GMP’s resident feminist, HeatherN, tackles more questions from our “Ask the Feminist” series.
Welcome to the second instalment of my Ask the Feminist series. The first set of answers generated a lot of really interesting conversation, and I’m hoping this second set will do the same. If you’d like to ask a question, just go ahead and do so in the comments. Alternatively, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John and Bay Area Guy both asked about how some feminists still adhere to old, traditional gender stereotypes. The answer is that living feminism is hard. Basically, feminism’s about defying social expectations and going against the grain. The problem, of course, is that going against the grain usually results in a lot of ridicule and mockery. Plus, it’s exhausting to be constantly aware of how your words and actions are either contributing to the status quo or defying it.
I’ll give you two examples. 1) When I was in high school I once got into an argument with a guy friend of mine who really wanted to pay for my movie ticket. He was trying to be polite; I was asserting my belief that chivalry should die. We argued; I may have yelled a bit, and eventually I convinced him to keep his money and let me pay for myself. 2) Sometimes when I’m on a crowded bus, a man will offer his seat so I can sit down. I will always refuse because, as I said, chivalry should basically die. Often, the man will ignore my refusal and stand up anyway, and then look at me expectantly. I end up sitting down because it feels rude not to.
So the first example is about me living my feminism. The second is about me giving into a patriarchal system, because it was easier and more polite. So, should I argue with the stranger next time he offers me his seat? It’d be more feminist, but it’d also be pretty rude. I could just ignore it when the guy stands up, but that ends up being awkward. Unfortunately, at the same time feminists are trying to change our society, we’re still living in it.
NotJustAGirl and J.A. Drew Diaz asked whether feminism excludes men, and Alastair asked what feminism contributes to a conversation about masculinity. Actually, quite a few questions touched on the issue of men in feminism. I could probably write an entire article about what feminism has done for men (but it turns out Justin Cacsio already has, here). But of course, I will provide my own answer too. I put the question to Twitter, and a friend of mine responded by saying his, “main selfish reason to support feminism,” was that feminism, “fleshed out multiple masculinities, allowing men to realise we can be men in different ways.” That, I think, is the big thing feminism offers men: the framework in which to think about “man” as a flexible social identity, and not the gender default.
Feminists talk a lot about what’s wrong with modern masculinity. The term “toxic masculinity” gets tossed around quite a bit, and I use it fairly often myself. What feminism is also about, though, is figuring out what sorts of masculinities can replace the toxic version. To be clear, on the whole, feminists don’t think that masculinity is inherently toxic; our society has just created one that is. So we need to re-think masculinity, and figure out what bits are positive and what bits are negative. Jackson Katz’s TEDx talk touches on this issue of rethinking what it means to be a man, specifically in terms of being bystanders to violence. He asks, “How can we change the socialization of boys and the definitions of manhood that lead to these current outcomes?” And that’s a very feminist sort of question. It’s precisely the sort of thing we’ve been asking about women in feminism, and now it’s something we’re asking about men too.
Photo: Flickr/Droid Gingerbread