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Why My Feminism isn't about you

What Women need to tell the Men who love them

So first, it sucks that gender and sexism is the thing that we have finally identified as the problem between us. The good news is that we have identified it. Hopefully, we can come to an understanding that it is a different experience for both of us.

So because I believe you when you said that you want to understand what this is for me, I have tried to explain at least some of it here. I acknowledge that you, too have had some experiences where you have felt discriminated against.

But, the thing that needs to get said is that it is every day for women. Every. Day. In many contexts, often disguised as micro-interactions that happen in a thousand small ways. And, because we don’t want to make a big deal out of it (who has time?), and no one wants to be known as the girl who had to sue someone, we dismiss it, we minimize it and we pretend that maybe we misunderstood. But, secretly? We know we didn’t.

For me, it started when I was five, and a neighbor boy who I built forts with wanted to shine a flashlight up my vagina to “see the eggs.” Or when tht same boy’s father gave me a ride home from Church a few years later and stuck his tongue down my throat and said not to tell anyone about the “wild kissing” in his Russian accent. It was on the ball field when I got “accidentally” pushed by a kid who didn’t like it that I was faster or a better third baseman. I remember wondering if I slowed down, would he stop pushing me? He did that a lot until my twin brother “accidentally” pushed him every time he did it to me. I stopped wondering.

I learned that age doesn’t matter.

I learned that some men think violence is a good way to punish women.

I learned that some men, men who care about me, will stand up for me.

It happened when I was thirteen with thick glasses, a jacked-up mouth, and starting to develop. I was walking home from the ferry when a tourist in a golf cart whistled at me. When I turned at the sound, smiling because I thought it was my brother coming to carry me home, the tourist made a noise of disgust and yelled, “Get a better head,” teaching me that my body was what drew attention and made me valuable. I stopped smiling.

I learned that some men see my body as something for them to look at. And it is disappointing when a mind comes along with it.

It happened as I was working in one of the local restaurants as a cashier. Men my dad’s age would tell me how pretty my legs were as they stared at them and then move their eyes to my chest. Or as a lifeguard when a tourist would tell me that the sight of me in my suit made him “hard.” Or when I was called a “cunt” or a “bitch” because I refused drinks from college students in the restaurant, even though I told them I was only 16. And, when I got called a “dyke” in bars because I was with my SAR team in the Coast Guard and my uniform showed my muscles. I stopped teammates from throwing punches.

I learned that some men think buying you something meant that they were actually buying you.

I learned that some men are afraid of my power, and that others would defend it.

It happened in college when I watched my sorority sisters come in crying and tell me that they shouldn’t have worn a skirt, or, that he must not have heard them when they said no; In graduate school when I got a better grade than the Chinese kid who smelled like soy sauce and garlic all the time who accused me of cheating off of him. Still not really sure how that worked, but watched him quietly rage because our female professor chose me as a lab assistant. Then again when my male professor stole my work, put his name on it and won an award. The Chinese kid smiled at the ceremony

I learned that we minimize, dismiss and lie to ourselves so we don’t have to name it.

I learned that institutions reward those in power, and remind those who are not that they are expendable.

I learned that sometimes it isn’t about gender at all. Just power.

When I am in the hardware store and a guy smiles, you smile back and keep going and he says “Too good to talk to me? Do you even know what a hammer is?” and you sigh and keep going to the aisle you need. Because it is Tuesday and you don’t have time.

When your boss looks at you dead in the face, shakes his head, and says “I can tell a woman like you needs to be broken. and I am just the guy to do it,” and then tries to. But you don’t tell anyone, because you need the job, and surely he didn’t mean it like that. Except he did, and he fires you when you can’t be broken. You find out later that he only wanted to use your credentials and that you were a necessary nuisance. The way to get rid of you was to intimidate and harass you, as long as the credentials stayed.

But you still don’t name it. Until you find out he did it to others too. Only then do you get mad. And when you tell some of your friends they minimize it for you, or tell you that it has happened to them, too, and “really, pick your battles because it is just the way it is.” Your voice becomes the thing that scares them.

I learned that I will fight for the justice of others and dismiss my own experiences.

I learned that I don’t have the time or the inclination to always see things from this point of view.

I learned that it happens so often that addressing it is seen as stirring the pot.

It is late, and I am not finished, but maybe that is the point. I will never be finished and there is way too much to tell you about all the times it happens. And the fact that I am not finished and never could be is why I am not sure it can ever be explained. But I will try. I will try to tell you that I don’t believe all men do this, and that many of the ones who do were taught to. This does not excuse it, as things like free will and faith mean you can chose not to see things this way.

I will also try to tell you that aggression is always about power and never about sex, even though the mass media tells us that sex is the main thing. No one wants to be made to feel less than, or have to apologize for being strong and smart, or as if she deserves violence because she is, or is wearing a tank top that says “This is what a feminist looks like” because it is 105 degrees outside.

I learned that men hear the word feminist and think that I am looking to blame men.

I only blame the ones that contribute actively to the problem.

And finally, I will tell you that the men I have loved are my biggest fans and think that I am amazing. They want me to be funny and brave and the best version of myself. These men are people who will fight for and with me, let me be angry, be angry for me, let me cry, and who, most importantly, will stop another guy who is saying or doing these things.

I learned that the word Man is not synonymous with violence or being degraded.

I learned those Good Men are vulnerable, authentic, and kind, and want me to be, too.

I will fight to make sure they are seen as good men, and not lumped in with the men who use violence and power as an excuse for bad behavior. I think the thing I find the saddest is that I have had to explain to men that women will not automatically see them as good guys. It is because I will never be finished telling you everything that happened. Mostly, it is because my experience is not unique.

I learned that this is not the lens I want women to see the world through and that I will always work to provide alternatives.

I will fight to make sure men are seen well, and that women do not have to apologize to be seen well. Not anymore.

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