|The Thistle||Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.|
The Angry Feminist
To all incoming freshwomyn:
You all converge here at MIT from various cultural, social, and economic atmospheres. But one characteristic of each of these different environments is almost certain: some manifestation, no matter how subtle, of the patriarchal dogma which permeates almost all sectors of life. Most predominately, you have almost invariably been bombarded by images of what the “ideal” female should be physically, and how the “ideal” female should act socially. You know what I mean. Billboards and magazines and television tell you to dress up and make up your feminine beauty and then to complement that famed beauty with subdued mannerisms. Womyn are taught to dress a particular way, to participate in certain beauty rituals, to act a certain way, and most womyn soon learn that they must follow these conventions if they are to be regarded by most men as socially acceptable human beings. First let me note here that I am aware of many men here at MIT who do strive for womyn’s rightful position of respect at MIT and in society at large. When I speak of men, I mean not so much the individuals as the male social power structure inherent in the public conscious. This common social space that we all come from is the patriarchy. When I speak of the patriarchy, I mean the social construct by which certain things are determined to be feminine and other things masculine, and which furthermore associates a negative connotation with that which is feminine and a positive one to that which is masculine. After being propagandized by the male-dominated industries which perpetuate the patriarchy your entire lives, you come to MIT, a space where we all hoped to gather as intellectuals to study and to learn in a supportive environment. You will soon realize that it is these very conventions which define us as females in the public conscious, which we have been taught and coerced to obey, that now will make us less respected as intellectuals, which is, above all else, what we are here at MIT to be. What is beautiful cannot also be intelligent, right? We have been ruthlessly bombarded by manufactured images of beauty our entire lives and now we learn that these are the very devices that the male-dominated institutions subsequently use to stifle our ability to be perceived, in our own minds and in the general public conscious, as intellectuals. The public conception of the intellectual is almost entirely dominated by what the patriarchy characterizes as masculine. Thus, in classes you will notice that male students are approached more frequently for help than female students. If you are as assertive as your male classmates, you are suddenly labeled a bitch. When a womyn retaliates in order feel more comfortable in academic environments, and rejects the socially imposed beauty conventions she has been taught her entire life, she loses respect as a feminine human being. Carved into the sidewalk in front of Burton-Conner is a sentence which demonstrates this all too well: “MIT women are fat and ugly.” When men concede that we were all accepted into MIT as intellectuals, the implicit assumption is that we must be “fat and ugly.” Alas, even when you reject the female image that creates a blockage in the Amerikan conscious preventing you from being respected as an intellectual, you discover that you lose respect on other grounds. The result is a violent atmosphere for womyn, an environment in which being respected is an implicit impossibility. In such environments you will invariably feel disempowered and incapable of merging your feminine self with your intellectual self. Furthermore, this sense of disempowerment affects womyn not only in academic environments but also in personal situations. How are we to win this battle when to gain respect on one grounds means to lose respect on another? Unfortunately, I have little advice for the freshwomyn reading this article. Beyond learning to respect yourself dually as both a female and an intellectual, and thus being able to assert yourself fully in an environment that is disempowering, there is little you can do. The responsibility to change the actual environment which has innate tendencies against the female student is the male’s. Men need to notice inconsistencies, no matter how subtle, in the ways that they perceive and subsequently interact with womyn students as opposed to male students, and actively work to eliminate them by any means necessary.
Five Things Every Men Can Do to End Sexism and Violence Against Women
1. Read about yourself. Read articles, essays, books about masculinity, gender inequality, and the root causes of sexual violence. Educate yourself and others about the connections between larger social forces and the conflicts between individual women and men.
2. Understand how your own attitudes and actions perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
3. Confront sexist, racist, homophobic and all other bigoted remarks or jokes.
4. Recognize homophobia and speak out against gay-bashing. Discrimination against lesbians and gays is a key way in which we’re all confined in restrictive gender roles.
5. Don’t fund sexism. Don’t purchase any magazine, rent any video or buy any piece of music that portrays women in a sexually degrading or violent manner. Protest sexism in the media. Commit yourself to ending oppression in all its forms.
|The Thistle||Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.|