I’m thankful for the fact that someone finally said it, out loud – on a world stage at the UN, no less – and that now I don’t have to feel ashamed that I’m not a ‘man-hating feminist’ or even just a ‘feminist’. I am not a feminist. I’ve experienced male domination in the work place; I’ve seen sexism ingrained in just about every popular magazine, TV show and media outlet; I’ve experienced domestic abuse. And I am still not a feminist, any more than I’m a masculist.
I’m an equalist, if that’s a thing. If it’s not, well then I just invented it.
I asked some friends earlier this week what they understood by feminism, and whether they would identify as feminist. I asked a few men outright whether they were. At best, there was confusion. At worst, there was revulsion. None of them are inherently sexist. They just don’t like the word.
“It’s not the word that’s important, but the idea behind it,” says Emma Watson. Criticise her for her white, upper-class privilege all you like, but she’s spot on there. We do struggle for a uniting word. That one word is a barrier to entry for most people, who are lacking in awareness on the equality issue simply because they don’t want to associate with anger and bra-burning.
One friend said “I didn’t [realise] until I watched that speech, but it made me realise that feminism is fundamentally a belief in women being equal to men.”
Light bulb moment. If Watson can educate people exactly in that way, I frankly don’t care that she’s never experienced FGM herself. As a citizen of the world, she’s qualified to open her mouth and stand for what’s right. And so are you.
But we struggle with more than the word. As another (female) friend said, “Women fight for equality but would still expect a man to let her on a life boat first.”
Oh snap, I thought. She’s right. What’s that about? We’ve grappled with these things for years, but are those kinds of innate expectations perpetuating the problem? Is complementarianism giving people an excuse for sexism? I don’t know. But it’s worth the conversation.
I grew up in church believing that men and women are ‘equal but different’, and had Christian boyfriends that firmly wanted to be the ‘head of the home’ when they married. I was taught to accept those things. Perhaps I shouldn’t have.
So what might this campaign actually do, in real terms, to address the issue? Watson presents us with some inspirational, instagrammable truisms and an invitation for men to show #HeForShe solidarity.
But then what? I love a picture of Simon Pegg holding a ‘I’m a feminist’ sign as much as the next person. But then what?
This year we’ve had #nomakeupselfie, #ALSIceBucketChallenge, and now #HeForShe. Do we care about MND, cancer and equality beyond the hashtags, though? Could we have those discussions when it matters – in the office, in church, in the playground, in the pub? To join a #campaign is now easy; to have a hard conversation and challenge someone head-on is not. Watson’s gift to us is a prompt and a whistle-stop education: forget the F word, care about the problem. Have the desire to make it better.
The onus is on all of us to move beyond slacktivism to effect real change. I suspect for most of us, whether male or female, the change begins first within our own minds.