I’d become regarded – for one reason or another – as the feminist voice in my German class. Sure, German class may not seem like typical place to have discussions about gender equality, but in my German class it is. My socially conscious teacher gives us many opportunities to explore cross-cultural issues and talk about them in class. When a documentary we watched (BBC’s “Make Me a German”) talked about how, in Germany, only 2% of high level corporate job positions are held by women and that the average German woman does not go back to work after having kids and instead completes about 4.5 hours of house chores per day, I vocalized my concerns about gender equality in Germany. The responses I received from my (mostly male) classmates were as follows:
“Are you a feminist, Maureen?” Steven asked.
When I responded that I was, he sneered and denounced the feminist movement as absurd and senseless – one that was not concerned with the equality of men and women, but is instead seeking female superiority. I was greeted with a chorus of agreeances from many of the other males in my class. “Haven’t we already given you enough?” they asked. “What more do you want – men and women are completely equal.” I tried to call bullshit, but (although I shouldn’t even have too) I was never given a chance to explain myself.
After I got home from school that day, I went on facebook only to have a private message from Steven, the main perpetrator of the situation.
“I want to argue with you about your ridiculous feminist ideals” he said.
Yeah, that’s right, he attempted to start a dialogue between the two of us by denouncing a core part of my identity as “ridiculous,” and then later got mad at me for responding “too vehemently.” When I started talking about rape culture he simply responded: “rape culture does not exist,” and then refused to expand. I began elaborating, explaining to him how often victims of rape are blamed for it, and how infrequently that blaming in condoned. I explained how women wearing “promiscuous” clothing are rarely taken seriously when raped because people claim that they were “asking for it.” I even cited the example of the Steubenville rape last year and how, when the two boys were convicted, every news channel ever was reporting on the tragedy of their conviction and claiming how they had such promising futures that had been ruined because the rape victim reported the rape. His response to this was: “This will never be a fair argument because you, as a feminist, are biased.” Will someone please explain to me how recognizing and condemning rape culture is biased? Because I am still at a loss.
His next point was that the ridiculousness of feminism stems from the “hypocrisy” of it’s name, and that the term “feminism” makes no sense because, again, it is neglecting men who are exploited and oppressed and solely seeking superiority of females that are “already equal.” It is undeniable, though, that women in our society face harsher social binaries and expectations, and even legal discriminations (i.e. rape culture, reproductive rights, the wage gap, slut shaming, global education rights, etc.) than men, and anyone who views women as currently equal is just undereducated or misinformed. Feminists are ultimately for the destruction of patriarchy – not female superiority. Feminism seeks to end stigmas associated with femininity – in both men and women – because in the world we live in today femininity is viewed as inferior. There are plenty of men who are also genuinely oppressed by the patriarchy, often due to some equally rigid “macho provider” standards that men are held to, and if you are a true feminist you would fight, as well, for the equality of those men, not just for that of women. Feminism in an intersectional and inclusive movement and it is entirely unwarranted to say, as Steven did, that the only thing feminism does is “entitle middle class women to ease their consciences” and promote female supremacy.
The mere fact, though, that self-identifying “liberal” high school aged males can hold such negative views towards feminism is quite honestly a bit unnerving. I continue to get shit in my german class for being a feminist and having an interest in gender equality. The short answer is that these needs to change. It is not acceptable that I feel unable to express the oppression that I face every day in a classroom setting, and that other people are unaware of the rampant gender inequality that exists in our society.