So instead I've decided to go on a rant about feminism and other social justice issues, as related to a class I've been having a little trouble with personally. *Warning: Some ideas here about gender identity, etc. are controversial and the subject in general is an emotional and deeply personal one for everyone. Please be polite in the comments.*
I know a lot of hard experiences I had with sexism, along with the constant ongoing issue of disability and mental illness in my life, have affected it. I also have a feeling Twitter might have really done something for me. I particularly remember #YesAllWomen, when it trended, as just a punch to the gut, in a good way, if that makes sense. For the first time, I saw other people freely expressing thoughts about things that had always bothered me and saying other things I hadn't ever thought of but that were so true about gender dynamics. After that, I started looking more into these issues, which is about the time when I discovered the term "ableism" on this blog by an autistic college student. After having had so much experience with disability and mental illness, I was so relieved to find there was a word for that.
I especially have great admiration for Kaye on Twitter, a Muslim YA writer who actually began the #YesAllWomen campaign somewhat on accident and continues to stand up against racism and sexism on her Twitter account. I've learned so much from her. I also, as you can see from the little blog sidebar buttons below, support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and have learned a lot from that.
What I'm leading up to with this is I've had a lot of experiences that have encouraged me to become a social justice advocate, and I've learned a lot about others' experiences that has pushed me forward. But not everyone has had these experiences, which, of course, is why it's an issue, and here at BYU-I I've been having some trouble with that, specifically with one particular class.
This semester I'm taking Family Foundations, a required religious course discussing LDS doctrine about the family and issues surrounding it. Yes, this stuff is controversial and hence I gave the warning at the beginning. The Church believes in the traditional family and that concept is one of the most vital to us--a married man and woman raising children together in righteousness. Disclaimer: I do believe in the Church, I do believe in this concept.
But I've still been having some trouble with the course. My family is "traditional" in the sense that I've got a married father and mother, but our situation is far from normal. I can't give details without revealing too much personal information, but we are very broken down compared to many families, especially the "ideal" LDS ones, due primarily to mental and physical disabilities. And sometimes that Family Foundations class can get really... kitschy. Mostly it's fine, but I had an issue a couple weeks ago where I wanted to make my main project doing ABA therapy via Skype with my family for my autistic brother, and the professor suggested I should instead do something from her preapproved list... like gardening.
So I've been struggling some with this class in light of that. Then this week, we started into a unit on gender identity and roles. We LDS people believe that men and women are distinctly different for reasons of eternal identity and that they have distinct roles in the family. All that I'm on board with. It's important that we acknowledge that the family is vital to creating a stable society, and I agree with the church in saying that it's the duty of the husband to provide and the duty of the mother to care for the children. I know that's considered sexist, but it makes sense in terms of protecting the family. I believe in general innate gender differences and what the Church is doing then is making sure that a single person, generally the one best suited for the task, has the moral responsibility of doing one of the two big tasks most important for the family--provide or care. (It's really hard to do either of them properly if you're trying to multitask and do them both on your own. I really do feel for single parents.) The Church and God allows for and understands personal differences and situations, so we're not against men at home or women at work, but it's important that that duty be outright acknowledged and placed on a specific person so that someone has the responsibility to do the job. Too often families fall apart because one of these sectors isn't being taken care of.
Anyway, despite my being on board with all of that, now during class, on top of having my ableism alarm going off, my sexism alarm has been going off. Not too bad, but... for example, today my professor started going on about "the feminization of men" and how feminism has gone so far as to be anti-equality and anti-masculine, turning men into a stereotype of lazy guys on the couch playing video games or, conversely, promoting pink skinny jeans for little boys. Or something. So basically, she was spouting out the same old damaging stereotypes of what feminism is. And I got mad.
See, as sexism propagates, men feel more and more pressure to separate themselves from what society still considers even today to be lesser--feminine qualities. Honor, compassion, family values--men are told that if they want to be "real men", if they want to avoid being "weak" and "lesser", they must remove all possible femininity, every shadow of it, from their aspects. This has led to a degradation and a perversion of what it is to be masculine. This is where the idea comes from that men must be rude, selfish, cruel, brash, privileged, that they must not show emotion other than rage and hornyness, that they deserve women as prizes for their manliness, that they must not follow any possible "feminine" pursuits and must instead spend their time doing things like video games and sports ALL OF THE TIME. This is a terrible, horrible backlash against feminism, against the feminine.
And males are suffering just as much as females because of this sexism against women. Some guys are forced into this manly stereotype and make themselves callus, rude people who then never get the chance to learn and grow morally and emotionally. They lose their human empathy. Others choose to go all out and wear pink skinny jeans or whatever, not because they like them necessarily but because if the world is going to tell them that their natural tendency towards honor and compassion and art is feminine and therefore bad and means they can't possibly be a man, they'll just run with it. (Not that some guys don't choose pink skinny jeans for themselves because they like them. But the "forced choice" happens too.)
So that, dear Family Foundations professor, is what you are actually talking about. Defeminization. Treating the feminine as so lesser and so wrong that what it means to be a masculine has also been corrupted. You can't disrespect and avoid the feminine and expect the masculine to then remain intact. They need each other, which is the very base concept of gender identity. My professor went on to talk about real manliness as being a man with honor and compassion who acts as a loyal husband and a father, who respects all the people around him, who goes out to provide for the family to the extent at which he is able because it's his duty. That is the image of a man who is not afraid of the feminine, who is not being destroyed by sexism, who has not listened to society when it said that to be female is to be less and that a corrupted manliness is the ideal. (*throws arms around Captain America and Peeta*) What we need is true feminism. People just have a hard time realizing that that's what they're looking for.
Basically, in all of this, what I've realized is that I have a really great opportunity here in this class to open people's eyes and do some honest good. I believe in the Church and the ideals thereof, but I have experience with a lot of non-ideal situations and am a social justice advocate. So I can take these concepts and doctrine and I can help the others actually apply them to real lives and families, ones that aren't perfect the way we always want to pretend they can be. Because perfect doesn't exist in this life and none of these skills will be useful to anyone if they can't find a way to understand how they apply to the imperfect. I only hope my professor gives me the chance to do this and to open her eyes a little too--because I know this is the right thing to do. My individual perspective gives me power.
And you know what? So does yours. So don't be afraid to stand up.
Images via bonner.pages.tcnj.edu, latinaish.com, tcpl.libguides.com, thatdesigirl.com, and principalspage.com.