Activists against gender-based violence convened on Wednesday in an emotional dialogue.
Wits Development and Leadership Unit hosted a panel discussion centered around #MenAreTrash and solutions to the challenges women face.
“I don’t mind women in general wearing crop tops or short shorts, but I don’t want my girlfriend wearing those things because they make me feel uncomfortable,” said a male friend.
He considers himself sympathetic to feminism. This conversation occurred after I had accepted the label, feminist. If it had happened two or three years ago I might have “understood” where he was coming from, now I don’t. It took me quite a while to come to terms with feminism, to understand it and identify with it. To me feminism simply means the freedom to choose who I want to be.[pullquote]”I don’t mind women in general wearing crop tops or short shorts, but I don’t want my girlfriend wearing those things because they make me feel uncomfortable.”[/pullquote]
In the past I’ve labeled myself as a “laissez-faire feminist” and described myself as such in social conversations. What I meant was that I do recognize that patriarchy is real and is at work 24/7 to undermine people of my gender. What I was saying along with this at the time is that I prescribed to the gender roles dictated to us by society, and that I was comfortable with this status quo.
The attitude has fallen away to be replaced by a more precise concept “black feminism”. I am out. Loud and proud. I have successfully rid myself of the fear of discrimination for being vocal about feminism.
A lot of people have a stereotypical image of an unshaven, angry, man-hater when they think of the word “feminist”. I was scared to associate with the feminist struggle because of this negative stereotype.I now realize one can shave, like to cook, love men and still be a feminist.
The problem with patriarchy
People are uncomfortable with accepting certain truths, especially if they somehow benefit from whatever it is you are speaking out against.
Men, whether they like it or not benefit from the patriarchal shield that makes their lives a little sweeter. God forbid he cook and clean, domestic chores are for girls. He should sit on the couch, have beers and snacks delivered as he shouts at the TV in front of him. This kind of behavioural conditioning in the media and in our homes provides a breeding ground for the next generation to play into the same kind of zombie like fixation with gender roles. [pullquote align=”right”]”Patriarchy is the reason we have a rape culture here and elsewhere.”[/pullquote]
The problem with patriarchy is that it makes men believe they are rightfully entitled to certain things where women are involved, women’s fashion choices among them. It makes women believe that they have to do certain things, look a certain way, say certain things to win them the “real women” label. Being desirable trumping other pursuits, overshadowing other attributes of their womanhood.
Patriarchy is the reason we have a rape culture here and elsewhere, it allows for the pathological thinking that says a woman can be owned, domineered and conquered at will. That a woman’s body can be seized, forcefully if all else fails.
What feminism says
Feminism stands up and shouts “NO!”. It says women are more than their boobs and their bums, more than the scrubbing their hands can endure, are more than the nappies they can change. It says women are capable of more than they are given credit for. It says that women deserve to be treated justly, that they have a place outside of the kitchen. It says gender roles are bullshit, archaic and oppressive.[pullquote]”I don’t have to be an emotionless “bitch” to be respected, that independence is not about being alone, that my sex life is no one’s business but mine.”[/pullquote]
Feminism has taught me to ignore the cues given to me by society about what kind of woman I should be, because they say so. I should be the kind of woman I choose to be, because I say so. I don’t have to cook and clean to be “wifey material”, a man who thinks like that has no business looking for a wife because clearly all he needs is domestic assistance, which is fairly easy to find in a want ad.
Feminism has also taught me that I don’t have to be an emotionless “bitch” to be respected, that independence is not about being alone, that my sex life is no one’s business but mine. It’s taught me that justice and equality aren’t the same, that sometimes justice does mean giving someone an opportunity based on their gender or race – because equality tends to ignore the existing imbalances between two people when handing out the so called same opportunity or advantage.