Editorial Note: This article is from a series of six posts in the Life section that serve as a collection of letters from writers as varied as the choice of topics. They are just our creative way of composing our thoughts. Some of them address society’s ills, some are sarcastic, some have hope, some are critical. All of them are passionate. Enjoy.
Dear Equality (and the feminism movement):
I have to admit I have thought little about the feminism movement in my life. I had always thought that I was enjoying the harvest that you planted. I am definitely behind the general premise of your movement, but I just don’t think I realized that I’d need to actually do something in your name.
Though I can’t speak for everyone, I thought I’d at least attempt to explain my own journey of understanding gender issues since it has brought me to realize that society has not yet accomplished your core goals. You have spurred a lot of needed changes, but the thing is: we still have so far to go.
For me, there have always been a few voices of chauvinistic attitudes in my life. Mostly for me this is people who have given me advice about my career based on my gender and not my ability. To go along with that there are probably even more who have cheered me on in my choices. But it’s always those negative voices that get you down. I guess I’ve always viewed it as something I’ll just have to work harder at to prove. Maybe in my hard work people will change their thinking.
But, the more I have thought about you the more I have realized that I am also a part of the problem.
To start with, I’ll admit something to you, because you would probably understand. In my own life, I sometimes assume that men aren’t all that interested in what women are really thinking—an unfair assumption, but one that nonetheless has hindered my own growth.
I think this thinking began with my dad, who has a top-down approach to family communication. But, it was most subconsciously reinforced after I realized that a guy I liked was insecure around me because he thought I was smarter than he was. Rather than be flattered that he thought I was intelligent, I assumed that meant that I should just not talk about what I was actually thinking. If I wanted him to like me, I had to let him be smarter.
So there it was. I have even whispered sexist thoughts to myself.
The behavior that brought this attitude to my attention was this: I recently noticed that I rarely recommend books by females to my male friends. Now I know that there was a day when female writers were small in number, but today one of your victories is the successful careers of women in the publishing world (as well as other careers). And being that I’m a writer and a female and at least half of the books on my bookshelf are by women, would it not then be logical that about half the books I recommend are by women? But, I don’t because I’m assuming that most guys wouldn’t really be interested.
The stereotype smacked me in the face about a month ago. My friend Jeff recommended that I read a book all about you, the feminist movement. That a guy might actually be interested in you was a new thought to me. It was admittedly my entire first book devoted to you.
The book talked about your history in the U.S., all of the other adjectives that have tacked themselves on to you, your current status in our society and how far you still have to go. And what I realized through all of this is this: You are really quite more complicated and quite a bit more all-incriminating than you look upon first appearance.
We, who have come after the Gloria Steinem generation, have thought all our lives that equality is a universal truth about humanity. Yet, we have not been the solution. We are not the sexist-free generation. But because we have always been given lip service about your values, we have not even realized those things which we don’t actually believe.
Sometimes we need to really dig—past all of the cultural norms and behaviors, past all the philosophical talk and find what sits at the bedrock center of our beliefs about ourselves as men and women. Maybe since your inception, we haven’t really done that lately.
Yes, there are still glass ceilings; still there are women who have no democratic rights still chauvinistic attitudes are out there. But, sometimes those attitudes are from women (C’mon, girls, why are we still walking around with the word “juicy” written on the butts of our pants? I wouldn’t call that liberation.)
And there are even sexist attitudes against men that go completely against what values you have tried to instill in society. For example, my female friends and I might complain that men are dense, can’t read between the lines and are rarely intuitive.
So, I have realized that this is about all of us. Though your movement bears just one gender in the name, it’s really more than that. Society as a whole will benefit from all women living more fully and freely; just as it would if men did the same thing.
You have helped me to realize that the power of social change starts with me. I must really examine myself, attempt to understand my assumptions and discredit those that are wrong.
I pray your influence will help all of us to turn the stereotypes inward and begin examining ourselves before we judge others. We have a long way to go as a society, and I for one will be right there with you.