I vividly remember an encounter in middle school when a male classmate offered to take over a task from my female teacher. She was on a chair adjusting the heater and he offered to take over. I quickly made some comment about how she was capable to do and didn’t need help. Before I could pat myself on my back for my feminist cause, I was struck down. My teacher responded, “No thanks, I got it, though I don’t mind him volunteering to help.”
Wait. What? “Yes, you should mind! He was trying to take over a task because you are a woman!” I thought. Here I thought I was standing up for women, but my teacher switched it up on me! She completed the task, yet my comment was the one shut down, not the guy trying to take over the task.
I was conflicted. I saw a female ably adjusting the heater – a stereotypical male job – who didn’t need help. So I stood up because I didn’t find it appropriate for a male to need to help her when she was capable. So when a male offered to help, I was offended and barked at him thinking I was standing up for gender equality. But that day I failed in my feminist cause, because I was angry and blind to what actually was happening.
My “feminism” prevented me from seeing her taking his comment as an offering, rather than a “taking” of her task by a man. And in her words she gave life, not hate. She showed me that you can stand up for yourself by not always accepting that something is an oppressive take over. Rather, you can simply decline and continue on with your capable skills. She stood up for herself, and didn’t hate the man.
But I hadn’t learned how to do that yet.
It was that same year I took a summer improv class, and recall discussing how “girls just aren’t as funny as guys.” This “feminist” decided humor was a gender specific trait because I didn’t know any better. I had never spent time listening to female comedians like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Iliza Shlesinger – the first woman to win “Last Comic Standing.” I think I only knew Rosanne, and she was “too crass” so she didn’t count as funny. I was limited to what the media and the world around me showed me.
But I didn’t know how to preserve equality while recognizing cultural differences.
I didn’t yet know that being a feminist didn’t include hate. I hadn’t learned that feminism wasn’t about a large group of angry women, akin to burning bras and not shaving, screaming at “the man” because that is what the culture had showed me.
I hadn’t learned to step back and realize that true feminism is actually the opposite of hate. It is standing up against those that do hate. It is preserving what our Creator did – making both male and female. Neither one better than the other, and both equal in deserving our love.
So in this journey of standing up against those that hate, here is my list on how to advocate for women without being a man-hater:
- Open your eyes. One of the most important tactics for us to be aware of the rampancy of discrimination in our culture. And if you want to advocate for women to have an equal place in the world, you need to look around, starting with your own behavior. Are you hating? Are you inadvertently saying or doing things that are disparaging to women? Consider your words – perhaps you are saying that are demeaning, yet so culturally acceptable. For example:“Put your big girl panties on” “who wears the pants in the relationship” “Like a girl” “Man up”
- Just do it – stand up for women. And recognize that it will be hard. When you explore the dynamics of gender discrimination, you will get angry. For example, recently my church advertised a role for security guards – but had a headline directing it only to the men in the congregation. But I didn’t say anything. I wanted to and even thought it about it for weeks. But I didn’t say anything because I was scared. I didn’t want to be the angry feminist, and I wasn’t sure how to approach this issue without ruffling some feathers. I chose silence instead of standing against an evil of the culture.When you uncover horrendous acts of injustices, you will want to direct that anger at someone or some thing. But it is important to remember that not all men are to blame because, just like us, they are product of the environment. An environment that for so long has directed us how to behave. “Men are to be the spiritual leader.” “Men are to be the hero’s.” “Men are to be the breadwinners.” It will take a lot of energy to go against the norm. But still try. And most importantly remember to have grace because when you expose a man to these struggles, it may be hard for them to recognize their privilege.
- Recognize you shouldn’t want to do this on your own. Read different views to help you gain a better grasp on gender issues. Find blogs that support your beliefs as well as those that don’t. Learn the lingo, learn the views, and develop your own opinions. And recognize that that a partnership between allies, both men and women who support gender equality, is the best way to move forward in fighting gender discrimination.
- Accept it will take time. I still struggle in recognizing how men and women are different but equal. Even in my egalitarian marriage, we struggle to find our individual roles, while balancing family of origin issues and our individual skill sets. But we are making it work, because we are both committed to the egalitarian approach.
Remember this is a journey. Don’t be too hard on yourself, or too hard on others. Recognizing that people are equal in value, rights and opportunity regardless of gender, goes against hundreds of years of people saying otherwise. For it was only 100 years ago that the feminist movement succeeded in getting women the right to vote. And today we have females in positions in Congress, and even have a female running for president. We have women as CEO’s in Fortune companies. We have Title IX, prohibiting schools from discriminating against women in sports and education. We have laws to prevent marital rape (which was legal in some states until 1993!). We have females as college presidents. And the success stories go on and on.
Is it enough? No. But remember, it is a journey.
What advice do you have about standing up for women without hating men?