I’ve claimed the title “feminist” for almost 2 years now, but it’s a topic I don’t speak or write about enough. I was not always a feminist, but was the result of many revelations I’ve had and decisions I’ve made. Today, on International Women’s Day, I think it’s appropriate to try and share some of those steps with you.
The first of those steps was several years ago with a song by a Canadian folk-singer named Sarah McLachlan. It had originally been written as a rape fantasy to her by a deranged fan. When she published the song on one of her albums, he tried to sue her. The song is called Possession, it’s both beautiful and haunting and it’s one of my favourite pieces of music.
It was no secret to me that Mrs. McLachlan was a feminist even back in the late 90s. That younger me didn’t have much respect for feminists. I believed the movement to be composed entirely of lesbians and the sexually repressed. What did women have to complain about? They could vote, they could go to work as I could, and had all the same freedoms as me.
When I heard the story behind Possession, I began to understand. This woman, this Feminist did actually have something to complain about, but she wasn’t complaining. She didn’t hide and play the victim, she turned that horrible letter and made a beautiful song. I admired that.
Other revelations came to me. The phrase “culture of rape” started to crop up here and there. I distinctly remember in the movie Ted when Mark Wahlberg’s character, standing on a street satirically says to his girlfriend; “I’m ok, if I get raped it’s my own fault for what I’m wearing.” (He was wearing slacks and a jacket. Not that it matters. Ever.)
Even in my own circles I began to see incidences of rape culture. When women who played the sorts of games I played spoke out about mistreatment and abuse by other gamers were shamed and marginalized with no repercussions. The YouTube comments were a toxic sludge of filthy language towards such women.
I like to believe that most everyone considers their actions to be morally justified. That they’re not bad people, just doing what they know. But when I read those comments I wondered, “How can these people consider themselves to be good? How do they rationalize their behaviour when they looked their mothers, wives and daughters in the eye?”
I decided then that I didn’t ever want to be that kind of man.
I started to read more about sexual assaults of all kinds, from football teams passing around an incoherent teenager while sexually abusing her and filming it – to rape being used as voter-suppression in Somalia. From the exceedingly grey area of taking a drunk girl home from the bar and not really knowing what happened afterwards, to the quiet shame and internal conflict that even men can feel at being raped by a woman.
I started to re-examine conventions that seemed to be good and proper. When a very respectable gentleman said, “There’s no reason for a man to use physical force on a woman, ever.” I answered, that while I discourage violence towards anyone, I could certainly see reasons why a man would need to use force against a woman. When asked what that could possibly be? I responded, “If an enraged woman was violently abusing a child. That’s a reason.” I honestly believed (then and now) that it was a disservice to women to claim that they weren’t capable of the sort of heinous actions that would warrant a physical response.
I found myself silently disagreeing with fathers who would speak proudly about how they would “put the fear of God” in their daughters’ boyfriends, as if that was going to ensure that her purity would remain intact and prevent her from being stung by heartbreak. I decided that I would rather raise my daughter to choose the right man and if I didn’t trust her enough to do that then it would be my failure.
Some of the hardest parts of my new outlook were where I examined my own behaviours and found that I wasn’t always as upstanding as I’d hoped. I have been slapped. Twice. And while there was a playful tone that helped whitewash the reasons why, I came to realize that lines had been crossed and I resolved not to cross them again. I know I still have work to do on that front, but it’s good work and I’m happy do do it.
So today I’m acknowledging my feminism along with great people like Sheryl Sandberg, Sarah McLachlan and Malala Yousafzai. I don’t hate my gender or believe sex is wrong – as female feminists are often accused of. I don’t believe that men are meant to be subservient to women, or that we are obsolete.
Instead, I stand for strong, confident, independent women all across the world standing shoulder to shoulder with men. No defined roles or gender-based codes of behaviour. I stand against sexual slavery, spousal abuse, wage inequality, gender bias/privilege, rape and the cultural norms that condone it.
That’s the way my parents raised me, it will be at the core of the woman I fall in love with, and it’s how we will raise our sons and daughters.
Maybe by doing so, we’ll make the world a little bit better.
Happy International Women’s Day 2014.