Feminist Ladies: Talk to a pre-feminist guy near you

My friend Bjoern left a comment on the Siren blog from a while back called “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…” He was interested in knowing how those Rutgers researchers defined feminism. He said:

“They probably use it as a synomyn for people who approve of gender equality. Though that’s what I do as well, I would never label myself a feminist!!”

Then, later:

“I am curious to hear what problems women have (in the workplace). Perhaps they should tell us about them?!”

Bjoern went on to say that maybe he’s too idealistic to acknowledge that women face more difficulties than men in the workplace because it should be as simple as everyone being professional and everyone being judged by their work and not their gender.

Well, practically any lady around could tell Bjoern that it simply isn’t as simple as that.

Before Bjoern hopped onto the site and left this lovely comment, he had emailed me saying he was a little intimidated to go to the blog because it was of a feminist nature.

I guess I assumed that since he KNOWS me, he’d know it was a rad blog and that I wasn’t asking him to read scary lesbo man-hating ramblings.

I guess I assumed wrong. Even though he knows me and normally respects my suggestions on readings and music and such, Bjoern was STILL afraid to read a feminist blog. Weird.

It got me thinking about guys and how many of them are afraid of the ‘F’ word, and maybe even of women altogether. And it got me thinking of a possible solution to this.

Point is, we feminist ladies sometimes forget that there are a lot of men (and women, though my focus here is the dudes) out there who’ve never taken a Women’s Studies course. They’ve never spoken with a real, live feminist – to their knowledge. They, as my friend Bjoern so eloquently put it, believe in women’s equality and all that, but don’t call themselves feminists.

Because that would be ‘going too far.’

Going too far where exactly? Well, OUT THERE, of course! We fems are still considered out there! Crazy, extremist, man-hating, take the world out of the male grasp FEMINISTS!

I would like to get more guys to call themselves feminists, and to understand what that means. Because, based on what Bjoern told me before he told me he wasn’t a feminist, I’d say he was a feminist.

So here’s what. The best I can figure is that all we have to do to remedy this to our well-meaning male coworkers, neighbors and lovers is simply to come clean. Communicate. Share our stories.

Call yourself a feminist, when the opportunity arises. I’m sure in this election year feminism or women’s rights or gender politics or SOMETHING will come up in a conversation you will have with a guy who does not yet call himself a feminist in which you can call yourself a feminist and get him thinking. Chances are, if you’re having a conversation with this person, he already knows you and likes you. So when you – this person that he likes – calls yourself a ‘feminist,’ you’ll probably shake up his Feminist Belief System a bit.

Here’s another example: A while back I introduced a normal (read: pre-feminist) dude to my group of friends. He didn’t know what feminism meant really and was frankly a little terrified of the conversations he found himself in with my group of friends.

“Your friends talk about feminism a lot,” he said.

“No, they don’t,” I said. “They talk about it a pretty regular amount.” (Which, I maintain, they do.)

“Talking about feminism at all is more than my friends talk about feminism,” he said.

At the time, he had about a 1:1 male-to-female ratio in his group of friends, so he’s not one of those male-insulated, poolhall lurking, baseball-cap wearing dudes. He’s just a guy. A regular guy.

So here’s what I propose. Let’s all start talking about our periods. Our birth control. Our sexual harassment experiences. The times we know and/or fear that we’ve been discriminated against. The near date-rape experiences. The times we’ve claimed to be lesbian when guys wouldn’t stop hitting on us. The times we’ve claimed to be straight, to get a better deal on mechanic work or to get a job or into a club or whatever.

The only way we can make feminism real, tangible and human to regular dudes who still don’t know squat about it is to talk about our experiences as feminists and as women, and how we have encountered the world as such.

Things like PMS get hated on and made fun of and stereotyped because at least half the world doesn’t know what it’s like, how frustrating it can be to have a mood swing or cramps.

But we have the art of communication. We have the beauty of description. Let’s pester men with it. 😉

Have conversations. Discuss why you think a woman would make a good president, despite the fear of raging PMS causing WWIII (and remind them that we’re kinda already in WWIII, thanks to someone with testicles). Give a play-by-play account of your childbirth. Tell about the time you were passed up for a promotion and describe how that made you *gasp!* FEEL.

At least one pre-feminist guy asked for this: “I am curious to hear what problems women have. Perhaps they should tell us about them?!”

There are a lot of things men will never experience. Let’s at least enlighten them a bit. Let’s be our own advocates and spokespersons. Represent.

Also, ask questions. Ask why they don’t want to be called a feminist, and what they’re afraid might happen if a woman is president (seriously, I’ve had this conversation recently). Ask if they’ve ever felt discriminated against for one reason or another, so that they might relate in some way.

Oh, and expect to be annoyed during some of these conversations. Have patience.


3 thoughts on “Feminist Ladies: Talk to a pre-feminist guy near you

  1. This is why I love you, Natalie. You remind me to say the things I take for granted.

    This is a stellar idea and I recommend it to everyone. Start immediately!

    And I’ll share, just to get the ball rolling (and not be a hypocrite). Early in my career as a reporter I worked for one of the nastiest, vilest most sexist pigs on the planet. He was not only a sexist pig, he had no ethics in any way shape or form as they pertained to any part of human existence. (And I should mention that this editor does not live in Las Vegas.)

    The paper (which shall remain unnamed) was then staffed almost entirely of women. I was one of the only married women in the office and about 22 or 23 years old (yes, I married young). This editor would routinely find reasons to call many of us into his office. It would always start out about some story or a work-related issue and then devolve into highly inappropriate conversation. For instance, with me he often started asking me questions about my sex life with my husband or things of that nature. He would say things to me about my outfits, etc. With the single women, I heard things that were much worse. And one of the women in the office he took to calling at home in the middle of the night to talk about highly inappropriate things (sex, innuendos, etc.).

    Let me be clear: At no time during any of this did any of us in the office provoke this behavior! In fact, we often consoled each other and sought advice on how to deal with it.

    Unfortunately, most of the people who worked at this paper with me, like myself, were new to the industry and really needed the job as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Journalism is a highly competitive field and there are always others willing to take your spot, even if it is a shitty one. And the other thing was that most of us in the office were really young and lacked the self-confidence to really stand up for ourselves. We did take the issue to a middle manager, but she was below this editor and ignored by those above him (and this later put her job in jeopardy).

    Now, I’ve been a feminist pretty much all of my life. And I have a minor in women’s studies and I worked for my college’s women’s center when I was in school. So I’m no dummy, and even in this experience I knew what was happening was wrong. In fact, I was one of the few that managed to get him to stop some of the worst behavior, but only towards me.

    But the bottom line is, I really needed that job. I hadn’t worked long enough in the business to be able to just go out and get another job, especially without a reference (and surely this pig wasn’t going to give me one if I quit because of sexual harassment). I had student loans to pay and responsibilities to my family and couldn’t afford to just quit my job without another one lined up. And the absolute truth was that I was afraid this pig editor would blacklist me if I left on bad terms. I felt trapped. I absolutely did not want to work for this person, but I didn’t know what else to do but suffer through it.

    If I knew then what I know now and had some of the confidence I do now, I would have suggested we all band together in a class-action sexual harassment lawsuit. There’s no doubt in my mind that we would have won because some of the things this editor did were so flagrant and with so many witnesses (from outside our ranks) that it would be difficult for him to defend his actions.

    In fact, I have always felt bad that I just sort of took all that crap from that editor. He never had to face the music for his actions. He went on to another job and that’s how we all finally freed ourselves of him. And one of the things that has always bothered me is that when we did try to do something (having the middle manager take it above the editor’s head), it was shot down as basically being “whiny little girls” (which is what she was told) and that there was no way this editor was being that bad. In fact, it was a good ‘ol boys network that was protecting this scummy editor and insulating him from having to do the right thing. And this editor knew what he was doing because he’d even mention it sometimes like making fun of feminists and frivolous sexual harassment suits. He knew that for many of the women who worked for him, he held a tremendous amount of power (whether real or imagined) and that we would most likely not try to cross him for fear of our jobs.

    That, my friends, is sexual harassment.

  2. I think a lot of guys are afraid of the word “feminism” due to the extremists who have hijacked it in the past. I’m more like Bjoern, in that I’m idealistic enough to think that wanting gender equality is something everyone automatically wants and therefore there needn’t be a word for it. I know that’s a false assumption, but it’s hard to get around, even though I talk about stuff a lot with my long-term girlfriend. Of course, she probably wouldn’t call herself a feminist, either. Meh, I dunno. That was a disjointed comment…

  3. Fuck it, I worked there too and I’ll put the motherfucker on blast: Hank Bond at the View. Creepy old prick.

    Also, I thought feminists were here to turn all women into Wiccan lesbians with mullets and pantsuits from Sears. I’ve been mislead.

    Lastly, talk about birth control. Talk about sexual harrasment. Talk about near-date rape experiences if you must. But please, don’t talk about your periods. We don’t want to know and you really don’t want to hear what we might say. I’ll buy my wife’s tampons (Go ahead and get a price check, Clyde. I’m secure) but nobody benefits in sharing the sticky details.

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