Reaching Feminism’s Target Audience: Everyone

I talked about this kind of thing at my school's IDG assembly.
During our International Day of the Girl assembly, which was led by my high school feminism class, I talked about how love is central to feminism. (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

Whenever I bring up anything about feminism at the dinner table, my brother gives me trouble in some way, be it a sigh of “oh god” or a mocking of what feminism is.  The problem is that he, like many people, has developed an inaccurate idea and image of feminism.

Feminism is not about fighting all men or non-feminists, it’s about generating empathy for everyone, and that’s why for me, it’s hugely important that how feminist messages are discussed and conveyed are, for now, as important as the messages themselves.

Some feminists emphasize the detachment and ignorance of men, rather than focusing on how to engage men. For any activist, it’s vital that there is sincerity, insight, and open arms to take in all perspectives and make them see things in a new light.  The activists standing with their fists clenched are actually the ones who, amazingly, may not gain any new followers. They will probably be fought and beaten by powerful white men.

In order to engage feminism’s unlikely members, such as men, that sense of unlikelihood must be eliminated.  I consider myself a feminist, because I know that I support gender equality, and all around equality for everyone, but what I didn’t know until recently was that feminism truly is my business, not just something for me to say I support.  It’s not random or strange that I’m a feminist, even though I’m a white straight male.  I’m a person who likes feeling valued, and values others, and therefore taking a stand as a supporter of feminism not only feels right, but is my responsibility.

I think that one step to be taken in effectively spreading feminism lies in the hands of those who plan on spreading it, particularly those with influence. Those with a wide reach need more than anyone to take on feminism intelligently and responsibly, as the movement is bigger on the internet than anywhere else.  But the internet is as dangerous as it is useful, if not more so.  For every message sent and received, important or unimportant, there are innumerable people being given platforms to share their voices without thinking through, speaking on issues without being educated, and simply stroking their narcissism.

Being a good speaker (or writer) is as important as saying (or writing) good things.  A person to connect to is as important as content to connect to.

I think a vital problem in feminism reaching its target audience, which is everybody, is that a diversity in its representatives and delivery is lacking.  The feminist movement once needed to diversify itself from only including white middle-class straight women to including  women of color and queer women. Feminism now needs to show itself as a cause for men, boys, and anyone of assumed privilege who generally assume that they have nothing to do with feminism.

I think I first took note of the word “feminist” a little late in life.  In seventh or eighth grade, I was listening obsessively to comedian Bo Burnham’s humorous rap song “Words, Words, Words”, where near the end in a breakdown he begins repeating the line “Bitches and Ho’s don’t exist, because the Ho’s know Bo’s a Feminist/Bitches and Ho’s don’t exist, because the Ho’s know Bo’s a Feminist.”

What I immediately took away from these lines was that Burnham wouldn’t use devaluing terms to refer to women, as he viewed them as people of no greater or lesser value than men, and that was a sentiment I responded to and identified with.  I was raised by a single mom, and I knew that I believed in gender equality and valued women in a way where “Bitches” and “Ho’s” were not synonyms for “women.”  Obviously, I still had a lot to learn, and many realizations to make.

In eighth grade, I thought that my rather uneducated identification as a feminist, although not regrettable in any way, was rather nice of me.  It made me think a little bit higher of myself that a straight boy would call himself a feminist, I thought I was doing something exceptional; but I really wasn’t.

Despite its momentous importance, feminism isn’t a concept that anyone should have to reach for, it should just be normal.  People write lengthy essays on why they’re feminists and why you should be too, but I think it’s much simpler than that. I think everyone should be a feminist because they’re a living, breathing person who live in a world full of other people.

I think it’s a problem that becoming a feminist is shown to a big deal; it isn’t.  As Gloria Steinem says, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men” and “the first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.”  It isn’t much of a reach, it’s just acknowledgement.

As the current state of feminism and widespread understanding of it is in severe turbulence, being a feminist has come to be a bit more to me than knowing I’m a feminist. I am also a pacifist.  A few years ago, I might have been a witness to a case of street harassment and thought to myself “Oh, well that’s messed up.”  Now, it’s not quite the same.

Walking aimlessly after a movie the other day, I passed by a church where a woman was walking in and a man walking behind me yelled at her and said, “Hey sweetie,” then he whistled loudly. She ignored him and he yelled “What?  Can’t talk to me cause you’re going to church?”  She went inside, and he said to me, “She’s cute, man.”   I don’t know if in the past I would’ve have nervously said, “Yeah, man”, but that day I decided to say, “Yeah, but don’t harass her, man.”  He shrugged, so I followed up with “She probably knows that already.”  I don’t know if I what I said was that effective or okay, but I’d like to think that maybe that guy will think a little bit before the next time he yells at a girl with the undertone of “I really want to sleep with you.”

I don’t think my brother really realizes that me, or anyone, being a feminist means being an advocate of empathy.  He’s a feminist, whether he knows it or not, because I know that he really is a sensitive guy who treats everyone equally.  Comedian Aziz Ansari nailed his description of feminism when he said on David Letterman that “you’re a feminist if you go to a Jay-Z and Beyonce concert, and you’re not like ‘mmm, I feel like Beyonce should get 23% less money than Jay-Z.’”

The needed audience and people like my brother need to be exposed to feminism by and through more than just angry bloggers, which although I can’t explain it, seems to be a feminist stereotype that persists as a face of the movement that some may naturally turn away from.  Comedians like Burnham and Ansari need to keep a feminist presence in their work. Feminism needs to be present in music, movies, books, magazines, and just about anywhere where people consume and are influenced by culture. It just needs to be shown as a normal and necessary part of life about how this society can work together.









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