Finding Feminism

In the January 2013 issue of The Feminist Observer I wrote an article titled "Finding Feminism" where I discuss my journey of becoming involved in the feminist movement as a man. 

 

While being brought up Catholic, I was never explicitly supportive of feminist ideals. My former religion is quite patriarchal and is so anti-choice that women’s rights are often a non-issue. I was an immature teenager when I was religious, so while I was not overly supportive of these troubling positions, they also did not concern me very much.  I started to question my religious faith after I became more informed about religion and secularism.  After becoming educated in the area, critical thinking and personal reflection lead me to become a strident atheist, but a feminist as well.

My ambivalence towards women’s rights, gay rights, and any sort of person’s rights who was being oppressed changed during my undergraduate years. I was always saddened when I heard about someone who was being treated unfairly, but I never took any sort of active role to change such things. Studying psychology and sociology in college erased my ambivalence and replaced it with a passion to take a stand against anyone who was being oppressed.  Once I read about the social injustices in our country, I became much more aware of them in instances in my day to day life as well.  Instead of standing by idly like my younger self might have when someone made a sexist or racist comment or joke, I would try to explain to them why they were misinformed and why that comment might be offensive. I would never be confrontational in my explanations, and usually (but not always) the person who said it would at least apologize or say something like “I never thought of it like that before.” Correcting off-color remarks, doesn’t sound like much, and in the grand scheme of things, it won’t cause a huge difference in any movement. However, it does form a foundation at the general public level that bigotry is NOT acceptable in any context so I would always encourage people to speak up against social injustices and take a stand against any form of discrimination. It can be especially effective coming from someone who isn’t a representative of the group the person is offending. Unfortunately, people still find it hard to believe that white straight men can be supportive of the rights of those of a different race, sexual orientation, and sex.

However, even towards the end of my undergraduate education when I was much more educated in such issues, I probably would have not explicitly identified myself as a feminist. This was due to ignorance, not philosophy. A 2009 CBS poll from a random sample of 1150 adults shed some insight of this phenomenon for me as well as provided some disheartening facts about the ignorance of the American people regarding feminism.  The poll asked men and women their views on feminism. I’ve including three of the most shocking results below, but you can read the rest of the poll results from the link in my sources.  I’ve included the answers from asked men and women if they identify as a feminist, if the word feminist is an insult, and again asking them if they are a feminist, but with a definition provided. The definition they provided was “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economical equality of the sexes”. It was amazing to see any percentage of people consider the word feminist an insult, let alone 24% of men and 17% of women respectively. It was also fascinating to see how much a person would be much more likely to identify themselves as a feminist if they simply knew the definition.

Men

Feminist outright
Yes

 14%
No
 79%

Women
Yes

 24%
No
 70%

Men

The term feminist is …
Compliment

 10%
Insult
 24%
Neutral
 59%

Women

The term feminist is …
Compliment

 12%
Insult
 17%
Neutral
 64%

Men

Feminist (definition provided)
Yes

 58%
No
 39%

Women

Feminist (definition provided)
Yes

 65%
No
 32%

 

 

 

These numbers look pretty shocking, but they are completely understandable. I had many more reasons to label myself as a feminist than an average American, but it still took me a while to come to this point. I studied psychology and sociology, I went to Westminster College which is the number one school in the country for women and science, and I was constantly around successful women in my science internships, classes, and research. Yet, it took physically being around feminists to really understand what feminism is about.

Westminster College, my undergraduate institution, was predominantly Christian and attending there was frustrating as an atheist to say the least. However, it wasn’t until I started graduate school at the University of South Carolina when I finally acted on my activist ambitions. I quickly became involved in the secular movement by going to many secular conferences and events, while also obtaining leadership positions including the Co-Chair of the Secular Coalition for South Carolina. During this time, I met many other secular activists and I found that secularism is almost always tied in with activism for all sorts of inequality. I met many people who referred to themselves as feminists and I always agreed with their ideals. I realized feminism was truly as simple as the CBS definition. With the central characteristic of feminism simply being equality for all, how could anyone NOT be a feminist?

Feminism is not just for women or any one group in particular. Feminism is for anyone who supports equality in human rights. This should be everyone, but sadly it is not. Perhaps even more depressing for the women’s rights movement is how many people are feminists, but do not know it. Just like it is extremely important for non-religious people to be open about their beliefs and non-beliefs so people can know atheists in person, it is also vital for feminists. Like I previously mentioned, many people do not understand what feminism is or have never met a feminist in person. If most people have not been exposed to feminism in the most basic way of meeting a feminist in person, then how can feminist activists possibly expect the general public to understand why feminism is important? The first step is increasing awareness. Once more people realize feminism is something they already support, a quicker advancement of women’s rights will follow.

 

 

Sources:

Best Colleges for Women in Science. Forbes. December 15th, 2010. http://www.forbes.com/2010/12/10/best-colleges-minorities-women-science-lifestyle-education-stem.html

 

Poll: Women's Movement Worthwhile" CBS News. February 11, 2009. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/22/opinion/polls/main965224.shtml