Lesson one: It’s all personal
The very first thing you need to know about feminism is that it is going to vary by each person, much like coffee orders. My personal base definition of feminism is as follows: The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the genders. Some feminists are pro-life, some see makeup and high heels as just another way that women are forced to be sexualized, some don’t shave. We can argue later about what my personal opinion is about issues like that, but my basic point is that no two feminists are alike and when creating your feminist stance I encourage you to hear all sides and fight for the issues you feel most strongly about. Example: I do not write much about child brides, but am strongly against marrying off young girls. I do, however, write about street harassment. This is mostly due to the fact that I have no personal experience with the former, but am all too familiar with the latter.
This does not take away from the fact that I believe the issue of child brides to be a very important feminist issue. All this means is that I have not educated myself enough about child brides to feel comfortable writing about it as part of my feminism. If you feel strongly about an issue, it is worth learning about. Whether it affects you or not. But in the end, your feminism is yours, and you decide what you identify with and feel strongly about.
Lesson two: Gender vs. Sex
For many, many, many, (too) many years, I did not understand the difference between gender and sex. An entire universe of knowledge and understanding was opened up to me when I finally learned the difference.
Let’s start with sex. Sex is what you are biologically born with, and is determined by your genitalia, also known as your sex organs. If you are born with a penis your sex is male, if you are born with a vagina your sex is female. But this doesn’t mean that sex as an identifier is always useful. In actuality, it’s pretty arbitrary and non-inclusive. Some individuals are born with sexual anatomy that does not really fit in the typical definitions of male or female. The general term for this is intersex. Heads up, if you plan on being a regular reader of this blog then get used to reading penis and vagina. There will be no reference to willies, va-jay-jays, boy bits, girl bits, trouser snakes, moist caves or any other ridiculous-romance-novel-phrasing to biological entities of the human body. Now back to sex. Just because you are born with male sex organs does not mean that you will identify, or should identify, as a man. This brings us to gender.
If sex is what you are physically born with, think of gender as what you are mentally and emotionally born with. Gender is self-identified. A person born with the male sex may know mentally and emotionally that they are actually a woman. This person is a transgender woman. A person born with male sex organs who identifies mentally and emotionally as a male is a cisgender man. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down? Current social ideas about gender might help someone come to the conclusion that their gender does not match their sex, because gender is an innately social identity. Eventually I will write a full post about trans-inclusive feminism, and about identifying as gender fluid.
Lesson three: Gender roles are utter trash
I fucking hate gender roles and gender stereotypes. They are stupid. Gender roles are social expectations that box us into certain behaviors and preferences. They say that girls should like pink and should play with dolls and dress up like princesses, while boys should like blue and play with trucks and dress up like soldiers. Gender roles make it harder for women to be taken seriously in male-dominated fields. They tell men not cry or else they will be ‘pussies’. They are overall very unpleasant and restricting and based solely on social cues and social structure and I say we tear them down.
Gender stereotypes are slightly different. Stereotypes are negative or condescending generalizations of one gender. They say women can’t drive, or play professional sports as well as men and get overly emotional while on their periods. They say that men only think about sex, can’t take care of children and are afraid of commitment. These things may be true in some men and women, but when used against an entire gender they limit what individuals who identify with that gender can accomplish by creating a preconceived notion of the capabilities of that gender.
Lesson four: Sexuality on a spectrum
Fun fact: there are more sexualities than simply homosexual (attracted to the same gender) or heterosexual (attracted to the opposite gender). There is bisexual, which means that you are attracted to people of the same gender, and people of a different gender. Or asexual, which means that you do not typically feel sexual attraction towards others. Pansexual means that you are not limited by gender when feeling attraction, you can be attracted to any gender. To go along with each sexuality (and trust me this is NOT an extensive list) are a list of -drumroll please- negative stereotypes! Because that’s how society handles something that it does not fully understand! Ta-da!
“Bisexual people just can’t make up their mind,” is an old stereotype used by people both in and out of the queer community. “Pansexuality isn’t a thing. You have to be attracted to a certain gender,” is another charming example of what the haters say about pansexuality. And my personal favorite, “You just haven’t found the right person,” being said to an asexual person. Yeah, because a night of bonin’ just makes a person see the light. Reactions like these invalidate these sexualities, and in turn they invalidate the people who identify as pansexual, asexual, and bisexual.
Lesson five: Men can benefit from feminism
Remember the dreaded gender roles? Well, feminism isn’t a fan of them. In order to bring about gender equality, we must address the benefits that come from each gender and strive to provide those benefits to everyone. Women are given more freedom to show emotion, while men are often told to hide most emotion. Men are taught not to cry, or do anything else associated with being like a female. Feminists want men to feel safe expressing emotion.
Male victims of sexual assault are often not believed, because gender stereotypes dictate that men want and crave sex all the time. You can’t be a victim if you wanted it. Or, they should keep quiet about it because that’s just not something that happens to men. These stereotypes need to be abolished in order to help male victims get the help they need. Men can, and will, benefit from feminism in the long run.
These are the basic lessons I will leave you with for now. All of these will be expanded on in time, but, as they will all be long and possibly filled with angry cuss words and will need to be edited down into something readable, that time is not now.
*A short note about me. I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender female who has never liked being told what she can and cannot do. Although I love reading about and talking about gender issues and feminism, I in no way consider myself an expert and am learning about these issues just like you. These posts are from my perspective of feminism and I can not speak on behalf of others. I want to educate readers about issues I think are important, but in many ways my identity limits my perspective, and I cannot speak on behalf of identities that are not my own. My personal feminism strives to be intersectional and includes being pro-choice, pro marriage equality, pro health care equality, anti pay gap, and pro body autonomy. I think the way we handle sexual assault and rape cases in this country is abhorrent, I do not think that talking about cat calling takes away from the horrors of genital mutilation because people can be concerned about both, and I adore my birth control and the freedom it provides me and millions of women around the world. I would like you to join me in taking down the patriarchy, which is the male dominated society that we live in that uses institutionalized sexism to keep women from attaining as much power as men.