Being a feminist doesn’t end at respecting women. Growing up in this world, we’ve all internalized some toxic misogynistic behaviors without realizing it.
It’s International Women’s Day! So, today we’re going to talk about how you can be a better feminist. This article isn’t just for those of you who identify as women. All of us, even femme-presenting and female-identifying people, could use a reminder on how to unlearn social conditioning and be a better feminist.
Being a feminist doesn’t end at respecting women. Growing up in this world, we’ve all internalized some toxic misogynistic behaviors without realizing it. Here are 2 important things to be mindful of:
1. Create space for non-binary and femme-presenting people
Be mindful of your presence and that of others. Observe how much space you take up, physically, verbally, emotionally in different settings and with different people. Try to notice how other people, especially women are affected by it. Masculine presenting people often tend to take up more space without realizing it. I’m referring to physical space and also verbal and figurative spaces because of how normalized we are to men dominating spaces.
Different people negotiate space differently. Especially if you are a masculine presenting person, this will help you be more aware of the presence of non-men around you. You will start noticing how women and femme-presenting people are taught to shrink themselves––take up less space just because that’s what expected of them. This shows up in many different forms––manspreading, for example, refers to how men sit and stand in ways that physically spread their bodies and take up more space than women.
Verbal space is also negotiated differently––men tend to dominate conversations, especially in media. If you look at the image below, men tend to talk for a majority of the time on screen too. But the question is, how many of us really felt this disparity when we watched those movies (or any movies in general)? How many of us are aware of how little non-men are represented? (This is something I’m working on being more mindful of too!)
Speaking of representation, this is also why representation in professional settings matters. We’ve all seen manels––all male panels, often discussing issues that don’t directly affect men. The point of this is that when men dominate spaces, non-men around them are expected to shrink themselves. As a feminist, striving towards equality means creating space, in every form, for those of us who don’t have it––women, non-binary people, queer people, and other marginalized peoples.
2. Actively talk about consent
Let consent play an active part of your everyday life. Learn to seek consent before you do something that involves another person, and also recognize that you have a right to consent, or not consent if you so choose. Consent doesn’t just start and end in the bedroom. It can apply to all kinds of physical touch––hugs, hand holding, etc. It can also apply to conversations, or, well, any activity. Imagine getting into someone’s car and insisting that they have to drive you around; or, imagine if you were invited into someone’s house but then they refused to let you leave.
This is important because we live in a world where consent is ignored more often than not. As there is less space for femme-presenting and women’s voices, their consent, or lack thereof, is often ignored. Here is a brilliant comic (no really, it’s BRILLIANT) from Everyday Feminism that talks about what it would be like if society treated all consent the way sexual consent is treated:
There you go! Those are 2 things you can work on for 2018. I also recommend asking women and femme-presenting people around you what you can do to be a better ally. Again, this isn’t an article targeted only towards men. All of us have internalized toxic behaviors that we may or may not be aware of. And that manifests differently in every individual. So, the best thing you can do is to ask people around you, especially women and femme-presenting people, what you can do to be a better feminist. (As you do that, also be mindful of the emotional labor you may ask of those people. Also keep in mind that these might be difficult conversations for you. Even when we ask for it, it’s hard to hear criticism.)
So that’s all for this week. I’ll be back next week answering questions y’all have sent in about trans issues.
(ICYMI, it’s the International Transgender Day of Visibility on the 31st of March! I’ll be answering a bunch of questions about trans stuff as my way of celebrating this!)