Stopping The Stigma
By Francesca Giuliano on Behalf of Women’s Leadership Initiative
Stereotypes. Stereotypes are one of the reasons why people become judgemental toward the things that they don’t know about, and develop false perceptions based on fear rather than experience. I stopped keeping count of the number of disappointing conversations I’ve had with educated men who claim they are not feminists but egalitarians, because they do believe in equality; they’re just not into…“nazi-feminists.” Women being angry. Women being proudly fat. Women complaining about rape culture but then clearly “asking for it” through the way they dress. Many men want feminism to be all about the negative stereotypes, so that they can politely and reasonably disengage from it. They don’t dismiss the idea of fighting against the wage gap or for abortion rights, but they are terrified with the idea of actually putting the effort in their day-to-day life to make the world a safer place for women.
No matter how many battles feminism has won in the past eight decades, how much women’s lives and careers have improved; we live in a society dominated by the underlying assumption that it is, in fact, a man’s world. And guess who’s to blame? Surprise surprise. Same old friend. THE PATRIARCHY. Women may be gaining significantly more representation in politics and governments, sports, the entertainment industry, science and literature, and they are getting those seats at the table (although one could spend hours arguing that in order to get those seats women are constantly being asked to give up extremely significant parts of their lives whereas men, well… they just are not -- they can have the cake and eat it too). However, women are not free. They are so unfree, in fact, that there’s no need to delve too much into the historical, socio-political, statistical evidence about the reasons why: women are taught to be careful. All the time. As simple as that. Are men taught the same thing? No. Careful is an interesting word choice because it entails that whatever is out there is a potential threat. Interestingly, however, the danger is there to get just 50% of the population.
Obviously there are so many other vulnerable groups in the injustice-inequality-based social hierarchy we live in, for which the world is a dangerous place. Privilege is a complicated thing. But chances are that, if you are a girl or a woman, in spite of your religious, ethnic, cultural background and identity, feeling safe is never a given.
A few weeks back, a Facebook post went viral when women and men were asked what precautions do they take when walking back home alone at night. You might immediately guess that the women’s part of the list was more than two pages long, filled with useful advice on how not to get cat-called or attract attention, and what to do if things get really bad. Contrastingly, the men’s section had one example, “I just don’t think about it.” This shows just about how much the patriarchy still affects women’s lives today.
Men who are scared to help women finally become free, is probably the most significant part of the problem. The idea of women becoming free would likely be the most radical paradigm shift that ever occurred in human history, and men would have to rethink their constructed masculinity. What’s scariest to a man than the possibility of being emasculated by a new wave of female freedom? Nearly anything. However, what men do not realize is that…women would be there for them. More specifically, feminists would be there for them. Women know what it is like to be oppressed, and contemporary feminism argues that men are just as oppressed by the patriarchy as women are.
Men who turn their cheek, and ignore that feminism is not about burning bras and unshaved legs, are just operating within the system of oppression of both men and women. There are so many sides to feminism. Burning bras and not shaving legs is one of them. But men should learn to leave that to women - it is their choice what kind of feminist they wish to be. Men who argue against feminism, however, seem to miss the main point which feminists are trying to make: equality AND freedom from social structures of oppression. Bam. If you are a man, and you are not a fan of feminism, this is probably making you feel uncomfortable or angry. Good. The stereotypes you believed in so far were wrong. Like most stereotypes, by the way. I hope you’re taking notes.
So what should men who believe in equality of the sexes do? A man’s job is to stop harassing and raping women. It is to rethink their role in society and treat women as their fellow human beings who happen to be bearers of rights just like anyone else. Doing that means that men need to de-objectify women and start to actively humanize them. On the streets, in schools, in the workplace. Treating them as equal - not just a subject to which X right must be given on paper for the sake of political correctness, so that one can forget about it and move on. Guys, we need your help. Even more, your thoughtfulness.
It will take us feeling absolutely comfortable and safe taking public transportation at 4 a.m. in a short dress, in a big city, while tipsy, without feeling absolutely terrified that could be the night that ends our life, or dignity. It will take us hearing from our mothers and grandmothers that there is nothing to worry about because men are not dangerous creatures and they are not capable of robbing us of everything. It will take us knowing that this world belongs to us just as much as it belongs to them, and therefore speak up and show how brilliant we are. It will take us all these things, before we can say feminism has finally led us to freedom. And even then, we’ll still need it to remember to be proud, and to be loud.