All right, today I'm going on a little rant about feminism and other social justice issues, as related to a class I've been having some trouble with personally.
*Contains mentions of LDS religion*
In the past couple of years, I've really come to consider myself a social justice advocate. I'm not really sure how it happened. I've always been an idealist, but I never really thought that much about feminism, racism, or ableism until recently.
I do 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 my beliefs. I also have a feeling that 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. 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.
And so my career as a social justice person began. Naturally, racism would be another issue I would want to stand up against. Originally, I was one of those people who thought "color-blindness" would actually work as a way of avoiding racism, but as I learned more about the situations POC face, I realized that was definitely not the answer. I've used Twitter a lot especially on racism, because I'm white and I need to hear from POC to understand what's happening, the same way men need to hear from women about sexism, etc.
I especially have great admiration for Kaye, 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 support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and have learned a lot from that.
What I'm leading up to with this is that 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 since then. But not everyone has had these experiences, which 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. Yes, this stuff is controversial. The Church believes in the traditional family, and for us, that family is a vital part of this and the afterlife.
My family is "traditional" in the sense that I've got a married father and mother, but our situation isn't exactly the ideall. I can't give details without revealing too much personal information, but we have a lot of issues, especially related to mental and physical disabilities. And sometimes that Family Foundations class can get... 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 pre-approved list... like gardening.
I'm working hard right now to remember that a lot of people really value this stuff, and that it's not bad, but it's hard when I feel like very few people recognize how many real struggles we face. My reality has been one where family activities and craftsy stuff is far, far down the priority list, and instead, individual struggles comes on top. And I'm proud of that.
Then, this week, we started into a unit on gender identity and roles. We LDS people believe that men and women have gender identities eternally and that there are specific responsibilities that come with those identities, which is another somewhat controversial stance. But we also believe God understands personal differences and unique situations. I'm comfortable with my beliefs as a member of the Church, but being in this class has made me realize that I'm actually much less conservative that many other people. I believe that Jesus fought for social justice as part of his ministry, and I believe in feminism.
So now during class, on top of having my ableism alarm going off, my sexism alarm has been going off. For example, today my professor started going on about "the feminization of men" and how feminism has gone become 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. So basically, she was spouting out the same old damaging stereotypes of what feminism is. And I got mad.
I didn't get the chance to say it in class, but here's my response: true feminism is not about making men "lesser." It is not about stereotypes, or devaluing masculinity, or anything like that. All those things are, in fact, anti-feminist. (And yes, women can fall into the trap of sexism just as easily as men. Society does that to people, and prejudice is a very insidious thing.) What feminism does, in fact, is support many of the things my professor wants to promote. What true feminists want is for there to be an equality of respect for the choices females make and the choices men make. I believe the most damaging idea out there, the one I fight against as a feminist, is that the "feminine" is somehow lesser than the "masculine". It's just as damaging to men as it is to women. That is what my professor was actually talking about, though she didn't know it: not the feminization of men, but the defeminization of them.
See, as sexism propagates, men feel more and more pressure to separate themselves from what society still considers even today to be lesser--traditionally "feminine" qualities like empathy, compassion, and caring for family. Men are told that if they want to be "real men," if they want to avoid being "weak" and "lesser", they must remove every shadow of potential femininity from their aspects. This has led to 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 horniness, 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. This is a terrible, horrible backlash against feminism, against the feminine.
And males are suffering just as much 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 might choose to go all out and wear pink skinny jeans or whatever, not necessarily because they like them, but because if the world is going to tell them that their natural tendency towards honor and compassion and artistic pursuits is feminine and therefore bad, they might as well give up and just run with it. (Not that some guys don't choose pink skinny jeans for themselves because they like them, which is fine, because there is nothing integrally wrong with the color pink.)
Then you have people like my little brother, which breaks my heart the most. My brother is an honorable, compassionate, often shy human being who hates cruelty and hates the lack of respect the world has for marginalized people. Because of this, he has been bullied and mistreated to no end. He has heard from too many people that he is not manly enough, that his compassion makes him "gay" or "a girl," and that it's therefore lesser and wrong. My brother is now suffering from severe depression, in part because of the way he was treated.
That, dear Family Foundations professor, is what you are actually talking about. Defeminization. Treating the feminine as so integrally lesser than the masculine, or as something wrong, inevitably leads to this corruption of what it means to be masculine. You can't disrespect and avoid the feminine and expect the masculine to then remain intact. They need each other, which is really the very base concept of gender identity in the Church.
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. So you see, 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 to open people's eyes. I believe in the Church and the ideals thereof, but I also have experience with a lot of non-ideal situations and believe strongly in social justice and respecting others. So I can take these concepts and doctrine, and I can help others 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 apply them to the imperfect. I only hope my professor gives me the chance to do this.
Thanks for reading, guys. Come back next time for a much lighter Pinterest roundup post!
Images via bonner.pages.tcnj.edu, latinaish.com, tcpl.libguides.com, thatdesigirl.com, and viewnews.com.au.
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