Part 1: Embarrassment
I am embarrassed about who I was five years ago. I am even more embarrassed about the person I was ten years ago. I am sure five or ten years from now, I’ll be embarrassed about who I am today. Why? Because I have been wrong about a lot in my life. Too much, really and not just about things like how long it will take to drive from Rhode Island to Toronto or how much a large pizza will cost me after splitting it three ways including tax. I have been wrong about important things, things that it now seems insane I could have ever been so wrong about. Feminism is one of those things.
I have not always been the feminist I am now. It upsets me to think about, but at 14 or 15 years old I was not unlike so many of the men who frustrate me today. Sure…I was young, I was still learning, but I hadn’t been exposed to very much of the world yet, but it’s possible that I remember myself being worse than I actually was because I’m so sensitive to these issues now. Still, I’m embarrassed to think about the things I used to say and do.
What frustrates me more is that no one ever told me I was wrong. I had to figure it out for myself. When I started high school, the “everyone has a right to their opinion” craze was just catching on with cool kids everywhere. I wish someone had just said to me, “you’re wrong about that and here’s why…” rather than “well that’s just your opinion.” Maybe I would have reacted badly or maybe I would have become angry and embarrassed myself. But I think that would have been good for me.
It’s true that everyone has a right to their own opinion. However, that does not mean all opinions are equal. The opinion that “a dragon is a better mode of transportation than a bicycle” shouldn’t be treated as seriously as the opinion that “learning to budget effectively at a young age is important.”
The idea that riding a dragon to work will get you there faster and more safely than riding a bicycle is not just wrong, it is fantasy. One of these opinions is based on facts and accurate observations of the world, and the other is based on saying things that make you feel good. The point is: someone should have told me I was wrong.
I was wrong. And I needed to hear it. Most of all, I wish someone would have explained to me how feminism addressed every specifically male problem I faced as a man (well… okay, a boy), and every frustration I had about meeting what felt like impossible standards to be a man. I needed to find that out at much younger age than I did. At 21 years old, I shouldn’t have still been conflating feminism with misandry, and I shouldn’t have thought it made sense to argue with anyone about who had it harder—men or women. But there I was in college, and still no one was telling me I was wrong.
I could have grown so much more, so much sooner. Want to have more feminists in the world? Don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable. Tell them they’re wrong.
Part 2: Growth
Today, I am a feminist. Really, I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that. The idea that I should have to identify as a person that believes in gender equality seems absurd to me. No one identifies as an “anti-racist,” right? Well… anymore.
I don’t entirely know how I got here. As much as it may sound like a punchline, I owe a lot of credit to Tumblr. In the last few years, I’ve spent many late nights reading things that made me uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable was very good for me. I’m still uncomfortable. I don’t always know how best to be a feminist. That said, I’m a white, middle-class, heterosexual male in the United States. If only I were Christian, I’d be a shoe-in for president.
I’m not about to complain. In our world at this moment, being all of those things is far easier than not being any one of them, so I have come to the conclusion that I have three responsibilities. First, do what I can to change that. Second, keep making myself uncomfortable.
Third, offer all the support I can to those who haven’t had the privileges I’ve had. Then there’s, you know, be a decent human being who treats others well. Okay, so four responsibilities…or maybe five: I need to stop being a feminist who forgets you need to tell people you’re a feminist.
I guess part of the problem is anyone can be as progressive as they like—as progressive as they think the world should be—but that in itself doesn’t change the fact that we exist in the world as it is, a world in which it is assumed that if you’re a female and a feminist, you’re unreasonable, and if you’re a male, you’re neither of those things. How could you be? You’re a man. You’re supposed to join in on the snickering when a woman begins to speak about anything other than clothes, gossip, or boys and even then… go ahead and snicker anyway.
And if a person doesn’t identify as male or female? If they are gender fluid? If they reject the gender binary altogether? What’s their role? Where do they fit in? According to the world described above, they don’t even exist.
That’s why it’s important that if you believe in equality, say so. Silence isn’t support. Yes, I still feel like I shouldn’t have to identify myself as someone who isn’t an oppressive idiot, but that isn’t a good enough excuse not to. Because the more people there are carrying the flag, the more uncomfortable everyone else will get, and the more uncomfortable they get, the more they’ll be forced to think. And thinking about something rarely keeps you feeling the same way about it.
In other words, tell people you’re right.
One Last Note:
At the risk of “ruining the English language,” I deliberately use “they,” “them,” and “their” as gender-neutral third-person pronouns because it is easier than writing out lengthy descriptions of these possible yet unknown individuals, it avoids using “one,” which always reads stuffy and formal whenever one uses it, and finally, doesn’t require inventing a new word.
More importantly, I feel it is inclusive to all people, some who are gender fluid, identify as a gender outside the conventional binary, or may not identify as any one gender at all. I think the fact that “their”is supposed be used to refer to groups actually points to this inclusion nicely, even if I am technically breaking plural agreement. Regardless, plural agreement is less important to me than people.