I haven’t really properly blogged in a long time, but I’ve been asked my thoughts on the whole #YesAllWomen movement, so I figured I’d write my response here.
First, a few reactionary thoughts…
I’ve read a lot of grumblings against #YesAllWomen, saying that it seems to be blaming all men. Many of us have loving brothers, fathers, uncles, male friends, etc. who are NOT assholes. Well, good. Of course not EVERY man is the problem. I don’t think the point of #YesAllWomen is to imply that all men are the devil. The point, it seems to me, is to bring to light what IS the problem. And there IS a problem, even if the men in your life are all saints. If you don’t identify with this, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t. There are things men do that are offensive which they might not ever realize are offensive. There are things we women do that men don’t understand the reasons behind. The point of acknowledging all of these things is to strengthen both sexes’ understanding and work towards solutions…at least I hope that’s the goal.
I’ve also read the arguments that #YesAllWomen is a media trend feeding off the tragedy from Santa Barbara. Some say that it’s belittling actual victims of real abuse – like women stoned in Pakistan or enslaved Nigerian girls. Okay, some guy smacking my ass as I walk by is not on par with either of those situations. But it’s a part (granted a very small part) of the overall problem. Different women in different places experience different symptoms of the same sickness. I would assume most of us realize that we have it better than many, many others. But, again in order to work towards understanding, talking about our individual experiences can contribute to finding solutions. And when you tell any woman that her problems and fears and painful experiences don’t really matter, HOW THE HELL IS THAT HELPING?
Anyway, here’s a brief overview of my experiences and opinions about this whole issue:
I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a feminist. I grew up as a tomboy, as a daddy’s girl, as “one of the guys.” In a weird way I guess I always was a feminist, even if I didn’t realize it – everything I did and everything I believed about myself stemmed off of an assumption that I was just as good as my male companions, just as full of worth, just as important and equally deserving of respect as a human being.
This underlying belief of equal worth (what I think feminism should be about) was passed onto me by my parents. I was a daddy’s girl, so in a large way I owe my “feminism” to my father. I don’t remember him ever telling me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. He taught me to think for myself. He taught me to stand up for myself. My mom also played a big part in my self-confidence, and I learned from her example that you can be kind, loving, generous (“feminine,” in short) but also have biting wit and an internal drive that spurs you to succeed in whatever you’re tackling. I blame my hyperactive self-esteem on too much good parenting, honestly – I was encouraged constantly by their belief in me, and there were never limitations because I was a girl. (Growing up, the only way I was treated differently from my brother was that I wasn’t allowed to run around with my shirt off or pee behind trees. Whatever.)
I will say that even my “perfect” childhood was tainted by a very minor episode of what so many more unfortunate girls have experienced. I thank God that I’ve never been truly abused, raped, assaulted, etc. But there was a time when a creepy older boy wanted me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I tricked him and ran to tell my mom. My parents never spoke of it again, I’m sure hoping/assuming I’d forget about it, but I remember even then realizing how scared other little girls must be who didn’t have anyone to tell. This episode, however minor, at least taught me sympathy for girls who found themselves in situations where they had no control.
Growing up on a hunt club, with scores of men around all the time, was an interesting education in how men treat “the fairer sex.” I truly believe that a lot of men from older generations honestly don’t understand why women get offended. To them, it seems natural that women do the cooking and cleaning. It never enters their minds that it makes us uncomfortable when they put a hand on our back to guide us through a door. I don’t know what can really be done to change older men’s understanding of “feminism” honestly. My deceased grandfather (whom I did love dearly despite infuriating moments) would be horrified to know I’m still single at 32, and he just never understood that a girl could be happy and alone…for example.
- I remember the first time a man didn’t believe me about something and thought he should ask my little brother. (I immediately thought of that part in “The Boxcar Children” where the one sister isn’t allowed to use a knife and instead they give it to her little, 5-year-old brother, because he’s a boy.)
- I remember the well-meaning assistance when men assumed I couldn’t lift something heavy, which always made me feel put in my place…and a little defiant.
- I remember older men telling me I was pretty when it had absolutely nothing to do with our discussion, which I always thought ridiculous because my brother’s looks never had anything to do with anything. (I still get annoyed when interviewers comment on my looks…as if that has anything to do with how I write sci-fi.)
- Then I turned 18. Some – and I must stress that this was not the majority of hunt club members – started treating me differently. I remember a few times out on the Sporting Clays course when I was honestly very uncomfortable. Once I was wearing shorts and a tank top, and so they laughed at me when I said I wasn’t interested, telling me I must “like the attention” – never mind that it was 95 degrees outside and I was doing physical labor. Sometimes I would be a little afraid to be out in the middle of the woods with these men. If they ever wondered why I walked so quickly back to the clubhouse (where my dad was), that was why.
And here’s something: I’m a tough girl. I grew up on a farm so that I’m strong enough to usually feel I can defend myself if I have to. Still, there are times when I’m afraid around men. If I feel that way, I can only imagine how powerless some other women must feel.
Another thing: I read in another #YesAllWomen post about how men submit and back off when another man is involved. I never thought of this as a pattern, but it makes sense. Back with those creepy hunters, they would back off and act like they didn’t even notice me the second my dad was around. (I think THAT is actually a big part of why I’ve always preferred the idea of eloping, honestly. I hate the idea of my dad giving me away – I’m not HIS. No one should have to ask his permission to have me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but it’s all a part of the same thing in my head.)
In Detroit, I worked for a while as a model scout. This whole time period was a personal experiment to study people anyway, and the ways men treat women was certainly a key part of that.
In another #YesAllWomen-related blog, the female writer talked about how she and her boyfriend were watching a woman at a bar. A creepy dude sidled up to the woman and talked to her, obviously making her uncomfortable, but the woman gave bare minimum responses and chuckles. The writer’s boyfriend said something like “I can’t believe she’s putting up with him. You’d never do that.” The writer admitted to thinking, “I do it all the time.” There is so much truth in this. As a woman who’s been hit on at bars by many, many creepy men, you learn that the safest and easiest response is to…put up with it. It’s awful and feels like you’re encouraging bad behavior, but the truth is that sometimes you just don’t know how a guy is going to react to a flat out “no.” Putting up with it until he takes the hint, gets disinterested, or goes away is quite often the safest way to go.
Also during model scouting, I again saw the truth that unwanted “suitors” (the most polite term I can think of at the moment) would back off if another guy was around. A good friend of mine knew my “get over here and help me” face. Whenever I couldn’t get rid of a guy, I would give my friend that look and he’d come over and stand by me protectively. Every single time, the creepy suitor would bow out immediately. I HATE needing a guy for that. But it always works – men will hear men say “no” every time. It’s infuriating to not have that kind of power yourself, as a woman.
Here’s a problem: We women do like SOME attention. Being told you’re pretty is nice when it’s said respectfully. We do not, however, like to hear “You’re hot!” when shouted from a dark alley. This doesn’t mean girls are fickle or teases or leading you into some kind of trap where we’re going to shut you down after you buy us 3 drinks. I have been accused of being an Ice Queen, but I’m perfectly willing to give someone attention who treats me like more than a piece of meat – WHY IS THAT SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?
Here’s the pretty basic bottom line: Respect people. Respect women, not because they’re women, but because they’re people. Respect men, not because they’re men, but because they’re people. If we want equality – acknowledging that there are differences, but equal – then just treat everyone with the same level of respect and decency. And understand that women put up with a lot that we can’t control. Sometimes men can be offensive without even realizing it. Sometimes we’re outright afraid of men, and there IS male behavior that is sick, misogynistic, and needs to be addressed. Some of my favorite feminists are men who are working to change the way men understand their behavior in relation to women.
I for one choose to see that as the purpose of #YesAllWomen – acknowledging that we all need to work to fix the gender issues that affect all of us. Even me.