There’s a lot of writing about feminism out there on the internet: some good, some bad; some hateful, some loving; some articulate, some garbled. This short piece is not intended to be a commentary on any of those, my strong feelings about online discourse aside. This is intended more for me than anybody else, in a way; a clarification of my thought process, of sorts. Putting it down on (virtual) paper can often help my metaphorical train of thought reach its figurative terminal. Since I love to share my thought process with anyone who cares to listen, though, I’m publishing it here, anyway, in the hope that it will make someone think, or understand more about me.
I call myself a feminist. What do I mean by that? An excellent question, and one that I struggle with continuously. Just when I think I’ve finally figured out where I stand and what that term means when applied to me, something happens or somebody puts forward a point that forces me to re-evaluate my previous position.
“Aha!” the fictional opportunist and general naysayer that inhabits my mind exclaims. “Then you can’t be too certain that you are a feminist, can you? Why, you can’t even decide what it is you’re standing for!”
Alright, figment. You raise a decent objection, for an imagined being, but you misunderstand my uncertainty. You see, I have no doubts whatsoever about what feminism is. Zero. Nada. Feminism is, purely and simply, the pursuit of equality. Equality in everything, whether it be wages, representation, or the color of socks people expect you to wear when you’re lounging around the house.
So why don’t we call it equalism? Well, it turns out women are both historically and presently more disadvantaged in nearly every aspect of society than men, and so we called it feminism. Okay, easy. Now, granted, maybe in one of those parallel universes we hear so much about (those quantum physicists keep claiming we’ll break through the interdimensional membrane any day, now) men were cruelly oppressed by women, and they call it masculinism in their universe. Or maybe in another universe where everybody is already equal, they call it nothing, because the concept doesn’t exist. Or maybe there’s a dimension where humans were subjugated by aliens and they call it clortho numar. Who knows? The importance lies not so much in the name as in what it represents.
So, figment, here’s the part where I’m confused. Where do I fit into all of this? Some would claim I don’t, because society assigned me the role of “male” at birth, and therefore it doesn’t concern me. Others might claim that it’s my job to support and observe only, leaving the real women, those oppressed by the patriarchal system, to do the heavy lifting. But that can’t be right, can it? Everyone’s in it together. Excluding people from actively being a part of things for a reason as arbitrary as the way they were born would be a bit like… well, excluding people from actively being a part of things for a reason as arbitrary as the way they were born. Looking at you here, patriarchy, you repeat offender, you.
And no, I’ve never experienced being “female” in our society, and so can’t grasp the full reality of the situation, up here on the privileged pedestal I’ve realized I’m standing on. Surely, though, that can’t be a mandatory prerequisite for being involved. So what can I do to promote feminism, to push for equality? To even stimulate useful debate and discussion?
“Hey, buddy, stop it. Feminism’s not all about you, punk. Think about someone else for a change.”
Look, I know. Feminism doesn’t need me, not personally. It’s not like I’m some champion sent from on high to save the female super-race, like I’m literally god’s gift to women. Feminism isn’t some intricate jigsaw with me the missing piece. But I want to help people see what I see, that people are just people, clothing is just clothing, hair is, quite simply, hair. Whether you’re tall or freckled or dark-skinned or bisexual or blind or whatever, that’s just how it worked out for you on the existential slot machine we call life, and it doesn’t make you worth less as a human being. To hazard an analogy, we don’t value a painting on the street less than one hanging in the Louvre because it’s somehow intrinsically worth less; we value it less because someone who we trust to be an authority on the matter has told us that’s it’s not as good.
And, as terrible as it is, society is the authority we all trust implicitly, at least to begin with. We come into this world bewildered and confused, and our parents’ old friend society drops in for a quick visit, dropping off its old self-help book that was written, like, a century ago. We internalize it, and why not? It offers us pages and pages of rules to help us navigate the muddy, perilous waters of human interaction, and, most importantly, tips for us to fit in.
Girls wear skirts, guys wear pants.
Sandy, don’t you want to be a nurse or a teacher? Construction work is such a rough profession.
Suck it up, dude. What are you, some kind of sissy crybaby?
On and on and on it goes, with us desperately trying to learn everything and remind everybody else of their place, too, lest we break the fragile truce we hold with the world around us, and are punished with some personal hell of ridicule and embarrassment. And that’s just it. The rules of society we live by are arbitrary restrictions perpetuated by a scare campaign, and everybody’s in on it. A conspiracy of an unimaginable scale that includes the entire human race, willingly or otherwise.
I can’t, I can’t. What will they think?
But here’s the trick. See, society is made up of people, like you and me. And if those people were to stand up to society and refuse to let it push them around, if they were to let other people know that they’re with them every step of the way, whatever the people around them have to say or think, then…
Well. It’s not a fast process, nor an easy one, and the outcome is far from certain. But the more people who do it, the more people who speak out against the system and are aware of it…
So I do have a place in feminism, and it’s the same as anybody else’s. To be someone who stands up for themselves and others, and it’s not something to be ashamed or confused of, no matter the doubts that cloud my mind.
For we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans are created equal.