image: Shutterstock
image: Shutterstock

There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.

It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s ages actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing. Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will  allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.

We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell your friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.

But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.

It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.

It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.

It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it to ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?

So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on regular basis.

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.

Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

We de-escalate.

We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to? That guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman. We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.

The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.

The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.

Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.

Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.

Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.

Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.

Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

 

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“Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight.

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

Boys are getting a bad rap.

They are being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

They are suffering the permissibility of low expectations.

They have no self control. They have violent urges. They have uncontainable sexual tendencies.

Boys will be boys.

What does this oft cited phrase even mean? Does it mean that because they were born with the Y chromosome that they are inherently impulsive and helpless to their own actions? Does it mean that it is natural for them to be more violent, more sexual?

Or is it an excuse trotted out to dismiss unsavory behavior?

Is it an antiquated notion that keeps boys boxed into a hyper-masculine role while putting the burden on girls to keep order and civility intact?

I know a few boys.

I am a sister, a wife, a mother, a daughter. I’ve been blessed with some amazing boys and men in my life. Most of the boys I have known and encountered have been sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful people. Very much in control of their own actions. Yes, I have known some jerks. But they truly are the exception in my life, not the rule.

I love men.

I always have. I grew up having more guy friends than girl friends. I sometimes felt more comfortable and at ease with my guy friends. I love masculine, strong men and I love sensitive, artistic men and I love that these traits aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t look at men as adversaries. I don’t view them as opposition. I view them as friends, as neighbors, as fellow parents-  as people full of good and sometimes a little bad but mostly just human and trying to do their best.

Let’s stop saying it…

Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.” It is said when little boys fight on the play ground. Instead of breaking up the fight and teaching them that there are other ways to problem solve, some people use this phrase as an excuse. Let them get out their anger, let them blow off some steam. It’ll toughen them up. Does this not seem an antiquated notion? Doesn’t it send messages that are hard to undo? Hurt and damage young boys who don’t necessarily enjoy fighting?

Let’s stop using it as an excuse for boys to grope girls. To say demeaning things to girls. Let’s not speak this phrase to imply that boys cannot control their urges around girls. To imply that it’s natural for boys to be misogynistic. It’s not. Misogyny is taught.

Let’s stop saying it when enforcing a dress code that is mostly thrust upon girls. Shorts must be a certain length. Skirts must be a certain length. No spaghetti strap shirts. Why? The reasons I’ve heard all seem to point to a few disturbing notions. Either that little girls will be viewed as too sultry or sexual when wearing shorts or tank tops or that it will put boys in the uncomfortable and impossible position of having to control their sexual urges. They will be too distracted by the show of flesh. So girls are all sultry sirens of the sea luring poor dimwitted boys to jump in the ocean, devoid of any self control?

Let’s stop saying it when men make lewd or inappropriate comments towards women. When men make crude and laviscious cat calls at a woman walking down the street.

And, dear god, let’s stop saying it when a boy sexually assaults a girl.

‘Cause here’s the thing…

Not all boys or men do these things. These are not behaviors inherent in the male species. Not all boys are violent. Not all boys are lustful. Not all boys view girls as objects. Not all boys are distracted by an exposed shoulder or an extra inch of thigh. Not all boys want to demean girls. Not all boys believe that they have rights to a girl’s body and privacy and sense of safety.

I don’t think any boy is born with these tendencies. They will have more testosterone, yes. And surges in testosterone can lead to feelings of anger or sexual urges. (And let’s start admitting that girls have sexual urges too.)  Boys can be taught how to deal with these feelings.  They are beyond animalistic instincts to act without regard to others or themselves. They are more evolved than that. To dismiss bad behavior with “boys will be boys” implies they have no control. It implies that they are subject to their worst impulses.

It is insulting.

The line of thinking that goes along with the “boys will be boys” mentality is an insult to boys. It is just as insulting as assuming that women are uncontrollably emotional and irrational because their bodies produce more estrogen. It only teaches boys that not only is bad behavior ok, it is expected of them. That it is evidence of masculinity. This is ridiculous. You know what’s masculine? Being honest about your feelings, showing emotion. Being respectful of others. Honoring other’s rights and needs. Understanding those around you.

I believe in setting high expectations, not shrugging away boorishness.

I believe that most boys don’t want to have to fight on the playground.

I believe that boys are completely capable of self control.

I believe my son doesn’t need to “prove” his masculinity any more than my daughters need to “prove” their femininity.

I believe that boys are capable of functioning around girls, even scantily clad girls, without succumbing to hormonal fueled hysteria.

I believe that if we stop dismissing behaviors and excusing them and expecting them, that we will raise strong, masculine men who respect themselves. Who respect women. Who want to be productive and not destructive. I believe that we can raise boys who won’t grow up to grope women. To make insulting cat calls. Who won’t say misogynistic things to women, to female senators. Who won’t assume rights or ownership to a woman’s body. I know it’s possible. I know many of these men. Many of whom grew up to be great men in spite of society’s banal accommodation of “boys will be boys.”

So let’s give boys some credit. Let’s assume they are capable of the best. Let’s expect more and in doing so imply that we know that they are more than able to do more. Let’s allow them to be who they are, not what society deems as masculine.

And once and for all, let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.”

 

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“Where you born to resist, or be abused?

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?”

-Foo Fighters, Best of You

Saturday was a fun day. We spent the evening at friend’s house. The kids laughing and playing in the pool while we enjoyed good food, great conversation and more than a few drinks. We all came pouring in the door full of energy and laughter. We shuffled the kids upstairs to get ready for bed. I paused for a minute to soak up the moment. My family. All of us smiling, happy. I was still reflecting on the fun evening whenI grabbed my phone. I popped on to Twitter for a quick peek to see if there was anything of interest happening.

#YesAllWomen. That’s what was happening.

I stopped my distracted cleaning that I had been doing while reading tweets. I had to sit. It was everywhere. Women tweeting. Tweeting in response to the shooting in Santa Barbara. Tweeting about their experiences.

All the things that have been said and done or implied that reminded them that they are less.

Less important.

Less valued.

Less worthy.

Less powerful.

I was taken aback. I felt overwhelmed. I felt tears burn at the edges of my eyes. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt too connected to what these women were saying. I could relate. I knew what they meant. I had experienced so much of what they were discussing. The every day misogyny. It’s not the stuff of news stories or even blog posts. Usually. It’s the stuff that I have brushed off my whole life. The things that I have learned to expect and to accept. And I don’t know if I ever truly realized it until reading these tweets.

I am no stranger to women’s issues, to feminist causes. I have written about it many times on this blog.

I’ve written about rape, the need for Feminism, on-line misogyny, and sometimes just your basic rant against Feminist deniers.

I participate in a wonderful and enlightening #FeministFriday discussion every Friday with some smart and engaged blogger friends. I obviously am very passionate about these topics. But it did not occur to me that I had spent most of my life minimizing and diluting the very thing I was writing so vehemently about.

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I think it went like this:

  • In Kindergarten a boy pulled my pants down. It was nap time aka time for the teachers to watch their soaps. I had scooted away from him and he got mad and grabbed ahold of my pants as I army-crawled to a different spot. I pulled my pants up quickly. The teachers were engrossed in their show. No one saw. Out of embarrassment I said nothing.
  • Boys at school would occasionally grab and grope me in the hallway. I said nothing. It happened to my friends too. We would just roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders. If the offending boy hadn’t darted off we would maybe offer a quick punch to send him a message. But we didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was just what happened. It was normal.
  • During my teen years, it came from adults. Strangers. And I was still a kid. A teenage girl, whether she has breasts or looks mature, is still just a kid. These men had no problem flirting with a cashier who was 20 years younger than them. These men saw nothing wrong with saying lewd things passing me in a parking lot. These men would make obscene gestures at a stoplight. These men thought that a young girl was an appropriate outlet for their sick and twisted and perverted impulses. But I brushed these creepy encounters off. It was normal.
  • On the first day of college we had a meeting in the dorm. A meeting about campus safety. About how to not get raped. Don’t walk on campus alone at night. Don’t drink too much at a party. Don’t go back to a guy’s room. Don’t lead a guy on. But never, not once, did we hear: Don’t rape. They definitely said “No means no.” But this phrase was such a sing-songy vague campaign, in the vein of “Just Say No To Drugs” as far as effectiveness. Repeated so oft it becomes white noise. What would have been impactful was a simple rule book. With one rule. Don’t rape. Instead we all heard “Don’t get raped.” We got the message. The onus was on us to not get raped. We didn’t flinch or question. We’d heard all of it before. It was normal.

I left college unscathed by the horror that too many girls face. I realize, only now, just how lucky I was to have breezed through four years without being violated.

Still, this shit happened:

  • I couldn’t wash my car for an entire summer in my parent’s driveway because the construction workers building the house next door would make disgusting comments.
  • I got my ass grabbed too many times to count by my boss at the restaurant where I worked.
  • I had to fend off a kiss by my boss with a punch in the stomach.
  • I worried when my boss’s started drinking before the end of the shift if this time they would try to take it further than an ass-grab or a kiss.
  • I had to politely, with a smile, derail come-ons by drunk older men at the bar where I worked.
  • I learned to expect that I would get groped at some point at every single concert I went to, at every crowded bar I frequented. Almost every time I would turn around to try to confront the offender, only to see a crowd entangled, trying to edge closer to the stage and/or bar.

And even now, as a grown woman, this shit STILL happens:

  • I stopped by the house we were building to check on something. I got in my car to leave and turned to look at the house from the road, only to see one of the construction workers making very large, dramatic, jerk-off motions in the window. Directed at me. I was stunned and he stopped as soon as he saw me looking. I drove away considering my options. I could call the builder and tell them. But what if they fired him? What if he has four kids and is struggling to put food on the table? Yes, he’s a misogynistic asshole, but I couldn’t bear the thought of someone being out of work because of me. So I said nothing.
  • Condescension. Too many times to count. The baseball coach who said “And try not to be late next time” when I inquired about an upcoming game. I bit my tongue. I wasted my opportunity to school him in how to speak to a woman, to a person. I didn’t take a moment to let him know that the only reason we were late to practice was because my daughter’s piano lesson ended at the same time that baseball practice started and since my husband travels during the week that I have to do it all and be all places at all times and get all of my kids where they need to be and that I have been all over town in a frantic rush just trying to make it all work. All so he can stand there and smack his obnoxious gum and talk to me like I’m his child. And I knew, beyond any doubt, that if it had been my husband who had been standing there instead of me that he would never have said it. Because no one has EVER talked to my husband that way. But I said nothing. Because my kids were standing right there. Because my son still had a whole season of playing on this dickwad’s team and I didn’t want him to ride the bench because of me. So I said nothing.
  • My husband and I tried to have a drink a our neighborhood martini bar. We sat and watched middle aged men ogle the young waitresses. Girls young enough to be their daughters. The two waitresses stood off to the side, their arms awkwardly hanging in front of their bodies, trying to cover themselves from the creeptitude. My husband I sat and watched, disgusted, as the waitresses timidly walked to the tables where these men sat on their fat asses, leering with such entitled lust and righteousness. I wanted to say something. I wanted to scream at these men to keep their metaphorical dicks in their pants. I wanted to get right in their foul smelling faces and demand to know what gave them the right to make a young girl feel that way. I wanted to walk up to the owner of the bar who was walking around chatting it up with patrons, and knee him in the gut and then explain to him how to treat his employees and how to demand his customers treat them. I wanted to take these girls home with me and wrap a comforting blanket around them and feed them some homemade soup. I wanted to tell them that no one would ever look at them that way again. But I would be lying. And I didn’t do any of that. My husband and I sucked down our sickeningly sweet martinis and paid the bill and left, vowing to never give that bar another dime. I said nothing. Even though I really wanted to.

Enough of that shit.

I’m tired of saying nothing. I’m tired of minimizing the everyday bullshit that happens to every girl and every woman everywhere. To me. To my friends. To those waitresses. I spent my life shrugging it off. I laughed it off. And even when I wasn’t shrugging or laughing, even when I was angry, I said nothing. But then I started this blog. And I started saying something. And then I met some pretty awesome bloggers who care about the same things. And together we started saying something. And then I read these tweets and I saw women, all of them saying something.

And I’m going to keep saying something.

I won’t shut up.

I will say something when I see politicians minimizing rape with qualifications.

I will say something when girls are video taped being raped.

I will say something as long as female genital mutilation continues.

I will say something as long as women are subjugated and demeaned and dismissed.

I will keep saying something.

You won’t be able to shut me up.

I’m hoping you won’t try.

I’m hoping you’ll say something too.

 

What are your thoughts on #YesAllWomen? What kinds of everyday misogyny have you experienced? Do you think a social media movement like #YesAllWomen is helpful/ enlightening/ productive? Talk to me…

 

 

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Feminism… sigh….  Why has such an important word that signifies so many good and important things become so vilified? You would think that at this point in our country, in our culture, in society as a whole- that this discussion wouldn’t be necessary. But alas, it   is.

It seems like you can’t read the news, surf the net or get on Twitter without someone declaring their opposition to Feminism. I recently read a female blogger’s comments on a post where she stated that she could not sign on to be a “man-hating” feminist. That she would declare herself a “humanist” instead. I figuratively scratched my head and wondered, can’t you be both? Is there an either or? I am a feminist. I love men. Always have. Growing up I had a lot of guy friends. One of my best friends was a guy. I have been lucky enough to date really great guys. I married a man, one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. I had a sensitive, caring, compassionate brother. I have a loving Stepfather. A beautiful son. I think most men are pretty great humans. I would not want to live in a world where men were demonized or demeaned or forsaken. And I am a Feminist. Yes, you can love men, appreciate men and be a feminist.

Guess what? You can also dress however you want. You can own your sexuality and celebrate it, flaunt it, embrace it. You can put on makeup and heels. You can enjoy being feminine. Or not. Either way, none of this precludes you from being a feminist.

You don’t have to spend every waking moment devoting yourself to feminist causes. You don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead. It can be a part of who you are and one facet of your world, it doesn’t have to dominate your life. And you can still be a feminist.

The cause of Feminism has changed and evolved over the decades. It was once a fight for the rights to own property and vote became the fight for fair wages (still an ongoing battle) and the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. Thanks to the men and women who fought for these causes, we can rest easy on some of these issues. But that doesn’t mean that there is no need for feminism in 2014.

The fight now is about many things. It is easier to promote a cause when it is about a specific, tangible thing. When there is a victory on the far off horizon to be claimed. The goals today may be less quantifiable. My reasons for caring about it and talking about and trying to do something about it are varied.

The commonality of sexual assault and rape in our country and all around the world is appalling. The statistics are staggering. 17.7 million women in the United States have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. (Nat’l. Inst. of Justice and Ctr for Disease Control and Prevention).  One in four women attending college will be the victim of sexual assault or an attempt. This is not the behavior of a civilized world. What are the reasons behind this? What can we do to stop this epidemic? These are the things that I find to be critical issues in the feminist cause.

The fight for women’s rights around the world are important for feminists everywhere. We can’t insulate ourselves and only concern ourselves with what happens in our country. Our world is more intertwined and connected than ever before. I have received comments from women in Pakistan and India on my blog, comments about the limited rights and violence against women in their countries. We can no longer afford to be egocentric and stick our head in the sand when it comes to these issues affecting women and girls all over the world. Child brides are being married off to old men. Young girls are undergoing genital mutilation. Women are being raped as retaliation. There is a long sordid list of injustices happening around the world to women. Our world and these other countries will never be healthy until women are treated as equal.

There’s a thing called Feminist Friday in the blogging world. I first learned about it from a fellow blogger (thank you Gene’O) and since then have connected with other bloggers who care about these issues. Smart people. People with a social conscious and a desire to discuss these things. People who truly want to make things better. They have written some important pieces on this issue. You can read Alva’s Almanac about why Feminist Friday is important to her. Take a look at an important post by Diana at Part Time Monster about teaching our children to have empathy and see the struggles others go through. And check out Gene’O at The Sourcerer. I think it’s vital that men be a part of feminism. I think that men have a place in the discussion and the cause. I absolutely believe that you can be a man and be a feminist.

We will be having a Twitter conversation today about Feminism. About the meaning of the word and the perception of the word. If you would like to join us on Twitter or by commenting on this or any of the above linked posts, please do! On Twitter you can find us by #FeministFriday, or you can find me at @gkelly73.  Happy Feminist Friday everyone!

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This morning I logged on to FaceBook to do some mindless meandering before reading some real stuff. I was numbly perusing postings about the weather (rain, again?) and someone’s cute kid doing something amazingly cute, when I saw an article from NME magazine that made me almost spit my coffee all over my computer. It was an interview with Lily Allen (British pop singer) titled “Lily Allen: Feminism shouldn’t even be a thing anymore”.  What the….??? Now, Allen likes to fan the flames, push the buttons and stir the pot. She’s into the shameless hype schtick and that’s all fine and well, but I think that Allen needs a crash course in pulling one’s head out of one’s arse and maybe a little Feminism 101.

Lily Allen
Lily Allen

In the interview she states that everyone is “equal” in the modern world. Whew. That’s really good news. I am actually relieved to hear that. I mean, I actually agree. We are all equal. Problem is, people- sometimes the government, sometimes the military, sometimes the judicial system- don’t always adhere to that simple premise.

A few cases in point. This week a Massachusetts judge ruled that “Upskirting” was not illegal. So, if you would like to take a picture or videotape a woman’s nether regions without her consent or knowledge, go right ahead. Heck, it’s a fair assumption that if you can figure out a way to get a camera down her shirt that would be ok too!

Also this week, our Senate in the U.S. blocked a vote that would overhaul the procedures for prosecuting sexual assaults in the military. Right now the system isn’t working. According to the Pentagon, last year soldiers were 15 times more likely to be raped by a comrade than killed by the enemy.

The current system forces the victims to report assaults to their commanders.  The problem is that the commanders often know both the victim and the accused. In some cases, the commander is the accused. Add to that the Department of Labor’s statistics that 62% of victims who reported a sexual assault were retaliated against.

An Army General just this week pled guilty to sexual assault.

A Brig. General pled guilty to inappropriate relationships with two female Army officers and is being investigated for forcing another to have oral sex and threatening her family.

And the Army’s top sex crimes prosecutor is being investigated for allegedly groping a female lawyer at a sexual assault conference.

So you can see the problem with victims reporting these assaults when the very people at the highest ranks are sometimes guilty of the thing they are supposed to be investigating.

But our Senate chose to block a vote.

Not vote it down.

There was majority support for this bill. But they blocked the vote from even happening.

One has to wonder if it was primarily men being raped by other men, would this vote have been blocked? One has to wonder if there would be a bigger sense of urgency on the issue? Meanwhile women in the military are left to fend for themselves in an incestuous system that is clearly not serving their needs well.

Allen offers the theory that women are the problem because we are inherently envious and judgmental of each other. Yes, that is a problem. We need to build each other up, not knock each other down. But it is not The problem.

The problem is that women are still viewed as commodities. As less than. Even in the Western world. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years.

The problem is a society, of which we all are a part, that doesn’t tackle misogyny. That objectifies women. A problem this big doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The men that perpetrate these crimes seem to have the view that women are there for their use and disposal. And too many times our judicial system doesn’t see fit to investigate or prosecute these crimes.

Then there’s this piece of sage wisdom from Ms. Allen:

Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore,” she said. “We’re all equal, everyone is equal. Why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.

You hate that word, Ms. Allen, because you don’t understand it’s meaning.

You have willfully and blindly gone the way of the sheep and bought into the misinformation and propaganda that has been slowly oozing it’s way through our culture over the last few decades. Like a bad smell, this has been wafting around enough that you don’t even notice it anymore or realize it’s noxious nature.

Feminism isn’t some foul thing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

That would be the bitter taste of lies and obfuscation.

Feminism is the basic fight for equal rights for women.

Equal pay for equal work.

The right to vote.

The right to join the military and not be raped.

The right to not have your body exposed and recorded by some creep with a cell phone.

The right to go to college and not be sexually assaulted.

Basic human rights of decency.

And here’s another thought, Ms. Allen.

While you’re sitting in your comfy home enjoying the life of a woman of privilege, please remember that feminism is not only a Western construct. To assume that Feminism is no longer a “thing” because we have the right to vote, we hold political office, etc….  well, that’s just ignoring about half of the world isn’t it?

There are women around the world who are fighting to not be stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock.

There are women fighting for the right to drive.

There are women fighting to stop the heinous act of female circumcision.

There are women fighting for their lives, to not be a piece of property under the law.

The fight for basic human rights is still going on in too many parts of the world.

And any time you or any other woman who is riding high because of the very cause that you demean, you are diminishing the battles these women are still fighting.

We’ve come quite far in the west, but don’t be fooled into thinking that we’re done fighting here. I know what world I want my daughters to grow up in. And it’s not a world that gives them a 20% chance of being raped in college. It’s not a world in which a woman who’s been raped is shamed and told that she’d be better off just letting it go.

And it’s certainly not a world in which we turn a blind eye to the injustices happening to our sisters around the world.

If you don’t want to listen to me, then please hear this from a truly wise and brilliant woman. Amy Poehler was asked in an interview with Elle magazine, about being a feminist and about feminist deniers. She said this:

But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, “I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.

In her succinct and magnificent way, she’s telling you, Ms. Allen, that you are driving the very car that you love, that gets you where you need to go. But at the same time you don’t believe in it. And in your case, maybe you’re confused about what it is. But trust me, you’re driving a car that wasn’t built by Detroit, you’re rolling through life on wheels that are powered by an engine that wouldn’t be possible without feminists.

So, please reconsider Ms. Allen.

Consider the victims fighting for justice in an ambiguous system.

Consider that feminism is not an issue just for the modern world.

Consider why there is no male version of feminism.

Take a minute and ponder that.

You may, without even realizing it, see that you made your own case for feminism.

“You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice…”

-U2, Running To Stand Still

Be firm, but be polite.  Be funny, but tactful.  Be hard, yet soft.  Be strong, yet understatedly so.  Be direct, but soften it with a smile.  Be smart, but don’t be too obvious about it.  Run the board room, but do it with humility.  Isn’t this what we’re taught?  Those of us of the “fairer sex”?  Not necessarily by our parents, although sometimes that is the case.  But by society.  We have surely come a long way in the last century.  While there are still these unwritten rules by which polite society would like for us to abide, we are far better off than we used to be.  Women are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.  Women hold key positions in national government.  We have opportunities and options and choices that women of the early 20th century couldn’t have dreamed of.  They couldn’t have imagined these things because many of them were fighting simply to be considered a relevant member of society.  To have the right to vote.  To be land owners.

You may wonder why, in the waning days of  2013, I feel compelled to write about this.  It all started with a blog post I read a few weeks ago.  The writer was a mom of young children.  She was lamenting the loss of control of her life and her body to her children. She was speaking to the lack of sleep, the forgone plans, the neglect of one’s self to care for young children.  I read this with a little smile on my face as I drank my morning cup of coffee.  I am for the most part past this stage of motherhood, but I remember it all too well and the moment one of my children is sick I’m right back there in the trenches with stained clothes and un-brushed hair, forgoing all hygiene and sleep, not fit for public consumption.

I was then taken aback when she equated her devotion to her children as anti-feminist.  That is goes against feminist teachings.  She ends with,”Maybe that’s why by far the majority of women today reject the label feminist.  We kind of like being happy.”  I actually had to re-read the entire post to see what I missed.  I am no morning person and it can take me a while to be fully functioning in the morning.   I assumed that I had misunderstood something. But no. The fact that it took me a second reading to realize that she was implying that feminists can’t or don’t believe in being devoted to their kids, that perhaps they can’t choose to be stay at home moms…. this doesn’t speak to my ignorance or even my groggy morning fog. It illustrates her warped view of the definition of feminism.

I’m not sure when feminism became a four letter word.  And I don’t know why so many people have collectively bought in to it.

fem·i·nism noun 1. the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

This is what feminism means.  That women are equal to men.  I naively thought that this was a non-issue, that this is one that had been resolved.  That we’d all collectively agreed on this:  women… men… equal.  I thought this was filed away in the annals of history as one of those things that no longer warrants discussion or debate.  Then I read this.  Then I started seeing other writings, articles and videos on the subject of feminism. I don’t know if  it was a weird coincidence or if my antennae was raised, but either way I realized that some how this was still a thing.

Can a word have a public persona?  If so, then I think this is one word that has become so twisted in the public consciousness.  How else do you explain celebrities who shy away from it? Katy Perry: “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”. Taylor Swift, when asked if she was a feminist: “I don’t really think of things as boys vs girls”.  Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo):  “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.”  Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist, I love men.”  Let’s just consider for a minute that none of these women would be who they are and even quoted in a blog post if it weren’t for feminism.

I would like to clear up some misconceptions about feminists.  This is an attempt to dispel the myths that seem to abound.  To quiet the fear that if we all declare ourselves feminists that we will all grow out our armpit hair and shave our heads and start kicking all the men in the balls.

  • Feminists aren’t man haters. Men are awesome. The world would be boring without men. I know a lot of great guys.  In fact, I’m married to one.
  • Feminists aren’t butch. There’s nothing wrong with being butch, if that’s your thing. But this former tomboy has embraced her “girly” side.   I enjoy being feminine.
  • Feminists aren’t anti-marriage.  I like being married.  I got married because I fell in love and wanted to.  I didn’t hand over my feminist card on my wedding day.
  • Feminists are allowed to be stay at home moms.  We are allowed to be anything we want.  That’s kind of the whole point of feminism.  If you’re a stay at home mom, a working mom, or not a mom at all, embrace your choices.  Be proud of your choices.  And never, under any circumstances judge another woman for her choices .

So, for all of you feminism apologizers or deniers- you don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead.  But for the sake of your daughters, your Mothers, the women who went to jail or were beaten so that you could have the options you have today, please don’t be ashamed of it.  Please don’t quantify it with a “but”.  Please don’t let someone else’s misguided notion diminish your staking of your claim of what’s yours in this world.  I am a feminist.  It’s part of me.  I believe in the equal rights of women.  And I’m in good company.  There are feminists all over the world, fighting right now for  the most basic of rights:

  • On October 26th dozens of Saudi Arabian women protested the ban on women driving in their country by getting behind the wheel of a car and risking arrest.
  • There are women fighting right now against female circumsision, a barbaric and mutilating act designed to inhibit a woman’s sexual feelings.  This horrific mutilation is common throughout parts of Africa and usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 8.  It is still, in this day and age, performed on about 3 million girls a year.  Brave women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Waris Dirie are fighting this, often under constant threat of death.
  • Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese writer, was arrested and beaten for wearing pants. She asked to go to trial, refusing immunity offered her as a U.N. press officer.  She risked 40 lashes and imprisonment.  Despite death threats, she continues to speak out on women’s rights in her country.
  • Malalai Joya, of Afghanistan, helped to set up secret schools for girls in her country. She now lives in a series of safe houses and travels with armed body guards for her protection.  She rarely sees her husband for fear of him being killed by his association with her.
  • Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist, is fighting the act of “honor killings” by reporting on every case she came across, even though these killings were largely ignored by the media.  She has won numerous awards for bravery in journalism for her work.
  • Malala Yousafzai.  She spoke out about the rights of girls in Afghanistan to an education and the Taliban saw her as a threat and shot her in the head.  Her story is one of undeniable courage, strength and grace.  She addressed the U.N. in July, “Here I stand not as one voice but speaking for those who have fought for the right to be treated with dignity, their right for equality of opportunity, and their right to be educated,” she said.
  • Sampat Pel Devi, and her Gulabi Gang.  They are a vigilante force of women who are fighting injustices against women in India.  They have stormed police stations when officers refused to register complaints of violence against women. They have attacked men who have abused their wives. They have stopped child marriages. Devi travels around Northern India on an old bicycle holding meetings and recruiting members. The Gulabi Gang now has over 20,000 members.

So, the next time you feel the need to demure about your feminist leanings or hear someone diminishing this word- perverting it’s meaning by whittling it down to a caricature- think about these women. Think about the women who fought to give us the rights we enjoy today.  We no longer have to have our ass groped in the work place. We no longer have to defer to our husband’s opinions on matters of politics.  We no longer have to shelve our dreams because society doesn’t allow it.  None of this just happened by chance.  There were women, and sometimes men, who fought for every little bit of it.  There are women right now,  who are fighting for the most basic rights.  To be treated as a human.  To not be abused, forgotten, traded, mutilated, attacked, killed.  Feminism is alive and well. It’s heavy weight is being carried on the backs of these brave women around the world.  We have come so far, here in the U.S.  We have come so far that so many of us have forgotten what this word really meant.  Maybe some of us  never really knew.  What a luxury to not have this as part of our everyday lives. What a luxury to enjoy the options available to us and not consider the pain and sacrifice that made it possible.  What a luxury to be a CEO of one of the largest companies in the world and reject the word and the women on who’s shoulders you’re standing.  What a luxury to be able to write a blog about being a mom and the sacrifices it entails and not have to parse your words or fear for your life based on the things your write.  We have many luxuries for sure, here in the west.  The very least we could do is not forsake the very thing that is giving strength and power and possibly inspiration to those who are still in the midst of the fight.  We can at least honor the people who came before us by not withering under some false notions.  The least we could do is to own this word, to take back the meaning.  Equality.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

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