So I wore this new shirt today (above). I’m not usually too vocal about my thoughts on feminism. It’s typically a very personal concept that I’ve spent a lot of time + effort thinking about and challenging and discussing with people close to me. So this is the most deliberate message I’ve sent to the world about my values.
It caught me off guard, but a random stranger commented on my shirt:
“Actually I’m more about crushing the matriarchy haw haw.”
I was tired and I’d just gotten out of a three-hour class, and I wanted to say, “Dude, I’m just here to buy stationery.” But I thought, well, it’s actually fair to assume that wearing a blatantly feminist t-shirt means I’m up for a conversation about feminism. Let’s do this.
Now, I’m a firm believer in using dialogue to explore our values and ethics and morals. I think this is where change happens, it’s where we clarify our own opinions and we become better, more rounded humans.
Like fair fighting, I believe we can do this without yelling, name-calling, hostility or generally making someone feel uncomfortable. Because when people feel uncomfortable or attacked, communicating becomes more defensive than explorative.
The most difficult thing I regularly have trouble with is dealing with people who are intentionally antagonistic, and I totally get how hard it is to stay calm when someone is pushing your buttons. It’s possible though, and it’s a thing that gets easier with practice.
So I stayed pretty chill. Whatever, I was buying new post-its, I was in a pretty good mood. He mentioned he expected me to be more boisterous (a stereotype, I suppose, of vocal extremism, but not my thing). Instead, he thanked me for the pleasant banter and gave me a discount.
This guy gave me a bit of an MRA-standard spiel about Family Courts and how they disadvantage men, suggesting that wasn’t an issue of patriarchy and we don’t need feminism. Well, we do, guy. The thing is, this concept of women disproportionately awarded custody of children and maternity leave is deeply rooted in the idea that women are caregivers.
Feminism helps this. It isn’t about women having more power or men having less power, but about neutralising the structures that work against us as people. Feminism is about breaking down these assumptions we have about gender that drive us apart, and while, yeah, it generally acts in a way that uplifts women, it challenges our assumptions of masculinity in a way that helps men, too.
I wish I was more on the ball today. I would have asked more questions, like “Oh yeah, why do you think that?”, because questions identify our commonalities and differences. And questions are almost always better than, “No, you’re wrong.”
I would have recognised the false dichotomies in presuming something is either pro-women or pro-men and how much he was missing the point without realising. But I offered a calm and balanced argument, which was most important to me.
How we engage in discussions is more important to me than winning. I believe that having these kinds of respectful dialogues exercises our ability to have conversations and give voice to the things that matter most to us. It means we’re more likely to speak up the next time something triggers our “hold the fuck on, dude, that is challenging my values” switch.
So I’m up for it. If you want to talk about feminism, let’s do it. But we can both do so in a manner that is compassionate and not be jerks.