#YesAllWomen And Why I’m a Feminist

‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine… “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’
– Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)

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A man went on a mass shooting in California. Part of the “reasoning” behind his actions, according to his own online statements, was that he was rejected by women and felt a need to punish them. This frightens me. It angers and horrifies me, but it sadly doesn’t surprise me. Violence against women is pandemic – from Boko Haram to Santa Barbara, it is everywhere.

Working at a law enforcement agency for five years in a town with a religious academic institution gave me a powerful one-two punch of patriarchy. I was able to see how certain ideas about gender roles intersected on a number of levels, purposefully, and unintentionally. I saw how cultural ideas about maleness and femaleness, backed up in religion, received learning, tradition, you name it played out across organizational, familial, and personal relationships. I saw how cultural traditions crept into management and authority structures. And I saw, over and over again, that the society and culture I operate in (yes, even in the 21st century in the West), was stacked against women. I claimed the title feminist long before I worked at the PD, but working there cemented it in a new way.

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I saw several of them first hand and arrived, irrevocably, at the conclusion that any system that excludes women from administration, authority to act in their own right, or allows them responsibility only by delegation is inherently problematic, not to say dangerous. The typical result of such a system is that women are seen as people (or worse, things) to be acted upon rather than individuals able to act for themselves. Sexual crime against women is a huge and ugly component, but I would argue it’s a symptom of a much larger problem, not the problem itself. The larger problem is that the world over, men are typically privileged above (and often at the expense of) women. That is the textbook definition of Patriarchy.

And Patriarchy hurts everyone.

It hurts women who are disenfranchised from rights, property, safety, sexual security, money, and often legal identity because they are not men. It hurts men who are narrowly bound by conventions and expectations and risk losing rights, property, safety, sexual security, money, and often legal identity for flouting them (in other words, behaving like non-men, aka women, and therefore losing the privileges of maleness). It hurts those who try and change the status quo. It hurts those who simply point out the status quo! I have a number of hate filled emails and online messages from perfect strangers to prove it.

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No one is saying that every man participates in misogyny or violence against women. You may have heard of my father, brothers, really awesome husband, and a plethora of wonderful male friends over the years, to pick some examples, not at random. But what I am saying is that misogyny and violence affects almost every single woman – because of that inherent imbalance I mentioned above. When a society privileges being male, and you aren’t male, you are inherently up against a lot more.

This next bit is a tad self-indulgent but please bear with me. I don’t go into lots of deeply personal stuff like religion and politics here, I use this space to talk about other things, but I’m going to pull back the curtain just a bit.

I have paid a price for claiming the title “feminist.” I have had people suggest I should not have been able to work at religiously affiliated institution, because I said that I did not believe my husband was my spiritual head or presided over me in any way. I have been alienated by former friends in my religious and cultural community for engaging in activism for feminist causes. I have had a few instances where religious leaders (who are all male by default) have felt the need to “counsel” me or apply certain pressures to “correct” my opinions. I have even dismayed and caught some family members off guard for making personal or political decisions based on my convictions about gender. My relationship with my faith has been deeply strained and I have felt very distinct and unsubtle pressures to remove myself from various communities over the years, that I have found hurtful and heartbreaking.

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But I claim the title anyway. I claim it because I need it. I have seen the range of the problem from benevolent sexism that puts women on pedestals but doesn’t let them climb down from them, to flagrant and violent misogyny. And it’s all bad. It’s all unnecessarily limiting. It’s all just plain unnecessary.

I am a feminist because I have taken transcripts where in a perpetrator claims it wasn’t assault because the girl didn’t say, “No.” I am a feminist because I have been told that wanting to see women in certain positions of religious leadership is flouting God’s will. I am a feminist because a man who was rejected by women, felt he was entitled to rip them out of this world for not satisfying his wants. I am a feminist because it’s not enough for me to recognize the imbalance of the world, I feel an obligation to work to change it.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to read the #YesAllWomen hashtag trending on Twitter and elsewhere. – LINK

Some commentary on how it started, and why it’s important – LINK

My own first run in with frightening sexual intimidation, and how a man tried to lecture me (a police department employee) about the “realities” of sexual violence in the area, even though he was wrong – LINK

Some of the ugly reactions to the hashtag, or another reason why I need feminism – LINK

And lastly, don’t try and tell me misogyny is all in my head. I have five years in law enforcement support work that tells you you’re wrong, and this guy – LINK

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17 thoughts on “#YesAllWomen And Why I’m a Feminist”

  1. This was wonderfully written. I didn’t assert myself as a feminist for a while because I didn’t fully understand what the term meant. Now, I’m a proud feminist and am glad to have people around me who also are. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thanks for stopping in and sharing that. It’s important to recognize that it’s a word with a complex history, but so many people being afraid to claim it is part of the problem, I feel.

  2. On Friday I spent the day at Antietam. It was a beautiful day, sunny but not too warm and not at all crowded since it was a work day. I looked forward to spending the day getting some exercise and enjoying nature by wandering the many miles of trails around the site. It was lovely, but the whole time, at the back of my mind, there was this fear than someone could easily jump out, drag me into the woods, and rape and murder me without anyone else being able to hear. I HATE that what would otherwise be perfectly lovely experiences of solitude are always tinged with (a legitimate) fear. I hate that I’m more suspicious of rather than kind to strangers. I hate that my male friends see no danger in traveling alone or couch surfing, while I have to change my plans if I can’t find a companion.

  3. Have you ever read The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker? I think it’s a must read for every woman. Unfortunately we do live in a world where women especially are far too often victims of both physical and sexual violence. His book is about using the gift of fear as an empowering tool to protect yourself from violence, by teaching you to listen and act on those instincts of fear and learn to recognize the warning signs of violence. He argues that in his wide experience, there are rarely incidents of violence that are random and without signals that women (and men) can learn to recognize and act on to help prevent an incident from ever occurring.

    If you haven’t read it, read it! It’s very empowering, incredibly practical, and helped me change my perception of those feeling of fear that I have on occasion from a feeling of weakness and vulnerability to a feeling of power and something that I respect and am grateful for. In a perfect world, we’d never have to worry about those kinds of problems, but you’re right that even in “good” areas, those kinds of things do happen.

    I, as an individual, unfortunately don’t have much power or influence to change our culture or change the thinking or actions of someone who would strike out against women, but I do have the power to be aware, be prepared and protect myself.

    I do think more education and a cultural shift away from violence in our country needs to occur. I’m not quite sure from a public policy perspective how to achieve that. Like so many other things, I think the best way to prevent violence and prejudice against women and any group is to raise children to respect women and other people and raise them to be open minded. I want to believe that we’re moving in a positive direction, though there has also been a shift in society and in the women’s movement away from the onus of protecting women. The feminist in me says that we shouldn’t have a world where women need protecting, but in a popular culture that often treats women as sexual objects, and with violence rates against women as high was they are, I wonder if some of the modern feminist movement’s focus on reproductive rights has come at the expense of the movement having a larger impact in other areas of women’s welfare.

    1. Not yet, but it’s on my list!

      Great points as always, I love it when you chime in.

      I suppose for me, my underlying conceit is that I don’t say I don’t have power or influence as an individual, because ultimately society is nothing more than a collection of individuals. And I’ve been a bit surprised at what I, a dinky individual, have been able to accomplish in my own sphere. I;m convinced that if more individuals stood up, we’d probably be a lot further along as a society. Coming to this conclusion for me personally, and speaking only for my self, meant that I feel I have surrendered the right to shrug off social ills as something beyond my scope. I suppose I feel obligated to try and change things.

      Yes, by all means let’s raise our kids better, but I don’t think that means the existing generations get a walk and we just have to wait for them to die off for society to be better We can demand that they adapt and do better now – I think of my own grandparents who have confessed to me how they had to unlearn racism, but they did it. I’ve seen male friends my own age unlearn bad thinking, I’ve seen even young kids wake up to sexism and behave with an awareness that awes me as an observing adult. I think we can expect better and work for change.

      I think your final point is interesting, but for me, I feel that almost every women’s issue stems from the ability to make choices about our biology rather than being subject to it. Violence, voting, education, gender roles, they are all intrinsically tied to our uteri. For me, then, I don’t find the attention put on reproductive rights misplaced or even misdirected other attention on other issues, because they are so fundamentally linked. But I can see how people do feel differently than me and can make really compelling arguments about it.

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