Why I Became an Ally
Content warning: Some anti-feminist quotes, and I make unspecific references to sexual assault.
TL;DR I finally "got" feminism thanks to outspoken critics on Twitter, research, and watching many "well meaning" males complain about reverse sexism.
If anyone, this post is targeted at my past self.
I was a "well meaning" guy who would occasionally argue against feminism saying we should focus on equality for everyone, not one group. Focusing on equality for one group must be discrimination!
I look on my past self as uneducated, but the arguments clearly presented to me did nothing to sway me towards feminism. I ignored obvious evidence. I see the same thing today: people point out obvious gender inequalities and men ignore or argue around them. This is very concerning. If we ignore blatant evidence, how can we learn?
This is the journey that made me understand why we need feminism. Perhaps documenting it will accelerate someone else's journey.
How Feminism Doesn't Affect Me
Sexism and gender inequality do not directly oppress nor exploit me. The first thing I read that made me start "getting" it was a succinct post on how sexual assault affects women's lives. I have unfortunately forgotten the source, but I'll recall from memory:
"You have to understand that there is a overarching threat of sexual assault in women's lives. They are told what to wear, when to go out, with whom to go out. Ask a woman in your network when they last felt unsafe in a public situation. It's not a question of when, but of how often." - Unknown
Reading that made me realize something about my own life.
When is the last time that you…
…were told what you wear when going out will affect your chances of being raped?
…asked a friend to watch your drinks at a bar to avoid being drugged?
...were told at what time you should go out to avoid being sexually assaulted?
…were told with whom should go out to avoid sexual assault?
…felt unsafe walking to your car / apartment / office without a male escort around?
…were inappropriately groped or approached, repeatedly, in a professional context such as a tech conference?
For me, the answer to all of the above is NEVER.
This first realization I had was women face a unique struggle that affects their freedom. This isn't a struggle that will be fixed by modifying our legal system to support "equality." Something deeper needs to be addressed.
"I don't mean to be a bitch..."
A few of my neighbors were playing bocce ball on my roof. I live on the top floor of my building so the noise was disturbing. I went up to confront them, and the first thing out of my mouth, before I even realized it, was: "I don't mean to be a bitch, but…"
I was already starting to understand feminism at that point and agree with it. What gives? As soon as I said it, I was thinking: what exactly did I mean by "bitch?"
The word "bitch" is complicated, but I clearly wasn't using it in a productive way. Why would I use a gendered pejorative that plays on demeaning other people, other than being a general idiot? I realized then that yes, I have biases and yes, I am influenced by my culture. I always thought I was pro-equality and didn't have any bias, but that was a fallacy.
Shanley is a writer, publisher, and founder of Model View Culture (donation page), a publication critically analyzing the current tech culture, especially in the Bay Area. She also has a strong Twitter presence. I don't remember my first time viewing her mentions, but it was something like this:
My first reaction, as yours might be, was "well that's uncalled for."
If you don't have any insight into how feminism is perceived on the internet, this critique by "boyd" might seem like a harmless, well meaning attempt to have a rational discussion.
Table that thought for a second.
I followed other writers and content producers who use Twitter as part of their platform for feminism. People like Feminist Frequency, Samantha Allen, and Ashe Dryden. They're active in spaces near to my heart, such as gaming and tech.
That's when you start to see them.
"Well meaning" replies, again:
After seeing this often enough, it hit me. These people are like me. They're white, male, and they're critiquing a movement that fundamentally can't affect them in the same way it affects women.
Just like I would have done.
I decided to perform an experiment
Feminism is, naturally, lead by women, so why did it seem to me that only white guys were making these critiques?
I wanted to test my own bias. Was I only noticing the critiques from people like me, or did they represent a majority?
My experiment was constructing a collage of all users replying in some negative way against feminism on Twitter.
I used the following rules:
- The reply must be clearly outspoken against feminism or critiquing a pro-feminist argument.
- The gender of the user had to be easily identifiable, either from the avatar or a visit to their profile.
- I had to go through my timeline linearly, not skipping any replies, and choosing every avatar, regardless of gender, as long as they met the above two rules.
It was a tedious process, to say the least.
Ready for the results?
- 44 / 50 Male (88%)
- 46 / 50 White (92%) (Others include Hispanic, Korean)
Sound representative of real world ratios?
What I learned while compiling this list:
- I never want to do it again.
- There are more negative replying females in gaming than tech.
- There is a disturbing overlap of sexist and racist accounts.
- I get to pre-emptively clean up my timeline by blocking many people.
Reflections From My Peers
Feminists are attacked non-stop, and more often than not the attacks are "well meaning." Attacks from people who feel defensive that their spaces are being invaded by something they don't understand. Attacks from people who look like me.
The same attacks I would have made.
What am I accomplishing with these critiques? Why am I pointing out a grammatical error or a minor logical inconsistency? Why am I disagreeing that a prostitute getting murdered in a game is endangering women in the real world, if I'm not the target of that danger? Why do I think getting emotionally hurt by being told I have "white privilege" trumps someone whose very freedom is at risk because of their race or gender?
I thought my knee-jerk emotions were more important than a civil rights movement.
I thought my emotions were something unique and special and that someone had to hear me and that I deserved a reply. Even though, again, I'm not targeted at all by the danger and life altering oppression put forth.
The constant hateful responses to feminism activists online is a result of that line of thinking. My minor arguments and my petty emotions built up into a wall of oppression along with everyone else's replies.
Suddenly, I saw "boyd" getting shut down in perspective. How much patience would you have if the only replies you received were ones trying to subvert and derail your point while completely ignoring it? How would you feel if the group that experienced the least oppression fought for the loudest voice?
I thought my intentions mattered more than my actions.
I was an idiot.
Where to Go From Here
How does this new understanding affect my day to day? I can just say I'm a feminist, but who cares? I started thinking of ways to expand my world view.
Actions for growth:
- Follow people who aren't like me. Twitter is an amazing platform for social activism, and there are some beautiful voices out there.
- Actively research the overlap of feminism and black rights history. My journey is not solely about understanding feminism. There are many marginalized people who struggle with different variations of oppression. Actively researching (and following) other marginalized voices is equally important.
- Strike gendered pejoratives from my vocabulary, such as the previously mentioned "bitch."
- Don't make sexual statements in a professional context, or in any context where they could make someone feel unsafe.
- Acknowledge my biases. I have bias, and admitting it means I can recognize it and actively work against it.
There's an amazing article by Pamela Clark you should read: 35 Practical Steps Men Can Take to Support Feminism. It's full of insight, and I couldn't agree more with the below quote. It perhaps sums up this entire article most succinctly:
"When a woman tells you something is sexist, believe her."
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is to listen, and sometimes the most important thing you can do is shut the fuck up. I'll start: