Trigger warning: sexual violence, mental health, suicide, hate crimes, and naughty words.
I have become exhausted by the throwaway comments of "I don't believe in patriarchy", "feminism has been hijacked by extremists" and, of course, the old chestnut: "Men just don't need feminism."
Sometimes this mode of thinking infuriates me, but more often than not, it simply makes me sad. The greatest issue with how people interpret feminism in this day and age is deliberately refusing to understand it. There's so much room to leap upon vague notions of extremist rhetoric as a means of condemning a movement that exists to make the world a better place, whilst deliberately blinkering oneself to the myriad, genuinely beneficial hallmarks of feminism.
I need feminism for many of the same reasons that men do: because equality is not such a complicated shit sandwich as people seem hung up on portraying it. And so, in this piece, I will detail the reasons why I personally feel feminism is a fundamental need for achieving equality. For my readers from all backgrounds, I invite you to pick and choose the reasons with which you, too, may be able to relate. After all, this school of thought is not prescriptive. The only "wrong way" to be a feminist is to not stand for equality. All else is available for personalisation.
Feminism advocates for gender equality the same way civil rights advocate for racial equality. Yet for some reason, only feminism carries the burden of "yeah, but can we really trust you are what you say you are?" stigma. This sees feminism shoved onto the proverbial backfoot in any discourse, as its proponents are demanded to justify how they are not extremist, sexist, or salivating for the eternal damnation and oppression of men. I need feminism because its equivalent, found in human rights advocacy, never seems to be bogged down with semantic debates as to whether their mission is to oppress the majorities for whom they do not advocate.
I'm exhausted by conversations as to how feminism no longer means gender equality, by people who have done no reading as to the nuances of either or both. Whilst I'm happy to engage in any discourse, it's knackering to walk someone down the path of discussion by the hand and explain the differences between diversity and oppressive normativity. The issue is, at times, an unwillingness to engage in baseline, tedious, time-consuming debate is perceived as adversarialism, rather than fatigue with people wholly unwilling to Google, and demand instead that wisdom be spoon-fed to them. Nobody has the interest or energy to explain to an armchair gender theorist why feminism hasn't "changed in a bad way", and frankly, the entitlement of people who declare "if you don't tell me, I'll assume the worst" is repulsive. Such an argument is not acceptable in any other realm, so why feminist thought?
Even so, I am comfortable with proclaiming that I need feminism.
I need feminism because third-wave feminists constantly field demands to make apologies for the second-wave. The derailment of discussion to "I didn't like what it once was, and I don't like that these ideas have been built upon those old ones to fit with the modern times" is wilfully ignorant at best, and sincerely ignorant at worst. Sociological theory is an every-growing, ever-changing, nuanced world, not unlike scientific research. But we don't roll into our GP's office to demand they apologise for their predecessors who treated fever with leeches. Especially when the use of leeches was a medical necessity of the time, and a fundamental stepping stone for scientific advances that have guided us to this point. You don't have to love the things Greer, Dworkin of Jefferies say. Heck, I don't. But to obstinately pretend the discourse has not advanced beyond them (and even by them, given the late stages of Dworkin's research) is nothing short of pigheaded.
I need feminism because people poke fun at the concept of patriarchy whilst refusing to actually research its definition. For those unwilling to pull up a dictionary for themselves, allow me to spoonfeed you, just this once, Feminism 101: Patriarchy means that anybody who deviates from the basic cliches of gender is acting erroneously. This applies to women, sure, but it also encompasses non-gender binary people, the entire umbrella of LGBTIQ, and, wait for it... men.
Patriarchy is when a guy wears a dress at any time that isn't footy club's Mad Monday (because men wearing dresses is considered an act of humiliation or perversion, and is only ever socially acceptable in the context of some elaborate, self-aware joke), then he's likely to be derided, harassed, or even assaulted. Patriarchy can also be enforced by women, who may perhaps think that they are beating the system by alienating themselves from their feminine qualities, unaware that they are only ever playing within the parameters of anti-femininity. When we systematically degrade all concepts of feminisation in our own lives and in the lives of others, we perpetuate this cultural norm.
I need feminism because when a man admits that he has been raped by a woman, the immediate reaction should never be "that's not possible, you must have wanted it" or "lucky you." I have witnessed this appalling denial of experience first-hand. One of the friends in question was unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend in the wake of his assault. She outright refused to believe that a sexual act against a man could be nonconsensual. To her mind, he cheated on her. To his own, his boundaries were violated and he was left to glue the rubble back together, sans emotional support. In these situations, patriarchy compounds an already distressing experience with further feelings of shame and victim-blaming.
I need feminism because people think it's okay to demand "no fems" on their Grindr profiles. I need feminism because Fag Hag culture degrades the value of women who befriend gay men.
I need feminism because I grew up hearing that to fail at something was to do it "like a girl." By contrast, to be successful, talented, capable or emanate leadership was to be a man. If we're told to be tougher, it's "man up", if we act bravely, then we "have balls", when we see deep affection between two platonic male friends, it's not just friendship, but a "bromance" (because it needs to be clarified as something not-gay, right?), and when we're reluctant to do something... suddenly, we're a "pussy".
I need feminism because I'm sick of being told that characteristics of who I am are only cool because they're masculine. I do not drink scotch, burp, and freely cast innuendo into my banter for the benefit of being perceived as an alpha dudebro. These qualities are my own, and wholly independent of gender. And I harbour no illusions about this inherent "masculinity": I can act like a boy, and be welcome amidst their world for a time, but I can never, truly be perceived on equal footing (whatever that means) as one. Regardless of deportment or attitude, the token of my breasts will always preclude me from ever being a part of the inner sanctum of "a man's world." After all, I'm only so cool and welcome until someone wants to fuck me. Then, I'm on my own. After all, brocode dictates that men don't cockblock their friends. Even if the girl doesn't want the attention in the first place.
I need feminism because feminisation is seen as weak, repulsive, or suspicious. When a cisgendered, heterosexual man wants to be a kindergarten teacher, or experiment with makeup, or experience sexual penetration, the instinctive reaction for others is to bring out the pitchforks. This is done because such qualities and interests are feminine, which in turn renders this hypothetical man feminised. We barely even want our women to be women all the time (bitches are crazy, yeah?), and so we sure as shit don't want our men to be feminised, even fleetingly. When breaking the conformity of patriarchal constraints, condemnation, exclusion, or even violence can be the pushback.
It's no secret that the rate of suicide completion is higher for men than for women. Even less surprising is that some people try to spin these stats (where women attempt more often, but men are more likely to complete) as a means of splitting our genders anew: we're told that the causation of such data is because, obviously, women are more prone to cries for attention (irrational/not serious/fem), but men are more committed (logical/serious/masc) to the taking of their lives. And in the end, this splitting sees only the people who need help the most suffer. It's disgraceful that not even mental health is exempt from the arbitrary scratching of pink and blue through every circumstance.
I need feminism because the word hysteria is derived from the Latin word for uterus, and has never stopped being perceived as a feminine quality thereafter. We have been told so long that women are swooning, fainting, pearl-clutching, histrionic hot messes that need a firm slap in the face, or a penis to hop onto, that some have begun to believe it. It suddenly becomes a feat in adolescence to stomach the sight of blood or not recoil in disgust when a guy flashes a gruesome image from his phone screen in your face, apropos of nothing. As if being stoic for stoicism's sake is an accomplishment to be lauded. This is how girls are taught to play in a boys' world, yet the boys would be just as amused if the girl in question shrieked at the confronting image, and ran away.
I need feminism because it's apparently overreactive for women to fear the threat of violence at the hands of men, yet they are constantly criticised for not being more sensitive to a man's feelings when rebuffing sexual advances. I need feminism because I have been threatened with violence for politely turning down a guy's romantic overture too many times. I need feminism because "I'm not interested" is too rude, and anything more vague is "leading him on", and the only really safe answer I'm supposed to give is "Yes" - even if I don't want to.
I need feminism because there is ambiguity in classifying statistics of transphobic violence, where these attacks are classed assaults, rather than hate crimes. The outright defiance of gender norms by people transitioning or affirming their genders can be perceived as threatening to anyone unstable or uncertain within their own gender construct. I need feminism because "I'll rape the gay out of you" exists outside of our television screens, and shouldn't even exist there. I need feminism because jokes about male-on-male sexual assault in the prison system persist, contrary to all semblance of good taste.
I need feminism because men have been taught to fear false rape accusations more than of not receiving the enthusiastic, ongoing consent of the girls with whom they are sleeping. I need feminism because men are not encouraged to express their emotions, which only encourages them bottle up and explode. I need feminism because I truly believe that men are no more hard-wired to be abusive to women than women are to be victims to a man's violence, and that patriarchal constructs enforce these binaries. I need feminism because these conversations - that this is not how it has to be - are still not happening.
Vetoing patriarchal norms is a necessity for healthy inter- and intra-gender relations in the future, but it is, by its very nature, confronting. Progress demands that we be aware of the ways in which we contribute to these norms, and insists upon our need to change them. I need feminism because there can be no equality without compromise.
I don't love and propagate feminism because I want to carry the testicles of my lovers on my key chain. I need feminism because patriarchy is a boys' club that even the boys are terrified of playing wrong.
I need feminism because I fucking love men, and they, just like everybody else, deserve better than this.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.