The word feminist is bandied around a lot, and there seems to be a lot of puzzlement about the actual meaning of the word “feminist” in a lot of cases. There are mental images of underwire on fire, talk of hairy women wanting men out of every powerful position. The words “feminize”, or worse “feminist bitches”, are bandied about and it seems that any replies to “banter” that call that behaviour out are taken in a remarkably negative way. This is the world we live in, and the world I am raising my son in.
I want him to respect women, to understand them as his equal and not something separate to him merely due to change of gender. I want him to understand that feminism and having feminist views is not about girls being better than him, far from it, merely that he is not better than they are due to the contents between their legs. It’s not about one-upmanship. Being a feminist is not about bra burning and hair shaving, or being a man’s man and continuing the banter to appear cool.
Feminism isn’t about women being better than men, it’s about equality of the sexes. About men and women being treated the same, and not differently based on what gender they are. It shouldn’t be that hard of a concept, yet here we are.
This weekend, I came across an article on Buzzfeed through my Facebook feed, which made me pause for thought and in parts, made my stomach churn. It was an article which at it’s core encapsulated rape culture, and showed me that yet again, it looks like we haven’t learned anything at all. This article quoted the victim impact statement of a rape victim from Stanford, heard after her attacker received a six month custodial sentence with probation, alongside a comment stating that any more stern a sentence would have a “severe impact” on the attacker. Yes, you read that right. The worry of the sentencing judge was not for the impact on the victim, a woman who had gone through a very traumatic assault and had spent the previous year and a half enduring the stress of a trial and being put on trial herself for her actions on the night in question. No, it was for the attacker who was repeatedly lauded for his athletic promise which had Olympic aspirations at one time. The maximum sentence for the crime in question was 14 years in state prison, for which he would be punished for his three counts of sexual assault. The sentence received was a total of 3.6% of the possible time served, and in a less stringent jail to boot. In some cases we see leniency in sentencing due to admittance of fault and genuine remorse from the defendant, however neither are applicable in this case, as the attacker continues to deny fault, aside from making poor drunken decisions. The victim impact statement is stark and harrowing, and makes us ask why the perpetrator of such a crime be left off so lightly when the victim is facing a much longer sentence of suffering.
It is as if the furore over the cases in Steubenville and Maryville in recent years had never happened. It is as if the legal system in the United States has not moved on, taken note, seen the light. Despite more light being shone on the rape culture which surrounds us in everyday life, it appears to have no impact in the greater scheme of things. It isn’t just an issue on that side of the Atlantic, our own courts have proven time and time again to have much lower conviction and punishment rates for such crimes. The case last year of Magnus Meyer Hustveit was one such case which showed a shameful lack of punishment fitting the crime in our courts. The defendant had let his ex girlfriend know that he had repeatedly “used her body for gratification” over the course of a year, raping and assaulting her while she slept, in an email after their separation. In court, he plead guilty to one count of rape and one count of sexual assault, and was sentenced to a seven year suspended sentence, leaving him free from incarceration and able to leave to his native Norway. Norway’s policy of rehabilitation of sex offenders concentrates on not naming offenders in the media, leaving his conviction largely unknown to those around him, allowing him to live a completely normal life. His name entered the media here only due to his victim’s waiving of her own anonymity after the conviction. On appeal from the DPP, Hustveit was sentenced to 15 months in prison, as the judge found the initial sentence “unduly lenient”. Despite the increase in sentence, which was certainly an improvement, it does seem that the judicial system is acting in fear of seeming too harsh on these attackers who leave their victims suffering for far longer than they do in their punishment. When you merge this lack of consequence to such actions with the culture of misogyny which can be found on any message board frequented by teenage boys online (one anonymous posting app frequented by college students in particular has definitely hammered home a distaste for “feminazi” women who simply “can’t take a joke”), it does leave me afraid for the world I’m raising a boy in.
There are things I need, we need, to teach him, as his parents. To talk, to read, to tie his laces, to dress himself. To put the seat down. To make a decent cup of tea. We need to teach him the life skills he will need to go out into the world. More importantly, we need to teach him important parts of life, interacting with others and acceptable behaviours. Right now, it’s as simple as “people really don’t like it when you hit them or pull their hair, we don’t do that”. In future years, I am sure it will be “It’s really not nice to say those opinions to people”, advice on manoeuvring social interactions as he gets older, and as part of that things that are and are not acceptable to say or do to other people. When I was in college, an analogy was put to me which 6 years later still plays on my mind. Speaking about the differences in how girls and boys are judged on the basis of their sexual activity, a male acquaintance told me “If a key can open any lock, it’s a master key. But if a lock opens to any key, that’s a dodgy lock” – the attitude horrified me, but I could see that he was far from the only one to see the world from this view. It’s this kind of thing I will work hardest to try to get my son to rally against.
It will likely be an uphill battle, but it’s got to start somewhere. His best friend at the moment is a feisty little girl the same age as him, she knows her own mind, they love and kill each other in equal measure. It is too much for me to expect all of his friendships to be like this, that would be naive of me. He hasn’t hit the stage where he sees gender, he just sees the people he plays with. I would love if it could stay that way, but I know he will reach the stage where other people’s opinions will enter the equation, where girls will have “cooties” and it’s only cool to hang out with the boys.
I’ll try my hardest to teach him that being “like a girl” isn’t an insult, nor should it mean he is any less smart, important or capable than anyone else.
I’ll try my best to get him to judge others only on the virtues of their character rather than any stupid ideas about gender or sexuality. That having feminist views is not something to be looked down on, but to be praised and accepted as something that will hopefully be a norm.
I’ll try to instil values in him of self worth, of knowing that he is good enough and that the concept of “manning up” isn’t one he needs to aspire to.
I’ll even work on him retaining his current habits of putting the seat down.
It may not be easy, but these things are all things I will work my hardest to do to ensure my boy grows up with feminist values, in the hopes that by the time he hits his teen and college years that it will be the norm.
We’re just waiting for the world to change.
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