By SAM RITHOLTZ
I’m sick and tired of getting asked the same question: “You’re a boy, why are you into women’s issues?” Note that I would never be called a feminist because no one would ever think to call a male a feminist. My friends, my family, my past employers have all, at one point or another, asked me this very same question with the same disbelief in my intentions. It’s not that they doubt my integrity (at least I hope not). It’s just that they don’t understand where my interest in the field comes from: Surely, women’s issues must only apply to women.
In this day and age, feminism has become a polarizing, stigmatized term that conjures a very radical image of bra burning rabble rousers. I have even heard female friends of mine reject the title because they don’t wish to identify with such an outdated, confrontational movement. Now, I’ve never taken an introduction to feminist, gender, and sexuality studies class here on the Hill, but I firmly disagree with the modern connotations of this word. I don’t think that we live in a post-feminist society, I don’t think the feminist movement is no longer relevant and I don’t think every feminist comes in the same form. To me, on the most basic level, feminism is a strong belief in gender equality and a commitment to fight against sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.
Personal forays into the work of feminist theorist, bell hooks, have taught me that there is more to the term than that basic definition — that the feminist movement has encompassed issues of race, class and sexuality. And while I do not necessarily want to turn this column into “Sam shares with you all what he learned reading the work of bell hooks,” I do wish to acknowledge the precarious place from which I write, as a white male with definite privilege in our society. Still, theorists like bell hooks acknowledge that there is a role for men in the feminist movement, as allies who are part of the conversation and part of the action.
If one looks at some of the major movements in history — abolition, civil rights, LGBT rights — each one had an ally group that may not have been subject to the same oppression, but certainly helped in the fight for more rights. I believe this support is the role men should take in the feminist movement. The oppression of women around the world is so pervasive that it is ludicrous to think that we live in a post-feminist society. Women constitute half of the world’s population, yet own only 15 percent of the world’s land and represent 17.7 percent seats in the world’s elected legislative bodies, among other jarring statistics. Yet, study after study shows that these inequalities do not only affect women — gender equality benefits everyone. Recent World Bank studies have shown that the increase in the status of women in a society is directly related to increases in GDP, increases in the health of a given population and decreases in the poverty level.
Here at Cornell, instances of sexual violence are still far too common and underreported to believe that the fight for gender equality is finished in our own home. When the class of 2014 graduates this year, the women in our class will be making 81 cents to every dollar made by the men in our class. Now I’m not trying to lay on the guilt here, but I am trying to say that the work of the past generations is not finished. We as a generation, both men and women together, must continue our efforts if we ever hope to see some change.
The question is how can we, as males, help? To start, we can get educated on the subject matter in order to understand and identify modern day forms of sexism and oppression. We can join various programs on campus that fight for women’s rights (I’m sure the Women’s Resource Center on campus would be more than willing to point you in the right direction). And we can stop accepting the status quo. On campus this action may entail telling a friend that the girl he is with is too drunk to give consent, that his or her rape joke wasn’t funny or that his or her comment was sexist and offensive.
We may not all have to identify as feminists, but we shouldn’t just leave the work and responsibility to those who do. For those who identify as feminists, however, you should shout it with pride. I’m Sam, I’m often one of the only boys in the room, I’m not okay with the state of sexist oppression in the world, and I’m a feminist.