Welcome back to the blog, friends! Sorry I’ve been MIA for the summer, and glad to be back and to be kicking it off with a fantastic guest post!
Vishal Jain, the author of this post, is one of the most thoughtful, selfless, caring people I know. From the first day I met him at a leadership retreat my sophomore year of college, he has always shown me that he is willing to go the distance, out of his way, out on a limb, bend over backwards, etc., to be there for the people he cares about. He also shown me that, to better care for the diverse people in his life, he is willing to have difficult conversations, particularly about privilege and discrimination. He’s been an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, and an integral part of the conversation on Emory’s campus about sexual assault particularly in the Greek life context. So today I’m excited to feature a piece he has written on how, from a male’s perspective, all people can better contribute to the feminist movement. Thanks for reading 🙂
Feminism: You’re Invited!
During my last year of college I took a course on women, religion, and ethnographies. I was a business major in school and I took this class purely out of interest, to have an experience outside of the throes of my major. I was the only male in the class, which obviously came with some interesting stipulations.
At the end of the class we were all asked to do a research assignment that related back to the material that we covered. As I thought about what to write about, my mind kept going to thoughts of “feminism” and how it came out in the classroom, in my life, and in my own head. The fact that I was the only male that signed up for the class gave me a thought, why is it that more men aren’t in this class? And more importantly, why aren’t more men speaking up about feminism?
I decided to do some research; I interviewed a group of men and women (20 total, 10 men and 10 women) and asked some basic questions: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why/Why not? What does feminism mean to you? Etc. The results I got were extremely interesting. 100% of men answered “yes” to being a feminist, and only 50% of women answered no. When asked why, some men said that if they didn’t identify as feminist they would be classified as sexist (most also said that they look for equality in society. There is still hope in the world, I promise). Women on the other hand told me that being a feminist came with a radical and negative stigma, one that they did not want. As I talked to more of the females, they asked me the same questions back and I told them my views on feminism. I want the playing field to be equal, for each person to be recognized and valued for every little part of who they are, not simply a factor of genetics. Interestingly enough, every female that answered no to being a feminist replied by saying “If that’s feminism, then I’m a feminist for sure.”
1 year later, I still think about those conversations. I think about talking with men about their experiences with being stifled or criticized on how they express their feminism. I think about the women that keep their voices down, or stay silent because they feel that if they speak up, they’ll be classified as a radical and rash. But most importantly I think about the fact that every individual I talked to wanted the same thing. They all wanted a world where we were treated as equals and individuals. From my conversations and interactions with others I’ve learned a few things about feminism that I think could help us all get closer to this shared goal:
Keep the conversation open.
My dad is and has been someone that I actively look up to. He was the one who inspired the feminist flame within me after he came home one day and badgered me to read his idea of the bible: “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Something that I’ve noticed he does is that he makes an active effort to include everyone around him in a conversation. When the men at a dinner party are talking politics, he’ll make an active effort to go to the “wives tables” and get them fired up about the topic and effectively create one big conversation. In college I was involved in Sexual Assault advocacy, or tried to be. Every now and then my opinion or thoughts would be disregarded because “you’re a man, you don’t know what it feels like”. This happened so many times, that I began to disassociate from some organizations and walk my own path to advocacy. Sure, I could do that, but it doesn’t mean I wanted to. Sometimes it’s nice to be invited to the conversation rather than forcing our way in.
Inequality Affects All of Us.
After college I went to work for a management consulting firm, in hopes of finding myself professionally. Corporate America isn’t exactly the apex of social equality, but it has taught me some important lessons. Within a few days of our orientation program I quickly noticed something, our whole leadership team was all males except for one partner. Interestingly I noticed my new hire class on the other hand was a pretty even 50/50 split between men and women. More interestingly, later in the orientation one our leadership team got up in front of everyone and said what we were all thinking, “We need more women in leadership roles, it’s not good for us to keep things the way they are”. He explained that this lack of diversity not only inhibits the quality of leadership conversations, but it discourages women in the firm from pushing themselves further up and it has led to failed sales pitches because our clients (who are all retailers by the way) don’t feel like we can properly understand their business without equal representation. In that moment I gained a new respect for my firm for admitting these facts, but I was also hit with a great feeling of surprise; who would have guessed that even scary, testosterone filled corporate America was at a detriment from a lack of gender equality.
Speak the truth, but your truth.
One of the most common phrases I’ve heard in emotional conversations is “stop pretending like you understand me, you don’t know what it’s like to be me”. In college I went through Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy training and during that training was taught to avoid the words “I understand”. The fact of the matter is that we cannot possibly 100% understand another person’s struggles, we aren’t that other person. Men are not women, we haven’t experienced the same kind of discrimination that they have faced. What we can all understand is our own struggles and conflicts. If you want to speak up, and men this applies especially to you, talk about your own experiences and your own thoughts and opinions. Because no one can deny those things, the past is a truth. If you have been directly affected by the lack of equality, or have an opinion for a personal reason then share it. There’s a fine line between putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to steal the other person’s shoes. Stealing is wrong, instead be considerate and speak your truth, the truth really will set you free.
Redefine the word.
This one is for all those out there who regard the word “feminism” in the same way they do an air raid siren; running for cover the second they hear it. Society might define a feminist as a radical, bra burning, man hater, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write your own definition like a real life Urban Dictionary. Walk into the streets, fight the good fight, and when someone asks why say “because I’m a feminist”. If we associate the word with the things we want it to be associated with, the idea will spread.