That’s right, I’m talking about feminism. Feminism has been making a resurgence lately, but it still tends to carry with it a negative connotation, an image of angry women who demonize men. The truth is that there is no one type of feminist and that the concept shouldn’t be a radical one. Rather, feminism is the fundamental belief that all women are deserving of the same rights and opportunities as men. On a personal level, it is the view that I am valued as much as the boys and men around me; that I have as much potential and as much a right to build the life I want. I feel confident that most people I know would agree with this sentiment, whether they consider themselves feminists or not.
The problem is that even if people believe in gender equality, it is easy to overlook how pervasive the biases, assumptions, and barriers are. The overt exclusion of women from the public sphere has in many ways been corrected. First wave feminists of the early 20th century brought us women’s suffrage. Second wave feminists of the 1970s entered the corporate world. More women than men have enrolled in college consistently over the last 40 years, and just today the Democratic party nominated a woman as its presidential candidate.
But the devil is in the details. In heterosexual dual income households, for example, women are more likely to work closer to home, give up promotions for their families, and do most of the housework. In the majority of companies throughout the country, new fathers only get one week of parental leave. And unfortunately, 1 in 4 women experience rape or sexual assault on college campuses (in comparison to 1 in 20 men). Once you begin to recognize all the little things that contribute to these disparities, it is difficult to ignore them again.
So if you’re a man and are wondering what you can do, I encourage you to start noticing. Don’t set this aside as a woman’s issue, don’t get defensive, don’t roll your eyes. Instead, start to notice. Notice when a man says he has to “babysit” his own children. Notice when everyone around the table in a meeting is a man. Notice when women are warned not to walk home alone. Notice when your (female) partner is the only one doing the grocery shopping. Because privilege is invisible to those who have it, and the first step in being an ally is being aware.
Click here to watch a great speech about why we should all be feminists by the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.