I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but I didn’t feel right doing it. I didn’t want to disrupt the discourse: People who had been victims of sexism, who had important stories and examples of why we needed change. Their experience, I felt, mattered more than mine. It made more sense than mine, too. They experienced an injustice. They demanded change. You can’t argue with that.
My relationship with feminism is a little different. Have I personally experienced subtle and not-so-subtle forms of sexism? Yes, of course I have. I know people who don’t respond appropriately to when they hear the word “no.” I have seen men threatened by women at the workplace, or in leadership positions. I have been on the receiving end (and probably the perpetrating end, too) of sexist expectations. I acknowledge those experiences. They are powerful. But, for me, they are not the most powerful. Not even close.
Because here is the honest truth: I am not a feminist not because I’ve experienced sexism, but because I have experienced equality. I have seen that it works, that it makes all of us better. I am not a feminist because of my bad experiences with men, but because of the good, even awe-inspiring experiences with men. Where they have seen my potential. Where they have let me lead. Where they have treated me with respect.
I’ve been lucky, I know that. Still, I have to say it because I don’t think it gets said enough: When you let a person be all of who they are without constraining them to a box of sexist expectations, when don’t pre-judge people based on their gender, when you treat someone else’s body with respect, it matters.
In my case, it matters so much that people treating me this way is the entire reason I am a feminist. I know it’s possible for us to build women up, instead of knock them down. People can be good. We, as a society, can be better. I hope we can make the conversation not just about horror stories of sexism, but also the triumphs of equality.
These are the first men in my life, or at least some of them. I also have twelve uncles, two late grandfathers, and enough family friends to fill a house. I grew up surrounded by men. I also grew up believing that I was smart. That I could, if I worked hard, be anything I wanted to be.
We had hot wheels, and I played with them (I mean, I gave them names and relationships and intricate narratives, but still). We had dolls, and my brothers played with them (sometimes). We had about 25 games named “smash-up derby,” and another 25 games named “pretend.” I liked the “pretend” games more than the smash-up games, and that was okay. We took turns talking about our day around the table, and no ones day was less important than someone else’s. I never thought I had less potential or value because I was a woman in this household.
This was my first experience of women and men nurturing each other. This experience–a positive one, not a negative one–was my first step to becoming a feminist.
These are my some of my high school friends, the ones who put up with my annoying laugh, my weird projects, my questionable Friday night ideas. And I put up with theirs, of course. These are the guys who never questioned it when I wanted to hold the camera (even the one who went on to hold cameras professionally,), who listened as I went on and on and on about the things which interested me (even though they probably read more than I did), who laughed at my funny jokes and groaned and shamed me for my terrible ones.
High school is when I really started to notice the sexism around me, thanks to the awareness that comes with age–I noticed that expectations of men and women were different (and sometimes unfair), that things like rape and abusive relationships are real threats. But it’s also when I started to notice that things didn’t have to be that way. My group of friends was full of men who were willing to be emotional and loving, women who were fierce leaders, and a lot of personalities in between. My high school friendships became my model for how I collaborated with men in the professional world, and it was a pretty amazing model. I am eternally grateful for who these guys are, and who they were for me. And I am grateful to the women I befriended, the ones who continue to do badass stuff and inspire me daily.
I could go on, I really could. Boyfriends who respected boundaries. Buddies who didn’t hesitate to invite me to join them for a football game and a pint (go ticats!). Academic colleagues who took my analyses seriously and did not take it easy on debating me when I was wrong. Friendships with people of all genders where we helped each other become better at adult-ing one step at a time. Bosses, male and female alike, who saw my potential and helped me grow professionally. The all-male ball hockey team which embraced me in the summer of Grade 6.
Again, yes, I have had shitty experiences with sexism. We live in a sexist world. It would be hard not to see it, to experience it. But that’s not the whole story, and it’s not what motivates me.
I know for a fact that it is possible for us to be good to each other, to build each other up, and to not treat women as though they are less-than. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I have so many men and women who I love so incredibly much for showing me this, through their actions, words, and attitudes.
That’s why I’m a feminist.