In this week’s #FeministFriday post, yours truly does some non-roundup writing of his own, on the topic of finding a male feminist and growing up in privilege.
A recent article in the Washington Post by Lisa Bonos raised the question of how a self-respecting woman might go about finding a feminist man to date using apps like Tinder or eFlirt or whatever. Finally! I thought. See, I’d been meaning to write a #FeministFriday post myself one of these days, but couldn’t find the right issue to write about. What did I, being male, really know about feminist issues? But this — see right here, this is something I know. Because I was once a feminist boyfriend. But I wasn’t always.
I grew up in Canada, north of Toronto, in a sleepy little town of over three hundred thousand people, houses packed onto postage-stamp sized lots in the subdivided landscape of suburbia. But for all the things it lacked — walkability, a decent transit system — it made up for in privilege. So when I met the woman who’d eventually be my wife, feminism wasn’t even on my radar. Why did we need feminism? Weren’t men and women already equal? Yes, dear reader, those were genuine questions.
Bonos points out in her article that, as comedian Aziz Ansari said recently, “everyone’s a feminist now. Unless you think Beyonce shouldn’t have the right to vote, should earn 23 percent less than Jay-Z and should be at home cooking rather than performing. And who would think that?” But what Bonos seems to be talking around isn’t so much the problem of finding a feminist boyfriend as it is of finding a feminist boyfriend in a world where the word feminism is ill-defined (or at least has a bad PR team).
Here’s a great quote from Ansari to get the ball rolling: “If you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work… You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.'”
And I would love to agree. But he’s wrong.
“Define what you’re looking for,” Bonos writes, and the very fact she has to lets you know that one woman’s feminism is another’s, well, not feminism I suppose. Is a potential date a feminist if he’ll do the dishes but also use the tea towel to whack your posterior? Is he a feminist if he’d like to stay home with the kids, but can’t see himself taking your last name? And the really sticky question is — and I’m here to tell you the answer is a qualified yes — can he be a feminist if he shies away from the word feminism? Yes, he can. But it might take a little time.
As I said, I grew up in a lovely privileged part of Canada. Both of my parents worked when they could — mom stayed home with my sister and I until we were old enough to go off to school, then dad took care of us in the evenings and weekends when mom was busy studying to get a nursing degree (she graduated valedictorian, by the way, with two kids at home and a husband who worked full-time, which is pretty indicative of a lot of positive things). Things weren’t always perfect, but when it came to gender divisions I figured they were pretty much covered.
Not so, it turns out.
As the daughter of a successful, self-employed woman, and a graduate of a college that only started letting men attend in the late 1960s, my wife was — well let’s just say the word incredulous doesn’t quite describe her feelings when I shied away from the word feminist. But she was American, which I later found out was code for “from a country where women’s rights are still stuck in the last century.” I’m not saying Canada is a socialist paradise; I’m just saying setting it down next to America makes it feel that way.
In Canada (according to wikipedia), women get fifty weeks of parental leave at 55% of their salary, up to $501/week (that’s fifteen weeks of maternity, plus thirty-five weeks of parental leave shared with the father). In the US, the federal rate is zero weeks, but in some states it’s as high as eight weeks at 58% (way to go Hawaii, I guess). In Canada, realizing that the 1987 Pay Equity Act wasn’t as effective as it could be, they passed another, more stringent law in 2009 called the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. In the US they can’t even pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, let alone the Equal Rights Amendment. There are no legal restrictions on abortion in Canada, while every year it seems like it becomes harder and harder to get one in the US. That’s not mentioning the ongoing battles in the US against pregnancy discrimination and the insane religious exemptions from providing women with birth control options.
So you can understand at least a little of where I was coming from.
But even so, there are improvements to be made. Around the world women earn less than men, and in large part that’s because “typical” women’s jobs are valued lower than “typical” men’s. Part of it is that women’s careers suffer if they choose to stay home with a child (quite often a sensible choice, at least in America, where the cost of full-time daycare can exceed the earning potential of one or more parents). Part of it is that women and men split parental leave somewhat less than evenly. And part of it is because “ambitious” is more often a compliment for a man and an insult for a woman. A woman is “pushy” or “bossy” when a man is “assertive” or “take-charge.”
But when I first met my wife I didn’t know this. And I didn’t learn it all at once, either.
Bonos’s article gets at one of the bigger problems of feminist dating in today’s world: identifying feminists. But if Aziz Ansari is right, and we’re basically all feminists now, then the problem isn’t so much identifying feminists to date, but helping the feminists we’re already dating to realize that that’s what they are. I’m not saying every bro on a dating site is going to be open to self-identifying as a feminist, nor that it’s the responsibility of women looking for feminists to convince men of the validity of the term. What I am saying, though, is that we can add something to the list of qualities a feminist could look for in a date.
In addition to looking for men on dating sites who list things like “independent or similarly successful women,” “Lean-In,” or outright “feminism” as their interests, I’m going to suggest a few more: “open to debate,” “evidence-based decisions,” and “open to having my opinions changed.”
Because if you think men and women should be equal, and you’re open to looking at the evidence, then you’re 95% of the way there. You just need someone to point it out for you.
Because that’s where I was, and this is where I am now.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of the negative connotations of the word “feminism” entirely. As long as there are #Gamergaters and MRAs out there, as long as there are men who think someone else’s gain automatically means their loss, we’ll always have to deal with people thinking feminism has a negative connotation. But there’s room to hope, because there are more of us out there than even we realize.