There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn't.
“There is a War”, Leonard Cohen
Those that have read my articles or know my work have heard me say time and time again how I proudly call myself as a Feminist, a Feminist Advocate, or a Feminist Gentleman. In my youth I had strong female role models, women who taught me about dignity and empowerment. I learned from them to challenge a world willing to impose a role based on a socially imposed label, be it because of your gender, your race, your sexuality, your social standing, or your religion. They taught me that the greatest gift I could give anyone was dignity and respect. For those reasons I considered myself a Feminist. And for those same reasons I find it hard to use that label any more.
My problem here is not that I no longer believe in the lessons I learned as a child, or that I no longer believe in gender equality, but quite the contrary. Writing and working in favor of gender equality has actually opened my eyes to the extent of the inequality our society has to deal with. Before I began, I had only a basic idea of just how unfair the world was towards women. And if I am completely honest, I never really took into account just how unfair the world was towards men.
In my eyes back then, objectification, sexism, domestic violence, and sexual assault were things women had to deal with because of men. If we created better men, the problem would be solved. Yes, I took a side in a battle against prejudice and gender inequality. Yet, the more I thought and discussed with others about women’s inequality the more I realized how men also suffered from the social double standards, just in a different way. I also started to realize how women’s inequality was also directly tied to men’s inequality. I realized that the problem isn’t men nor is it women, but the lines drawn in the sand between the different camps of the gender debate.
Imagine my surprise when I realized this idea was nothing new, as many men and women, a lot more versed in the topic, had come to the same conclusion. The great Gloria Steinem, during a speech a few years ago, mentioned how we need to stop the idea of sorting each other by gender and skin color. She went further in supporting how we need to fight, not only for women, but for men as well. “Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” More recently, Emma Watson’s UN speech spoke more of a movement of inclusion, where men and women worked together to achieve a greater good. Yet when you see the actual application of the UN resolution, it was a completely different story.
Today we have most people involved in the debate banding together under the label of feminist or anti-feminist, Feminist advocate/ally or Men’s Rights Activists. And THAT is the great challenge here. As many of the leaders go and give a message of unity and hope, there is a small band of extremely vocal and aggressive members within the different camps that promote and thrive on conflict and shaming. It’s these members who have caused most of the stereotyping and divide within the gender issues. Depending on what side of the debate you are, you will routinely view one group with pride and the other with disgust thanks to these extremist. They reinforce the labels, using them as a reason to attack someone, as shields to ignore criticism, and battle standards held high in the field of battle, more important than the cause they fight for.
And that is where I have drawn my own line in the sand. I am no longer willing to accept that gender equality, or any other equality issue for that matter, should be a movement based on conflict between those involved. I refuse to participate in an extremist-manufactured war based on semantic short-cuts that only work to stall the real conversations about pay parity, healthcare, and childcare. Doing so only keeps us from address the real underlying, practical inequalities that are strangling our society. I refuse to recognize a hierarchy of suffering, where victims are used for a pissing contest between sides. I refuse to participate in the constant double-speak and double-standards used conveniently in the discussions of equality. And I refuse to allow myself to be dragged into the “your with me or against me” that so many of the extremist within the debate love to use to enforce support in their actions.
The greatest irony within the debate is that, after you remove all the labels and insults, the message within all the camps is the same, people asking for safety, respect, equality, and empowerment. None of these are finite resources; where you have to take it from one group to give it to another. In truth, we need to look past the mudslinging, the insults, and the shaming done by the worst elements within the debate and step out of our trenches. We need to turn the debate into a conversation.
The easiest cop-out to the label issue would be to simply view everyone as humans, and simply call yourself a Humanist. But this is denying what individual groups go through within society because of who they are, be it gender, race, sexuality, or religion. It’s easy to applauded equality when everyone is the same. We need to promote equality when everyone is different. We might all be human, but the inequalities dealt with by women are different than the inequalities dealt with by men. Because I see the parts of you, doesn’t mean I don’t see the human in you; just as because I see the human in you, doesn’t mean I don’t see the parts of you.
As for now, since I don’t call myself a Feminist and don’t quite fit within the label Humanist, what word do I use?
I have become quite fond of “Me.”