You would think that in the era of the #MeToo movement and women’s marches when women are proudly going about their every day lives with phrases like “Nasty Woman” and “Nevertheless She Persisted” and even the visage of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emblazoned across their chests, that I would not have found myself in this situation yet again: explaining to another Millennial what “feminism” is.
I could not tell if, as he blasély half-asked/half-stated, “Doesn’t that really just mean you hate men,” while he consumed a giant medium rare burger and a 20-ounce india pale ale, if he was entirely serious.
As I looked back at him over my medium well burger (because I don’t like it to look half-dead, thank you very much) and my pink glass of rosé, I said, “No. That’s a myth perpetuated by the patriarchy.” I could see the gears start to turn as he now wondered whether I was entirely serious.
And I think in both cases the truth was somewhere in the middle.
I’ve had similar conversations start in many ways, often on dates. Sometimes they begin by asking: are men allowed to open doors for women and pay for the date, or will this cause the woman to erupt in a fit of rage? Once, the conversation began after a man in his early 30s asked me why women “can’t just let men take care of them anymore.”
Needless to say, my eye-rolling capabilities are now so well practiced that they are second to none.
Although I have had these interactions with both men and women my age, about 99% of them have been with men. They’ve occurred over many years, well before the #MeToo movement and well after multiple “waves” of feminism, all of which I confess rather blur together for me.
Like many women, I think, feminism was not something that occurred consciously to me, at first.
It slowly crept up on me after years of having my behind grabbed in all manner of places – from my high school hallway, to the dive bar down the street from my university, to in my own home by a friend who meant no harm and didn’t understand where the line was because, well, no one ever made him adhere to one.
It slowly crept up on me when in college, as a member of a sorority that annually planned Take Back The Night (an event that remembers sexual assault victims and gives them a platform to speak) each year I saw more and more women I knew speak up about their own experiences and began to realize that all the alarming statistics they tell you on the news and in college orientations are true.
It slowly crept up on me in some classrooms, where more men were called upon than women. It crept up on me when I kicked a man out of a friend’s dorm when she was clearly incapacitated, and he was not. It crept up on me when, getting drinks for a friend’s 21st, a much larger man put his arm around her shoulders and refused to step back until I threatened to make “a scene.”
These are the moments that come to mind when someone my age says to me, “Doesn’t that just mean you hate men,” and I am frozen by the flood of memories, wondering: how do you begin to explain feminism to someone who doesn’t have the experiences to know why it’s necessary?
What do you tell them? Is it about the wage gap? Is it about sexual harassment? Is it about freeing the nipple? Burning bras? Or the great divider of red and blue: abortion?
Like any philosophy, feminism can get sticky and complicated if you go too far down the theoretical rabbit hole. But I’m not expecting anybody to do that. And I think your average guy or gal wearing a “feminist” shirt doesn’t either.
The basic issue behind feminism is this: sexism still exists. And unless you have been living under a particularly dense rock, you should know this. You should know this because millions of women across the world are annually marching through the streets to remind us. You should know based upon the millions of tweets marked #MeToo. Women aren’t doing those things just for kicks.
Feminism in its most basic form or essence is the belief that the genders should be equal. This means all genders, including those that fall within nonconforming lines.
It means, for example, that if a man were doing the same exact job as me at the same skill level, that we should be making the same amount of money. But study after study shows that in such cases, women on average make less than their male counterparts. Both Republicans and Democrats – Ivanka Trump and Michelle Obama, for example – agree with me on this. So, for that matter, does the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has found that women earn about 83 cents to every dollar a man earns, on average.
So why are Millennial men still asking me if being a feminist is “even necessary” nowadays?
I think in part, this problem has to do with what I refer to as the Millennial Bubble. That cozy world many middle to upper class Millennials were brought up in. In our classrooms, we celebrated differences. Championed leaders of social justice. We learned about the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage. We were taught about all the ways society had become better. We learned about all the laws that were repealed and written to resolve issues of racism and sexism.
History, you see, was a required course in every year. Current Events was not. And the problem is, laws can’t erase centuries of prejudices in a snap, or even, as we are finding, within decades.
I think many Millennials – particularly of the white variety, like myself – may have grown up with the perception that our society had become blind to differences like gender and race, or that issues like racism and sexism were no longer prevalent.
My medium-rare burger eating acquaintance and I talked circles around some of these things. It ended like this.
“But what about how the men always have to pay the women alimony? Isn’t that unfair?” he asked.
“The person who pays alimony is the one making more money,” I said.
“But it’s always the men,” he protested.
“Well, women still on average make less money than men for doing the same job, even at the executive level. They’re less likely to be the one making more money,” I said, adding, with a lilt of finality, “So.”
The IPA-lover considered this quietly for a moment. “You’re a good debater,” he allowed. Perhaps jaded, perhaps realistic, I studied his expression wondering if he added, silently to himself, “For a woman.”