A conversation about feminism

A conversation about feminism

A discussion about both sexes fighting for equal rights instead of just one.

Words by Maile Shanti, header image via It's Me And You.

Over the past week I have sat dumbfounded at my laptop trying to curate the perfect essay on why it’s about time men stood up and came on board with feminism. I’ve tackled every angle possible, Google searched "men in feminism" far too many times and have lost countless receipts covered in scribbled notes on the subject.

It's scary to think that what I am writing about is reaching out to an audience that may not fully understand me because I’m a woman. It scares me because I am going to be telling you about what I go through as a female and sometimes this may come across as an attack on your gender. I realised though, that sharing this is so important. If I have been asked by a male to write to other men about feminism from my perspective as a female, then there really must be a revolution happening. It was only a few weeks ago at a party that a stranger told me he thought feminism was never going to accomplish equal rights until men actually came on board and began making changes. Raising children to believe that their gender specifies things they can and can't do and what they can and cannot feel or think, creates a massive divide. Girls are told they are weak and deemed ‘lesbian’ for having interests in sport or anything not pertaining to their typical gender stereotype. Boys who grow up interested in fashion and clothing are immediately deemed ‘gay’ and their self worth is lowered as they are immediately cast into the ‘girl’ category. Which is again perceived as a weakness, even a flaw. So as you can see this gender stereotyping doesn’t just affect the one gender. Having emotion needs to be seen as a strength. Terms such as ‘like a girl’ and ‘be a man’ show us just how even our own language is reiterating these harmful ideologies. We must begin to think before we speak.

For example on my train ride back home from the city last week, I was joined by a group of young boys, all on bikes and scooters, aged around 14. They sat spread out across the seats loudly laughing about ‘chicks bodies’ and making comments that made me teary. Here was a group of young boys, laughing at girls who thought they "had a chance" with. Comments like, "Yeah, but she doesn’t even have a nice body..." and, "This chick is so annoying, she’s so fat and she keeps messaging me". All followed with loud guffaws. I watched them for the 20-minute trip, burning with curiosity as to what would happen if I went over and said something to them. I was too scared. Why is it that I was too scared? Feeling almost as if I would be belittled by the group if I stood up for half the population. This fear is caused by a lifetime of miseducation that I shouldn’t speak up because I am a girl.

I have been abused by males because of my gender since I was old enough to walk to the shops alone. I understand that I cannot speak out about this and fire at every male, because thankfully it is not all men. But for those listening: Men, I think it is time that you joined in the feminist conversation and began educating your peers, taking the next step towards building a better world. Feminism is the notion that females and males should be politically, socially and economically equal. It is simply the equality of both sexes. How can only one gender fight for equal rights for both?

I have long thought about what would happen, if men were to start saying, "No, I will not work until a woman doing the same job as me is paid the same as I am." What if men stood up and, instead of blaming females for walking alone, tackled the issue of rape head on and made the streets safer - educating other males on the fact that a girl walking alone is not an open invitation for sex. Just as I do not think a man walking home alone is sad, lonely and looking for a woman. We need to change the social norms that are making it impossible for either gender to fully reach their potential. Males and females need both masculine and feminine elements to fully realise themselves. Casting one gender into a diminutive category only fuels violence and self-destruction. Assigning the colour blue to boys and pink to girls, categorising any male associating with the colour pink as ‘girly’ as if it is an insult. Why should we be ashamed to do something that society deems as girly? Iggy Pop famously stated, "I’m not ashamed to dress ‘like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman." It is this kind of educational progress that we need to begin making in order to equalise the great divide between females and males. Take a minute to imagine that your mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend or any close female friend of yours was abused, whistled at, slut shamed, raped or treated as no more than an object. Would you let them be subject to this kind of behaviour? Would you feel angry that your 12-year-old daughter was harassed every time she went for a jog? Would you feel sad if your 15-year-old daughter was called fat because she didn’t maintain the current instagram trend of a ‘thigh gap’?

Since I was a child, I have obsessed over - and grown to believe that - my self-worth lies in my appearance. How big my boobs were, how toned my stomach was, my face, skin, hair... As our popular culture changes its obession with different beauty standards, so do mine. As I age I realise how many years I applied myself to maintaining an unattainable image for the ‘male gaze’. From as young as 10 I have been sexually harassed. I have had cars honk at me, men whistle at me when I walk past, men come up and demand I speak with them. Men older than my father stare at me as if I am their prey. I have become used to the fact that I have to look behind me every minute when I walk home alone in the dark. I subsciously make decisions that I now realise males do not have to make. When I rise up against males who objectify me I become cute. Merely a little angry toy to poke more fun at. As we mature there comes a point where every girl asks herself, ‘can anybody hear me?’

My message to men everywhere is: Make all women around you feel safe. Make sure women feel safe to come up and ask you a question, sit down next to you on the bus or walk past you down a dark street. By taking note of oppressive behaviours around you, and making a conscious choice not to regurgitate these harmful ideologies, you can be a part of the big step towards change. By correcting the behaviors that our society is built upon, we too can be the ones to break it down. Pick up on your own behaviours, speak out about it to others. Understand that we are all humans and we possess both masculine and feminine traits. Understand there is more than just ‘male’ and ‘female’. Let’s start building a gender positive, equal world. It all starts with us.

Maile is the editor and creator of her own print magazine called Accidental Discharge, which you can get a copy of and learn more about HERE.