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Here’s a Quick and Easy Guide to Talking About Feminism

By | [email protected] | February 7, 2018 4:00pm


I know what you’re all thinking: Doesn’t Bianca usually write about the economy?

That’s correct; however, my economic writing is designed to break down and demystify complex topics and distill the information into something that is digestible and clear.

So is my goal with feminism.

Unless you’re secretly dead (and reading – good for you!) or a hermit living apart from society, sexual assault and sexism is a topic that’s probably come up in the past few months a time or two. And yeah – it’s awkward and difficult to talk about these things. Saturday Night Live did a pretty hilarious job representing a dinner where three couples attempt and fail to find words to discuss the sexual misconduct allegations against popular actor Aziz Ansari.

Rather than opine on the theory or wax poetic on my multitude of personal experiences, I thought a constructive starting point for everyone, everywhere would be creating a common glossary-esque language. You may still disagree, but at least we’ll know what we disagree on.

  1. Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a crime. In the United States, sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient”. It occurs when there is nonconsensual penetration, contact with intimate body parts, or exposure of genitalia. This is your standard rape, groping, flashing, etc.

The big names to think of in this category in the news are Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of assaulting numerous actresses and women in the entertainment industry, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is accused of assaulting more than 260 women and pleaded guilty to 10 counts, and Bill Cosby, the comedian accused of assaulting over 50 women.

  1. Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment

Sexual misconduct is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is committed without consent or by force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation, or that has the effect of threatening or intimidating. In many cases, sexual misconduct or harassment are not explicitly illegal but either unethical or against a code of conduct.

The torch bearers of this category are people like former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who allegedly approached women for sexual favors in return for advancing their careers, and US President Donald Trump who famously grabbed that he could “grab women by the pussy” because he was famous. These are typically people in positions of leadership who use the power dynamic to coerce sexual contact of some kind. It’s icky.

Actor Aziz Ansari also falls in this category for allegedly pushing a sexual situation forward on a date despite his partners attempts to slow down.

The tricky thing about this category is that it’s a broad brush to paint with. Is a boss coercing sex from a string of subordinates really the same as a romantic date between equals that ends badly? Probably not, but as the conversation stands both are encompassed by this term.

  1. Toxic Masculinity

I bet if you’re a dude, you’ve never heard this term. And no, it doesn’t mean that men are bad. Toxic masculinity is a concept used in psychology to describe the normalization of violence when socializing boys. It’s the “boys will be boys” attitude that encourages men to limit their emotional expressions primarily to anger. It’s thought to promote violence, bullying, and assault.

Whether you agree that toxic masculinity exists or not, knowledge is power and that is what the term means.

  1. Misogyny

This one is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. This one is rarely as easy to define as something like assault because it’s an attitude. Misogynists are unlikely to self identify as such, and it’s possible to do a misogynist thing without realizing it demonstrates an unconscious prejudice against women.

For this one, I’m going to use the ubiquitous “holding the door” concept that many men seem to struggle with.

Psychology today gives the following example of how to identify a misogynist:

“he will treat a woman the opposite of how she prefers. If she is an old-style lady who prefers a “gentleman” who holds the door for her, orders for both and pays for the meal, he will treat her like one of his male buddies, order for himself, and let her pay for the whole meal if she offers (and sometimes even if she doesn’t). If she is a more independent type who prefers to order her own meal and pay for herself, he will rudely order for both and pay the check while she goes to the bathroom.”

Holding the door or paying the whole bill should be viewed the same way a dietary preference would be. If you’re a guy who holds doors and pays the bill, and you come across a female person who would prefer you didn’t, just don’t. If you honestly forget a few times, apologize.

Misogyny wouldn’t be abolished by a post-scarcity economy in which all doors are automatic – because it’s not about doors. It’s about drawing attention to a situation to cause hurt or discomfort. It’s about implying that women who have achieved something did so by sleeping with their boss, or that girls are inherently less skilled at math or science.

Misogyny isn’t illegal and it’s much harder to identify specific cases than sexual assault or misconduct.

  1. #MeToo

As much as the #MeToo movement has been used to define the collective calling out of men that’s going on, that’s not what it’s about.

This movement is as much a way for women who have experienced assault, violence, misconduct, harassment, or misogyny to share their experiences with other women. It’s about telling women they aren’t to blame for what has happened, and to build a community that strengthens and empowers, and encourages people to talk about these experiences.

  1. Consent

Do you think consent is the absence of no? Or does it mean saying yes in the absence of coercion?

This is at the heart of the discussion, especially regarding what qualifies as sexual misconduct and harassment. Here’s why it matters:

Most women and girls in your life likely come up against misogyny at least a few times a week. They’ve probably been groped – touched in an intimate area by a stranger without consent. They may have experienced sexual misconduct or assault and told no one for fear of repercussions. These are tough conversations to have, but it’s time to have them.

I read an article the other day that referred to the current feminist movement as redefining “conquista masculina”, or masculine conquest. At the heart of this issue, women are not happy with being objectified as the object of male conquest. Changing culture and society may take time, but women have sent a loud clear message to put that change into motion.

So if you’re a guy and this topic comes up, rather than immediately go on the defense I encourage you to think about which of the above topics you’re discussing, and what you actually think on the matter. If you spend time around lady people, ask them about their experiences and listen.

As a lady person, it makes me sad when men in my life defend this stuff. It also makes me hopeful how many times men have brought up this topic in the past few months. So I’m going to pick hopeful, and hope that this guide gives everyone a better starting point to discuss these tough topics.