How I Became a Feminist

Posted on November 15, 2011

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There’s one more thing I want to say about the horrible cesspool of sexual harassment, rape jokes and other forms of women’s marginalization that exist on the internet: Please keep calling it out.

I am, of course, a member of the half of the human race which is least qualified to explain why this is necessary. As a man on the internet, I get off pretty easy. Despite saying some pretty dumb things from time to time, I have yet to receive a single rape threat, suggestion that I get back in the kitchen, or mean comment pointing out the fact that I’m a scrawny dork with bad hair. So I really don’t have any authority to articulate the most important reasons for calling out internet misogyny. For that, you’ll have to see one of the countless recent blog posts that have been spawned by the #MenCallMeThings hashtag.

Here’s a quote from Jen McCreight:

“Under the guise of concern, people insist that disadvantaged groups suffer

in silence. But it’s not concern – it’s distaste that these loud, uppity blacks/gays/women are causing them the slightest discomfort.

Telling someone to shut up and deal is the essence of privilege.”

And one from Laurie Penny:

“Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe.”

And another from Rebecca Watson:

What you think it means: Just don’t reply to people or publicize their insults and they’ll go away! All they want is attention.

What it actually means: Suffer in silence.”

If you really don’t understand the importance of making the internet a less hostile place for women, then read one of the above posts. Preferably all of them. Twice. What they say is far more important than what I’m about to say. Nevertheless, I think my two cents on this issue are of some interest, because they concern how I came to be a feminist.

I have a really, really embarrassing confession to make. I used to consider myself both an anti-feminist and a men’s rights activist. I was a fresh-faced undergrad with little worldly experience, and as I struggled to find my ideological feet I somehow became convinced that women already have equality. The logical conclusion was that feminism is simply a power-grab which aims to crush men under the iron boot of sexist family courts, car insurance policies, and patronizing goofy dad characters in commercials. I’d go into more detail about my beliefs but they really weren’t all that original. Just trust me when I tell you that I was an idiot.

My awakening came during a summer spent working in Ottawa. Through careless kijiji subletting, I inadvertently wound up living in a house with five other people, most of whom were ass-slapping, gay-bashing, molson-chugging bros. That summer was the first time that sexism was really presented to me in a form that I could recognize. I was shocked when my roommates secretly filmed each other’s one-night stands, ignored my concerns that a girl in the living room may have been too drunk to consent to sex (luckily, she fell asleep and was left alone), and dismissed women athletes on the grounds that “I could beat her without training”. Suddenly I started to realize that maybe the campus feminists had a point.

Here’s thing thing about that summer: It changed my normative opinions little, if at all. I had always believed that women deserved full equality with men in every aspect of their lives, but before that summer I was under the mistaken impression that such a condition had already been achieved. My error was almost entirely factual. Once it was corrected by exposure to a very obvious form of discrimination, I discovered the depth of my own privilege remarkably quickly. It’s never easy to admit that you’re wrong on such an emotional issue, so I needed that shock to initiate the process of reforming my opinions.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that my summer in Ottawa was my first experience of sexism. Sexism is everywhere, and I was part of it long before signing up for that sublet. On the relatively tolerant liberal arts campus where I spent most of my time, however, I was unable to identify it. Once my eyes had been opened to the more blatant forms of misogyny in the world, I was able to come to terms with its subtler forms that had been invisible to me before.

I don’t mean to suggest that all men’s rights activists are like I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if a substantial number of them simply dislike women, and will continue to do so regardless of their factual beliefs. I also wouldn’t be surprised, however, if there is also a large number of men who, like my 20 year old self, simply don’t have all the facts on the real status of women in today’s world. I further hypothesize that if these men are shown the depths of misogyny that exist on the internet and real life, then at least some of them will be able to turn around as I did. That can only be a positive thing, and would be a nice ancillary benefit to the already important goal of ending online sexism. I figure it’s worth a shot.

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