Earlier this week, I moderated a community discussion entitled, “Men Respond to the War on Women.” A panel of male activists who have been personally affected by the “War on Women” led the way, defining what “War on Women” means to them and sharing stories about how it has affected them personally.
The discussion was the brainchild of MensWork, Inc., an organization committed to engaging men in ending violence against women. Keeping in line with MensWork’s theme, the panelists focused on men ceasing to perpetuate and/or condone violence, men stopping misogyny, men embracing equality and men, as one panelist put it, seeing that equal rights for women are far more important than any power or privilege men would have to give up to achieve gender equity. While the panelists were correct in stating that violence against women happens because men commit it, I wanted to chime in, “Ending violence against women is women’s responsibility, too!”
I’m not talking about women taking precautions to prevent becoming victims, which is only possible if we develop special radar that can detect which men will beat us, rape us, or enact laws to discriminate against or control us. I’m aiming at the women who support the male misogynists with their votes, devotion, and unwillingness to be feminists.
I accept that many women see access to abortion and birth control as religious issues instead of as women’s equality issues, and will therefore always support the pro-unborn candidate. (I just can’t call it “pro-life.” That term is inaccurate.) But I can’t begin to understand how they can vote for men who want to redefine rape or who see requiring employers to pay women the same amount they would pay men for the same work as too costly.
I accept that no one wants to give up listening to the music they enjoy, and I can even say there’s sometimes a point in a verbal argument when it’s understandable to make physical violence the next step. I’m human; sometimes I lose control, too. But I can’t back up tweets gladly welcoming an entertainer to beat me any time or comments asserting women are asking to get hit, deserve to get smacked, or aren’t victims because the beating was so understandable. As Sil Lai Abrams said in this post, “even people we don’t like or respect can be victims of assault.”
Finally, I know you may not want to burn your bra, but ladies, you don’t have to be afraid of feminism. At the end of the panel, an audience member made a comment that she and all women in her family essentially were brought up to embrace patriarchy and abhor feminism. She wondered if feminism’s bad rep among women contributes to the perpetuation of violence against them. I think it does. Knowing the stereotypes associated with being black (stupid, lazy, loves fried chicken, on C.P. time); a black woman (licentious, nasty attitude, neck rolling); from the South (uncultured, backward); Christian (again uncultured, backward, and stupid, also anti-woman, gullible, and irrational); and born and raised in Kentucky (toothless, married to cousins at 16), I’m aware of how often I’ve adjusted my speech, behavior and even my appearance to avoid any trace of the stereotypes. If telling a friend who makes a “joke” about rape that rape isn’t funny, asking a co-worker who feels free to make comments about your body to stop, calling out your son and his friends when they call women bitches and hos, or telling teachers who set different expectations for girls and boys that their behavior is sexist makes you a raging, bra-burning, man-hating, castrating, anti-sex, masculine, ugly “feminazi”–then you might avoid doing those things. You might notice sexism and just laugh it off. You might smile through it so much that you condone sexism without realizing it.
I asked the audience to raise their hands if they considered themselves feminists. I would say about 75 percent (men and women) did. No one who didn’t raise a hand was willing to state why not.
I’m quite comfortable with the words “feminist” and “feminism,” but I don’t believe that women need the label to demand their rights or that men need the label to treat women as equal human beings. But if you’re pointing out sexism or standing up for women and someone calls you a feminist, don’t shrink back. Don’t be intimidated. There’s a war going on, and that means you’re enlisted.