The other day I was having an internal dispute that I often have: how to be a palatable feminist. In other words, how do I engage actively with feminism, always questioning people’s internalised misogyny whilst not being portrayed as an irritating ‘man-hater’?
I used to be one of those girls that didn’t want to cause much of a stir and I was hesitant to label myself a feminist. I didn’t want to be negatively stereotyped as a woman who hated all men and saw their every action as a display of gender dominance. As I ventured into feminism, I learned that it’s about equality for both genders and questioning and restructuring gender dynamics.
Of course, not every man is a misogynist or even consciously sexist, but there needs to be a wider acknowledgement of gendered power structures within society. Let me outline two instances where I wish I had spoken up more.
Firstly, one of my close friends asked if I was wearing a particular kind of skirt and when I replied yes, they retorted with ‘ah I like them because when the wind blows you can look at a girl’s bum’. My immediate reaction was horror and they said of course it was a joke, so I let it go.
Later when thinking about that conversation, the successful campaign to make upskirting illegal appeared in my head and I immediately wished I had reacted differently. My issue was that I didn’t want them to think I was ‘boring’ or ‘couldn’t take a joke’, but there is actually nothing funny about this attitude. It links back to ownership of women and their bodies and males thinking they have the right to ‘have a quick look’ for their own gratification, to be preyed upon by the male gaze.
Secondly, I was having a drink with a friend and talking about the future. He proceeded to tell me that his wife would stay at home whilst he provides for the family. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that scenario, but what I did have an issue with was that he did not see his potential wife as having her own agency to decide. He hadn’t even met a female partner, but he had already decided her fate. The freedom to choose is something that differs between men and women.
I could go on about the exceeding conversations I have had, noticing unconscious male privilege or snide chauvinistic comments, but the bottom line is that if no one calls it out, then how are we supposed to change attitudes towards sexism? And when it is called out, women are mocked for ‘being angry’, but it is just another stereotype being pushed to shut women up, as if anger isn’t deserved. I am angry. I am tired of the countless sexist comments that fly under the radar.
But I’ll let you into a secret: they don’t fly under the radar; they get internalised by women and how they view themselves in relation to men. This further perpetuates casual, everyday sexism and gender dynamics.
Society needs a whole restructuring on gender dynamics. In contribution, you can call out a sexist comment when you feel safe to do so. Question why your male friend thinks he has the right to determine a woman’s future. Language and semantics are important. They are how we communicate, verbalise emotion and characterise ourselves.
Although the much simpler solution would just be to stop being sexist altogether, destigmatising the right to call out sexism, especially as a woman, is vital in altering people’s confidence in making a stand against misogyny. Speak up, encourage your friends when they question a comment. Forget being palatable and we’ll be one step closer to gender equality.