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Friday, 17 May 2013

My Delayed Introduction to the Feminist Movement

fem·i·nist

[fem-uh-nist] Show IPA
adjective Sometimes, fem·i·nis·tic.
1. advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

noun
2. an advocate of such rights.

Definition courtesy of Dictionary.com

I grew up being told I was intelligent. As a child, beauty was not something that was emphasized, hence the schoolyard teasing I was subjected to for my weird haircuts and hand-me-down clothing that didn't fit right. I was physically tough, however, so I never had to face physical bullying. I was a tiny little thing to look at, but I was solid muscle from figure skating and highland dancing, along with some judo, gymnastics and ballet. To say that I was an active child would be a gross understatement. The result of all this activity is that on the occasions when I got involved in schoolyard fisticuffs, whether my opponent was male or female, I won with only a single exception. (It was a guy who tried to choke me to death, who was a year older than me, and then years later wondered why I wouldn't go out with him.)

The fact is, I had little to fear from males my own age, and since the abuse I experienced at home came from both grandparents it didn't register as being a gender-related issue. Of course, if I'd been male, I doubt my grandfather would have been 'interested', but I could be wrong about that.

In school I was in the enrichment program. We were the only kids in the school district that had access to a desktop computer, which was pretty cool. I learned my first programming lessons on that thing, which amounted to learning how to make text appear and move around the screen, but hey, at least I learned the basics (actually I'm pretty sure that was called "Basic" which later became Visual Basic - something I took about fifteen years later). I was teased about being in the program, of course, since the other kids weren't thrilled to be given a smack in the face about my ability to learn faster. Not when I wasn't one of the popular kids.

I'm sure there were kids who must have made comments about girls not being as smart as boys back then, but if there were they didn't really affect me. I mean, it's hard to believe them when there were just as many girls in the enrichment program as boys, so I probably just shrugged it off as being jealousy or resentment. They weren't able to convince me that they were physically any tougher, either, so I just didn't see a problem back then.

In high school I probably got closer to sexist issues when I took automotives. I liked cars. My original incentive was the fact that I had two trucks sitting in the yard at my grandparents' place that I thought it would be really cool to fix up. They were both Ford pick-ups. One was a '48 and the other was a '52. My grandparents had said I could have them, so they really were my trucks. I guess, technically, they were the first vehicles I ever owned. They just never ended up on the road - not unless someone else ended up with them and restored them. They'd have been worth it, I think.

In order to learn how to fix up those vehicle, I took automotives. I had a couple of guys tease me verbally, but I gave them shots right back, so again I didn't think a lot of it. Then one guy 'goosed' me with a wrench. I'd have to say my teacher's reaction was damn near violent. He wanted girls in his class, and he wasn't the type to sit there and do nothing when a girl got picked on in his class. At the time, I really didn't have a clue how rare that was. I look back now and think he's some kind of hero, and most people probably never even knew. I just thought he was doing what everyone did. I wasn't the only girl he defended, either. I heard stories many years later about other times that he protected girls from harassment and sexism. He was really trying to encourage young women to get into the field of mechanics.

It wasn't until I went to high school in Edmonton that I ran across a sexist automotives teacher. He actually smacked me in the ass. Not spanked me, but smacked me like it was a flirting thing or something. What is was, was assault, and I was shocked to the core. By this point I'd gotten away from those who had been abusing me, and knew that it was abuse, so I wasn't expecting to have to deal with it anymore. I was a child. I was fifteen years old, and this dirty old man smacked my ass. I thought of him as an old man then anyway. I don't really remember, but he could have been anywhere from my age now (almost 42) up to about fifty or sixty, so to me that's not exactly old these days. Perceptions change. However, he was certainly old enough to know that it was wrong to touch any student that way.

To give my step-father credit, he wanted to go into the school and deal with it, but I had already reacted at the time of the incident a little bit, so I didn't think it was necessary. My teacher never did it again, thankfully. He did make a comment that was sexist in nature when he had to do first aid on my hand (I had a big metal shaving in it - think splinter, but quite a bit worse), but another male teacher was standing there who sort of called him on it. Basically that left me with the impression that he was a one-off and it wasn't anything to get worked up about.

When I dropped out of school I worked with all kinds of men. I first did telemarketing for a long time, and had no issues there. The males were all my age, and I was good at my job. Nobody was hitting on me in an inappropriate way, and for most of that time I had a boyfriend anyway, so it wasn't really an issue. Then I worked in a kitchen. Most of employees out front were female, but since I had no restaurant experience I started as a dishwasher. There were both men and women working in the kitchen. I got a few jokes and stuff that was all about flirtation, but I was never offended. I was perfectly willing to fling back a challenging remark or a joke. It never occurred to me that my own behaviour might be unusual, but then it didn't really occur to me that there was an issue with sexism. At that age I thought the fight was over and that people had accepted women as equals.

When I left the restaurant my former boss asked me out. It surprised me, because I had no idea he was even attracted to me. He hadn't flirted at all - that I could see anyway. There were only jokes about him jingling his keys when he came into the dishwashing area, because I've always been very easily startled, and particularly when I had to do anything on a ladder, so that I wouldn't fall off. He knew I had a fear of heights, but the ceiling tiles still needed to be kept clean, and it was my job, so I thought it was pretty nice of him to give me the advanced warning. He did nothing inappropriate, and again when I look back I see how easily that could have gone a different way. When I quit my job, though, he called and asked me out. At first I said yes, but then I called back to say I just couldn't because I was in a difficult situation at the time. He accepted my change of heart without any issues.

I worked at other places with similar results. I went home from work with guys who liked me, and spent a bit of time with them, but they never pushed me into having sex. They treated me well, and respected my decision when/if I said no. I have never been date-raped. I have never been stranger-raped. My only experiences with rape come from my childhood and those who were supposed to love and protect me from those sorts of things. Men I've run into in my personal life have always treated me with respect that way. So, I guess it's not that surprising that I wasn't really aware of the big problems in the world outside of my own.

As I started to move up in my career I started noticing how offices always expected women to answer the phone, which really ticked me off. It's a minor thing for most people, but in my case I'm damn near phone-phobic. I actually can't stand the sound of it ringing. I end up hating a song if I use it as a regular ringtone. I do have one person who calls me, who has a particular song set as a ringtone, and that sound will make me smile, but any other time the thing goes off I cringe, and it doesn't matter how much I might love and care for the person on the other, I still cringe. I have actually allowed many calls to go to voicemail because I refuse to answer the summons of a ringing phone, even if I like the person who's calling. It's very, very strange, I know. I should probably seek counseling, but that would require the use of a phone to make the appointment when I don't even like calling other people.

So, there I was, getting paid about $20 an hour to be an accountant and do payroll, but having to stop in the middle of doing a complicated journal entry to answer the phone, while there were males in the office, making $10 an hour and doing nothing with their time. Yet, it was the women who were yelled at if the phone rang more than once. Hmm. Interesting place, I thought. I did snap at a couple of the men about it, too, and I think one of them might have been my male boss. To me it was such a ridiculous thing that it would even be a problem. Then they suddenly hired a man to do accounting and paid him about $14,000 more per year. I knew this very well, because I did the payroll. They hired a female accountant after him and paid her even less than what I was making.

Most times I've run into sexism my response has been an incredulous look, along with a very sharp, "Excuse me?" If I'm not as cranky it might be a more sedate, "Seriously?" I've always considered myself a feminist in the sense that I always felt men and women were equal. I still think that. I don't think they're treated equally, but that doesn't mean they aren't actually equal. Mostly I figured that once the 'old guard' moved out, equality would just be there with my generation or possibly the next. I'm starting to think that far too many people felt that way, because I started to see things slipping. Even worse we've now got the younger generation of males who call themselves MRA, Men's Rights Activists, and what I'm seeing from them is terrifying. In response to women speaking their minds, they're receiving death and rape threats. Suddenly equality doesn't seem to exist anymore. Then again, it never really has.

The fact is, and I just got into a small debate about this with someone on HuffPost, that the wage gap is still very much alive. This person tried to argue that the wage gap was non-existent now, supposedly citing a recent report from the +AAUW, a feminist organization, regarding wage gaps. To be honest, he was actually citing another article on HuffPost, and not the report itself. I went to the article, found the name of the report (called Graduating to a Pay Gap) in order to download it, and found out that the article was basically bogus. The facts quoted in the article, linking to the report, actually were completely different from what was in the report. Pretty scary, and very disgusting, considering the fact that it was a woman who wrote the piece.

I have now downloaded two other reports from the AAUW website, and just looking at them makes me sick and tired. The wage gap is still anywhere from 7% to 18%, and that's after controlling for things like number of hours worked, and the field these people graduated into. The first report also only centered on people one year after college graduation, and that leaves out the vast majority of the population. Of course, I now have plenty of fodder for a new article for +Feminspire if someone hasn't already done a piece on that particle thing (the fact that a bogus article that goes against women was written by a woman I mean).

I started to notice more things in the last few years. I noticed I was saying derogatory things about women, because I didn't consider myself to be like other women. Whether or not such a gross and stupid generalization is true or false, it doesn't even matter. If women are looked on as inferior, I suffer for that like any other woman. My rights are taken away just as easily. Thankfully I live in Canada and am not faced with some of the horrors women are enduring in the United States, but I'm still getting hit with unfair practices like wage discrimination. Things that are being practiced because companies are getting away with it. The person on HuffPost told me to name one company in North America that paid women less. Something which was ridiculously easy for me to do, considering my former employer. I didn't give the actual name, but could if pressed. I simply said it was my former employers, and that I should know because I did the payroll.

Now that I've noticed my own misogyny, I've hopefully stopped doing it. I had to realize that not all of anything is true. Using generalizations and sweeping statements is a habit that needs to be broken in most cases, because there are exceptions to pretty much everything. The fact is, most of the women I know are into cars. Supposedly that's a male thing. Yeah, not so much. Many of the males I've known don't know anything about cars. Being a certified mechanic is not a prerequisite for being a man. A friend of mine says he's the world's worst handyman. Meanwhile I love power tools, building things, you name it. Those are not the things that make up gender.

Sadly, I find the more I get into feminism, the more I realize that the patriarchy makes life difficult for men, too. If men decide they want to be a nurse they're ridiculed for it. If they don't know what to look for when shopping for a used car they get laughed at. If they carry their children in a sling with them, people make derogatory remarks (such as my former mother-in-law who apparently thought one guy was some kind of pervert for doing so - she also insisted that men didn't cook, despite the fact that there are world-famous male chefs that she watches on TV).

If women are derided for being feminists, men are derided more so. +Charles Clymer of Equality for Women, just has his reputation shredded on HuffPost in an article based on the rantings of an idiot. An idiot who tried to destroy his Facebook page and accused him of using the page to hit on women, when in fact I have never seen him do so. I've been following the page for a while now, and read the posts and comments for them. Going through my news feed on Facebook actually takes a lot of time out of my day because I'm constantly ingesting information. I'm not going to link the article, because quite frankly I won't give it that much credit. Apparently it was severely edited, but I also read the additional information that the article linked to, and it wasn't really any better. There were external reasons this girl felt she needed to mouth off, but being disinclined to spread gossip that can no longer be substantiated, I will hold my tongue on the details as I understand them. We'll just write her off as a nut-job and be done with it, shall we?

The more I started to involve myself, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more sensitive I became to it. I started to see that misogynistic jokes were harmful, not funny. The, "You know how women are," mentality pushes the notion that all women are the same and everything they do should be written off. That can work in the reverse for men, though. It takes responsibility away from an individual for their actions. Take, for example, a divorce case where a woman decides to be vindictive and everyone writes it off as, "You know how women are." How does that make it any better that she may have keyed the guy's car, set fire to his clothes, falsely accused her ex-husband of molesting their children, or what-have-you? That kind of behaviour is not what is acceptable behaviour in any person. I don't care what gender they are.

I haven't even touched on the physical cruelties of the world toward women. Yes, absolutely men have cruelties inflicted on them as well, and that isn't any less meaningful than what happens to women. I don't deny that in the least. Nobody should have their rights taken away. Nobody should be stoned to death because they've been raped. Nobody should be raped. Nobody should be beaten. It's simply a question of statistics. It happens to women far more often. When it comes the reports available on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, one statistic is this: 85% of all victims of domestic violence are women. That doesn't discount the importance of the 15% that are men. It just means more women are hurt. More women die at the hands of men - often the men who are their intimate partners. Believe me, I've done scads of research there, so if you want to dispute me feel free. I can point you to the details if you're too lazy to look them up yourself.

Women have not even come close to attaining equality in this world. It took me far too long to figure that out, because in my own way I was sheltered. Maybe I have the kind of personality that kept a lot of people from trying to push me into a kitchen. Or maybe it's just that I was lucky enough to have to face very little of it. So little that it gave me a false sense of what the world is really like for women.

I did have to deal with the father of my daughter feeling like he had no obligation to provide care for his biological child, and wrote it off as a man thing; something that's totally unfair to men. Quite often men get the short end of the stick when it comes to custody battles. It's one area where women are almost unerringly given the benefit of the doubt. Again, totally unfair. It's something I have no problem with the men's groups for, if they're fighting for that, and I will fight right along with them. If a person is a good parent, they should have full access to their children. If a person is a bad parent they shouldn't have any access at all. Both parents should be contributing financially. It makes me sick to see anyone do otherwise, and I don't give a damn if it's a man or woman doing it.

However, putting women into the role of caregiver and relegating them to breeding offspring, is most likely the biggest cause of men losing custody of their children. Why? Because men are then relegated to the role of breadwinner and assumed to have no parental abilities aside from being a sperm donor. Equality will benefit everyone, not just women. Men will be able to have more access to their kids, and fewer heart-attacks and longer life spans from working fewer hours. Women will make more money, contributing more to the family so men can work those shorter hours, and they will be able to have some time for themselves away from being a mother if the men can have the extra time with the kids.

When it comes to rape culture, treating men like they're incapable of controlling themselves around women gives them a lack of self-respect and a lack of respect from society. If they think they're monsters, then it becomes okay to be a monster. If they think they're capable of being monsters, how can they look at themselves with respect? On the other hand, if they're responsible for their actions, they get their control back in their life. They aren't being controlled by their genitalia, but their brains. That seems like it would be a much better feeling, and the potential rape victims would be extremely grateful.

So, yeah, it took me a really long time to become a feminist in the true sense of the word. I never thought of myself as anything less valuable than a man. I didn't think of myself as a man either. I was simply me. I knew I had a brain; I knew I could learn to do anything I wanted to do, and have proven this many times; I knew I could become whatever I wanted to be. For some reason, though, it took me a long time to see that it wasn't the same for other women. I saw the women who were beaten by men and considered it a separate issue - one that I fought against, but not something I thought of as a feminism thing. It didn't occur to me that she was being beaten because someone thought she was worth less than a man was, and it didn't occur to me that a man being legally allowed to beat a woman meant that women weren't protected by the law.

As harsh as it is to see the world in all its detail, I'm grateful that I at least see it now.

There are none so blind as those who will not see ~ John Heywood 1546