Yeah, I like to talk about gender. And gender issues. I like to call out rape culture and sexism. I’m not afraid to call myself a feminist. But let’s get one thing straight. I don’t do this because I think men are the enemy or evil or somehow less than women. I’m not angry with men, or whatever other negative stereotype that you may have about feminists. Actually, I quite like men.
And it’s only because of the good men- the GREAT men- in my life that I know that the discrimination and oppression that women face on a daily basis aren’t “natural” or “normal”. My own dad, despite growing up in one of the most WASPy towns you can imagine, has never made me feel like my gender made me any more or less than anyone else. He has NEVER utter the words “girls can’t do that”. And he’s always encouraged me to form my own decisions about things. I guess it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when I started voicing my political opinions pretty early. But he would listen. Actually back when Kim Campbell was running for leader of the Conservative party. I thought she should win because it wasn’t fair that only boys got to be Prime Minister.
I was five.
It’s only because I feel confident that I won’t lose these valued friends that I know I can speak up about the issues I see with masculinity. Because I know that it’s not just “boys being boys” when they behave badly, it’s a matter of some boys/men, and that we all deserve better. I know what it’s like to be treated with respect, to have my choices and boundaries respected. I know what it’s like to be asked for what I think, rather than being told what women are supposed to believe. I know that it’s like to feel safe when I’m alone in the company of men. I’ve had men who treat me with respect for the passion I have in fighting against sexual violence, rather than as a “hysterical woman”. I have seen men engage in thoughtful conversations about their own power and privilege and how it connects to violence against women, and take steps to actively change it.
It’s because of these men that I believe that men are so much better than they’re made out to be.
Last month, I met a man and we expressed mutual attraction. However, he started to pressure me to go home with him immediately. When I said no, he started to belittle me. “What, do you think I’m going to RAPE you? You obviously like me and you can’t RAPE the WILLING!” And because I know that this isn’t how a person deserves to be treated, because I know this isn’t how good men treat anyone, I was able to say no and extract myself from the situation without feeling ashamed, or questioning whether that was just how boys tease girls. I knew it wasn’t okay to treat me this way.
Of course, this isn’t just about men. It’s about people- the good, loving, caring, intelligent, compassionate, creative, passionate, inspired, driven people in my life. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by good people. Because at its core, your gender doesn’t make you a good person. The choices you make and actions you take do.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. But it’s also One Billion Rising. Where one billion people across the world are going to rise in recognition of the one billion women who will be raped in their lives. Where one billion people will come out and say that they’ve had enough, and they’re going to help put an end to violence against women once and for all. Check out their website to find an event near you.
Or if you’re going to be celebrating with a significant other, why not take the opportunity to really practice enthusiastic consent. Regardless of your gender, regardless of your partner’s gender, ask. Whether you’ve been together for years or have just had a couple of dates. Red roses might say “I remembered”, but asking your partner says “I respect you, your body, and your autonomy so much that I’m going to ensure that you’re truly interested in engaging in these activities together.”
Because if you think the “thank you” you get when greet your sexual/romantic partner on Valentine’s Day with flowers is nice, just wait until you hear your partner give you a genuine, enthusiastic “Yes!”