WHY I'M A FEMINIST, AND YOU SHOULD BE TOO


I must admit that I write this post with some apprehension, as the word feminist has a history of being misrepresented and having different interpretations for different people. However, I think Emma Watson said it clearly - she said "feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes" and she denounced the idea that feminism equaled male hatred. She further encouraged the world to include the possibility of men being feminists as well, and despite the fact that the year was 2014, a part of me considered this speech she gave revolutionary. What I soon realized is that you don’t have to participate in protest, be a liberal or refuse to shave your legs to be a feminist. You just need to believe women and men are equal. Feminists can be women, can be men, can be children, can be police officers, can be fraternity brothers, presidents, actors, princes, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, club bouncers, co-workers, creatives, immigrants, and religious leaders. Feminism has had a stereotype for assumed man-hating women. But this kind of thinking districts us from the real issue, which is quite simple; equality.

Like any person, I am evolving and for the most I never considered myself someone who didn't believe in the equality between women and men. At least not until that one day, about four years ago. Let's just call it a growing momentI’ll never forget, I was in my second and final year of social work graduate school, sitting in a class with a professor I still to this day fondly remember and respect for her great wisdom, authenticity and empathy. We were discussing diversity of ideas, particularly gender bias, when I gave my opinion, as I commonly did being the type of student who sits in the front row and quite frankly just can't keep my mouth shut. Still me. Anyway, the professor described a scenario in which she was called into a prison as an expert criminologist and was greeted by the man in charge with a statement like "what's a pretty little lady like you doing in a place like this" or something of that nature, sorry Professor if you ever read this. And a discussion broke out about the gender bias in this statement, like what did it mean and was it at all patronizing or misogynistic. The majority of the class thought so, and I to this day still think about how I didn't see the same picture that my classmates did, which I now would say for certainty, was an expression of a well established gender bias in our society. That it would be very patronizing for a anyone, but especially a man, to question how a young professional woman would have the capacity or the skill to handle such a problem. I would say today it sounded like a power play, a way to reinstate the power men had traditionally held over women, considering the coy or even flirtatious nature of the statement.  But that is not what I said. Instead I questioned why a woman would take offense to what to me sounded like a man's way of being kind, maybe even a tad protective or simply just making light of a funny situation by society's standards. I look back on this statement not with regret but rather empathy. Empathy for the fact that I, like all women, grew up and still reside in a world that has for a long time had very strongly inequitable values about the differences in roles and rights of men and women. I have empathy for the fact that there is diversity in thinking about gender and that our values around it are complex and consistently evolving. I have empathy for the women who chose not to participate in the women's March or the #TIMESUP movement. Just because we share similar body parts as females doesn't make us the same and that is a beautiful thing. I have empathy for all people and their views about what it means to be a feminist because feminism is not one group of people or one thing. Feminism is simply a principle that grants equity to both genders. And what that means to you is up to you. I write this post to address some of the ideas I have about what feminism means to me and why I choose to give myself the title of feminist, among many other things. I write these ideas with an open heart and with no other goal but to simply share the place I am in my own evolutionary journey, and I hope you find a way to connect or maybe just empathize with it too. 

I can hear some of that rebuke now, "she cares about fashion and pineapples and what cocktails she’s serving at her next party. How can you also be a feminist?” Well in the remarkably simple words of Megan Markle, “Being a feminist and being feminine are not mutually exclusive." And this I will admit has always been a point of reckoning for me, as I do enjoy a lot of the things Barbie and the one dimensional paper dolls I was obsessed with as a child promoted. And I will still admit that the idea that women might have more to contribute then their domestic and aesthetically based talents is something I strongly believe in, however, as a child I learned that being physically appealing and enjoyable to men would was always the priority before becoming an astronaut or President. Despite having many opportunities to play sports, go to NASA space camp (yes I went and yes it was awesome) and see my mother have a professional career, I still had this idea that being married, having children, being desirable by male standards would validate my role as a woman. This way of thinking is changing, but we can't deny that a lot of the values we learned from television, school and the workplace have often reinforced them. Take the red carpet at award shows for example, the women there are some of the most talented, intelligent and strongest female role models the world has, there to be recognized for just that, their performance and talent. But they are also very much expected and sometimes critiqued beyond belief about their gowns for the night, and yet they aren’t supermodels or fashion designers or even fashionistas, they are professionals in an industry where women have been exploited, over-sexualized/de-sexualized and extremely typecasted based on their looks and the narrow ideas of women our society has embraced. As much as I love fashion, can't we find something else to talk to actresses about? Why can't the fashion designers come and talk about their creations separately, why do we shame actresses for wearing an unflattering or less stylish dress. I loved watching Fashion Police, but I must say it was often times very harsh in judging women's bodies, rather than talking about important fashion is. I think we have come a long way in getting closer to equality. But currently there seems to be this dual pressure now, where women are expected to get an education, have successful careers, make their own money but to also be beautiful to men, get married and have children.Obviously this is a major generalization and I myself would like to not only have a career but also be a mother one day and have a family, but it just seems as if we are still teetering on this hump of uncertainty, as if women are so close to real equity in so many ways but than we see major gender wage gaps in the workforce, fat shaming and perhaps the worst of all, the continued sexual abuse and exploitation of women, most often by men and all over the world on a wide spectrum. This spectrum is how I understand the connection between abuse and simply anti-feminist rhetoric. The scale goes from calling women and girls who speak their mind 'bossy' or 'bitches', all the way to rape. I have been called a bitch many a time by both men and women, and it's always made me think, "isn't there a more thorough description?" Women have historically been told not to be too vocal, to be polite, coy and selfless. It's quite unfortunate that strong women, who have opinions and expect respect from others have too be to portrayed negatively on TV, in the workplace, in the classroom and in romantic partnerships. And if you don't agree that this word "bitch' is based off sexism, then please, let me know what the male specific equivalent is. Please also, let me know what the male equivalent is of terms like whore, hoe, slut, hooker, prostitute, and the ultimate, c***. I often wish there was an instrumental version of the hip hop music I love. Perhaps some that speaks of women with less hatred and judgement and more empowerment and respect. I could continue to give endless amounts of examples of how women are portrayed and judged by society, but I will only give a few more for the sake of this being perhaps the longest blog post I have ever written. One that I find particularly relevant is the Real Housewives franchise, which I openly have always supported and find very entertaining and if I dare say, sometimes relatable. My biggest problem, however, is the name of the show. I know the original idea was to try and peek into the lives of wealthy women who for the most part were dependent on their successful husbands financially. But the reality is that these women over the years are much more than (or entirely not even) housewives who married well. They are extremely interesting, dynamic, funny and intelligent women who deserve more credit than the narrow title of "housewife." I wish the show focused less on the drama and more on the cool stuff they do because portraying women as jealous, mean, and dramatic just reinforces another negative stereotype that makes women look less capable. A few more examples as the media is my obsession. Kim Kardashian has made quite an empire, but it started with a sex tape, essentially selling her sexuality for gain. Alicia Florick from the Good Wife, had to create an amazing career after her famous husband on the show had a public affair. Elle Woods got into Harvard law school to chase a loser ex-boyfriend with an application video that showed her swimming in a sequin bikini and tight fitting dress. Don't get me wrong, I love all of these characters/people and I am not hating on the wonderful content they created that I have enjoyed consuming. But I am hopeful that the messages the media sends to all women and men start to focus less on a female's romantic partnerships, sexuality and beauty being the focus of the plot or motivation and more on her intellect, gumption, and heroism. And we have definitely seen very many examples like that in Big Little Lies, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Oprah, Bethany Frankel, Parks and Recreation, How to Get Away with Murder and fortunately very many more too. 

In my work as a mental heath therapist I have endless experience with women in unhealthy and abusive partnerships. I know the role society plays in supporting such relationships, as well as the long road victims have to go through to become survivors. The most interesting thing about working with victims is how they identify the emotional abuse as the most challenging thing to get over, because in many ways our society supports what their partners tend to instill in them. Things like, calling them fat, attacking their parenting skills, accusing them of being 'whores', 'un-Godly', or 'unattractive' and thus worth nothing. Women have often been groomed as sexual objects yet shamed in our society for expressing it or enjoying their sexual freedom. We teach young girls to be gatekeepers, yet boys are praised for aggressively pursuing sex with multiple partners. I know that Aziz Ansari didn't appear to have raped the woman who wrote the article, however, I have a lot of empathy for the pressure she seemed to feel and complete lack of interest most men seem to have in what their partners want versus their own agenda. Emma Gray from the Huffington Post said  "If the #MeToo movement is going to amount to sustained culture change ― rather than simply a weeding out of the worst actors in a broken system ― we need to renegotiate the sexual narratives we’ve long accepted. And that involves having complicated conversations about sex that is violating but not criminal." I could not have said it better myself. There is so much in between on the spectrum of consent and rape that we need to be talking about with both men and women from an early age. In so many ways I really hope to have a son in the future, just to be able to have the chance to raise one who I know will have true respect for women and himself. Who will lead the future based off the things we have evolved from in the past. But I also know it's never too late to create awareness and hopefully change in the men of today. Their have been so many very positive male figures who have stood up for women's rights and are slowly helping to change the face of feminism. 

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I know the world will never be perfect, but I have a dream that one day I won't shame myself for not being skinny. I have a dream that my future children will enter romantic partnerships with true respect for one another. I have a dream that my future clients who experienced sexual trauma won't blame themselves for what happened to them. I have a dream that little girls will grow up being praised for their ideas, their gumption, and their bravery. I have a dream that college men will not have to hear "no" but rather understand sex should come from an eager "yes." I have a dream that sex work will no longer be an industry and that children will never be victimized in any part of the world. I have a dream that men will fall in love with women at first respect for who they are and the amazing lives they lived. I have a dream that we won't have to use the word feminism because one day I know, it will just be the norm. 

Much love and so much empathy, 

-MGN
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