I've wanted to write something about feminism for a long time, mostly to organize my own thoughts about my stance. I haven't been able to do this without devolving into a fervent, long- winded tirade, but today I think I'm ready to be clear, short, and sweet.
I am a passionate feminist in the truest form; I believe in political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is not about condemning men, or shaming "gender-normative" women. In my professional life, I am a feminist because I want to be able to embrace my femininity without anyone (consciously or subconsciously) suspecting that this compromises my ability to be effective. I don't want to have to "turn on my bro-ish side" to get hired at a start-up. I understand the patriarchy hurts women and men, and know that we need male allies to reach equality. For feminism to be persuasive, it needs a balanced approach.
When I see things like TIME's poll to ban the word "feminism", and the Tumblr Women Against Feminism, it honestly make my blood boil. I want to shake these people, and make them understand my stance, which they surely couldn't disagree with. But if there is one thing I've learned as I've grown up, it's that the initial, visceral reaction you have to something distasteful is rarely a productive approach to an agreeable outcome. This is why I think empathy is perhaps the most powerful tool someone fighting for a cause can have. By listening to the opposition and understanding their point of view, we can engage in a dialogue that is more than just a pissing match.
The article that inspired me to write this post is a submission to Though Catalog entitled "I'm a Mother of Two and I Cannot (and Will Not) Support Feminism". While I disagree with the author, she makes some fair points. She writes "When the term feminism turned from being a message of empowerment and gender fairness to basically a list of rules, restrictions, idiosyncrasies, offenses and grievances directed at all things male, I tapped out," and says that she hopes that one day her sons have partners who "honor their manliness, strength, valor, chivalry and masculinity."
Within my own ideology, I find these statements to be slightly misguided, but coming from a mother of two young sons, I do not find them to be unfounded. Like all mothers, this author seeks to project her children. Because of her recent experiences, she views modern feminism as an attack on her children. It's unsurprising that she has decided to speak out.
The way I see it, feminism needs a re-branding. The feminist commenters on Thought Catalog can berate this woman, calling her ignorant all they want, but it won't change the fact that tens of thousands of reasonable, well-meaning people agree with her. Though they don't mean to, many feminists paint the cause in a rather unflattering light. Putting masculinity on trial is a great way to bring together a bunch of hot-headed emotionally-driven "feminists", and ostracize literally everyone else. We need a much more nuanced approach.
I want to live in a world where a man can feel confident and masculine while wearing a baby on his chest, and where a woman need not feel guilty about working late or hiring a nanny. I want men and women to be able to flirt without the man feeling creepy, and without the woman feeling that her safety is compromised. I would accept a polite compliment on my physical appearance from a male friend or partner, but I want these men to understand that if they give me this compliment in a professional environment, it will undermine my ability to be taken seriously. I want men and women alike to be conscientious of their language, and check themselves before calling a female colleague "bitchy" or "bossy" for displaying confidence or authority similar to a male colleague.
Feminism, of course, seeks to bring about equality by elevating women. Those who read and study feminism and gender understand that breaking down patriarchy is intended to help both sexes. But with so much focus on purely women's issues, many people feel that the approach is unfair. The mainstream feminism movement needs a lesson in empathy. Men make up half the population; we need to find a compelling way to engage this population, rather than crucify them. The goal of the feminist agenda—equality of the sexes—hardly matters if the perception is that it seeks to bring down men. We need to make feminism a safe place for men and male allies if we want to stand a chance of making the world a safe place for women.