Feminism: A Gentle Primer for Likely Allies

If you’re reading this, you’re probably the sort of person who is already a feminist or a feminist ally but you just don’t know it. How can that be? Wouldn’t you know if you were part of a global political and social movement? It seems like the kind of thing that would have come up in conversation. Check the back of your driver’s license - what do you see? Organ donor? Good call! But no feminism sticker? Well, it turns out that a lot of men and women have no idea what feminism is! Let’s fix that!

What is Feminism?

The dictionary says:

feminism noun

  1. support of social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
  2. an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

I know what you’re thinking - that doesn’t sound at all like what you’ve heard! Where’s the man-hating? What’s the schedule for bra-burning? When are the public castrations?

Well, I’m sorry (#notsorry) to disappoint you, but you’ve been getting your news from strawfeminists. Ask yourself: when you hear about feminism, is it from a person who actually identifies as a feminist, or somebody who uses the term “feminazi”? Yeah, that should have tipped you off.

Here’s how bell hooks defines it:

“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

You’re certainly not planning to come out in favor of oppression or exploitation, are you? Congratulations! You’re a feminist!

Oppression? Exploitation? It’s 2015, Man.

I hear you! It’s hard to believe that in America women still get paid less than men. It’s astounding that over 17% of American women will have to face someone trying to rape them in their lifetime. It is crazy that people still think what a woman wears can mean that she wants to be raped.

But even if you don’t believe in any of those things, or you think they’re overstated, how do you feel about the Taliban shooting a little girl for going to school? Even if you think things are perfect in America, you know for a fact that they’re screwed up almost everywhere else. Are you ready to stand by while little girls are being shot in Pakistan and women are being raped in India?

No? Hooray! You’re a feminist!

But I’m a dude!

No problem! Believe it or not, men are allowed to be against oppression! There are plenty of men already in the club, trust me. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a dude.)

Admittedly, some men don’t call themselves feminists. Whether it’s because of the way feminists have been portrayed, the assumption that feminists are women, or a fear of co-opting a term that belongs to women, some guys don’t like that label. Luckily, you have two good choices:

A lot of guys go for that second one, mostly because it sounds like you get to kill nazis. (You don’t, mind you. Or if you do, you know, keep it to yourself.)

And it’s important for men to be allies. You’ve probably thought of sexism as a problem for women in the past, but let’s think that through: if women are being exploited and oppressed, who is doing it to them?

Yup. Mostly dudes.

Sexism may be a problem women face, but we men are the problem. That makes it doubly important that we get involved.

Fine. I’m a feminist ally. Now what?

Glad you asked, because it’s time for some action items - don’t worry, they’re pretty easy.

  1. Don’t put up with bad behavior from other men. You know that jerk in the break- room who thinks it’s a locker room? Pay attention to the faces of the women present the next time he tells a story. Then tell him off.
  2. Talk to some smart women about what their experiences are. You won’t believe the number of annoyances, harassing comments and examples of outright discrimination women face! And heck, women are pretty great to talk to.
  3. Pay attention. Once you start thinking of yourself as somebody who can help, you’ll be shocked at how many things you can do to help. Retweet that link on the pay gap! Fund that “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” Kickstarter! And think about the way you talk about women. Your language may surprise you!

If you can take on one more task, educate yourself. A good start is to read Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks. She is not at all what society has taught you about feminists, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how straightforward and concrete she explains things.

If you can’t swing the $15, read a feminist blog or take a free class online. Heck, follow some feminists on Twitter.

And finally, spread the word. Tell people what feminism is actually about. Maybe set up a preachy website?