Around here we’ve been having a series of discussions about feminism. My partner is male and he’s been thinking about feminism and what it means to me and our feminist friends.
Like many other social movements, feminism started with the basic idea that women are adult persons who should be treated as such. Basic things like having bank accounts of our own, being able to own homes, and vote were among the goals of first-wave feminism.
Second-wave feminism was the radical swing — many second-wave feminists thought folks like Andrea Dwarkin were right when they said that all heterosexual sex was about power and was akin to rape. Thank goodness for the third-wave folks in my generation.
The thing about third-wave feminism, and the idea that informs my practice of feminism, is that we recognize that men aren’t the enemy of women. We love men, we raise boy children to become good men, and we seek to have partnerships with men who see women as equals. We recognize that the messages sent out by the patriarchy impact both men and women, although the fact of the matter is that if a man chooses to participate in the patriarchal power structure, he may do so. Women can’t play in the patriarchy game, although we need to understand the rules of the game in order to live within the patriarchy. In essence, women must be bi-cultural — we have our own set of experiences and we understand how the patriarchy dominates the larger culture. Men don’t need to be bi-cultural in the same way, although they can choose to do so.
The problem is that the patriarchy puts filters in place that distort the ideals of feminism. When feminist messages come out via the media they are often distorted and thus inaccurate. The main message that is transmitted is that it’s not ok to be a guy — if you want to be a good feminist. That’s just not true.
Remember, the core of third-wave feminism is an acceptance of people as people. It’s ok to be who you are. It’s ok to be a lesbian, a bi-sexual, a transsexual, asexual or whatever you want to be. You can be a woman who enjoys dressing up and being pretty — you can be a man who likes to roll around in the mud.. AND you can be a woman who enjoys rolling around in the mud or a man who likes to get dressed up and be pretty. Perhaps our main project is to live in a world in which those kinds of gender stereotypes don’t apply.
When I first started talking with my current partner, I found that he enjoys cooking and prefers to handle the kitchen. He also said that if his partner made more money than he did and he saw the opportunity for one parent to stay home with the kids, that he’d gladly take that role. Knowing him as well as I do now, I have no doubt that he’d be a fantastic stay at home dad — and I’ve pretty much surrendered the kitchen to him. I’ve always doubted my ability to stay home with small children and my cooking has always been mediocre at best. The thing is, we have our division of labor because those are our unique skills and talents, not because of some outside force telling us what we should and shouldn’t be as men and women.
On occasion he expresses concern that he likes typical guy stuff — cutting the grass, making camp fires, opening tough jars for me etc.. He worries that this makes him objectionable to feminists. I can only speak for myself, but I find nothing wrong with that. If those are the things he enjoys doing, he can do so.
We discuss the experience of looking at a person and admiring their form. What I tell him is that is a human experience — both men and women do it. I’ll admit to looking at a guy in public and thinking — “hmmm.. yummm :)” — It’s biology pure and simple, and it’s ok. What’s problematic is when it goes beyond a simple set of lusty thoughts and moves into actions that treat a person as only being valuable because of how they look. That’s not ok — but a non-obvious glance and silent appreciation maintains respect.
We also more directly discuss the relationship between feminism and sex. The way I see feminism relating to sex is that people should be able to enjoy sex however they wish, as long as what they’re doing isn’t harming another person. It’s rather simple in a way — we should do what we want when we’re naked. We should be able to do that with the people we want to do it with — respecting boundaries and not seeing the other person as the equivalent of a breathing sex toy..