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On Re-Finding Feminism

3rd Sep 2014

Feminism?Not just as a woman but as a human being, I appreciate and support all of the women and men out there who dig into gender issues, helping us to improve our thinking and keep us working toward true equality everywhere. It’s not normally an area I tend to write about. Maybe I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the vastness of the history. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll do more harm than good … and better to shut up than make things worse. Most likely I’ve been in a 15-year depression on the subject after writing an article about the rapes at Woodstock ’99.

A lot of things from that long ago are blurry now, but I vividly remember when I finished the final draft, I curled up in a ball on my couch and cried until my throat was raw, my eyes were bloodshot and all of my muscles felt numb. I can still feel the aftershocks of that overwhelmingly helplessness now just mentioning it. And I remember now that not too long before that I had been in a lively discussion with a music editor about Tori Amos. I was young and ignorant; let me say that upfront. I argued that only a woman should be assigned to review Amos’ album because a man may be able to sympathize and recognize where she’s coming from, but he can’t possibly understand it the way a woman can. I’d still say there’s a truth to the idea that, for example, men don’t have the same kind of “house keys are a weapon when walking down a dark street” fears that women are raised to have. But I can no longer imagine taking the stance I did then.

What I know now that I didn’t then is the value in the man’s interpretation of women’s issues, that a man speaking to other men who might not otherwise listen is vital. And a man speaking to a woman might make her discover something new. I know I risk this being mistaken as an endorsement of white knighting. It’s not. It’s just an appreciation (better late than never) of the valid role that men can play.

The desire to write about anything through the lens of gender, let alone about the very subject of feminism, has been dormant in me for a long time. So why this now? It has been revived on, of all places, Facebook.

It began with that (I can’t help calling it insipid) article by Doree Lewak in the New York Post, tellingly filed under Construction Workers and Sexual Harassment, about her adoration of being cat-called. Just the headline was enough to get me going: “Hey, ladies — catcalls are flattering! Deal with it”. I raced through a series of contradictory emotions: guilt for being judgmental but annoyance that this piece might justify low self-esteem in other women; anger that the story had gone to press but awareness that my emotions were being intentionally manipulated. I didn’t repost it or comment on it. I just shook my head, rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath.

Kevin-ismThen Kevin, a wise 25-year-old friend of mine, reposted the story with an intense, articulate and inspiring commentary. Within it he said “Do not encourage this fucking behavior. Women hate it because it makes them feel threatened, violated, and objectified. I hate it not only because men are doing this to women, but because these men have placed a near irreparable stigma on our entire gender.” He ended by saying “Your ‘friendly’ neighborhood construction worker is not qualified to develop healthy feelings of self-appreciation in you.” (The whole comment is worth reading, of course.)

Since then my Facebook newsfeed has been full of disgusting stories. Cee-Lo Green pleading no contest to slipping ecstasy into a woman’s drink, then taking to Twitter to explain that it’s not rape if the woman isn’t conscious. (He’s since lost his TBS show “The Good Life” and apologized for what he called “idiotic” remarks.) Blatant privacy violations/theft in the form of nude celebrity photos being released on 4chan then referred to simply as a “leak,” not to mention the old chestnut of blaming the victims by saying they shouldn’t have taken nude pictures of themselves. Most recently, this morning I noticed this segment from “The Daily Show” about New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand who, in her upcoming book, discusses some of the sexist remarks directed at her by male colleagues.

The truth is, I don’t know where to go with this. Not just this post, but where we as  a society should go from here. In a post-third-wave era where there seems to be even less of a common goal than ever before, I hardly know where to begin. Social media can be such a powerful tool, and clearly it’s succeeding in getting these stories out there. But how can I use that to actually have an impact? I suppose one person at a time spreading the word about issues of interest is an excellent start. So, for now, I’m grateful to that outspoken guy friend for setting such a great example and for inspiring me to pay more attention, search for answers, and find my voice again.

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