It’s January 23rd and two days ago millions of women marched in my unofficial hometown of Washington, DC and hundreds of cities across the US and the world for the Women’s March. I was upset to miss it because the protest was in support of virtually all of the issues that are important to me as an American woman. Particularly close to my heart however, is the feminist cause.
You see, I’ve lived in Hong Kong for about 7 months now and while the culture shock has been significant — way more so than in any of the other countries I’ve lived — where I feel most out of place most often is oddly enough during conversation with other expats when I proudly state that I’m a feminist. The comment is usually received with the same puzzled look that dogs give their owners when they pretend to throw the tennis ball but hide it in their pocket instead and they’re left wondering how it magically disappeared.
I don’t look like I’m being oppressed. I’m white, college educated and in a stable relationship. I’m my own boss, make good money, travel when I want to, and to the surprise of some, often choose to do so alone. Why on earth would I feel so passionate about furthering the feminist agenda if there seems to be no obvious need for ‘feminism’ in my daily life? Where exactly is my struggle?
Well, for starters, the world is becoming a scary place right now and I happen to reside here and care about people other than myself. I also happen to believe that it got to this scary place because we as a society have misguidedly defined leadership through the lens of virility for too long. The the ‘take! take! take!’ approach championed by conscience-less capitalism and power play politics which is so attractive to men as an extension of their natural biological directive to conquer/spread their seed has also led us to erroneously define success as the positive result of a zero sum game rather than the result of a win-win collaboration.
Whether you believe in traditional archetypes or not, we’re in a tough spot and it wasn’t because women were running the show. However, as feminists we must also assume responsibility for letting things get to this point and must diligently work to change that as soon as possible.
I firmly believe that in order to restore balance, one of the most important things that we have to work towards is the achievement of gender equality. In Chinese philosophical terms, we need more yin to balance all the yang in our world current order. Fortunately the millions of women (and men) marching all over the world this weekend showed us, if nothing else, that there are plenty of us out there who care enough to continue making a difference.
But how to move forward? How to shift that balance? How can we show up for feminism every day?
As a coach I always approach problem solving from an individual mindset perspective first and then build from there. Once an issue has been identified and understood, I encourage my clients to look for small, ‘palatable’ changes they can incorporate into their lives that will in turn make conscious action on a bigger scale more effective.
Oddly enough when thinking about this issue, I found some of my answers in those conversations with western expats I mentioned previously. I identified 6 specific things that we can do daily as feminists on an individual level to keep the momentum of our movement going strong and to keep our sanity as we work to build a better, more equal, future. They are:
1. Spend your energy wisely — understand you’re not going to convert misogynists. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Denounce misogyny, yes. Try to talk somebody out of it? Good luck. With some folks, sometimes the best tactic is to wait it out a generation or two and let progress do it’s thing. Public opinion is shifting in our favor and will continue to do so if we focus our work on lifting each other up and on dialoguing with the non-believers who actually have the potential to become allies.
I’ve found that most of the decent people I’ve spoken to who don’t believe in feminism feel that way because they have an outdated definition of what it means to be a feminist or they don’t understand how bad things really are and how deeply entrenched the patriarchy is in our collective psyche.
Many people are reluctant to embrace feminism because they associate it with the notion that feminists are a bunch of man-hating women burning bras and screaming for equal rights while resorting to aggressive ‘masculine’ tactics to secure them. As feminists today we know that that couldn’t be further from the truth and knowing that means part of our effort lies in raising awareness and doing so with an open mind and heart. That brings me to my second point…
2. Don’t be a tree with low hanging fruit. Particularly when engaging in conversation with folks who don’t believe in feminism it’s easy to get frustrated. It’s important to keep our cool and not to take things personally. When we take things personally it’s more likely that our emotions will get the best of us and we’ll fight back on a personal level as well. When we let that happen, we make it easy for those we’re discussing with to shift the conversation from the subject of feminism to the way that we reacted while discussing it.
When we do that, we also make it easier for people not to question their beliefs and we put ourselves in the position of having to justify our behavior rather than our convictions. Don’t give non-believers an easy way out of such an important conversation by giving them some low hanging fruit to pick their way out of the discussion. Make them work for it. There’s too much at stake not to.
3. Arm yourself with patience, facts, anecdotes and… questions. Because the last point is easier said than done, you will need patience to get through many conversations and you will need facts to support your points. Want an opportunity to express some of that pent up frustration and emotion? Channel it intelligently by sharing an anecdote of when you experienced or saw an indisputable case of sexism personally and how it affected you.
One of the most effective ways human beings share information is through stories. Stories are sometimes more powerful than statistics because they facilitate empathy. While it’s hard to empathize with numbers and statistics, it’s much easier to do so with Kate who was passed up for the promotion three times in favor of her other, less experienced and prepared male colleagues.
Was Kate’s story ineffective in illustrating your point? Perhaps a question is in order. Questions are a very powerful resource in debate because they help you to A) let your ‘opponent’ know you’re genuinely interested in their opinion (which lowers their defenses) and B) force them to reflect on and clarify their stance in real time. Chances are, if their stance is half-baked and unclear, that will come to light and it will help you see where to take the conversation from there.
In order to achieve that though, it’s important that we:
4. Listen — not to speak but to understand. Just because we happen to be fighting on behalf of equality which is a righteous and noble concept, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who don’t share our opinion are ignoble or evil. People will generally tell you everything that you need to know about them if you listen carefully enough.
We should listen to their words and to their body language. We should develop the skill of uncovering hidden objections and unspoken truths. If we do, we will realize we have more in common with each other than we may initially imagine. Remembering that will help us engage people more effectively in spirited debate since our approach won’t feel as antagonistic. As the marchers in London so kindly reminded us, this work is about building bridges, not walls.
Now that the talking bit is out of the way, let’s move on to the more action-based items on the list.
5. Be solutions oriented and do. While so much of the work related to feminism has to do with the generation of awareness, the work definitely doesn’t stop there. It’s crucial that we walk the talk. It’s important that we invest our time, money, and energy doing things to further the cause. We should write, volunteer, support woman-owned businesses, vote, and mentor when we have the opportunity to.
There are too many feminists out there stuck in the cycle of militantly complaining on social media. Justifiably so, but merely complaining nonetheless. As I mentioned earlier, highlighting injustice is important for building awareness and many of us are pretty great at doing so in the comfort of our own homes shielded by the safety of our keyboards. What would happen if we spent a portion of that time and energy actually being proactive rather than reactive though?
Also worth noting? Facebook’s algorithm is designed to show us more and more of what we want to see so our efforts to raise awareness are likely falling on ears already friendly to the cause.
It is equally important that we do something to fight the current status quo. The Women’s March was an amazing first step for many of us but protesting is effective only when it’s followed up by sustained and focused action. There are a million ways to actually live feminism. It’s time for all of us to get a little bit uncomfortable and get a little more committed.
That extra dollar spent at a woman-owned local business instead of a Walmart may hurt a little as it leaves our hands but it will make a difference. That extra half an hour a week spent on mentoring a recent college graduate will as well. It is our duty to create those opportunities to practice what we preach and to lead by example.
On a final note, as women and as feminists it is important that we:
6. Be good to other women and to ourselves. I find this one particularly interesting lately because I’ve seen some of the staunchest feminists I know publicly shaming other women online for their choice of dress, career, lifestyle, or men among other things. As feminists, it’s important that we not partake in the petty jokes, demeaning comments, slut shaming, or judgment of other women that is so prevalent in our society…with each other and especially in front of men.
Although it can seem harmless at the time, even the slightest ‘colorful’ and misplaced comment makes it harder for us to progress as a whole. Yes, that even includes comments about easy targets like Kim Kardashian and now Melania Trump. We must remember we’re all in this together. How do we expect the men of the world to respect us if we don’t respect each other?
We mustn’t forget that this extends to our treatment of ourselves as well. It’s been said that in a society as twisted as ours, self-love is a revolutionary act. As revolutionaries we must beat the patriarchy by stopping the negative self-talk, treating our bodies like the beautiful temples that they are, and losing the comparison syndrome. Contrary to what we’re being sold by the media every day, we’re enough just the way we are and we should act accordingly.
I have every hope that this past weekend’s march heralded the beginning of a new era for feminism worldwide and I hope that these 6 points help you be a more effective feminist moving forward. We have a long road ahead of us but I’m convinced we will achieve great things together if we stay on message and lean on each other for support.
Originally published at medium.com