Feminism, for Men?

by Daniel Socha

No matter how hard I try to imagine, no matter how much I read and seek knowledge, I will never share the lived experience of being a woman… or the lived experience of any other marginalized race, socio-economic class, or gender identity. I am a middle-class, white male. As a man and as a feminist, I advocate that there is a pressing need to destigmatize the word feminism and continue fixing gender imbalance.

As a kid growing up, with every birthday my parents granted me more and more privileges, such as being able to stay out later and travel by bicycle to further parts of town.  As a result of this, later in my teenage years I had a large amount of autonomy and was fairly free to choose what I wore, who I hung out with, and the places I went.  At the time I did not recognize these privileges and I took for granted the freedom my parents gave me.

Then, there was my little sister who, in my younger days, I battled with furiously about anything and everything, without rhyme or reason.  At that time, I saw my sister as a spoiled little girl who got whatever she wanted because she was “daddy’s little girl”. I created a narrative where I saw myself as a neglected scapegoat and my sister as a darling princess.

My sister resented me for the privileges that I received which she did not.  For instance, I was allowed to leave the house freely without being berated by questions, whereas she was not.  Within the narrative I created for myself, I justified that I was allowed to go out without question because I was older and more responsible.  Looking back on it now, I most certainly was not more responsible, and when speaking to “acting your age”, my sister was much older.

At the beginning of my first semester of college a friend of mine challenged me to read and think about feminism, and at first I gawked and thought to myself “feminism is for women who think they are better than men”.  My notion of feminism was negatively tainted.  However, after some reading and discussions with my friend, I began to think about my childhood and all that had happened between my sister and I.  I started to question why my parents never interrogated my clothing choices before I left the house, or why I was not hounded about who I was hanging out with.  What I had realized is that I was granted privileges that my sister was not, simply because I was a male.

The more that I read and discussed, the more I learned that my privilege was no coincidence or isolated instance.  The roots of this privilege ran much deeper than the span of my life and extend far back into history.

I remember that when first reading about the oppression of women and gender inequality, I would refute these claims by saying to myself “but women today are seen as equal, they have the right to vote and the right to hold public office, and things are much better off than they were in the days when women were seen as ‘property’”.  Until that point in my life, I had convinced myself that the marginalization of women was a subject for history books, a thing of the past.  However, over time I began to see the insidious ways that the patriarchy of the “past” was alive and well in the twenty first century.  I started to learn that, along with the obvious signs of women’s disempowerment, misogyny ran deep and manifested itself into everyday language and culture.  The more I learned, the more aggravated I became.

Feminist thought paved the way for me to critically think about multiplicity of ways through which I am privileged; besides my gender, I recognized that my privilege also comes from my race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  My privilege often allows me to have a dominant voice in constructing and reinforcing social norms, which in turn reify misogyny and white male power. Therefore, in writing this blog post I risk perpetuating the very thing I am advocating against—a social system where white men are allotted the opportunity to be the protector and dominator of others.

Every day I continue to struggle with the subliminal ways that I contribute the societal narrative that oppresses women and puts white men at the top of society.  Through reflecting on my experience however, this struggle has taught me that men too have much to gain from feminism.

Growing up, I had a horrible temper and would get angry at the smallest things. Yet, I never understood why I became so enraged. From my own experience, I learned that much of my temperament came from the suppression of my emotions.

I cannot count the number of times I have been told to “man up” or have been challenged about not having any “balls”.  As a kid, comments such as these would cause me to feel the need to prove that I was tough and fearless. And I equally contributed to this damaging rhetoric, passing it right back to my peers.  This kind of language and thinking became so engrained into my worldview that I began using these tactics to convince myself that toughness and being manly were integral to my life as a man. Anger and frustration became the extent of emotions I allowed myself to feel. Phrases such as “be a man”, and the ideology that they embody, told me that I had to suppress my emotions in order to be strong and fearless.

And contrary to what I believed, this kind of bottled-up anger does not just occur in young people, but rather it grows and continues throughout our lives.  As men grow older, this pent-up agitation becomes more and more dangerous.  Throughout college, when drinking or engaging in risky behavior I frequently recall my peers telling me to “take it like a man”.  I can also recollect plenty of instances where I reciprocated this same social pressure.  And interestingly, often men reflect on these events with laughter and comradery. But was rolling around in our puke really all that great?  I began to think to myself: are the kind of friends I want in my life the ones that pressure me into getting blackout drunk, simply for their own amusement?

Beyond drinking and hooliganism that perpetuates risky and self-destructive behavior, societal pressure to be “masculine” generally pushes men—and women too—to sweep emotions of sadness, compassion, sympathy, and even enthusiastic joy under the rug.  And in this I do not mean that men are emotionless creatures from the underworld.  There are plenty of instances where men are openly sad, compassionate, sympathetic, and ecstatically joyful. However, this does not negate the fact that there is a societal pressure to hide emotions other than anger, and that this pressure often leads to explosive outcomes.  Why is it that there are so many angry men in the world?  Why is it that men commit the majority of violent crime?  Why is it that, according to the CDC, the highest rate of suicide is among middle aged white men? Why is it that, 97 percent of school shootings are committed by men? And 79 percent of those men are White?

I advocate that feminism—as defined as the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes—as a powerful force in balancing society in ways that are beneficial to all gender identities. Society has put a stigma around feminism that perpetuates resistance to gender equality. Regarding masculinity, I believe that there is a need to diminish the pressure to be “manly” in order to create a space where all people can live more balanced and fulfilling lives.  As a man I identify as a feminist because I believe that along with the need for end of systemic oppression of women, that gender equality also works in a way that ultimately serves women and men. For more information check out these sources: http://goodmenproject.com/ http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/can-men-be-feminists/

Daniel Socha is a Global Communications Masters student at Kent State University.

Ableism at the Feminist Table: What Are Ableism and Accessibility, and Why Do Feminists Care?

by Carly Nelson

Ableism, simply put, is the idea that not having a disability is better than having a disability.  Growing up in the world of statements like “in spite of their disability (insert accomplishment here)” and “I don’t consider them to be disabled because they’re so successful (or some other word with positive connotations)” can make it surprising to learn that there’s an “ism” for that idea.  Let’s unpack that.

First, consider the idea that limitations are influenced by society.  Just as a single hand clapping will have no sound, “ability” only enables a person to accomplish a task when their capabilities match that task.  When we offer alternative distributions, supports, or definitions of tasks, we drastically increase the number of people who can be successful at them.  In organizations with multiple people, all of whom have diverse abilities by nature of being people, it’s logical and practical to plan operations in a way that makes use of individuals’ skills in a way that works for everyone.  Practice thinking about how tasks and duties can be adapted.

Such alterations also prompt us to reconsider “independence.”  Even when we call ourselves independent, we survive by depending on others.  I shower independently in the sense that I am typically alone when the showering occurs, but I certainly have not produced my own shampoo or gathered my own water.  I am dependent on others to do that, but nobody has ever questioned or lamented my dependence on others for the shampoo and water that are essential in my showering process.  If it for some reason becomes unsafe or overly difficult for me to shower without physical assistance, I will find someone who can help me.  There are plenty of people who rely on – and sometimes pay for – that kind of assistance in the same way that I purchase shampoo.  In either scenario, I’m getting help, and I’m getting clean hair.  

When people get their needs met through collaboration with others, that’s not inferiority or tragedy.  That’s life!  In a world where abilities are not universal, wouldn’t we be better off adapting our expectations and our structures to include everyone?  Inclusive spaces send the message that the space is intended for people of all ability levels – just as our spaces should be – and that people of all ability levels have something to offer.

So, as feminists, why do we care?  We care because the idea of collective liberation reminds us that our struggles are linked to the struggles of the groups around us; the same systems bind us all, and we must work together to overcome them.  We care because, as advocates for justice and equality, to not care would be to cast aside the very goals of safety, respect, and equality that we hold most dear.  We care because when we say feminism is for everyone, we need to mean that.

But caring isn’t enough.  As feminists, we know this.  Change comes when we carefully structure our words and actions around that caring.  Actively creating an accessible world is the responsibility of each of us, and we never know when we’ll be grateful we did.  Most who are not currently experiencing disability are “Temporarily Able-Bodied.”  We will all probably experience temporary or permanent disability in at least one area before the end of our lives.  Often, we are taught to fear this idea – to dread it and to hide any signs of it.  But if the disability rights movement teaches us anything, it is that disability is not the end of a meaningful life.  It is simply a need for systemic change.  We can start that change now.

Even as someone who already benefits from accessibility accommodations and regularly learns from others with disabilities, I still fall short of creating a fully inclusive environment.  I’ve found that having a question-based dialogue with myself is helpful in accessibility checks during meetings, events, and daily life.  Do the words that I’m using have a history of oppressing people with disabilities?  Is everyone involved aware of the walking distance/seating availability/elevator accessibility on the route I’m planning?  Am I speaking and writing simply and clearly?  How can I minimize things that might create difficult situations for some people (loud noises, bright lights, crowds, etc).  What modifications/escapes are available, and how have I publicized those?  Have I created an environment that empowers people to advocate for themselves, and am I listening carefully to them when they do?  We are always learning, and the only way to get better is to talk about it and to listen to people’s experiences.
So I ask you now to counter the ableism you’ve learned and to consciously pursue accessibility, and I don’t ask that lightly.  After all, I’m asking you to play a role in crucial change by rewiring the way you think and challenging heavily-normalized structures that have long oppressed people who deserve better.  Furthermore, I am asking you to consider the physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of a decidedly diverse group of people.  That’s a big ask.  Then again, what is feminism asking for?

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Image description: A group of hundreds of people, wearing an assortment of different colors and photographed from above, appear to be standing in the formation of a large gear.

Carly Nelson is a Speech Pathology & Audiology major at Kent State University.  She is also pursuing minors in Psychology and Nonprofit Studies in addition to a certificate in Disability Studies

Growing up Feminist

By: Christopher Titus

After reading the title you might think of an individual that was raised a granola eating progressive. However, I have completely condescended that stereotype. I am a heterosexual white middle class man raised within the Catholic school system that just happened to be born into a progressive family. From some of my first memories included watching my extended family members having political debates on current issues. The most popular topic of discussion was the debate of gender equality. Not only because it was always a hot button issue to discuss but because of our family structure. It was a matriarchal structure because of the majority of the family members were women but also because the strongest and most influential member of the family was my grandmother. She was a woman of great character that dedicated her life to social justice around the world. She believed the best way to achieve this was to pass her beliefs of social equality for all race, religions, sexuality, and genders to her children and grandchildren.

I was one of these children that was fully inducted into my grandmother’s social justice warrior program. The reason it was so important for my grandmother to teach the children these principles was her own personal experiences of not being seen as an equal because of her gender in terms of education. This always infuriated her since she knew she was smarter than all the boys in her classes but they were able to have more of an opportunity to achieve higher education. She worked hard to ensure that she would be able to get to college. Her mission started at a young age when she competed in the National Spelling Bee coming in second place in 1930s. With this achievement she earned a scholarship to help pay for her future college tuition. When she decided to go to college she was met with disapproval from her father, who did not like the idea of a woman being college educated. My grandmother decided to go against her father and attend Otterbein College. There she received two Bachelor’s degrees in English and French. During her last year in college she went back home and was set up on a blind date with my grandfather who fell in love with her because of her intelligence and opinions on how people should be treated. After both of them finished their degrees they were married and had 11 children, one those being my father. In total breakdown it was eight girls and three boys.

My grandmother wanted to show her children a good example, so anytime she could she would help out people. This later turned into her activism work during the 1960s that would last the rest of her life. She fought for an equal society that refrained from using violence at all costs. She took this role as an activist as a full-time job with her side job of being a librarian. She kept her bookshelves at home lined with feminist literature and taught to her children the equality the genders have no matter if they are men or women.

Fast forward to my parents meeting, my dad brought my mom home to get the stamp of approval. My grandmother instantly loved her because of their shared ideals of a progressive society that included gender equality, even though I think they would both admit to thinking that women are the better sex. They have instilled the belief of equality on me as much as they could battling with my peers and societal norms that contradicted their efforts to teach me the right way to teach people. This past year my grandmother passed, our last conversation was typical, we discussed my life, politics, and how women are represented into society. Even in our last conversation she still managed to teach me the importance of equality.  The ideals taught to me by both of these women will last a lifetime and hopefully I will be able to pass it down to others just like they did.

chris

Christopher Titus is a Kent State University student majoring in Public Communication and Political Science.

 

My Grandmother’s Kitchen

by Jillian Holness

Yellow daisy wallpaper is clouded in steam

from the grits cooking on the stove.

In the oven the biscuits are

slowly beginning to rise

in preparation for the margarine and preserves

that will cover their fluffy insides.

Pieces of bacon pop and sizzle

as my grandmother transfers them to a plate,

easily avoiding splashing grease on the tiny blue flowers on her bathrobe.

My mother and I walk into her home

not needing to knock because the

door is always left unlocked.

I take my seat at the chair whose back leg

is being held together by duct tape

As my mother offers to help,

but is shooed away.

The tea kettle hums breakfast is ready

as my grandmother shuffles back and forth,

setting the dishes of food on the table.

Finally, she takes a seat and bows her head

I fold my hands, trying not to pick my black nail polish.

My mother sighs and folds her calloused hands.

The wrinkles in my grandmother’s face tighten when she

sees no ring on my mother’s finger,

a constant reminder that she didn’t take heed to her advice.

My grandmother’s voice is soft but not wilted as she begins to pray,

like the hem of a well- worn dress that has begun to unravel.

I can hear a women’s voice stumbling over a word as her hand traces a sentence,

voices protesting,

an over joyed crowd chanting “Yes we can!”

Besides the clink of utensils,

we are quiet.

My grandmother rises.

Her fuzzy dark hair falls forward,

as she uses her fork to scrape food into the garbage can.

Pieces of bacon and a spoonful of grits fall.

I look at my plate and see that bacon also remains.

She smooths down a strand and I touch mine.

I wrap one of my curls that my mother tried to convince me to straighten numerous times

around my finger and let it spring back.

My mother notices and rolls her eyes, before returning back to her plate.

I take a bit of bacon and let its salty grease fall on my lower lip.

Looking at the yellow wallpaper, I smile.

The edges have started to peel and the daisies have turned gray

but it’s determined to stay on the foundation.

jillian

Jillian is a sophomore journalism major with minors in fashion media and marketing at Kent State University.

 

 

Thoughts of a Feminist Abroad

by Bobbie Szabo

Before studying abroad, my knowledge of a woman’s existence was not necessarily centered on my own experiences, but certainly centered on the experiences of other American women. These views were not only of middle-class white women, but they were still fairly narrow, fairly unworldly views. The problems I combated as a feminist in Ohio were things like the wage gap, rape culture, stereotypes, slut shaming, and sexual assault. As I have been studying abroad, though, I have encountered issues like sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and ethnic cleansing. Not to make a competition out of whose problems are worse, but simply hearing of the experiences of women around the world does not even begin to accurately portray the truth of women’s worldly existence.

About two weeks ago, I was in Greece, a country I had idolized in my mind as some sort of historical utopia in which culture was diverse and people were friendly. Though my vision was not completely incorrect, it was far from accurate. People were incredibly friendly, but they often had ulterior motives. I watched men come up to my male friends and offer them women standing in alleyways in scantily clad clothing. These women looked enticing, like they wanted my friends to say yes, but in many cases, those women were trafficked. They unwillingly prostituted themselves for fear that they would be killed. Greece is a main hub for sex trafficking, and I witnessed proof: sales of women in the streets in front of police officers. The government and police force is so corrupt that officials are often the people benefiting from the trafficking of women.

In Turkey, Kurdish women are brutalized and discriminated against heavily because they are not considered Turkish. They are raped, killed, and labeled as terrorists due to a political party mainly run by men. Women in Turkey tend to live oppressed lives, but Kurdish women especially are targeted for violence. In Italy and Spain, Romani women are treated as second-class citizens. Italian and Spanish people see Romani people as thieves, murderers, and sorcerers. They are mistrusted, and many people will not buy the products of Romani or acknowledge Romani as humans. They are pejoratively labeled as ‘gypsies’, and any movements to gain rights for the Romani people are quickly crushed. One ‘Roma Photography’ store I saw in Spain was vandalized to the point where I could barely read the signs any longer; it had clearly been out of business for years due to robberies and general disrespect.

I have done extensive research on female genital mutilation, or female genital cutting with respect to the cultural importance of the act, for my Multiculturalism and Women’s Rights class. We are visiting Senegal in a little less than two weeks, and we will be touring a non-governmental organization started by Molly Melcher called Tostan which helped to reduce the occurrence of FGM in Senegal by multiple percentage points. Tostan succeeded where other NGOs failed because of its use of local languages and culture to educate native people about human rights and basic health necessities. Local women decided for themselves that they would stop practicing FGM for the sake of their daughters, though they had previously practiced FGM also for the sake of their daughters. These people changed their country beginning at a local level.

I suppose this is where I should get to the point of this post. Women face problems all around the world. Some are more violent and more oppressive than others, but all of them can be fixed. I beg you to investigate what is happening outside of your hometown and home-country. Discover the experiences of women and people around the world. Find out what you can do to help. Being an empowered individual who stands up to catcallers and dresses up as Rosie the Riveter for Halloween is awesome—it really is—but being aware of the challenges women face globally and knowing what you can do about it is another kind of empowerment altogether.

Bobbie Blog Post

Bobbie is a Kent State University Student currently studying abroad with Semester at Sea. Bobbie is working on her Bachelors of Integrative Studies with concentrations in Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies, Classics, and English. Bobbie is an active member of PRIDE! Kent, KSU Club for Feminists and Students Against Sexual Assault.

For Elisabeth, the Girl Who’s to Become a Woman

by Erika Gallion.

In Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, I met a girl named Elisabeth:
she was coloring on an easel when I joined her,
one of us drawing a creature, one of us making the corresponding noise it made.
It was a game of our own making,
a game for people who cannot speak the same language but who can laugh together despite.

But there were things I couldn’t draw,
warnings for the girl who’d inevitably become a woman.

Elisabeth, these are the things I wanted to tell you:
Nothing seems as innocent anymore after your own body sheds itself,
pooling into a darkness more powerful than red in your underwear.
There are days you won’t feel at home in your rounding stomach,
in your protruding hipbones, in the mirror’s reflection.
Eventually you’ll be swept under the hypnotism of a man’s lust,
and eventually you’ll be disappointed at the sleepless night you will have.
Know that disappointment doesn’t go away,
that one day you’ll be 23 in a bar in a foreign country
and your stomach will still sink when he whispers ‘let’s go back to my place.’

Womanhood has chased me through a maze-
It began that day in seventh grade, a bathroom stall, ruined L.E.I. underwear.
And it has backed me into walls:
not eating, mistaking lust for love, self-doubt.
But there is something beautiful in the bleeding of a woman,
in the way it hurts to remind you of the power you hold.

You are a tigress, Elisabeth,
and I hope you remember that when you begin to pull at your stomach,
wishing for it to shrink, when you first walk back home from a man’s apartment.
You are a tigress and you are powerful in your pain, in your body, in your love.

Remember the low growl you made when I drew that cat with the stripes,
for I was drawing you. I was drawing the black stripes of womanhood.valiko tarnovo

Erika Gallion is a Kent State University Graduate Student in Higher Education Administration; Graduate Assistant in the Performing Arts Center and a Graduate Intern at the Women’s Center.