Ricky. 26. Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York. Currently: Brooklyn, New York. Spiritual, Not Religious. Music. Actor.
What does the concept/word “feminism” mean to you? What does the concept of equality mean to you?
Feminism and equality mean the same thing to me now. It didn’t always. I received a lot of misinformation like many people growing up, thinking that feminism was only favoring women and a lot of crap like that. But I believe in the economic and social equality of all the sexes, which is what feminism is. That’s what I believe in.
What do you think is the most pressing struggle for women today? What is the most crucial aspect in your eyes specifically?
Equal recognition across the board. You can break it down as the wage gap but the wage gap is reflective of the way women are regarded in the eyes of colleagues and employers. Socially speaking, women do the same work as a man does and for some reason it doesn’t seem like enough.
Is feminism a subject you think about? Have you ever read a book or seen a documentary about feminist issues?
I do actively think about feminism. I think about how it’s misinterpreted all the time. I have a day job waiting tables (like a lot of actors), and I’ll hear my co-workers talking. I’ll be waiting on someone’s table and a male coworker will walk by and raise his eyebrows at me as if to say: “Hey, look at that woman over there” – just completely objectifying a customer simply because: “Oh I’m a guy so therefore I must only be thinking about this human being who happens to be a female as something that I could have sex with.” And that’s every day. That happens with other guys or actors – they’ll be rubbing elbows and ‘guy talking’. Guys speak very differently about their female cast members than they would speak to their faces. So I do think about it all the time. I call it out as much as I can without jeopardizing my job at the moment.
So it mostly happens at your job?
Yeah. My friends don’t talk like that. I’ve worked hard to have a group of friends that share the same fundamentals as I do, which is treating everybody with respect. My friend group spans every type of cultural background, religious background, orientations and gender identities. Therefore I don’t have to deal with that so much or almost at all with my friends, it’s really just in the professional world. Unfortunately I don’t feel that I have enough power to speak up in the moment. Fortunately, I don’t feel like it happens so much where (not that it’s much better), I can tell that a woman is feeling oppressed or discriminated against. It’s mostly happening out of earshot, but when I hear people say things to women in my presence that are discriminatory, I do speak up. I just call it out and say: “That’s not how you speak to people, that’s not right”, and take the situation from there. There is definitely a large component of fear that plays into calling out people who are transgressing boundaries like that. If you’re on the street, it can be dangerous if some guy is cat-calling a woman passing by. You don’t know what’s going to happen if you say: “Hey man, don’t say that”. New York City is a crazy place and telling a stranger what to do on the streets of New York City can be a really foolhardy thing to undertake. That being said, I wish I called things out more. I wish all the men around me would call out that kind of shitty behavior. Did I answer your question? I do think about feminism.
Why do you identify as a feminist and how/when did you learn about it? What were you taught about women growing up?
I identify as a feminist because I see all human beings as inherently equal. Considering the social and economic equality of the sexes – if that’s the definition of feminism, then that’s what I am, that’s what I believe in. I was raised in a more open-minded household. Neither of my parents received a lot of higher education but I come from artistic people. I come from a mixed family first of all, so being open-minded is a foundation in my family on both sides. My father is an actor/teacher/singer, my sister is a singer/actor/musician, my grandparents are dancers, my cousins are musicians and filmmakers etc., so everybody is just open to different interpretations of the world and that was just a basis for me. However, I have to thank my sister for opening my eyes. From a very young age we are taught to discriminate against queer people. One of the first things you pick up on the playground is “faggot”, right? And my sister took it upon herself to educate me as to why you shouldn’t think like that. Not just: “Oh, don’t say that”. I feel like that happens a lot with education these days; people are taught not to say certain words, but they’re not taught to understand why the mindset of even associating one pejorative with a group is so messed up. I have to thank her for opening my mind, that was the first thing she taught me: to indirectly fight the homophobia that’s rampant in our society. So I grew up not being homophobic. Also, my sister is queer and she has always been my biggest role model. We did everything together. It was just a natural transition for me to translate that respect I had for my sister to any other woman that I encounter. I was very fortunate, people don’t realize how much of an impact having an older sibling who really embraces the world can have on the younger one. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for my sister’s influence. I mean, I did go to school and learn about feminism as well. I got some of the textbook rhetoric under my belt as well when I went to Vassar College. Vassar obviously is a former all-women’s school but for the most part it’s maintained a legacy of promoting equality across all the sexes and gender awareness and sexual openness – it has a reputation for that. It needs to do better, most institutions do. But the women’s studies courses that I took at Vassar College gave me more of a historical grounding in the multiple feminist movements. I already understood that all people are equal.
Is feminism empowering for men? If so, how? How does feminism differ for you?
That’s a hard phrase to wrap my head around – does feminism empower men? Well if we’re all equal, then we’re all better off. And if we are not equal then it has negative ramifications. I mean, the ripples are innumerable really. Just to go back to the wage gap; there are so many families that suffer where women are the sole breadwinners and the families suffer because the head of the household is making $0.75 to $1 to her colleague is making who does the exact same work and the only difference is that he has a penis. So generally speaking there are young boys in those families who suffer from the world not being equal, from the economic disparity. It’s like that phrase: “None of us are free until all of us are free” – that definitely applies to the way women are treated in this world. If people think feminism is disempowering for men, then there are a lot of people who think they’re feminists and aren’t.
Why do you think the word “feminist” is associated with such a negative stigma? What do you think it connotes? How do you think it could change?
Etymologically the first connotation is “feminine” with the word feminism and there is a stigma against being feminine in this society and in most societies around the world. Not to mention that when feminism first became part of popular discourse it was seen as a woman’s study. So there’s been lots of misinformation over the decades around what feminism actually is. Ultimately it’s associated with being feminine and womanhood and those are just not seen as equal. I think that’s one of the main struggles for men: that while ideally a man might want to see equality between him and the women around him, on a subconscious level men are going to react to the stigma of being seen as feminine. There’s so much homophobia, and why is there so much homophobia? Because gay people and queer people are seen as effeminate – that is one of the main roots of the discrimination against queer people and women. It’s just that being feminine is seen as weak and men can’t be weak. Nobody wants to be weak, but the socialization that we receive from cradle to grave is: you can’t be weak. Men aren’t weak and phrases like “Be a man” or “Man up”, are synonymous with “Be strong”. So to be seen as a feminist; one thinks “feminine”, one thinks “weakness”, and men don’t want to be weak. There’s all this misinformation which gets in the way of people just being decent to one another.
Some people want to call themselves equalists or humanists and shy away from the term although they mean the same thing. Until we’re equal, don’t we need the term to emphasize what’s wrong?
One part of me sees why people just want to change the term because there’s already such a stigma around the term feminism that maybe it’d be better to just do away with it but ultimately I think you’re right. We do need to keep it as it is – we need feminism. It’s the same thing as the argument around Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter. It’s not that anybody matters more than anybody else, it’s just that historically black people and people of color, just like women and any intersectionality there, have not mattered as much as white lives, as much as male lives. Nobody has mattered as much as straight, white, male lives. So yes, until we’re all equal, we need to point out the disparities. People need to stop whining about not being the center of attention. There’s a difference; there’s oppression and there’s discrimination all over the place and in various multiple ways. Until it’s righted, until we are equal, we have to keep pointing out that things are not equal. That’s all it boils down to.
What issues/reservations do you have with feminism today? What do you personally think needs change?
My main issue is intersectionality. People that fall into more that one minority group (for lack of a better term), often don’t have their needs and experiences considered. With black women people feel like: Are you fighting against racism or are you fighting against sexism? Well, being a black woman means that you’re constantly dealing with racist sexism. They cannot be separated, they’re one and the same. So any actions that are feminist actions against sexism need to take into consideration race as a factor – a prejudice that you have to fight against in your day-to-day. The same thing with queer people of color; their experiences are not just one, it’s everything. It’s being a bisexual indigenous person from the Midwest – you can’t separate those identities and say: “Well, you’re here, you’re just a woman”. No, you’re a native person, historically your people have been almost exterminated for hundreds of years and your culture has been appropriated and irreparably impacted by outside forces. It’s not just a man speaking to a woman, it’s your experience and that’s my main issue with feminism. It does not take into account the many forms of intersectionality that exist in our world. Fortunately intersectionality is becoming part of the day-to-day discourse because people are really pushing for it. Like I just said; things won’t change unless they’re addressed and you have to call it out, so people are calling out how the mainstream movement does not handle intersectionality well. So it’s changing. I hope it’s changing.
What do you consider to be the mainstream movement today?
Mainstream feminism for the longest has prioritized the experiences of white women. And to a large extent when the media addresses feminism, it’s kind of de-facto speaking from a white woman’s perspective. The biggest issue is from the major media sources. But it’s not all-encompassing. With the advent of the Internet, having multiple experiences at your fingertips is really a blessing. The best example I can give, is that if I (well, I don’t have cable TV), but if I turn on the news and I see Fox or CNN talking about unequal pay – they’ll talk about the wage gap, they’ll talk about a woman’s right to choose (or not, according to some people), and they leave it at that. Then I’ll see the same correspondence speaking about a black person somewhere in North America who was just gunned down. And they’ll go through some footage from the dashboard on the police officer’s car or their body-cam and we’ll see the way that this person was being spoken to by this officer, that this officer was speaking in a very sexist way it was behaving in a very misogynistic way. And that person also was black, so one really shouldn’t avoid talking about both of those issues because they’re happening at the same time. It’s a media tactic: to compartmentalize issues. But we’re more complex than that and we need more complex coverage of the issues in our day.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add? Any other questions you think I should be asking?
How do we engage more men to understand what feminism is and to speak up for their sisters? I don’t think you have the answer for that question, I don’t really have the answer for that, but that is the answer that we need to make this war against gender oppression end sooner is to get more people on the front lines.
It always seems to go back to education. Do you think it’s important from elementary school onwards to learn about feminism and women’s history?
I didn’t really hear it at home either. But yes, education is at the root of it all. It’s harder to break these patterns as we get older. We don’t just need other men doing it, we need children learning – first grade, before that even, that people are equal. I think guys need to stop being afraid to call each other out. We just have to call each other out and we don’t have to put other people down, we just have to try to educate, we have to intervene when our fellow human beings are potentially in danger and are being disrespected based on their bodies. You can see somebody getting cat-called (this is one of the easiest examples I guess), you can go up to the woman if you’re not sure about the guy, you can go up to the woman and say: “Hey, do you know this person? Is this person bothering you?” And kind of just insert your body between an aggressor and the person who’s being harassed. Just be there and don’t let anything slide, you don’t really have to say much, you just can’t be passive. We can’t be passive and I think that’s the biggest problem: inaction. Not that so many people don’t care, it’s that we’re afraid to act, we’re afraid to stir the pot but we have to do it. We have to shake things up, we have to stand up for each other.
On the other hand if I was being cat-called and a male stranger told the catcaller: “Hey, leave her alone”, I feel like the cat-caller would listen to the guy specifically because he’s a guy. I would probably think: “Great, I was helped but by another man. I should be doing this myself.” It’s stupid because we should all accept help when people offer. But it’s the same idea that when a man asks you out, instead of just saying no, you lie that you have a boyfriend because the asker will respond more to the unknown male authority instead of a straight female answer.
Yes and you’re right. It’s safety, it’s trying to avoid conflict. I think that’s one of the main reasons why people don’t stand up more – they’re afraid of potentially getting into a fist fight or worse. Some men do respond very immediately to being called out and/or shamed. But part of the male socialization is to become aggressive when you’re challenged in any sort of capacity to become aggressive so it can become very dangerous very quickly. It’s a hard call to make, but nonetheless, even if it’s in a non-confrontational way, we do need to stand up. Men need to stand up for women when they’re being harassed, when they’re being treated unequally, and everybody needs to stand up for each other when you see anybody in any sort of minority group (I hate that term), if you see anybody in any category being discriminated against, being treated unfairly based on their body, we need to stand up for each other. That’s as simple and as hard as it is. I can talk about this until the sun comes back up.