Recently I’ve been struggling with the most difficult paradigm shift I have ever experienced. I found myself rethinking core aspects of my personal reality. This was a change substantially more difficult than abandoning my belief in God and religion.
I’m speaking of my abandonment of feminism, as I knew it, and the death of my feminist identity.
Occasioning this shift of perspective was ongoing conversation with friends who identify as men’s rights activists (MRA’s). I spoke with them, asked them questions and actually listened to them. It turns out they make a solid argument for their cause, and they weren’t just “cranky.”
Even as a self-identified feminist I did not believe the influence of patriarchy lurked around every corner, but I did think that it was responsible for many of the general responses to women in social, sexual and financial contexts. My MRA acquaintances showed me, and actually convinced me, that many of my beliefs on those matters were simply false. I was so wrong, in fact, that the fact that I never realized it before now shocks me. Patriarchy, feminists claimed, was embedded in almost every area of society, but it was not what I had been taught it was.
I did not handle this information well, and my immediate emotional response was so disturbing that my feminist perspective didn’t have a fighting chance. Their evidence seemed so logical that I didn’t bother to rationalize on behalf of my former feminist paradigm.
Since this sudden and thoroughly unpleasant shift in my perception, I have taken time to consider the claims of my friends in as detached and philosophical a manner possible.
In doing so, I considered the sources of my own confidence, success and empowerment. Confidence, I believe, is derived from the natural warm fuzzy feeling experienced after accomplishing goals. In other words, confidence is gained through success, which is generally only achieved by determination and perseverance. Empowerment, it seems, is only achieved by taking control of ones own life and does not occur with out success.
The motivation to gain confidence, success and empowerment is driven by our desire for comfort and our fear of failure and its accompanying negative consequences. Stay with me, I promise, I am going somewhere with this.
After these realizations I asked myself a question.
Do men in any way prevent women from gaining confidence, success and empowerment?
I looked back on my own personal journey to gain control of my life. I considered the stumbling blocks I encountered. I’m not talking about the normal things that happen when one starts out to make ones own way, such as remembering to not forget to pay ones light bill or coming up with the money to take care of emergencies. The major stumbling blocks I encountered, in pursuit of confidence, success and empowerment, were men.
I had decided to start dating again even though I was no where near where I wanted to be in my personal life. Boy, was that ever a mistake. While trying to figure my own way out of my problems, and I made very sure to let any man I got involved with know that I did not want prince charming to swoop in and save me. What I wanted was companionship, and for potential rescuers to to keep their hands and wallets out of my life. Each of them seemed to agree that this was an admirable goal and promised not to go “white knight” on me.
But whenever I so much as mentioned a problem, no matter how trivial, their first response was to offer up not encouragement but to solve the problem for me. Because they were “nice” guys. They were attempting to protect me from the possibility of failure, which for me is at the heart of my motivation. Without the possibility of failure, how could I continue my struggle to be a fucking grown up?
To borrow a line from from Rebecca Watson; Guys, don’t do that!
That’s right. Don’t.
I’m speaking to men of all colors ages and walks of life, particularly men who identify as feminists. When you jump in to solve a woman’s problems and valiantly save her from any possibility of failure or discomfort, YOU are patriarchy.
“But, Nurdy!” you may say, “what are we supposed to do? After all there are a number of safety nets and failsafes in place for women on a broad international level!”
Yes, I know it seems daunting, but this is the influence of patriarchy and it is sooo deeply ingrained in our society that it is going to take a very long time to un-root it so that women will finally achieve the goal at the heart of feminism. You know, women’s empowerment. The motto is “feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” but you and I know that children are people, too. I’m sure what they meant to say is that women are adults.
This is going to take a massive effort at the grass roots level, and every man can do his part.
Do you have a girlfriend who enjoys buying more than she can afford and has trouble making ends meet by the end of the month? If she asks you for help, you can help her by allowing her figure it out on her own. She just might decide against repeating her mistake the next month. Of course she might elect to remain irresponsible and move on to a less motivating man, but you’ll have a little more money in your pocket.
See that girl who drank herself into oblivion and is presently passed out on the curb? For the sake of her motivation not to do so again, Please Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT scoop her up take her indoors and wrap a blanket around her. Also resisting the urge to save her has the added benefit of protecting you from any false accusations.
Does your sister squander her money on frivolous nonsense, then call you when she finds her self unable to pay her light bill at the end of the month? Don’t solve this problem for her. If you do, how will she ever learn? It is your responsibility to her to pave the way to her empowerment. How will she ever grow up and become your equal if you don’t do it for her?
Do you have a female employee who bursts into tears when you call her in to discuss her frequent extended lunch breaks? Resist the urge to console her and write her up the way you would any male employee. Better yet, fire that slacker. That should teach her a valuable lesson in punctuality, which her next employer will appreciate. Because, gentlemen, how will women ever reach the respectability of fully actualized adulthood if you don’t do it for them?
This is only a tiny sample of the things every man can do, or more precisely, not do, to help. Perhaps you can’t give women empowerment, but you can sure as hell give them motivation. An organized and concerted effort from all the men in any woman’s life can drive that woman to empower herself and take full responsibility for her survival. Every man in agreement can motivate all women to self-empower and bring us one step closer to a day when sex is not a determining factor for any law or the funding of any social service.
In conclusion, in order to do your part, when you see a woman in trouble, don’t rob her of her motivation.
Don’t step up.
Don’t be a white knight
DO NOT “man up.”
Instead “man down” and step back, for equality.