It’s Time to Get Men in the Game

has never appealed to me for the sole reason that I have never heard its
origins, ideology, and intentions clearly articulated. I recently attended a talk on the subject by Don McPherson, the former NFL player and current activist, but before that my contact with
feminism, on both an academic and social platform, had always come alongside my
understanding of international wars, political struggles, and battles for
blood. International battles were fought to promote interests of nations, while
feminist battles were fought to promote the interests of women. To me, feminism
had become a buzzword for fanatic, often opposing social justice groups, a word
that meant nothing other than a faction of women fighting a blind battle. I was
taught that I had merely to be as aggressive, intelligent, and unyielding as any
man to promote my interests, that in my immediate environment, what mattered
was for me to “man up.” As such, I have eschewed brandishing the banner of
feminism. “Feminism,” by virtue of the multitude of meanings that it has for
everyone else, has never meant much to me.

We rest our behavioral
justifications — the values for which human beings have spilt blood and drowned
reason — on certain sociological and spiritual structures, built by those whom
we entrust with the status of authority. Our deference to experts in various
domains is a necessary condition for coherent human experience; by virtue of our
limited resources, we can’t possibly conceive of a rewarding lifetime spent
debunking old theories and overthrowing pervasive stereotypes. As such, most of the personal beliefs that we
harbor — and especially the ones that we defend most vehemently — are dictated by
our adherence to ideological buzzwords whose meanings have often been
appropriated by a slew of opposing social factions.

It is for this reason that I have been wary of
feminism — because the term has been thrown around to both accuse and defend a
number of controversial social and political norms and behaviors. Because adopting
feminism means both celebrating the beauty of one’s body as well as the right
to modify and distort it, defending both the bikini and the hijab, condemning the
objectification of women’s bodies yet celebrating our right to expose ourselves
without shame or self-restraint.

The feminist ideology means a great
deal to individuals across borders of class, gender, sexuality, and race. But the
feminist movement itself, in an effort to broaden its appeal, has disintegrated;
it is a battle being fought by many different parties, under many different
banners, proclaiming very different mission statements. Third-wave feminism,
founded in the early 1990s by a bisexual black woman named Rebecca Walker, aimed to
acknowledge the many factors other than gender that color women’s experiences. Her ideology inspired women to fight the battles of feminism more ardently than ever — and yet, paradoxically, those warriors were met with more derision than ever. Hence
a generation of girls like myself, who remain wary of feminism but are quick to
defend it. The issue
is not in the feminist cause itself, but in the manner in which it manifests
itself. The struggle for gender equality is not
a battle to be fought, but a conversation to be had. It is not the ascent to
equality of one social group, but a collaborative effort between human beings
as a whole.

The harm that gender inequality,
micro-aggressions against women, and sexist behavior inflict is not limited to women. Just as Walker understood that
the feminist theory of her time was largely white-centric, Don McPherson understands
that men suffer at the hands of pervasive sexism as well. Expectations of
masculinity in conjunction with the undermining of women affect young men and
women alike. McPherson’s “You Throw Like a Girl” speech attempts to prompt a
conversation that admits the complexities of the feminist cause and the reality
that no one human being is excluded from considering it. “If you want to get
into the game,” he says, “then you’re going to have to play with all of the stuff
going on outside of that game.”

In an increasingly interconnected
global community, social change is going to have to depend upon conversation
and mediation rather than battles fought with aggression and fanaticism. Women
are still very much at a disadvantage: Unequal wages, sexual and domestic abuse,
and limited political representation are among the unacceptable realities that
women face today. But the social harm that sexism inflicts is not limited to
the female global population.

Though in essence the notion of feminism and all that it entails holds tremendous appeal, by the end of this column I find myself only further ensnared in the particulars of the word itself. Feminism, as I understand it, is an attempt to
initiate a conversation amongst human beings as a whole, to end the battle and
begin collaborative construction, to modify language and reconsider stereotypes, and to promote the rights of our global citizens. I remain uncertain as to whether I meet the justifications to call myself a feminist for the simple reason that I have yet to fully internalize what it means to be a woman in the increasingly liberal and heterogenous world which I’ve called home. The truth is, I am a label skeptic. I was born a woman, I call myself a humanist, and I give myself the space to determine whether feminism distinguishes itself starkly from my belief in equality for all.

Camille Goering PO ’16 is studying English and international relations.

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