Riddle me this.
When a feminist can’t identify with #YesAllWomen, is she still a feminist?
This question has been bugging me the past few days. I think of myself as a feminist. While I can recognise the social attitudes underlying #YesAllWomen and while I truly mourn for all my sisters and brothers, I can’t say yes all women.
I can’t yes, all women because I am a woman and this is not experience. The implication of many tweets and much of the media coverage is that all women have been subject to an attitude where men feel entitled to use women’s bodies.
And I’m sitting here thinking, maybe we need to change the hashtag… #YesAllWomenExceptMe?
All the men in my life have always treated me with dignity and respect. When I say all, I mean all. My dad, my brother, my family and friends. Men I’ve worked with and prayed with, even random strangers on the street.
As I’ve thought of about this, I’ve been deeply thankful. So many women haven’t been so fortunate. I don’t want to sound like I’m thankful that men haven’t harassed or abused me — that’s a rather backhanded compliment.
I do want to praise them, however, for being good men. The way they treat me isn’t some extraordinary concession, it’s because they are men of character. They love their families and friends. They work hard (too hard often!), have real compassion for others and always try to do the right thing. They know that true strength is gentle, and true gentleness is strong. They get it.
So where does this leave me? Is my experience so bizarre and uncharacteristic that there’s no point even mentioning it?
I don’t think so.
I think my experience of good men is the reason #YesAllWomen is happening.
One of the key dimensions of #YesAllWomen is that we live in a culture where men feel entitled to use women’s bodies for sex. If such a belief were truly endemic, however, we wouldn’t even notice it.
The most firmly entrenched cultural assumptions are barely discernible. We’d think it was normal. Worse, we’d internalise it and believe that men really are entitled to use our bodies.
Sexual assault and the sort of attitude women are protesting isn’t new by any means. Historically, it has existed in every society. The reason that the women of the past didn’t rally together wasn’t because they didn’t have twitter. (Although admittedly, twitter does help.) They just accepted it as completely normal. The sun rises, men treat women however they want, the sun sets and the world keeps on turning.
The women of #YesAllWomen live in a society where such sexual violence isn’t acceptable. We have been raised to know our dignity as human persons and that being female doesn’t make us inferior, impure, irrational or good for nothing else except pleasing men.
All the good men in our lives have confirmed this fact.
That’s why we notice sexism. It’s why we’re outraged. It’s why we’re able to voice our concerns and expect to be heard. It’s because so many good men aren’t sexist that we can see sexism at work. It makes the men who are treating us badly all the more obvious.
None of this, of course, detracts in anyway from the reality that such sexual harassment is rife, often unseen, and completely unacceptable.
None of it.
Rather it is my hope that realising how far we’ve come will only make us more eager to change — and more confident that we can. This is not “boys will be boys”, it is not inevitable and the good men prove it.
An important part of feminism, I believe, is being thankful for the men who do honour and support women. We so often fall into a “war of the sexes” mode that helps no one. We should thank them for listening and for their patience; for understanding that sexism is about more than individual acts — it’s about social structures, assumptions and privileges we aren’t even aware of.
We should thank them for fighting the good fight with us.
They are as much a part of this story anyone else.
#YesAllWomen should be thankful for #AllGoodMen.