Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Own Feminist Debate

I have from a very young age considered myself a feminist. Adults often said things to me like, "Wow, what a little feminist you are." My first understanding was that a feminist was someone who believed in equality for everyone, particularly women.

I've spent most of my life to this date completely committed to the belief that women are oppressed by men and equally blind to the discrimination that is in turn created by feminist beliefs.

On one level I hated men. But I didn't associate my identification with feminism and my hatred for men. At the time, I did not believe they were one and the same.

When I was pregnant, I feared that if I had a boy I would say or do things that would expose my hatred for men. I wondered what my love for my son would be like? Would I be blind to his inferior masculine qualities out of motherly love, like so many other mothers I have seen?

It never occurred to me that I would one day be void of hatred for men. I have to thank my partner and my baby boy for opening my heart to the truth.

Here is my little son, and as each day he grows older, I am more outraged by this discriminatory world I am releasing him into. He is a little man in every way, and I find his manly qualities charming.

Now, when I drive to work at a transition house for women, I feel compelled to stop my car and give the old man, his clothes in tatters with an overly full garbage bag on his shoulder, a ride up the hill. I don't because I am alone and I've got a little more street sense than that. But my heart goes out to him. The young punk dressed like a gangster, walking away from the crackshack on our block, looking all sketchy and uncomfortable in his own skin. I stop myself from yelling out, "Hello sweetiepie! I just wanted to wish you a good day and tell you how handsome you look!" I might be taken for some desperate cougar or get fired from the house.

But I want to surround each boy or man out there searching for his own soul - completely oblivious to his natural worth, and in the throes of alternating between creating an imposing identity and numbing himself to the pain - with light and love and strength. They are our husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers. They have so much to offer the world and no idea they have.

Now I become angry when I read words like "patriarchy" and "men's exploitation of women" and "objectification." I actually look around and believe in my heart that we've all done our best in building this world that we live in. And many of our collective decisions were based on pain, anger, and power, rather than love (particularly the decisions many mainstream feminists are making today).

It is true that women should be involved in creating the world because they are naturally nurturing. But I believe they have been involved. First in the home - by how we're raising our sons and by our collective decision that we must teach our husbands how to treat us by not tolerating abuse.

But let's not get stuck on "abuse." Just as much as the men are abusing, the women are allowing themselves to be abused. We cannot put the full blame on men, as a sex. THAT is discrimination.

If men put any kind of generalization on women - there is a riot. And yet, women are continuously shaming men in their homes and in their letters to the editors and men have come to accept it. In fact, many boys and men feel rewarded when they spout words of shame towards men in general, or at themselves specifically. I, too, used to admire men who realized their own inferiority. But I was never attracted to them.

Now I see the truth. Now I realize that men and women are already equal. We don't need a feminist movement to create it. It's already there. And all the qualities that largely belong to men as a sex, are qualities we should value, not condemn.

We send mixed message to our boys by both valuing and condemning so many of their qualities. You must be a strong protector, but not an aggressor. You must be in touch with your emotions, but never cry. You must be a good lover, but don't think about sex. You must admire my beauty, but not the beauty of others. You must work hard to provide for our family, but no relaxing after work with the guys (because I don't give myself the same luxury, you cannot either).

I see one half of the equation every day at work in the transition house. We want to have services for abused women - get them out of their home, treat their issues, convince them of the evilness of men. It's not working. They love and want their men.

What are we doing for the men. Shaming and blaming them. Villainizing them. Criminalizing them. We repeat the rhetoric over and over again - once an abuser, always an abuser.

Well, I beg to differ. I know people who have learned not to abuse. I am one of them. One of the most important ways to teach an abuser to stop abusing, is to not tolerate it. My partner taught me not to abuse him by making it clear to me that he wouldn't have it. I have a cousin with many years of abuse under his belt, and even a two-year conviction for a horrific assault on a woman (who incidentally stood by his side loyally through it all). No one believed it could happen. Nobody thought the two of them would ever have a normal relationship with each other. Both were condemned for staying loyal to each other. I condemned them.

But what a lesson for me to learn, that this horrific experience would give them both opportunities to re-evaluate their lives and learn from their mistakes. They now have a normal, non-abusive relationship. (If normal is just like any other couple, arguing and fighting for power for the first few years till they get into a routine.)

Everything happens for a reason, and their experience happened to teach us all that even the most entrenched abuser can change his own behavior. My cousin is still forgiving himself for his actions. He continues to be harshly judged for his actions, and the shame that is put on him by others does still eat at him. But I see a man who deserves everything. Including forgiveness from the world. But the world may never do that. So I remind him to let go of the world in comfort that he knows himself.

The other half of the equation is our sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands. They need love and acceptance too, if they are ever going to heal. They need to love and accept themselves. It can be hard to do when you have so much shame and blame upon you.

I will not train my son to reject his masculinity. I will teach him to embrace and celebrate it just as I teach my daughter to revel in her femininity. And when boys flirt with my daughter, I will ask her to be gentle with their little hearts. Where once I refused to cater to "the frail male ego," I now nurture it. Each man should know his worth, just as each woman should.

We cannot save people. People can only save themselves. This is what I say to the women. No one can save you but you. You deserve everything. You teach people how to treat you. True freedom is the absence of concern for the good opinion of others. Stay true to you. Feel your link to all humanity - we are all the same.

The best thing we can do as a society...the only thing we should do is respect and love men and women equally. Embrace both halves of the equation.

If this is what feminism is, then I practice feminism. But if shaming, blaming, and hating is what feminism is all about. Well, then, I'll leave that for the haters. Cause I love my son, my partner, my brothers, and my fathers. I love men. Just the way they are.

And I will teach my son to love himself, no matter what the world may say to him.


Ryann said...

you know I agree. Well said Trina.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, Trina. Your children are blessed to have you as a mother; and your fiance a lucky man. Never stop writing; your talents are immense!
All the best,
Jamie (and Marikit) Smith

Keats said...

Very well written. Really made me think.