I am a feminist. I wouldn’t say I’m shy about it, but I think I need to be more vocal about it.
That’s what this is. This is me breaking the self-imposed barrier separating my feminism from this blog, because I was afraid my views would “offend” someone or somehow “taint” the intended purpose of this as a writing blog.
Because according to the Internet, my being a feminist means I’m a violent, man-hating lesbian. That I can’t have coherent thoughts about anything else, because all I want is female privilege.
None of that is true.
Okay, maybe I have some thoughts that scare people (I learned as a teenager not to share everything that runs through my mind) but it’s pretty standard fare for a writer. If someone attacked me, my first reaction would be to freeze, not fight back. And I quite enjoy men. I know many intelligent, thoughtful men. I’ve learned so much about the world by spending time with them, learning from them, getting to see the world from their point of view. Definitely not a lesbian, either. I’m not very good at the whole “dating” thing, but that doesn’t make me gay.
So what does it mean to be a feminist?
It means that I’m a person, just like you are. A whole person, with thoughts and feelings and doubts and loves. My heart aches when my friends are hurting. I love walking in the rain. I love colours and shapes and music and words and the scent of lilacs on the breeze. It means that I’m more than the physicality of my body. It means that my body is mine. I’m only “too fat” if I decide I am. I’m not obligated to wear makeup or smile to decorate your world. And just because my breasts are large doesn’t mean you have the right to touch them. It means that I get to decide what I do with my body, and with whom: when to engage in sex, if I’m going to have kids, whether I finally take those ballroom dance lessons I’ve been dreaming about. It means that if I want to get an abortion (that’s right, I used a scary word; deal with it) I have the right to make that choice for my body and my family.
It means you have no right to look at me as an object to be used and discarded. You don’t have to like me, but please just see that I’m more than a support system for breasts and genitals. I get that objectifying people is easy. We see the surface in an instant, but meeting the person takes time. But just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s right.
It means that I instinctively spend much of my day worrying what other people are thinking about me. I have to consciously stop myself, remind myself that what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter. The only opinions that really matter are mine. Mine. But the media have told me that everything I do, I do for the approval of others. Especially men. Even things that I do “for myself,” like exercising and dressing and wearing makeup, it’s to fit into a definition of beauty that’s designed to appeal to men. Small waist, big breasts, soft lips, flowing hair. But I’m not supposed to dress like a “slut” because then I’ll get raped and it’s only my fault because I wore a top with a low neckline. (And this is harder than it sounds. I am busty, so there’s no dressing down these girls.) And let’s talk about hair for a minute. Some asshole has decided that short hair is “rape” so that means I should wear my hair long, right? Well, the problem is (according to a post circulating on Facebook) rapists target women with long hair, because it’s easier to grab onto. Damned if you do, dead if you don’t.
It means that I’m only now questioning why I plodded along obediently with school dress codes that dictated what us girls wore, but not what the boys wore. Because teenage boys (and adult men) are not supposed to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions. It means that now I have to police the hemlines of my employees’ skirts and the necklines of their tops because the creepers are not feminists.
It means that there are men who come into my store and feel entitled to make lewd comments because I’m a woman working in a sex shop. It means that I’m tired of people looking at me and asking “So…why a sex shop?” when they never asked “So…why a pet shop?”
It means that we teach our girls how to “avoid being raped.” Dress modestly (but in a way that is still arousing to men;) don’t get blackout drunk, and don’t drink from a glass left unattended; don’t walk by yourself at night; don’t wear your hair in a ponytail, because a rapist could grab it. Yeah, in my store, I teach my staff how to prevent theft. Greeting customers, not turning your back on people in the store. How to spot popular tricks and ruses the thieves will use. But when a shoplifter does manage to snag something, I don’t blame my girls. The pro-thieves are good at what they do, and everyone gets suckered into a scam now and then. But when a woman gets raped, the police and the media and her social circle ask “Well, what was she wearing?” “Was she drinking?” “Why was she out alone at that time of night?” “Why did she go back to his place if she didn’t expect something to happen?” And if her answers aren’t the “right ones,” well then, it’s no wonder she was raped. Because she led the guy on, because she was dressed provocatively, because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not because someone else made the conscious choice to do harm against her person. We teach our children that shoplifting is wrong. So why don’t we teach our boys that rape is wrong? Because “boys will be boys.” Because boys and men are not in control of their own desires and bodies. Because it’s easier to dominate women by making them responsible for everyone else. Because powerful women change the world, and that terrifies the old, rich, white man.
It means that I’m often the only one not laughing when someone cracks a rape joke. And I’m then accused of not having a sense of humour, when really, I just don’t see gender-based violence funny. John Pinette was hilarious. Ellen Degeneres. Laughing about a woman having her rights and body violated? Not so much.
It means that I’m struggling to overcome twenty-six years of body-shaming media that told me over and over and over and over that I need to be thinner, have smooth hair, learn how to do a perfect smoky eye. I was expected to learn how to use makeup at age twelve. I was told there’s “no reason” to go outside without at least foundation and a little mascara. When I decide to “be a girl,” the entire process takes hours. Because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m only now learning to see and love my body exactly as it is, and appreciate it for everything it does for me.
It means that I want our daughters to grow up in a different world than I knew as a child. That they never hear the phrase “boys will be boys” as an excuse for someone else’s actions. That their voices and art and words are encouraged and celebrated. That they get to learn and celebrate all of the amazing women in our history. Almost all of the ones I know of, I’ve learned about through independent study.
It means that I want our sons to learn the value of every single person, not just other boys.
It means that I celebrate when Disney does something “different” and shows that true love exists outside the romantic relationship, and makes the princesses kick ass and take names because us ladies are just as capable at being the hero. It means I can’t stand Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele because they couldn’t hold a candle to Gin Blanco. Even though fifteen years ago, I never would have seen a kick-ass woman like Gin on my bookshelves.
It means that violence against women makes me sick. And angry. And sad. It means that when I read about Nigerian girls who were kidnapped, forced to convert to another religion, and then sold into slavery for the crime of getting an education, that I wish I was like Gin Blanco or Wonder Woman, so I could find those girls and rescue them while doling out a little justice to their tormentors. It makes me want to baby-shake the man who shot at three women who said “no” to sex with him and his friends. It makes me physically incapable of watching Elliot Rodgers’ final video because just the transcript of it made me tremble with fear and rage. These are not isolated incidents, either. They are a visible symptom of the pervasive rape culture that objectifies women, minimizes rape, and deifies men for the simple feat of being born cisgender male.
It means that I walk home every night with the faint fear that someone is hiding in the shadows, waiting for me to walk by, unsuspecting. Or that my pulse quickens whenever someone has the audacity to walk behind me. That I’m afraid to cross a parking lot in search of late-night chocolate, because there’s a bar next to the convenience store, and bars mean drunk people, and drunk people are scary. That, at age twelve, a man groped me in the middle of a busy store and ran before I could see who he was. And that I was too shaken and scared to know what to do. That, at age twenty, a random man snuck up behind me on the street, groped me, and ran off laughing. That, at age thirteen, I was walking one afternoon when a man in his thirties or forties stopped his car and called out the window that I have perfect breasts. That I still get similar comments from people walking the other way. That I wear headphones whenever I’m out of the house so that I can ignore what men might be saying. That when I was fifteen and working at my first job, I had to work with a man in his late twenties who thought “don’t touch me” meant “tee-hee, I’m just joking!” And then my (male) boss yelled at me for “waiting a week” to report the harassment. It means that I’m still leery of working for men.
It means that I play Russian Roulette every time I go on a date. That I worry the man will pressure me into something I don’t want to do. That his actions won’t reflect his word. That he might kill me. I have to calculate how likely it is the man will stalk me if I accept his offer for a lift home or tell him where I work. That after I break up with a man, I worry about him showing up at my store and causing a scene, or following me home. It means that I have to text a friend when I get home safe. It means I’ve escaped out the back door because a man I was supposed to meet for dinner that night had creeped out my co-workers. It means that a high school “friend” stalked me and another friend for about a year.
It means that “slut” makes me cringe, because it means a woman shouldn’t say “yes.” I’ve been caught in the Madonna/whore dichotomy my whole life. Good girls wait to have sex. But I was scorned for still being a virgin into my twenties. But if you have sex before marriage, you’re a slut, whore, trash. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to have sex often. (With whom, I’m not sure, since us ladies are supposed to be “pure” and gay sex is apparently a sin. Oh, and masturbation is a no-no, if you read certain texts.) Do you know who gets to worry about my sexual preferences and history? Me. And whoever I choose to have sex with. That’s it.
It means the term “friendzone” makes me see red, because it implies that women have no right to say “no.” That I am somehow obligated to give sex to any man who pays any attention to me. That I don’t have a say in to whom I am attracted. (Now, don’t get me wrong…anyone who uses and abuses anyone else is cruel. Male, female, anywhere in between.)
It means that the best way to turn down a man without “hurting his feelings” (or making him potentially homicidal) is by telling him that I have a boyfriend. Even though I am perpetually single (as I said, not very good at the “dating” thing.) Because men have more respect for the territory and property of another man than for the autonomous thought of a woman.
It means that reading the #yesallwomen hashtag posts makes me physically ill. Because I’ve lived through so much of it. And I know women who have lived through the rest.
It means that I believe all of this is bullshit. That it should be a non-issue. I live in Canada, a first-world country. I was raised to believe that men and women are equal. And yet our culture has slipped in all these little excuses and controls that are designed to tie me down into the role of “the fairer sex.” Because I’m not supposed to be able to care for myself.
Feminism is about choice. I can choose to get married. I can choose to wear makeup. I can choose to exercise. I can choose to walk home at night. To stay single. To enjoy sex. To travel. To write. To sing. To dance in the rain. To wear a shirt that makes my breasts look good. And the choices I make don’t give anyone else the right to violate my person. Because men have the right to choose not to rape. To see the women around them as whole people. The choices other people make are none of my business (unless it directly involves me, like when a man chooses to grope me in public.)
As a feminist, I see both men and women as full, beautiful people. Women are not sexual objects that walk and talk and perform oral sex. Men are not mindless beasts driven by their penises in a constant quest for sex, sex, sex.
As a feminist, I believe in enthusiastic, informed consent. There are no blurred lines here. Even if you’ve gotten a woman naked, she still has every right to say “no.” As do you. If there’s no “YES!” then there’s no consent. And that consent can be withdrawn at any time.
As a feminist, I know I don’t owe anyone sex. Not because my date paid for dinner. Not because a random man on the street yelled out a “compliment” about my figure. Not because a man is paying attention to me, even though I’m fat. Not because a man’s loved me from afar for my entire life. Not because a man’s a good kisser. And no one owes me sex.
As a feminist, I want to be treated as a person. Even if all I want is a casual hook-up (which I am allowed to want,) I am allowed to expect men to treat me as a person, not just an empty orifice. That I have my own desires and needs and limits. That I enjoy orgasms, too.
As a feminist, I believe women are powerful. We create life. We have compassion. We can lead the charge for change. We can be loud, brassy, passionate, loving, kind, quiet, elegant, beautiful, frightening. But the patriarchy is afraid of change. They’re afraid of losing power. They’re afraid that us women will do the same thing to them that they’ve been doing to us for generations. They can’t see that all we want is to be treated as the equals we’re supposed to be.
I know not all men are bad guys. I see more and more male feminists every day, which makes me so happy that I could cry. But the problem is the bad guys are out there, and they look a hell of a lot like the good guys. And the really bad ones are experts at pretending to be good ones (Ted Bundy, anyone?) It’s just like a security officer said on one of those airport shows: TSA has to be right 100% of the time; a terrorist only has to be right once. I have to make the right decisions every time to preserve the safety of my body and sanity. Every time I go on a date. Every time I flirt. Every time I consent to sex. A predator has to get it right once to completely change my life.
The worst thing we can do as a culture is assume that there’s nothing wrong. That rape jokes are funny. That women aren’t walking in fear every night. That random comments shouted from the side of the road are “compliments.” That someone else will lead the charge to change our collective thinking.
We need to question every thought we have. Every time we judge someone for wearing a sweater that’s too baggy, or being overweight, or wearing Crocs. We need to stop laughing when our buddies crack a rape joke over some beers. We need to say “Hey man, that’s not cool.” We need to stand up when a man hits his wife. We need to start teaching our children about consent from a young age, and to value and own and take pride their bodies. We need to talk about consent. Often. Enthusiastically.
We need to encourage love. Open, honest, full, indiscriminate love.
And then our sons and daughters can grow up free of all of these fears.
(If you want to follow more about sexism, consent, feminism, and all of this other stuff, my favourite Facebook page is Defined Lines. They have a blog of their own, but they also patrol the internet looking for relevant articles. The admins encourage open, intelligent discussion. Frankly, they need more followers. So give ’em a like.)