I’ve been having a lot of conversations about feminism lately, conversations about its relevancy to my life (Does a middle class white girl attending college really face oppression?), its relevenacy to politics (Haven’t women made it already?), and whether or not third wave feminism can validly be referred to as a unified wave (after all, there seems to be such a plurality of voices, opinions, and focuses subsumed under this term)?
As far as the questions outlined above, I’m still working through those and I’m sure some blog posts are to follow on those topics. To be honest, I want to make sure I hear, read, and listen to as many different thoughts on those subjects before I form a solid opinion. (Or maybe it’s just another excuse for me to do some nerdy reading into feminist theory…. Let’s just say it’s both). In my various conversations, particularly this past week, the same question seems to be coming back to say “hey”. The crux of this post is this question: “How do I have a conversation with someone who fundamentally disagrees with me, specifically about feminism?”
Being the nerd that I am, one question is rarely enough and so this is naturally followed for me by the next question, “What do I want to achieve, why am I having this conversation?” If all I want is to talk about how awesome feminism is and how silly I think people who don’t agree are, then theres no point to the conversation. And at that point, is it really a conversation? I am generally of the belief that if all you want to do in a conversation is talk about how right you are and ignore the possible validity of alternative opinions, then just skip the conversation ruse and straight up yell at people. At least then they know that you’re not actually interested in what they have to say and they can save their breath. As a feminist, I should have higher goals then to determine simply who’s right and who’s wrong. When I engage in a conversation, I try to actively listen and engage with what people believe. Because feminists need to realize that not only is this 1. Common courtesy but 2. Exactly what we ask of people. The point of consciousness-raising groups was to start a conversation about faced oppressions and the point of advocating, writing, and researching feminist theory is to forward it as a legitimate field of study that can spark a dialogue not only in academia, but in political spheres as well. Being unable to engage in a conversation with oppositional parties kills our legitimacy. The exclusion we isolate becomes something we only reentrench.
“Well that’s all fine and dandy, but how do I have a conversation with someone who just looks me in the face and says feminism is the worst thing ever?” Yeah, I’ve been there. It’s difficult. Sometimes I just want to be a hypocrite and toss all my rhetoric about being open to different opinions out the window and yell at people. If you manage not to do this though, then probably a good thing to do would be to ask “why?”. Too often I find myself jumping the gun right after people say things I don’t like and I never actually get to hear why this person holds that opinion. I don’t know why that person hates feminism, maybe someone burned a bra in their face while they were walking down a street with their grandmother? Who knows? Maybe that’s why they have a distorted and angry view of feminism… (Yeah I know its unlikely but just roll with it for the sake of my tired brain.) This could end up being a great conversation starter where I can dispel common myths about feminism.
I had another conversation where a guy friend explained to me that he was just confused by feminism. “What do you want?” he asked me. “What does a world post-feminism look like?” Does anybody else see the potential here for an amazing conversation? Because I sure did. I feel like these are some of the fundamental questions people have about feminism. We talked for a while and through that conversation not only did he learn a little, but I did too. One of the best things that happened was that I came away with questions about feminism too, and having my claims examined through this conversation made me do that much more research into what I believed and thought. I’ve found this tendency in myself to just make broad claims about sexism, racism, patriarchy, etc , but too often these claims are just me being lazy and not actually making a warranted argument about why that is. If you’ll recall one of my earlier posts, I talked about being confused by a conversation about whether or not words shape thoughts or vice versa. I’m still not sure of my answer but I have never done so much analysis of why I say things and whether or not they are true. The only conclusion I have come to is that as a feminist, it is that much more important that I watch not only what I say, but try to realize if I’m producing the same sort of binaries that I claim are bad.
My latest revelation was also this: one of the most important things to remember is that not everyone knows the things you do about feminism, don’t assume that they do. My favorite example actually happened last night. I asked my dad what patriarchy was. (Bold move if you know my dad.) As my mom laughed in the corner, he looked at me and with the most amusing expression just said, “I don’t know.” And instead of having a laugh, I had a pause. How often have I sat at the dinner table and talked about feminism or patriarchy and simply made a blanket assumption that everyone else had the same grasp on these concepts that I do. Maybe a better conversation to have would be “what is feminism?” “What is patriarchy?” “How are either relevant to anything having to do with me or with the other person?” Maybe a lot of the confusion I face about feminism is because of a question of simply, “what is it?”
If I can just keep this in mind and actually engage with the person I’m having a conversation with, I would realize these sorts of things. Here’s to a lesson learned.