The Male Feminist’s First Step
This article was originally written for Bristol’s ‘Her Campus’ blog during my third year of study.
Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None is attractive because it deals with a variety of issues relevant to our generation in a calm and thoughtful way, coupled with tasteful direction and empathetic performances. In its seventh episode, the main character’s girlfriend becomes upset with him after he brushes off her claims that a man shaking the hands of men and not women at a table demonstrates innate sexism. She explains to him that – along with most women – she has to put up with a massive amount of shit that men like him are blissfully ignorant of, and that it’s upsetting for him to not appreciate the scale and significance of this shit, even when only experiencing one of its less shocking symptoms.
Anyone expecting my to endorse watching well-written Netflix shows as the first step for men who believe in equality – towards actively supporting it – I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. In fact, I feel that a lot of men, including my previous self, don’t understand that consuming general media like this with feminist themes is simply not sufficient, especially not the hastily read titles of articles shared by politically active female friends. I’m not saying that any of this media is bad for you, it’s just not enough.
If you really think that sexism is bad, on principle, then the first thing you should do is talk to your female peers about sexism, especially those close to you. In Master of None, the lead character goes from disbelief to shock at hearing of all the shit his female friends go through – something I know I have experienced when talking with the women I know. It’s all too easy to view feminism through the bleary lens of your phone’s Facebook timeline. After all, we’re at a nice, liberal university full of people who don’t like Donald Trump… Surely sexism isn’t a big factor in women’s lives here?
This is a gross misconception – sexism is definitely a factor. In the lives of women here, it is a frequent one at that. Naturally, there is some variation as to how much women are affected by sexist behaviour, but it shouldn’t take more than three conversations to realise how deeply and frequently sexism may be hurting those close to you. It’s upsetting to accept this kind of behaviour. It makes you feel ashamed of your gender and grimly impressed by the endurance of the female sex. But this discomfort is necessary.
On a recent train journey with my girlfriend, the middle-aged train conductor stamped her ticket, before muttering to her that she was a “good girl.” If I had less appreciation of what it’s like to be a 21 year old woman, I doubt I would have noticed. I may have even tried to encourage my girlfriend to view the comment as innocuous, for the sake of harmony. After the discussions I have had with women about the more insidious behaviour they experience, it made me uncomfortable. Witnessing this man’s actions first hand led me to see the contextual undertone that makes comments such as these eyebrow raising at best and skin-crawlingly-creepy at worst. Only through feeling this discomfort and seeing how much it permeates through everyday life can you really understand why feminism is so necessary and why it’s our duty to try to counter sexism wherever possible.
As important as it is for feminist writers to share their shocking experiences online, any writer will struggle to create the same shock that happens when someone you care about tells you of their experiences. This doesn’t make you selfish, it’s just natural. It didn’t make you selfish if you felt a deeper feeling of sickness upon hearing about the Paris attacks than you did about attacks further afield; the economic, societal and geographic proximity of the Paris attacks made them more scary; they were quite literally closer to home. In addition to this, pixelated text can never recreate the communicative power of conversation; a human voice and face tie down meaning more than any
Talking to your female friends about sexism is just the very beginning. Once you see how much sexism affects those around you, you have to consider your role in it, both as a perpetrator and a victim (that being a victim to the harmful idea that femininity is equal to weakness). After that I don’t know, I’m pretty new to this stuff myself. But please, take this first step. It might not be fun, but it’s your duty.