Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why Feminism? My Manifesto

This—people—is why feminism is so, very important. 

The rape study was done on a small number of participants—86, mostly white, straight male college students. But it is alarming that even out of this one small group—ONE THIRD of these young adults said they’d be cool with sexually assaulting a woman if they knew they wouldn’t be caught. What are we teaching these boys about being men? And what would the numbers look like if this study was done on a much wider scale?

The stats cited in the link above were based on a 2000 (as in Y2K) study conducted by the Justice Department. Some of the exact numbers were debated (mention a bit why later…), and this survey is 15 years old now—however, I think it’s safe to say that the results are still alarming, and that the college culture hasn’t changed much. And while I’m not telling you to blindly trust the government, this department does have the resources and man power to handle such a survey study. 

20 – 25% of women experience rape or attempted rape in college. While those numbers may seem staggering—so astounding that many people’s first instinct is to claim they must be wrong or inflated—they exist, and we need to start taking some serious consideration about why they do. (Even if they’re off by a few percentage points, they’re still bad. Even if they’re wrong by half. STILL BAD.)

Some of the critics of this particular study cited the fact that participants were given a $10 gift card as a thank-you for their participation. Does anyone really believe that someone would lie about being sexually assaulted for a $10 gift card? They weren’t offered the gift card to answer the survey questions one way or another—so they would have still gotten it even if they said that no man had ever approached them in any way, shape, or form, EVER. Gift card! I find that accusation belittling. 

To be fair, let’s consider all sides. 

Perhaps they are inflated numbers, manipulated by militant feminists who seek out ways to lie on rape surveys to demean men across the country and fear monger. 

Perhaps this study didn’t poll enough differing people from enough schools across the country. 

Perhaps we should initiate a new, current study that anonymously polls people from public and private schools across the country. 

Perhaps we should take into consideration that many people who were assaulted don’t want to talk about it or admit that it happened to them because the media and our society has stigmatized victims. 

Perhaps they’re afraid that their entire life will be picked apart, their integrity and sanity questioned, and in the end—after all of the trauma of an investigation— the perpetrator will not be brought to justice anyway. 

Often, victims on campus go to their school leadership for help, and then that leadership betrays them by never even reporting the crime to the true authorities. It doesn’t look good for a school when crime rates go up. 

Perhaps you know someone who has been a victim of assault or attempted assault, or perhaps you’ve been in that situation yourself. It’s real, and it’s tragic, and it boggles my mind that there are so many defensive men AND women who will pull their own hair out before admitting that there is a problem. 

NOT ALL MEN! You say? 

You’re damn right. And those men who aren’t rapists should be ashamed of those who are and standing up with their mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends to stop it from happening. Instead, so many throw their hands up and say “I’m not a rapist. Feminists just hate men, and I won’t stand for it.” 

So many men are still offended by the IDEA of feminism. I have met and worked with people who don’t believe in glass ceilings. They won’t acknowledge the gender difference in salaries. (Women make less money than men. Even when they are equally educated and doing the same exact job.) They feel like they’re being usurped! We don’t want to take over the world and kick all the men out (or do we?) We just want an equal opportunity to have fun and be awesome in it while making a difference. 

Many people confuse feminism with misandry. I LOVE MEN! I married one! He’s awesome and smart and handsome and good at his job. He works full time, as do I, and when WE get home, we make dinner, we do dishes and laundry, and we sit around and watch TV like lazy assholes instead of going to the gym. 

He grew up in a traditional, conservative household and probably never gave feminism a second thought until he met me, mostly because it didn’t directly (or so he perceived) affect him. He has a mom who loves him more than anything who always did his laundry, made his meals, and made sure that he was treated like a king, as she did for the rest of the family. I am happy for him. Many people aren’t so lucky to have such a nurturing home life growing up, and I don’t think any less of the way she decided to raise her family (who turned out pretty darn great), just because it’s more conservative than the way I would do it. 

But he is not infantile or spoiled or macho. He is the best iron-er I know! He does dishes like a champ. He can change my car’s oil, fix almost anything in the house, and keep his cool while teaching kids with behavioral and mental disabilities. He wears flannels and has a sweet beard that is the envy of many. But none of this defines his masculinity, as his masculinity doesn’t define him. 

He is a man who loves and respects his mother, sister, wife, female boss, coworkers, and all women he encounters. He can give and receive a compliment, but he is always aware of how his words may be perceived. He’s that guy who will pull over and help anyone with a flat tire on the side of the road. If a woman who held his values was running for office, he would vote for her. He can do a billion pushups. 

He is more than a label, as we all are. 

If he was running for office. I’d vote for him. And run his campaign. 

If you asked him, he would tell you that most “feminist” thing I’ve made him endure was the fact that I did not change my last name after we got married. It caught him off guard, but it was something we talked about quite a few times before we actually tied the knot. During our first conversation his reaction was something along the lines of…”Not my name, not my wife.” 

He was half joking.

There was a lot of talk about the WHY. I believe if two parties can sit down and discuss two opposing views about something they’re both passionate about by explaining the WHY of how they feel, everything can usually be resolved without killing each other. Not everyone will be happy or in agreement, but at least you might end up a bit more open minded. 

My reasons were simple to me:
1.      I don’t like to do things just because other people have done them that way before.
2.      I liked my name.
3.      I didn’t want to go through the pain in the ass process of changing it on all my legal documents.
4.      I didn’t think that getting married changed my identity as a person, so why should a name change reflect that?
5.      Secretly, if I ever get famous, I’ll want to be known by my real name that I’ve had for 25 years—so all the kids in middle school who made fun of me KNOW that it is indeed…me.

If having one last name symbolizes unity as a couple—why does it always have to be the males’? 

Hint: back in the day, women were mainly viewed as property, so the man’s name signified that she belonged to him. She originally would have her father’s surname, but then when she was given to her husband, she took his (under new ownership!)

So—since we’re obviously past the archaic (and frankly, stupid) tradition of viewing women as property—why has the surname change tradition held on so tightly? (Side note: I'm not judging anyone who took their husband's last name. Your name, your choice. More power to you. It just wasn't for me.)

After a few more open minded discussion on both parts, I had decided that if this was really important to him, I would concede—not out of submission or archaic tradition, but out of respect for the man I loved. I didn’t want him to somehow feel that I did not want to see myself as part of his family—that frankly has nothing to do with it. We’re married now, so they’re stuck with me. 

I was lucky to marry a man who ultimately understood that this was my decision, as it was my identity.
When I came back after the few days off I took before and after the wedding, I was bombarded by (well-intentioned) people in the hallways at work asking “So! What’s your new name?” I smiled politely, and explained that my name is the same as it was. And no—you don’t need to update me in your email address keeper. 

I kept my maiden name. I’m feeling it out. I like it. Some may view me as a bad feminist if, down the road, I decide to change it. Who knows. Who cares. 

I tell you this personal stuff to illustrate that feminism is not cut and dry and there’s no right and wrong way to be a feminist, as long as you are pro-gender-equality. I don’t have all the right answers, and I don’t live my life thinking “Is this a good feminist decision for me to make?” I live thinking “Is this good for me and would I be proud for my mom or my younger sister to find out about it?” Compromise is always necessary. 

My husband and I are seemingly normal people who live pretty normal lives, and were both lucky enough to grow up in loving homes with strong female role models. Our mothers are quite different, but they both have their own strengths, showcasing the amazing, diverse array of female abilities. Now, more than ever, I respect them both for all of the hard work they put into raising two pretty awesome kids.

Now more than ever, I also realize that 25 years ago, they had even less opportunity as women than I do today. I appreciate the strides that have been made, and the work the feminists made before me—going all the way back to the sexy suffragettes!

However, you can’t fix a problem if you refuse to admit it exists. And there is most definitely a glass ceiling that exists, even in our very advanced country. 

Look around you. Who are your town and county and state representatives? Who is running our country? Who are the owners and CEOs of the fortune 500 companies—and even on a smaller scale—who are your supervisors and bosses? More often than not: it’s a man (probably over 40…probably white). Are these men qualified to do their jobs? I’d say maybe and probably. But they also get the advantage—privilege—of being a male in a society who seems to value their leadership qualities and input more so than their female counterparts. The evidence, again, is in the (small) number of women in political and economic leadership positions, the salary differences that incur, and the rampant violence against and degradation of women.

What are we going to do about it? I’m not 100% sure. It’s a daunting task, but believe it when I say you can truly make a difference. You can do simple things. You can speak up when you hear a sexist (or racist, or any bigoted) joke. 

I know, personally, I can never recall something so vividly and clearly as when it’s been something I’ve done (or not done) and regretted. Moments after I say something really loud and really stupid at work—I swear!—it reverberates in my ears over and over so clearly, it’s like I’m on repeat.

One time in particular, I remember something that I didn’t say when a co-worker (of the “acquaintance” variety—not someone who I worked with every day) was speaking about the Ray Rice controversy. He was joking about 10 feet in front of my desk, saying that when he and his wife watched the elevator footage of Ray punching his then-fiancée his wife said something along the lines of “That bitch had it coming; I would have punched her too!” He said they laughed and high-fived each other, and he went about talking about how proud he was of his wife in that moment, as if nothing offensive had been said. 

I just sat there staring at him, dumbfounded with my mouth hanging open. I was aghast that not only did he think that was OK and funny, but he thought it was acceptable to say at work in front of me and my two other female colleagues. I was disgusted, but I was afraid to say anything, because although he wasn’t my superior—he was a supervisor, and one that I didn’t know well enough to gauge his reaction.

Speak up. Don’t pull a me. Think critically and analyze things that need analyzing, but don’t jump on the media bandwagons that throw hate and cast doubt on victims when they come forward, vindicating perpetrators. You don’t need to trust blindly, but it’s so easy to pick on the weak target. Was she slutty? Was she asking for it? Was she drinking? Why doesn’t she remember every single detail of the night in perfect chronological order? As if any of those questions answered would negate the tragedy of it all.

Be aware of your surroundings and be responsible for yourself, because in this world we have to. Also be there for others. When you go out, don’t judge that girl who’s had too much, stumbling around—help her hail a cab. 

Not too familiar about anything I’m talking about? You can support the cause by supporting feminist authors while educating yourself! Watch movies (kinda hard to find ‘em) directed, written, produced by women.

Congratulate other women on their achievements, and keep jealousy at bay by being genuinely happy for them!! (Hard to do sometimes. I know.)

Speak up for those who can’t for themselves, but use discretion and have respect for their feeling and privacy. 

On a broader scale—don’t hate on other women, period! 

Don’t give backhanded compliments. 

Don’t pick apart women on the red carpet or in the mall (guilty) for their poor outfit or life choices. They’re her choices not yours. 

My favorite woman in the universe who doesn’t know I exist is Amy Poehler. She is amazing, and smart, and supremely funny, and gorgeous inside and out. I’m in the middle of her wonderful, empowering, and straight-shooting book “Yes Please.” It’s a great feminist read that I would recommend to any man, woman, child, and pet who can read. 

Side note: Not only is Amy Poehler my role model, but so is her TV character Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation (one of the best TV shows ever.) If you haven’t watched that show, do it. Do it for comic relief that shows you don’t need to wear a giant feminist button to do good things for the cause of equality. I aspire to BE Leslie Knope. 

One of my favorite quotes from Amy’s book so far is: “‘Good for her! Not for me.’ That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”’

I’m a very opinionated woman, as you probably can tell, so this I something I need to help remind me to check myself. 

Encourage your friends to be awesome. Encourage them to start their business or quit their horrible job to do something they love. Encourage them to keep painting, or swimming, or taking pictures, or traveling. Join them! Support their causes! If you’ve got a talent that could actually, physically help their cause—use it!

Side note: I’m really good at planning stuff (events, dinner, and everything in between) and I’m kinda good at writing and proof reading stuff—so if you need any help with either of those things, let me know! I’ll be happy to assist you in achieving your dreams!!! 

I have a general rule for myself: When my friends (and I don’t use that term loosely) start a business or a venture or whatever, I will actively support them at least once (most applicable to financial support—otherwise just one act of support kind of sucks). Even if I don’t love what they’re doing. It’s their life.

I must confess, the things I find most annoying are pyramid schemes or all of those new “selling stuff parties”—you know—purses, costume jewelry, makeup, Tupperware etc. I hate them. I don’t know why, but they are my least favorite way to buy things, and I almost never like what they are selling. But if you are my true friend (and you haven’t unfriending me for making these offensive comments about your choice of livelihood) and you start on of these ventures—I guarantee one good purchase from you. I will attend your first party, and maybe even offer to host one for you if I’m impressed, but please don’t make me come to more than that. 

Sorry. That’s my disclaimer. 

But aside from product parties—I will come to your grand opening, I will eat at your café, I will vote for you kid, watch you play guitar at the bar, take your yoga class— whatever you are excited about, I want to be excited about it with you & although I’m no friendship goddess, I think this is how we should all try to be.

If you’ve met me, you know, when I am REALLY impressed with something or someone, I tell everyone, because A. I want to support my friends and B. I want the world to be as lucky as me to get to experience them and their awesome talents!

We won’t succeed all of the time. We’ll get tired and lazy, or even broke. But your real friends and family are the ones who pull you through the really shitty shit, so make sure you’re investing time and thought and good energy and efforts in them. 

Be there for your friends and be an open line of communication (or an open ear) when someone wants to talk. Also, feel free enough to be honest with them if they’re making choices that are or could be seriously hurting them. 

Do everything you do well. Be proud of your work, and don’t be afraid to speak up and share your awesome thoughts with everyone. It can be scary to be the only girl in a conference room full of men, but you got this! It can be hard to politely, but earnestly, disagree with a close friend or family member, but you can do it. 

Beyond your circle of comfort—get involved in your communities and keep up with politics. They’re not always fun and exciting. Often they can be frustrating and you may feel like you can never get the full story.

Do your research! I beg of you—Don’t be that person who only knows what they read on Facebook or who only watched Fox or CNN or MSNBC news. I am very leery of the “journalism” that’s rampant in the media today.  It’s not real journalism, just a bunch of robots spewing hot topics. 

However—there are meaty, informative, fact-checked pieced out there, and if you don’t get involved in at least UNDERSTANDING politics, and you don’t vote your conscience, then it’s hard to complain when everything goes to shit. 

Volunteer. Campaign for things you believe in. Give back to your community. You can make a small difference that can have widespread effects. 

Support good things and good people, and hold hope that with time and effort, we will come that much closer to equality and peace of mind. 

For those of you who disagree with me and with feminism in general—you’re entitled to your opinions, but remember that the true definition of FEMINISM is “the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
You may hear about bitter man-haters or other negative conations that you may associate with feminism. You may think that feminism is some dirty word that describes “bitchy” women. (Don’t get me started on the double standard known as “bossy women” vs. “male leaders.”) 

Those people exist, but they do not define all feminists, and their actions and beliefs don’t align with the straightforward (but not simple) mission of creating a world where women and men get equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities to excel both socially, politically, economically, and educationally.

If you can’t get down with equal opportunity—you’re not invited to the party. 

(*Final side note—I am fully aware that Buzzfeed is not always a worthy and unbiased news source—however, the study is posted for you to read for yourself. Plus it was just one of many examples I could have used that caught my eye this morning.)

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