When I was young I was brought up with the general idea that that whole sexism thing was over and done with and we didn’t need to worry about it anymore. This left me pretty unprepared for and ill-equipped to deal with the misogyny inherent in North American popular culture. Every time I ran up against sexism I just chalked it up to some kind of bizarre holdover from a previous era, and thought that likely the person just didn’t realize what they were saying or hadn’t meant it or that they were isolated in their sexist beliefs.
Like many young women of my generation I was indoctrinated by my peers and by the social atmosphere of schooling into believing that “feminist” was practically a dirty word and an insult. This wasn’t entirely conscious, but I do remember being tauntingly asked if I was one of those feminists and defensively declaiming the possibility; “Me? No! Of course not… I just believe that… *insert blatantly feminist belief here*.”
I was raised by two parents who took a mostly egalitarian (and in fact feminist, though they wouldn’t have called it that) view of gender relationships.
In our household and on the farm we lived on, my mother did the things she was good at and enjoyed, like gardening, cooking, mowing, irrigation, fruit picking, canning, preserving, childrearing, sewing, and knitting (she’s an incredibly talented knitter and sewer).
My father did the things he was good at and enjoyed, like chopping firewood, fruit picking, cooking, car repair, vacuuming, dusting, childrearing, pruning, and plumbing.
The necessary tasks that nobody enjoyed, like dishes, were split relatively evenly (though perhaps a little heavily on my mother’s side, because hey I’m not trying to pretend I lived in a feminist utopia). The most important thing in all of this is that I never got the idea from them that things were divided up the way they were because that was the way it had to be. While it’s true that many of my parents tasks were divided along traditionally gendered lines, they never communicated to me that this was why they were divided that way.
Then I went out into the so-called “real” world.
And you know, it wasn’t quite the egalitarian utopia I’d been brought up to expect. I met people with such complicated ideas of gender relations that I felt completely out of place and confused. Why on earth should this or that be true of me just because I am biologically female? It made no sense. But because I wasn’t brought up with the language of feminism I didn’t even have the tools to express what I was experiencing.
For example, when I was in a relationship with a man who insisted that having sex at a certain frequency (defined by him) was pretty much his right and my responsibility, I couldn’t figure out how to express what was so wrong about that. The thing is, when he wasn’t bullying me about his sexual needs and actually acted in ways more in keeping with his ideals (which were definitely proto-feminist, though he preferred the term “egalitarian”), neither could he. Yet, at some level, we both knew that it there was something wrong with that dynamic, even if we couldn’t express it or figure it out.
No amount of discomfort stopped the bullying from going on, of course, though only for a couple of months because I broke up with him soon after that began. It occurs to me now that the hardest bits of privilege for men to let go of sometimes seem to be the ones related to being able to treat sex with women as an inherent manly right. Frankly, coerced sex with a less-than-willing partner certainly seems pretty unattractive to me. Perhaps it is only in comparison to the perceived possibility of no sex at all that this sounds good.
I’ll leave the journey here at the point of confused non-comprehension, because after all, it’s late, and I do have work tomorrow. But I promise promise promise (mainly to myself) to continue this very soon indeed.