I thought I was well versed in feminist theories, and that I didn’t need to listen to other feminist theories because it would be a waste of both my own and other’s time. I knew everythingI needed to know.
Oh, how young and naïve I was.
I have gradually started reading more about feminism, started listening to different speakers, and seeing things from other perspectives. I have been broadening my understanding and I am better for it. You see, identifying with any political or moral movement, you cannot avoid change. The world changes, laws change, views change, and people change. It is only right that ideas and opinions change too. I still staunchly believe that feminism is the fight for gender equality, the equality of all genders regardless of whether a person has a vagina or not. But I am not the feminist I once was, nor am I the feminist I will be. So I would like to share with you the biggest realisations I have had since defining myself as a feminist.
Tone policing is not good. Tone policing is focusing on how something is said or conveyed, and ignoring the actual words. It’s the ‘catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ argument, and now that I’m aware of it, it grinds my gears. It doesn’t matter how a person is dressed, the language they use, the volume, or tone. What matters is the content of their argument. To the radical feminists dressed in vagina costumes I once dismissed—I am sorry. You deserve as much time and serious attention as any other person fighting for equality.
Be ever aware of intersectionality. This is the connection between forms or systems of oppression or discrimination. People don’t just experience one from of discrimination at once, they experience a multitude. For example, I am both female and bisexual. Someone may make a rude comment about my sexual history—are they being sexist, biphobic, or both? No one from of discrimination is lesser than another.
You cannot save all the oppressed people. This is not just because of a lack of resources or time, but because they don’t all need saving in the way you want to save them. Some women find strength and comfort wearing a hijab, others wearing a bikini. You cannot save people by forcing your own values and beliefs onto them—instead respect their autonomy and their ability to decide. By forcing your own values onto someone else, you are just as bad as the original oppressor.
You cannot change people. You cannot change people. Some people will swear the wage gap doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter how much you explain systematic oppression or that the term ‘wage gap’ is a very literal name for a very complex issue. They won’t understand because they either cannot or will not, and you cannot change that.
Some people will dismiss what you are saying as soon as the words ‘feminist’ or ‘gender equality’ comes up. I can’t explain it. You’ll be having a great time with some mates, and then some uncultured swine introduces a rape joke to the conversation. You won’t laugh, you’ll call them out and tell them the joke is insensitive/sexist/not funny/all of the above, and you’ll be accused of being a feminist and slowly alienated from the conversation. First, people who use rape as a punchline are not people to be friends with. Second, keep doing it. I learned early on to not let dismissal get me down, and the longer you keep at it, the more likely people are going to start taking you seriously.
Listen to other people. Bonus points if you’re listening in a non-judgemental way. Really non-judgemental, not the pretend non-judgemental I know we’ve all done. Listen to their opinions and why they hold those opinions. It might be public opinion, it might be personal, but it’s important to listen, and you may learn something new.
Above all, practice what you preach. It may take some time to realise the feminist gaffe you might have been making, but turn that behaviour around. Actions always speak louder than words.
Words by Kaisha Wyld