On Hating Men

Dear Dad,

You know what happened the first time I told my brother I identify as a feminist? He told me that feminists hate men. Of course, my first reaction was, “But I don’t hate men! I love you, and dad. I’ve had boyfriends! Men are great!”

This argument, however, never seems to be enough to stop the “Man-hating feminist” stereotype from propagating. It’s all over the conservative media, and seems to pop up whenever I open my mouth about misogyny or equal rights.

Why? Because the idea that feminists hate men, and somehow want to tear men down and enslave them, is a popular straw man to derail actual discussion about equality.

How much does it say about the state of inequality if simply arguing for equal rights and pointing out oppression is perceived as man-hating and a desire to enslave an entire gender?

In fact, feminists also advocate for men’s rights. Patriarchy and toxic masculinity have created a narrow and oppressive definition of what a man can be and how he can behave. The overwhelming cultural ideas of macho, tough, stoic men hurt boys and men who cry, or don’t work out, or don’t identify with that image of manhood. It pushes men into burying their emotions and behaving in violent, dominant ways.

All-Pro receiver Brandon Marshall summed it up really well in an interview discussing the bullying that former Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin faced:

A little boy falls down, the first thing we say as parents is “Get up, shake it off. You’ll be okay.” You know, “Don’t cry.” When a little girl falls down, what we say? “It’s gonna be okay.” We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men, you know, to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions.

A friend told me recently that he’s always felt like he’s not man enough. He’s been insecure when comparing himself to the image of man as the strong, stoic decision-maker. He said he saw his father as this rugged outdoorsman, an ideal he strived for but could never quite reach.

He pushed himself to be masculine, to work out and to be tough. In the end, he’s one of the most tender, perceptive people I know, and I treasure his friendship. But he still finds himself at odds with patriarchy’s vision of what it means to be male:

Even now as people view me as I feel like I viewed my father, I feel like I’m just faking it. Like I’m this wuss in wolverine’s clothes. Not that I feel like I’m a woman, just that I’m a man who’s not manly enough.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean tearing men down. It means tearing down the idea of what it means to be a man, destroying patriarchal systems that oppress men as well as women. It means talking about what manliness is, and creating a world where a man doesn’t have to be some tough rugged outdoorsman.

And if that means people call me a man-hater, so be it. I’m not having that fight anymore. I’m too busy trying to create new ways for men to live, at peace with who they are.

With oodles of love for you, Dad,
Victoria

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On quirks and cultural norms

Dear Dad,

You made some interesting arguments about challenging gender roles, but I think you missed the point. You say not shaving is just my way of being a nonconformist, but while wearing mismatched socks is met with, “That’s so quirky,” the hair in my armpits is met with, “Ew.” (Your words exactly.)
You say that if I really want to challenge gender roles, I should become more mechanically skilled, and I admit, I loved learning to tune up my car when you came to visit. That’s a memory I’ll treasure forever. But I am suspicious of anything that says “If women want to challenge sexism, they should do X,” especially when that prescription comes from a man (no offense, Dad).
Yes, I should know basic upkeep tasks for my car. That will save me money and keep me from getting caught in a bind on the side of the highway. But I don’t think women should be required to learn a certain skill or accomplish a certain set of tasks to break down stereotypes. Those stereotypes shouldn’t be there in the first place.
I’m not fighting for a world where women learn to change their oil to prove they’re just as good as men. I’m fighting for a world where she shouldn’t have to prove anything, where a woman can know how to change her own oil, or not.
The problem is that when we start telling women that if they want equality they have to do X or Y thing, we just place more demands and rigid gender rules on them. As Nicki Minaj explained in a now epic video, it’s not possible for women to live up to it:
“When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice. It’s like, ‘I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’ ”
A gif of Nicki Minaj in a pink wig saying

All hail.

Put it this way: In my ideal world, I can shave. Or not. In my ideal world, I can cake my face in makeup. Or not. In my ideal world, I can learn to rebuild an engine from scratch. Or not. And if I do, it’s not because I’m trying to show up some misogynists; it’s because I want to rebuild an engine from scratch. For me.
Sadly, we’re not there yet. It’s hard to imagine a time when our actions aren’t viewed through a lens that interprets them based on our gender.  But that is why examining those lenses is so important.
Love ya,
Vicki

On the meaning of pro-life

Dear Dad,

Thanks for your post in response to my post on abortion (whoa this may be getting too meta).

I’ll admit I didn’t always support abortion access, Dad. For a long time, I thought of abortion as a terrible evil in the world. But then I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone considering an abortion. And while I like to think that I would choose to keep the child, I recognize that I’m struggling to make rent each month without a dependent. I have student loans to pay off, as well as a pricey wisdom tooth removal that I have hefty bills for. A child would require time and energy to raise properly, and I’m afraid to make a lifetime commitment like that if I don’t know that I can guarantee that child a good life. Furthermore, there’s the fact that I would have to carry that kid for nine months, dealing with pain, weight gain, possible medical complications and permanent changes to my body. Not to mention the judgment of coworkers, peers, loved ones and strangers as I try to carry out my day-to-day as a young, unmarried, pregnant woman.

While I’d like to think I wouldn’t have an abortion, I can’t guarantee that. And I know that I can’t make that decision for anyone else, either.

A brunette white woman holding a sign that says

I support the right for anyone to get an abortion, without explanation, scrutiny or shame.

You say you support abortion in the case of rape or incest, Dad, but who decides that? Will doctors take women at their word? Or will they have to wait for a conviction? Keep in mind that only 4 percent of rapists ever get a felony conviction. Will a panel decide if a pregnant woman was violated? If so, I have a feeling it will probably be the same men who are restricting abortion access in Texas. And would you really force a woman to relive such a traumatizing event before obtaining an abortion? That seems cruel.

I know deciding to have an abortion can be painful (though it’s not always), and I want for them to be as rare as possible, Dad, truly. You talk about the value of life. I value it too, Dad, both the possible child’s and the mother’s. I’d like there to be as few abortions as possible. But the way to do that is not through trying to restrict abortion access.  That only results in the desperate turning to illegal, dangerous and potentially deadly operations.

A photo of a marble monument that says

Being pro-choice saves lives.

One doctor described his work in emergency rooms before Roe v. Wade for The New York Times. The descriptions are horrifying, so trigger warning for gore. But his memories of women mutilated, made infertile and killed by botched abortions performed illegally are essential to consider when talking about abortion rights. And as Dr. Waldo Fielding says, legal abortion simply means that these procedures can be performed in safe settings:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Abortions can be reduced by increasing access to affordable birth control options, by providing comprehensive sex ed to every child, and by allowing accessible, affordable, shame-free abortions for anyone who needs one. Even while on birth control, some people still get pregnant, and while many choose to keep the child, those who truly don’t want a pregnancy or a child shouldn’t be forced to carry through with it.

I recognize that it is a pregnant person’s right alone to decide whether or not to get an abortion. And it is so so important to remember why that right needs to be protected.

Love,

Victoria

On the wind in my leg hair

Dear Dad,

Today I wore a skirt to work. I sashayed around the office, parking lot and park I visited on my break, all the while marveling a little at the sensation of the wind in my hair. My leg hair.

Let me explain: While I don’t shave my armpits, I tend to shave my legs, since I like the smooth feel. Only lately, my razor blade has gotten all used and junky and useless, and well, I’m a busy career woman who doesn’t write shopping lists and I just keep forgetting to get new blades. So it’s probably been a month since I’ve shaved. I’m getting a little fuzzy.

But as you well know, thanks to the body confidence feminism has given me, I’m not one to let society’s rules about body hair on women keep me from showing some skin.

A couple years ago, this would have been unthinkable, Dad. I’ve had a fear of showing body hair ever since middle school. In the first week of wearing uniforms for gym class in 7th grade, a classmate ran her hand up my shin and exclaimed, “You don’t shave? Ew!” I had just started growing little blonde wispies on my legs, but I went home ashamed, told my mom I had to get a razor, and made her teach me how to shave my legs and armpits (where I hadn’t even started seeing hair).

As a society, we teach girls from before they have body hair that it is something to be ashamed of. We make them complicit in this gender role, teaching them to act out what they’ve learned and police other girls. Certainly my classmate didn’t wake up one day and decide, “Body hair is gross and I’m going to tell every other woman to be embarrassed!”

But I want to teach girls a different ideal, to give them a set of choices. I want to tell them that shaving can be fun, if you don’t get a cut. It feels great to put a pair of leggings on a pair of smooth legs. And I want to tell them that not shaving is fun too. That it feels awesome when your leg hairs catch the wind on a breezy day.

A bit of love for you today,

Victoria

On abortion access as a feminist value

Dear Dad,

Thank you for your post on where you see yourself as a feminist in your own life. I thought you hit upon some very important points, and some wonderful issues that feminists are addressing, areas where we have made progress and where progress is still needed.

I have always admired your treatment and respect of women, and especially your esteem of their professional lives; this includes Mom, your former bosses, and your female coworkers. Your relationships with these women helped model to me how women can be successful in their careers, and how men should treat them in a job setting.

I also agree that fistula is a very serious medical condition, often affecting poorer women in areas where medical care is limited or nonexistent. I’ve read about how it can ruin women’s lives, and I think it’s cool that your Rotary club was involved in such a radical project to help women gain social and economic power.

And I also grew up with a heart for helping the homeless, especially women and children, because of your work with groups like ECHO. Do you remember when we volunteered at the shelter overnight together? That is one of my favorite memories of you, Dad.

But you also mentioned some things in your post that I disagree with, Dad. You point to women you respect being “vilified” for being anti-abortion, women who believe in feminist ideals and yet would prefer that abortion access be nonexistent, or only available in cases of incest or rape, for instance. And while I think it is wrong to vilify or demonize someone for this view, it is antithetical to feminism.

One of the central beliefs of feminism is that we, as women, have a right to our own bodies. We have a right to freedom from sexual harassment and assault. We have a right to dress or decorate ourselves as we please. You agree that I shouldn’t be harassed when walking down the street, that my body is my own and that it is wrong for a man to mistreat me, ogle me or sexualize me. This bodily autonomy continues to abortion. It is my body that would carry a baby, and as such, it is my decision whether I want to carry it or not.

People stand on a street corner holding signs supporting choice and Planned Parenthood. A young woman smiles at the camera with a large sign reading

It’s a health issue!

Saying, “I’m a feminist, but I don’t believe in abortion,” is akin to saying, “I support LGBT rights, but I don’t approve of anti-discrimination legislation.” It’s one tenet of a belief set. It’s about choice.

Mom actually said it best to me, and whenever I consider the abortion debate, I go back to her words.

We were watching “Knocked Up.” You know, that Judd Apatow film where Seth Rogen gets Katherine Heigl pregnant? There’s a scene where Katherine Heigl tells her mom, and her mother tells her to “Take care of it.” (Or something like that. It was a couple years ago.)

Mom turns to me and says, “Oh, I could never do that.”

“What?” I said.

“I could never tell you what to do in a situation like that,” she says. “That’s your decision.”

“Mom,” I said, shocked, “are you pro-choice?”

“What? No!”

“You are! You’re pro-choice!” I said.

She paused a minute.

“I would say… I’m pro-baby,” she said finally. “I don’t think you should have a baby if you’re not prepared for one.”

People march in a parade to support Planned Parenthood. A woman carries a blue sign with the words

The right to choose supports women and families.

I think Mom got it, Dad. While I would love to see a world where no one needs an abortion, the reality is, we’re not there yet. Being anti-abortion doesn’t help women in bad situations, and it doesn’t help children born into families that don’t want them, or aren’t prepared to care for them.

And that’s why it’s a feminist issue.

Love,

Victoria

On partying for the revolution

Dear Dad,

How are you? What have you been up to?

Me? Well, I had the best party last week! There were snacks, there were libations, there was loud music and lots of cute women, and there was frank and serious discussion of gender norms and the role that gender, sexuality and feminism play in our lives.

A t-shirt with velvet lettering reading "Girls invented punk rock not England." At the bottom, a piece of paper reads "What is Riot Grrrl?"

One woman even made an awesome T-shirt!

All right, so it wasn’t your average twentysomething party. I invited some of my best female friends over for an afternoon of beer, Bikini Kill and zine-making. Over the four hours, we cut up a half dozen magazines and made our own pages discussing where we saw issues of gender inequality in our own lives.

One of my friends talked about how the media focuses on body size, but she’d rather see a focus on girls’ education worldwide. Another friend asked me how I felt about the way gender roles affect men. Another talked about being treated differently at her engineering job because of her gender. Yet another woman talked about how difficult it was to find a job in her field because most businesses assume she isn’t capable of heavy lifting.

A set of six photos of a zine. Pictures of men and women are cut out with phrases like, "What's my name?" and "Does my body hair disgust you?"

We talked about relationships, our bodies, nail polish, our jobs, music, history. It was girly and fun and intelligent and educational.

It’s conversation that brings about understanding, Dad. It’s listening and learning and creating together that brings about change. I’m partying for more voices in the conversation, for more cognizance. I’m partying for the revolution.

Party on,

Victoria

On the 17 percent

Dear Dad,

You’ve heard about the 47 percent, and the 99 percent, but have you heard about the 17 percent? Maybe not, but they’re all around you.

The 17 percent represents women’s slice of representation in media, according to research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Does that number sound too small to you? Because it did to me when I first heard it, in an NPR interview with Geena Davis about women in film:

My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance – that the movies that they’ve watched are about, let’s say, 5 to 1, as far as female presence is concerned – that’s what starts to look normal. And let’s think about – in different segments of society, 17 percent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 percent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn’t that strange that that’s also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we’re actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you’re an adult, you don’t notice?

Once I’d heard this, it was a hard idea to shake. Suddenly, I was counting women in crowd scenes, counting the main women characters in a group of main character, counting the female contestants in co-ed reality TV show competitions. I started watching Ink Master and the first thing I noticed was that, out of the 10 contestants, only 2 were women (just like Geena Davis’ ratio).

In fact, this 17 percent ratio is so normal that if a group is one-third women, people perceive it as being mostly women. And the ratio of men to women in movies hasn’t changed since WWII.

Why does any of this matter, Dad? It’s just movies, right?

No. If we see 17 percent as being the normal amount of women in a movie crowd, then that perception transfers to the real world. Think of the school boards, church boards, local government, national government and company boards that are dominated by more than 80 percent men. And the sliver of the pie that women get is thought of as normal, and totally reasonable. This ratio is teaching people to squash women’s rights to fair representation.

Even now, women only hold 18.5 percent of seats in Congress, just above the 17 percent ratio. And only three years ago did women occupy 1/3 of the seats in the Supreme Court.

It’s time to start questioning, Dad. It’s time to start counting the ratios, being aware and questioning what we perceive as normal and fair. It’s time to start demanding better.

Love,

Victoria