Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

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For the Good Men Who Don’t Yet Get It

I keep having this discussion with a man whom I love. He’s a good man. A man for whom consent is very important. A man who is utterly and completely horrified by the abuse, assault, rape, and other damaging things that some men do to women. A man who has done more to help me, personally, be able to trust that it really isn’t “all men,” than any other man I’ve ever known. A man who has stood up, in a very public fashion, spoken out, loudly and unapologetically, against abuse, assault, rape, rape culture, and those who enable them, in a way that exposed him to ridicule, cost him social outlets and friendships, and led to him being ostracized, right beside me, from our community.

 

know where he stands. I’ve seen it in action, seen him in action.

 

But there are parts of this that he still doesn’t get. It causes a lot of… I won’t say “arguments,” because that doesn’t seem quite right, but… very heated debates, between us.

 

One of the most persistent dissonances we face is around the #notallmen thing. On another site, someone I respect a great deal posted this image. Things like that have popped up, before. The ten percent of these yummy candies are cyanide, but you won’t know which ones until you take a bite, analogy, and others. Every time, he was offended. And no matter how I tried to explain to him that it really wasn’t about him, he couldn’t see it as any other thing than a blanket statement that all men, himself included, are not to be trusted, no matter how trustworthy they actually are.

 

He still doesn’t. And it’s hard, for me. For us.

 

It’s hard because he’s an intelligent person. Hell, he’s brilliant. His intelligence is actually kind of intimidating, sometimes. It’s hard because he’s an empathetic person. As a part of another thing, I wrote an account of all of the horrible things that were done to me, mostly by men, throughout the last thirty-plus years of my life. He was crying, nauseated, and shaking uncontrollably, by the time he finished reading it. He is both of those things, and he still doesn’t get it. And it breaks my heart, because that has become such a conversational minefield, we can’t even discuss that part of the advocacy in which I engage on a regular basis. Every time we try, I end up in tears of frustration and helplessness, and he ends up feeling attacked, and equally frustrated.

 

It’s hard because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s not ‘that guy,’ but when those topics come up, he says all the same things ‘that guy’ would say. It’s hard because I feel like I can’t get through to him on this, and we normally just don’t have that problem. I’d say our communication is our strongest quality, as an ‘us.’ This is alien to us, and it’s awful, and I hate it.

 

Yesterday, we watched a movie together. Lone Survivor. It’s a war movie, based on a true story, and somewhat controversial. Some people are saying it is pro-war propaganda. I’m not going into that, right now.

 

If you haven’t seen the film, and plan to, here’s your spoiler alert.

 

The protagonist, Marcus Luttrel, is a Navy Seal, on a mission with his team in Afghanistan. The mission is compromised. The gunfight is horrific. They are outnumbered beyond all reason, and survive beyond what anyone could ever expect. Every other member of his team is killed by Afghan soldiers. Luttrell is brutally wounded, left for dead, and on the run, trying to get back to the American camp through unfamiliar mountainous terrain.

 

He stumbles on some water, falls in, and is recovering, when he hears voices. More Taliban soldiers. One Afghan citizen, Mohammed Gulab, comes to his aid. He has no choice but to accept, in his dire circumstances, but he has no way of knowing if he can trust Gulab. All of his experiences in this unfamiliar place, with these unfamiliar people, have so far been of being shot at, seeing his friends killed, hearing the horror stories of the Taliban.

 

Gulab saved Luttrell’s life, at the risk of not only his own life, but those of his child, and his entire village.

 

But Luttrell had no way to know that would happen, until it happened. He had no experience which would lead him to trust this man who was offering help. For a time, after Gulab held out his hand to lead Luttrell to safety, the SEAL kept a grenade in his hand, ready to throw at a moment’s notice. He kept asking, still clutching the grenade, “Why are you helping me?”

 

It was a difficult movie to watch, but during that sequence, I recognized the parallels.

 

Not all of the citizens of Afghanistan were hell-bent on killing American soldiers. But they all spoke the same language. They all wore similar clothing. They all lived in a way that was alien to Luttrell, and he had no way to know which ones were which, until he had the opportunity to build trust with Gulab.

 

His mistrust and fear were not a statement of judgment against Gulab. They were not an indictment of the entire citizenry of Afghanistan. They were born out of repeated experiences, with other Afghan citizens, and HE HAD EVERY RIGHT TO BE AFRAID AND SLOW TO TRUST. Gulab didn’t get defensive. He didn’t yell at Luttrell for not trusting him, or for being afraid. He just did what it took to show that he could be trusted. That he wasn’t one of ‘those guys.’ Not by words; they shared no common language. He showed him through his actions. 

 

And that is how we show people we are trustworthy every day, in a plethora of situations, across our life experience. We don’t stand there and stomp our feet, demanding that people give us their trust, just because we say so. We earn it. Not by running some contrived gauntlet, but simply by doing what we do. We behave as we would normally behave, and leave it up to them to determine whether we are trustworthy, and not to be feared. In almost every other situation, we recognize that it is not up to us to decide whether or not we are trustworthy to someone else, but to the person whose trust we hope to gain.

 

We ALL realize that not all men are rapists. That not all men are abusers. That not all men are misogynists. We do. What the people who keep yelling about #notallmen fail to realize is, that is not the point. The point is, we have no way to know. You speak the same language. You wear the same clothes. The rapists and abusers and misogynists among you look no different than the rest.

 

And they demand things. They demand our trust, without earning it. They demand our agency, when they have no right to it. They demand sex, as payment on some social contract that we never signed. And when we don’t give those things to them willingly, they take it. Or coerce us. Or stomp their feet, and tell us we have no right not to give it to them.

 

So, when you demand that we trust you, on nothing more than your word, without the experience of seeing you in action, you sound like them, too.

 

#YesAllWomen is NOT about judging every single man who ever lived by the same standard. It’s about our fear, our experience, our very valid reasons to be wary. It’s about us asking for you to hear that, to listen, to empathize… and to be patient with us, while we watch and wait to see if it is safe to let down our guard. Which we will, as soon as we feel reasonably confident that it’s okay, that you’re not ‘that guy.’

 

It’s about the moments between you holding out your hand, and us being secure enough to put down the grenade.