I would like to dedicate this post to the members of the Anita Bender Women’s Center, who through continued dialogue and acceptance have transformed my outlook on the world I am living in; furthermore, I would like to give special consideration to Chandler Esslinger, a leader and badass feminist goddess who challenges my assumptions every time we speak, and does not give herself nearly enough credit.
I tore into this clown like a dog on a bone.
His defense of his management style was disgusting. I already hated the term “servant leadership”, but he took it to a whole new level, steeping his pumped up management qualifications and cheap suit and swirling them around terrible practice and gender bias that it stung my mouth like instant coffee, lukewarm and bitter. Over the last year, I found myself engaged in an education that I didn’t ask for, I didn’t understand, but I desperately needed. That education was manifesting itself in a full force verbal assault in this moment. My final words before I slid back into my chair were, “You’re part of the problem”. I settled into my chair and felt a smirk creep across my lips as he brushed off my youthful ignorance. I felt like a feminist for the first time in my life, and that was all right by me. I realized I was in the middle of a journey I didn’t even really mean to begin, but looking back, I am so very glad I did…
Rewind to Fall 2014:
I didn’t really know what to expect from our first meeting. I was a green student body president, she, the president of the Campus Feminist Organization. I was nervous to the say the least. I’ll be the first to admit, I had my biases. I’m a walking poster boy of the patriarchy. I’m white, I’m straight, I’ve been a part of more than one fraternity, I’m a politician, I served in the military, the list goes on. From my understanding, I was everything she hated in the world, and we hadn’t even met yet. I suffered from a culturally conditioned fear of the “F-Word”. She had reached out to me, a move that surprised me, as I knew that the relationship between CFO and the Senate had been tense, if not combative, for quite a while. I had no idea what to expect really. What I found surprised me. She was friendly, charming even, intelligent, and open to collaboration. She felt, and cared deeply, that was immediately evident in all she had to say. I was impressed; though there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about her and the organization she represented. Her organization didn’t operate within a hierarchy, something completely foreign to me. How did they get anything done? How do you run anything like that? I had a lot of questions, but after some conversation, I felt comfortable that they would be answered in their due time. She asked if she could come back at another time, and bring some other members of the center. I thought that would be just fine, and some further discussion would be good. Their safe space was being challenged, and potentially moved. I didn’t have answers for them, but I was willing to do some digging.
A few weeks later, and a few meetings later, I found myself neck deep in their organization. I started hearing from others in the organization, I even found myself in the Women’s Center for one meeting, following blogs, meeting up with different members to talk about what was going on, not just with the space, but with diversity overall. What started as a corner piece started becoming a full puzzle, and I soon found myself in a meeting with the administration and members of the Women’s Center regarding their space. I wasn’t sure what my role in that meeting would be, but they had asked me to be there, so I decided to show. They were fired up, and the meeting was tense. I attempted to be the middle ground between the two groups, and felt the scornful stare of a few members during the meeting. My fears had been realized. They hated me.
I stayed after to arrange a follow-up with a few of the staff and admins, and when I walked back to my office, I could see three faces through the window. After the meeting, a few of the members of the center had gone back to my office to wait to talk to me. This was it, the big confrontation.
They were fired up about the meeting, and blood was still running hot, but they eventually moved on to less controversial topics after plenty of coffee and a few tense laughs. I took a shallow breath, they don’t hate me. Before leaving, a member named Melissa, looked at me and said something that I won’t soon forget, “Thanks for being an advocate.” She could’ve just punched me in the nose; I think the shock factor would have been considerably less. An advocate? I don’t know the first thing about feminism, let alone, the value of the Women’s Center, or really what I was advocating for. I was just trying to do what I thought was the right thing to do in my situation. I struggled with identifying with that word. I almost felt fake. What did I know of feminism, and who am I to even think about it?
In its due course, I found myself getting more and more involved. What started as a simple conversation had grown into multiple relationships, and began as a massive catalyst for self-exploration. Around every turn, I heard “Well that’s awful privileged of you to say.” and after a while, it stopped being a matter of offense, and even when it was, it was because I knew they were right. There are years of patriarchal thinking built into my subconscious that I didn’t even realize were there, and to boot, I didn’t realize how much of an effect those thoughts had on other people. Even when they weren’t vocalized, those thoughts were toxic, and thoughts become things. My job became to identify those thoughts, to understand them, and in time, to systematically eradicate them. Feminist practice started sneaking it’s way into my everyday life. From reading blog posts, to feminist journals, to actually taking a WGS class, it started sneaking it’s way into the way I thought and engaged with the world. What once started as once in a while meetings turned into social visits, grabbing drinks after work, what started as a student consultation bloomed into real relationships. They weren’t just “the feminists”, they became my friends.
It was in these friendships that I began to learn a lot about myself and feminist perspective, and after a lot of insight, a lot of debate, and a lot of correction, I have come to a conclusion.
Feminism is like Exercise.
It’s over simplistic, and it truly doesn’t do the discipline justice, but in the hopes of reaching a male audience that might be reading this in a way that could educate them, I would like to explain my perspective in a way that could be flexible and understandable.
Feminism, just like exercise, takes work. It is constant, and no matter how much you practice it, you will make mistakes, you will fall short. Just like any sort of exercise, you have to keep doing it, every single day. I realized this when my WGS professor admitted to the class that she makes mistakes all the time. This shocked me, given that she is not only a lifelong scholar of feminism and gender studies, but she is a professional in them. Even the best make mistakes, and no matter how educated you get, you need to keep practicing it every day. Feminism makes you a healthier man. It takes areas of you that need improvement, and it gives you the tools to systematically reduce and reshape areas where there have been years of neglect, and even in areas where you haven’t neglected, it improves them. It’s easy to talk about, to read about, but it takes consistent practice. It’s easy to pick up and read a book, journal, or blog post on feminism, just as it is on exercise, but to truly see results, you need to put it into practice every day.
Feminism is hard. It isn’t meant to be easy, and it means a fundamental reprogramming of the way you look at everything. Just as with exercise, there isn’t one component to overall success and health, there isn’t one overall approach to feminism. Diet, exercise, recovery are just as interchangeable and fundamental as social construct, income gaps, racial inequality and more. It is a big picture, and feminism is meant to identify, address, and combat that larger picture.
Feminism hurts. It’s not meant to be comfortable, and as a white, privileged male, it stings. Pain is part of growth, just like exercise. There are going to be conversations, dialogues, and social constructs that you don’t identify with. “That’s not me…. I’m not like that.” Only to realize, yeah, I am a part of that system. That realization is going to hurt. Get over it. You’re part of a system, and you are responsible for the maintaining or dismantling of that system. Understand that your words and actions shape the future. Being a relatively decent white man doesn’t alter the fact that we share ancestors that oppressed women, people of color, drove native people from their homelands, destroyed their culture, or assimilated it and changed it forever if only to make ourselves more comfortable, among so many other things in the name of “progress”. Accept it, because these things are still happening everyday, and people have to live in these realities everyday. Not seeing something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t acknowledge it. Take the bitter, because in your hands and in your mind exists the possibility to create a better world for everyone, and part of that process is addressing the evil done. It’s going to sting. You are going to lift that weight, you’re going to look yourself in the mirror and not like what you see. It’s part of the transformation, and it’s not going to happen overnight.
Feminism is a lifestyle. It permeates every choice you make after you begin to embrace it. Just as post-workout, you are going to think twice about that donut or that greasy fast food, you are going to think twice about the things you say, the media you consume, and the choices that you make. It won’t just happen though; it is a consistent effort you need to make every single day. You won’t watch a talk on YouTube and magically transform your life. It’s a constant effort, it is a constant learning experience, and it is a constant effort.
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgments. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”
-From “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing
Gentleman, you need to educate yourselves. The future of the world depends on it. I am not speaking to you from some enlightened city on the hill. I am not that intelligent, and I am in no position to teach or preach on feminism. What I do know is how this last year has been an educational experience for me, and how continued dialogue has shaped and transformed the way I lead, the way I look at the world, and the way I carry my position in it. My introduction to feminism was not intentional. It took seeing the anger, the hurt, the tears, and the painful reality of people living in different narratives and different positions on the spectrum than I to truly realize that this isn’t something I should learn about, it is something I need to learn about and live about everyday. It needs to become a priority for all men. In The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Audre Lorde gives a quote that has stuck with me through this entire journey…
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs.
This speaks truly to the point of this post. Men, you need to educate yourselves. It is no ones responsibility but your own to educate yourselves. At your fingertips lies access to all the information known to humankind, and you can have it all at a fraction on a second. Read the journals, watch the films, make it a priority everyday to expand your consciousness in feminist narratives, you will be amazed at what you learn. It’s your responsibility.
I won’t for a second say I am a decent one, an enlightened one, or a qualified one, but every single day I get a little bit better than I was before:
My name is Cody Meyer, and I am a Feminist.