Monday, September 30, 2013

Do I suck at feminism?

You know how sometimes it takes so long to form an opinion that it’s almost not worth voicing it anymore? That’s what happened after I read this list of tips for male academics on how to deal with women on TenureSheWrote. My first opinion was:”If we (women) are telling men how to behave, isn’t that exactly what we don’t want to have happen to ourselves?”. Isn’t the idea of feminism that we (men and women) are all treated equally and that therefore neither men nor women should tell the other sex how to behave?

It is not that I don’t agree with the list; I’ve had many of those things happen to me and I think that sucks. But after seeing the amount of anger and annoyance when people commented on this exact issue, I didn’t really dare to voice that opinion until I had thought about it a bit more. Because the reactions on twitter and in the comments made me doubt:”do I suck at feminism?”. Am I too privileged with a grandmother who had a job and a grandfather who walked behind the stroller? Am I too privileged with two parents who have PhDs? Am I too privileged because my mom always treated my brother and me the same? Am I too privileged because all my life I had this knowledge instilled in me that I could become anything I wanted if I just worked hard enough for it? Even though I get comments on the way I’m dressed and the amount of children I produce or the fact that I look way too young to be where I am in my career, my first thought is:”You can say that, but I have every right to be here and be as awesome as whoever just gave me that comment.”

But this upbringing also makes me think that everybody thinks the same way. And that maybe even though a man may comment on my outfit, that does not make him think less of me in a scientific way. This is where I probably go wrong. Perhaps my idea that if we all work together we can create a happy society where nobody needs to tell the other sex how to behave is a bit too optimistic. Perhaps it is necessary to tell each other how to behave in order to create more equality. Not just in science, but for everybody who needs feminism.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I was rubbed wrong by that post, and I consider myself an active participant in the struggle for greater gender equality. It makes me, as I commented there, reflexively defensive to have a long list of behaviors prescribed for me. Even when they're good behaviors.

    In AA, we learn that we never succeed in changing how other people drink by telling them how to drink. We only succeed when we tell them how WE drank, and then telling them what we did to change ourselves. Of course, that's not a great simile here, but I think the focus is useful.

    If I tell you what to do, I'm browbeating. If I tell you what I intend to do to bring about change, then I'm trying to lead by example.

    1. I'm all for leading by example (and parenting by example instead of punishment but that is for another time), but I can see when you are the single woman in a room full of men, it is hard to show how you would like to be treated and have that be an effective way of changing the behavior of others.

    2. I completely agree! That's why I stipulated it's a bad simile.

  2. This would be a good question to ask on yoisthisracist‎

    However, telling anybody, men or women not to be sexist (or racist) douches is completely and totally appropriate.

    And of course we have to tell other people how to behave themselves, otherwise we'd have anarchy. That's why we have things like laws and culture. Full freedom isn't good for anybody except the people on top with the most power.

  3. Acclimatrix here. Thanks for writing this, and for the chance to respond.

    Here's the thing. It would be really awesome if we didn't need to say those things. But we have a gender gap in academia (and a wage gap, etc.). Male privilege is a real thing; men benefit from certain biases, institutional or individual, intentional and unintentional. One of the first privileges is the ability to forget you HAVE privilege, which means that a lot of guys may be perpetuating inequality without even realizing it. I've had a lot of guys ask me how they can help, which was a large part of why I wrote the post. There are also guys who don't get it, for whatever reason (hence the list of things not to do, which is inspired by real things).

    Feminism has a goal of equality, but it also provides tools to achieve that equality. Sometimes, those tools involve calling out inequality when we see it. Sometimes, they involve protesting, or media critiques, or creating support groups for each other, or organizing political campaigns. But whenever I see people who advocate for a hands-off approach, it makes me sad and frustrated. Because nothing got better for women (the right to vote, the right to own property, workplace improvements, reproductive rights) without someone standing up and saying something about it.

    The list points examples of behaviors that actively suppress gender equity in the workplace (and most are probably unintentional). Sometimes, I think, we have to be really clear, because there's been so much hand-wringing about why we have a "leaky pipeline," and very little in the way of concrete actions to fix it.

    One of the things I think is often overlooked about feminism is that it benefits men, too, like advocating for men to be able to spend time with their kids, or to be able to express emotions without being seen as weak. And, if I didn't think we needed to work together, I wouldn't have written the post.

    I don't think you're a bad feminist. These conversations are important! I just think that we have to be proactive, rather than passive, when it comes to certain kinds of change, especially when there are a lot of great guys out there asking, "how can I help?"