Leila pointed out to me some time ago that I'm a feminist. I've never seen myself as one, by my own definition I never thought that any man could be. I used to hold a very stereotypical view of what a feminist is: a woman, most likely in her forties or fifties, who dresses ultra-conservatively with her collar buttoned to the top and hair pulled back tight. Bitter from the way she's been treated by the men in her life and ready to make it known to anyone who'll listen how terrible the male species is.
Since we met I've grown to realize that this simply isn't true. Feminism isn't about the dislike of men at all, it has to do with seeking equal opportunities and fighting for social, educational and economic rights for women and other minorities.
The movement is directed mainly towards a society that permits behaviours which are oppressive and harmful not only towards women but anyone who does not live up to the expected behaviours of their class or gender. It's not about hating men, but about holding us to a higher standard, as people who are lucky enough to have been born in a position of privilege and power. This means that behaviour chalked up to the notion that "boys will be boys" is no longer acceptable. It means not thinking that a girl or woman dressed in an outfit, no matter how revealing, is "asking for it" or being "provocative". It means that we men are more than just our hormones; the ability to control our primal urges is what sets us apart from animals. It's acknowledging that having these urges, no matter how strong, doesn't give us permission to act on them in any way that makes a woman feel uncomfortable or threatened in our presence. To believe we're not capable of rising to these standards is insulting and undermines our capacity for free will.
I never considered that I could be a feminist because I always felt treating women equally and respectfully is something that should just come naturally for men. And if it doesn't for some, well, that's what the rallying cries of thousands of organized women were for. But the more Leila and I talked the more I realized that not only should men fight for better treatment of women in society, we need to consciously work towards eliminating the patriarchy that has brought us to the point where we need to fight back in the first place.
I struggled with this new view of myself and my role in feminism for a while. I adore women, there's nothing on earth I appreciate more. But how can I as a straight male also see women as sexual beings, have all those thoughts running through my head when I see an attractive woman or *gasp* watch porn, and still be considered a feminist?
What I came up with was this: It's okay for a man to be captivated by the physicality of women as long as he sees them as more than just a physical shell. By all means appreciate a woman's sexuality but respect her boundaries, recognize there's much more to her than this and celebrate her other sides equally and sincerely.
And so, if I'm a feminist I'll wear that badge proudly. I don't see it in negative terms anymore. Instead I see the possibilities that come with not only speaking out alongside women, but in supporting the notion that we as men are all capable of better. Respecting women should not be about stepping it up, but should simply be an expected standard.
Thanks Leila for collaborating on this post with me. As always seems to happen when we talk, you've helped expand my thinking along the way. :)