‘”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)
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.
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.
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.
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