Over a month ago, I wrote an article about whether we still need feminism in Western society. Although it was a rather rhetorical question — I still did put a question mark at the end of the title.
Today, I have no more doubts. My only concern is about articulating feminist claims in such a way that they bring an actual benefit to the world.
I was born a white woman, in a middle-class family in Europe. This, by default, makes me rank in the top 5% of the most privileged people on Earth. Hell, I don’t know — maybe even 3%. It may also be the reason it took me a while to get interested and compassionate about the problems of inequality in this world. As Jessica Wildfire recently wrote:
“Most people with privilege don’t acknowledge that privilege. That’s what makes it a privilege.”
I am starting to finally get how this works. And I am trying to see through the logic of the men who argue that feminism in today’s Western world is redundant. It seems that they make such claims exactly because they don’t acknowledge their own privilege.
To them, it is not even a privilege — it’s just how the world has always been.
These days, I am trying to embrace their way of thinking and put myself in their shoes. Some of you may call it “empathy for the devil.” But I think that this kind of empathy is crucial if we want to show the “feminism deniers” new ways of thinking. We need to understand them first — so that we know how to talk to them in order to spark real change.
If anyone is to wake up from their dream world, they first need to see their own privileged position. This is, at least, how it worked for me.
It hit me hard on the head last weekend. I was travelling to another city and spent one night in a hostel.
As I arrived, it was nearly my bedtime. The hostel receptionist showed me the room with three bunk beds, and I immediately understood: I would be staying alone with three men. There was nobody in the room yet, but the clothes spread across all the three bottom beds made it clear that their occupants were male.
Instantly, I felt a little sting of discomfort — but told myself this was nothing to worry about. I have shared hostel rooms with strangers, including men, dozens of times. I was, after all, in a safe place, where people had their identities checked, and the corridors were video-monitored.
Without giving it more thought, I took a shower and went to sleep on one of the top beds before any of my companions arrived. After a few hours, I awoke. They were there — three friends, as I immediately realized.
I don’t even want to rant about the fact that they were loud and disrespectful, behaving as if I wasn’t there, trying to sleep. As I became wide awake anyway, I addressed one of them and asked not to lock the door for the night— because I hadn’t got a key from the reception. “Okay, sure” — he replied.
But the question that came from him a second later — in the middle of the night, in a setup where I am in bed and the three of them are getting ready to sleep — this was what made me freeze:
“Aren’t you afraid to sleep alone in one room with the three of us?”
It’s not that this scared me to death. I knew that I was in a reasonably safe situation and I didn’t think they could really harm me. But it was the extent of the ignorance of this man that shocked me.
He had no fucking clue how his words, spoken from a position of power, sounded to the single woman in the room.
He didn’t have the smallest hint of how privileged he was. For him, this was just a joke.
I think this is the core of the problem when we speak of any kind of inequality — not just the gender gap. It is difficult for the oppressor and the oppressed to have a dialogue — because the former doesn’t usually have an imagination vast enough to contain the condition of the latter.
As much as the misogynist ignorance annoys me as a woman, I know that I may hold the same kind of ignorance towards otherwise disadvantaged groups. I often just take my own privilege for granted. And as much as I try to empathize with various cases of unequal treatment, I cannot really do it unless I acknowledge my own perceptual limitations.
I am grateful to Medium writers — Jessica Wildfire, Kay Bolden or The Wicked Orchard by Sidra Owens, among others — who sometimes make me painfully aware of my own privileges. Aware of the blind spot I hold in my awareness of the social issues. Of the overlooked nuances that often put the problems I thought I knew inside-out in a brand new light.
At the same time, I want to be shedding a similar kind of light on the perceptions of those who are not yet aware of the advantages they’ve been given. And for that, I need to understand their way of thinking and empathize with them. Only then, I can speak to them not as a “fighter” for equal rights — but as a genuine peacemaker.
The revolution has to be bloodless this time.