Women's Rights

Comment: 13 ways men encourage me to be a feminist

The fight for feminism goes on... Source: Supplied

It's International Women's Day. So here are the many ways that men help encourage women to embrace feminism and fight for equality, writes Georgia Leaker.

My life is (mostly) filled with wonderful men. There's Arnold who always has my back, Matthew who encourages me to explore new ideas, Ryan who tells everyone that I'm the best cook he's ever met…the list goes on.

And I was raised by an incredible father who supports me and my sister in whatever we set out to achieve. He also shares our love of cats and cooking shows, because he's cool like that.

The fact that I need to say all of this before stating that I am a feminist shows just how far off we are from real equality. Because a woman who asserts her right to be treated equally, fairly and respectfully is automatically called a "man-hater", a "feminazi".

But sometimes, even without realising, they prove to me, and women everywhere, that feminism is still very relevant in 2016 Australia.

1. When you tell me not to walk home alone at night

Statistically, the greatest threats to my personal safety are the men in my life. Oh, you think the only rapists out there are the ones who lurk in the shadows, waiting to pounce on women at 2am in an unlit park? 73 per cent of women who have been raped know their rapist. So tell me again that I shouldn't walk home alone at night?

2. When you tell me that my dress is cut too low/too short

Teaching young girls that their body doesn't belong to them, but to men and the male gaze. Short skirts don't leave enough to the imagination, but at the same time, women who wear hijabs or other religious clothing are "covering too much skin" and are therefore "oppressed". Women literally cannot win on the clothing front. Maybe we should all start wearing sacks? Oh wait no, they'd be dismissed as unflattering. Excuse me while I dress myself for my own personal enjoyment and not yours...

3. When you interrogate me if I like a certain band, style of music or gaming

Apparently women, especially young women, couldn't possibly have any interest in "real" music or video games. When you tell us that we probably only got into these things because of a boyfriend or to try and "be cool", you remove our agency to enjoy whatever it is we want to enjoy. You are not the dictator of culture or the grandmaster of what I can and cannot like.

4.  When you cry #notallmen

Dude, we know not all men. We aren't stupid. But just by being a man, you hold this nifty little key called male privilege. It allows you access to things like being able to walk home without being harassed, the ability to wear whatever you want without being called "slutty' or 'frigid", the privilege of wide, positive media representation and for the cultural things you create or enjoy to not be dismissed as "niche". Instead of defending your privilege as not your fault, give us a helping hand. It even benefits you - the patriarchy imposes some pretty toxic expectations on men too, especially in the way it stifles your right to show emotions. We don't hate men, we hate the patriarchy.

5. When you dismiss my emotions or anger as PMS

Women are incredibly guilty of this too, but it's time to stop. When a woman is angry, frustrated or emotional, it is very rarely due to her hormones. But even if said hormones exacerbated the anger, it doesn't make it any more or less legitimate. Blaming PMS is an easy way to dismiss a woman's reaction to a situation, it undermines her right to feel a certain way and allows men to get away without changing their behaviour.

6. When you accidentally victim blame me

Women's days are regularly interrupted by men demanding our time by leering or shouting grossly sexual comments in our direction. On the rare occasion the men see us being harassed by other men, they often ask why we smile and keep walking, or even say "thank you" for the derogatory cat calls about our appearance. Why do we act so politely if we are feeling so uncomfortable? Because too often, when we have spat back, we've been met with threats of violence. Excuse us for trying to avoid a beating.

7. When you say 'boys will be boys'

If I, as a woman, am expected to control my actions to make men feel comfortable, then why aren't men held to the same standard? The phrase "boys will be boys", and anything to do with men "not being able to stop staring" at large breasts, or men "needing" sex and unable to control their urges, paints them as dangerous, uncontrollable beings. 

8. When you complain about friend-zoning.

Friend-zoning is inherently based in the concept of male entitlement. It's when a man seems to think that if he is nice enough to a woman and showers her with gifts and praise, she will eventually sleep with him. Hey dude, if you don't want to be our friend for the sake of just being our friend, even though that's all we want, then that's on you. Do not mistake this with unrequited love, however, which is when a man (or woman) recognises that the person they like doesn't like them back and they make an effort to move on quietly.

9. When I don't wear make up and you tell me I look unwell

From a young age, women are conditioned to look and act a certain way. Make up on when we leave the house, an expectation that only amplifies in a professional environment. But why do we still find men attractive despite the fact they don't wear make up? So please don't ask a woman if she's sick when she's clearly just make-up-free. Just accept her in all her natural beauty.

10. When you call me a lesbian as if it's an insult

Honestly, you just outed yourself as homophobic AND misogynistic. Good effort you.

11. When you become violent because I turned you down

You literally just proved that I absolutely made the right decision in the first place. Thanks for clarifying!

12. When you tell me I'm 'not like other girls'

This backhand compliment lets me know that you lump all women together as vapid, vain and trivial. What is it about me that's different to other girls exactly? Are they less authentic than I am? Less worthy? By putting down other women in this way, you're telling me that you think of women as a homogeneous group, rather than unique individuals with our own interests. When I say "I'm not like other girls," what I really mean is that I hope you won't treat me like you treat other girls. We need to stop pitting women against women, it's detrimental to our emotional wellbeing.

13. When you tell me rapists aren't real men.

It's strange how men are happy to jump down the throats of rapists not known to them, these "other men". But all too often, when those men's friends rape, it becomes a different story. "He's a good guy, he would never do such a thing," they say. Yes, it's hard to come to realise that someone you thought was a great guy actually isn't so wonderful, but by covering his actions up you are doing a massive disservice to women, especially the woman he violated. Good people are capable of bad things, and one of the most important ways we can fight domestic violence and rape is by believing women when they say they've been assaulted by someone you care about.

It can be hard to check your privilege and understand that women's experiences, which are vastly different to men's, shape the way we see the world. If we really want a society that embraces gender equally, this is an important next step. So happy International Women's Day.

Georgia Leaker is a freelance writer, pastry chef and editor of F is for Feminism.

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