Posted by Himel Sarkar
It’s a parable as old as the movement itself and reinforced in the internet age by Heads of States (Love you, Trudeau), slam poets, hip internet news sites, your average college dudebro and the people you pass a Jay around with once at some party and then never see again. And Snapchat. Of course, Snapchat.
The notion that some loose and half-ass acknowledgement of a vague and libertarian idea of gender equality makes you a feminist is fiction. The problem is always in the question asked. Now, in the 21st century, we have in our mainstream narrative established that for the most part, sexism is err… wrong.
Therefore, when you tell people that if you believe in the equality of men and women, you’re a feminist, you’re lowering the bar of feminism to ‘anybody who’s not horrible enough to be proud of their misogyny’.
Feminism is far from that. Feminism requires a lot of work. Feminism demands unlearning and re-learning. Feminism requires you to acknowledge your entitlement and privileges and empathize with those whose problems may not be apparent to you. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it but it is hard work and one that you are entirely responsible for because expecting women to free you of the burden of ignorance is entitled as fuck.
This is not your movement
The first thing you gotta know is that as a dude, you don’t complain about not being given a space in feminism. If you’re a middle class guy, you’ve only had to reach out into the dark abyss with outstretched fingers to be handed microphones by phantoms.
Not here. Feminism is a space where people on the gender spectrum who have been marginalized, denied their civil rights, kept off the streets with fear and intimidation, denied the opportunity to define their own lives, patronized, denied equal wages, mutilated, chucked into fire, and the list goes on, get to speak and define their agenda.
Your space in feminism is the one you already have. Your job in feminism is to take the space you already have and make it feminist.
Mansplaining pro-life dudebros who are suddenly pissed off that they got blocked from a feminist page because they suggested the women who have been raped should just suck it up and ‘move on’ do not get to appropriate feminism.
Say it with me, “I acknowledge my privilege”
You can’t be a feminist without acknowledging that you have privilege. Privilege is a complicated topic that requires introspection and education (all of which is your job).
If you’re one of those people who say that women are subjugated because they don’t ‘speak up’, or that women don’t get into STEM fields because of some character flaw, then you’re just a victim blamer, which is one of the worst things you can be and definitely not a feminist no matter how many ‘Respect Women’ bumper stickers you own.
Women around you
As a feminist it’s your job to help out women and other feminists. You have to use your environment, profession, social standing, and every other space where you get to speak to understand women’s issues and help fix them.
Shut down that sexist joker. Stand up to family when they victim blame. Start conversations about women and their issues in public spaces, even in places where a sympathetic ear may be improbable. You can’t be a feminist before understanding that you have more opportunity to make your voice heard than women do. Use it well.
Shut the fuck up
Sorry to sound crass. But as a male feminist, your job is to shut the fuck up and listen. Listen to victims, listen to survivors, listen to the women who have fought oppression since they were 13 and were sexualized in their own home and told to cover up, listen to the women who have stared down security forces and corporate goons and told them to come with more than a couple of guys if they wanted her home, listen to the women who have hit the streets to fight for their pensions and run away from home to escape a marriage they never wanted to be in.
Theirs are the stories that matter. In this whole game, your role is that of a messenger. Listen to their struggles and fight for them with all the social capital you have. You don’t get to set the discourse, you don’t get to alter it.
This is not a #trend
This is not a cool new label that you get to call yourself at parties and bars. This is not something you appropriate. This is a struggle, a fight, a simmering call to a perpetual and ubiquitous revolution. And you’re the foot soldier.
I’m not a feminist because I’ve spent too much time around liberals. My feminism doesn’t begin and end with BuzzFeed and Beyonce. I’m a feminist because I feel personally and morally responsible for the structures that patriarchy has amassed. I’m a feminist because it is mine and your collective battle to restore balance to the scale that has been skewed at least since the birth of modern civilization.
If you understand all this, and agree with it, then you may call yourself a feminist.
Himel Sarkar is a feminist poet, writer, engineer and performance artist. He is a member of the poetry group Bring Back The Poets and likes eating donuts. This post was previously published on the author’s Medium here.