Why I’m a Feminist…

Happy Birthday to Simone de Beauvoir

“To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles – desire, possession, love, dream, adventure – worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us – giving, conquering, uniting – will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.”

[from here]

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How do you fight…?

I read an article in the Guardian on Saturday that really stuck in my mind. It was comment by Eve Ensler on the furore surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, in which she asked a series of questions. I want to reproduce those questions here:

This is a stream of the questions running in my head all morning.

How do you fight a rape case if you have lied in your past? How do you fight a rape case if you have been sexually active? How do you fight a rape case as a woman who wants a future in journalism, politics, banking, international affairs? How do you fight a rape case and ever hope to be taken seriously again or be perceived as anything other than a raped victim?

How do you fight a rape case as a woman in places like Congo where there are no real courts and no one is held accountable? How do you fight a rape case as an illegal immigrant with no rights in that country? 

How do you fight a rape case if you still believe rape is your fault, if you don’t even know what rape is, if you are afraid of upsetting your boyfriend/husband, or afraid of getting him in trouble because he will be more violent to you?

How do we get men to stop raping lesbians or independent or highly sexual women as a “corrective act” rather than addressing the forces and powers they are truly angry at? How do we get men to understand the impact of rape: how the external bruises are internalised and remain for ever?

How do you speak out against rape and not be called a man hater, a gold digger, a slut? How do you convince women to speak out when their character is called into public question?

How do you speak out against incest or childhood sexual abuse if your mother is sleeping with the man who is abusing you, and you know she loves that man or will not believe you? 

How do you speak out against the adored, handsome, powerful, charming company president/caring psychotherapist/honoured history professor/visionary film director when you risk being despised by those around him? How do you speak out against the charismatic leader of the party or country when to do so jeopardises the standing of the party, the country itself, and could let the opposition take power?

How do you press charges for sexual harassment and not worry about losing your job, or being seen as weak or unable to protect yourself or hang with the guys and “take a joke”.

When do we stop separating how we treat women from our vision of a free, equal, just world – ie how do you call yourself a socialist, an intellectual, a leader, a freedom fighter, an anti-apartheid, anti-racism, pro-earth champion, and not make honouring women a central part of that equation?

How do we create a real dialogue between men and woman about violence: what it does, how it hurts? How do we stop saying that women who are opposed to violence hate sex? When do we stop seeing them as the same thing?

I am a man, and as such I’m not sure if you will allow me to be a feminist. But these questions haunt me as well, and I want to see them answered. I want us, as a society, to honour women and treat them as equals. I want to see sexual harassment, objectification and subjugation removed. I want us to treat rape as what it is – the worst of all possible crimes.

How do we do that?