnations. It surprised me, that even in 2015, even after hearing me talk about politics and social justice and feminism and a host of other things, that she really didn’t understand what the movement was, let alone the hype surrounding it and the need for it.
It surprised me even more that as I tried to explain that at its core, feminism simply means equality for women and men, she still thought that it had to be more complicated than that.
Why is it so complicated? Of course, like anything else, the simple concept that women are human beings too has been twisted almost beyond recognition. Feminists are accused of being man-haters, of begging for attention, of exaggerating how hard it is to be female. And yes, extreme proponents of feminism have made it more difficult for the rest of us, perpetuating outdated and incorrect stereotypes.
But at its core, it’s about equality. There are those who would say that there’s no need for feminism, that the fight was over a long time ago. There are also those who would argue that there’s no need for feminism because women are in fact inferior to men. And there are those who are ignorant altogether, living their lives with little awareness of the plight most women face on a regular basis.
Even though women have made huge gains toward a more equal society, the fact of the matter is that we still live in a largely male culture. You still have the male as head of household. Men make more money than women in the same roles. Women are largely treated as sexualized and objectified pieces of property for a man to own. And our male culture could also be called (and has been, over and over) a rape culture. A culture where men have been taught that it’s okay to see what they want and go for it with very few consequences. Where women are catcalled, caressed, and made to feel uncomfortable and powerless. Where some men feel an innate right to hit on, touch, and solicit women who obviously don’t want those things to happen. Where some men feel the need to explain things to women, even though those same women may know more about said topic than that man.
Just take a look at any of the rape scandals that plague our college campuses. Or Gamergate, the controversy in which female gamers were harassed and threatened and generally made to feel unwelcome and unsafe online. One only has to look at any social media site to see that death threats, sexist comments, and harassment abound under the cloak of “anonymity”.
Now let me pause and say this. Not all men are sexist, are rapists, harass women. There are obviously tons of genuinely good guys out there. There are plenty of male feminists. There are hordes of the sweetest men who have no problem with the idea of female equality. But there are also nice, normal guys who use casually sexist remarks and unwittingly perpetuate stereotypes and feel slighted when passed over for a promotion that goes to a women instead.
The facts tell us that these things happen. In our male-dominated culture, we are telling women not to drink, to carry pepper spray, and not walk alone at night. We victim blame and ask what the victim was wearing, what they were doing out that late. We label females as either prudes or sluts, and both are somehow bad. We are told “boys will be boys”. Instead of letting women have a hand in their own sexuality and existence, we allow men to craft laws and define how women live and what they have access to. Instead of telling our sons not to rape, we are teaching our women how not to get raped.
How is this okay? Short answer, it isn’t. But it’s my personal opinion that feminism’s most staunch opponents are scared of equality. Because what would would happen if women suddenly found their voices, developed their own identities, and became true equals to men? There would be a power shift. Right now, society tells us that men have the majority of the power, and that is how our society withholds an equal share of power from women. If you look at rape cases, a large majority are purely about power and control, about making women feel helpless and silenced. If we lived in a truly equal society, where not only were men and women equal, but everyone was seen as equal, regardless of race or gender or culture or sexual identity, straight white men would no longer be in control.
I can see how that’s scary. That would mean a very game-changing shift in our society. It would uproot the foundations of how we do things. More voices and opinions would be added to the mix, with real power instead of just the appearance of power. But our society is not okay. As long as we keep telling women, and people of other races, cultures, and sexual identities as well, that they are less than, our society is fundamentally wrong. This is something we can fix. It will take time, to be sure, but there is hope for a better future, for all of us. So what are we waiting for?
Thanks for reading,
Afterthought – As I am rereading this post in preparation for publication, my roommate, who’s currently working a second job at a local retail store, just texted me this: “Gross old men hitting on me. Lovely.” When I asked her to tell me more, she replied “Gross old man told me how beautiful I was like 10 times as I was ringing him up. I barely acknowledged him, especially as he started asking what I do, if I go to school, how old I am, are you over 18?”
He apparently kept demanding answers, refusing to give her the right of her own silence. The same thing happened to my other roommate a few months back when she took a solitary walk. She was accosted on the street by a man demanding to know her information before inviting her back to his house and his bed. This isn’t okay, but men continue to demand our time and attention relentlessly. No doubt my roommate will have to put up with more of this throughout her summer employment, just as I did when I worked in fast food and retail. What kind of culture do we live in when women are resigned to dealing with the harassment because to speak up would just bring more trouble? THIS. IS. NOT. OKAY.