Sophomore year, I tried to start a Feminism Club. I was told that the word ‘feminism’ was too controversial, and to just call it Gender Equality Club instead. Throughout high school, people have butted into my conversations and placatingly reassured others, “Don’t worry, feminism is just gender equality.” The number of times I’ve been told to make sure men know that I don’t hate all of them is too high to count.
I’m sick of being sanitized. I don’t want gender equality — I want so much more. Equality is one small aspect of feminism. As feminist theorist bell hooks put it, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
The thing is, gender equality is not going to end sexism. When we phrase feminism as gender equality, we limit feminism to the instances where men and women are visibly unequal. Gender equality is not going to deal with the fact that trans women of color are murdered at a disproportionately high rate. Gender equality is not going to help the men who feel unable to report their sexual assaults due to stigma. Gender equality is not going to break down patriarchal institutions that permeate every aspect of our lives. These issues are not caused by men and women just being treated differently, but rather by an institutionalized patriarchal system that values masculinity, that creates oppositional binaries, that has contributed to every current system of oppression. In short, it’s a lot more complicated than just the wage gap.
Feminism is not gender equality, but gender equality is a part of feminism. It’s one of the building blocks that will help end sexist oppression, but it isn’t the end of the fight. Raising women up to men’s level isn’t the solution, because men’s current level is not where we want to be. The amount of privilege that men currently have cannot, by definition, be held by everyone because it relies on the oppression of a lower group. Every powerful group requires a subordinate group. The solution is not to give women as much power as the current oppressors, but rather to create a new power balance.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a controversial reputation. Over the years I’ve often been told to stop pushing men away from feminism. Yes, for significant change in any social movement we need the help of allies who are in positions of power. However, those in power need to first realize their privilege.
Every man has benefitted from sexism, just as every white person has benefited from racism, every rich person has benefitted from classism, and so forth.
I’m not saying that every man is sexist, far from it. Regardless of whether someone individually and actively contributes to oppression, they unwittingly and intrinsically benefit from that system. That’s tough to hear. No one wants to hear that they’re contributing to oppression. But to make change, it needs to be heard and understood. We can’t have allies who are ignorant to such a prominent aspect of our reality.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate all men. In accordance with popular belief, I do hate the patriarchy, and I’m not going to shy away from saying it. Neither I nor any other woman should have to sanitize our beliefs to preserve male feelings.
My feminism isn’t about shaming men, or trying to purposefully make men mad. But men need to realize their privilege, which is inevitably going to make some men angry.
However, my feminism is about removing power from men, which is going to feel pretty mean. In our world, certain powers that men, or any group in power, have are just too much. To create gender equality, to end sexism, men are going to need to give certain things up. The status quo cannot continue. And for change to happen, we all need to fight.