One of the most common topics that it seems society grapples with over and over again these days is gender equality. Do we have it yet, should we really be striving for it, what does it look like, when will we know when we’re there, and of course, is there even any merit in continuing to ask these questions? You’d think that the sheer resilience of the obsession would definitively answer that last question, but no, there are always those who are ready with the classic response, “UGGGGH, are we still talking about this? BORING.”
I feel like, in very recent times, there’s been even more attention being drawn to the questions of what it means to be a woman these days, and separately, what it means to be a feminist. Whether it’s conversations (deliberately focusing on the positive here and not the vitriolic name-calling from trolls that can result) about working mothers, changing one’s name when getting married, feminist fatigue, or women’s responsibility to other women, it’s obvious that we’re all still grappling with these questions and not finding answers that satisfy us, at least not enough to move on.
And that’s honestly okay.
One thing many folks don’t know about me is that I have a master’s degree, and while it’s technically in Communication, in my mind, it’s also in Gender Studies, since the overlap between the two was the bulk of my academic interest. I mention this primarily to underscore that — while I no longer ask anyone to refer to me as Master Abby — I do have a strong, abiding interest in the theories and questions of modern feminism, and I’ve read (at least the introduction and conclusion to!) quite a large amount of feminist literature.
Based on all that, my incredibly informed, educated conclusion? I’m still unsure about it all. Which is as it should be. Yes, I have specific opinions, but they’re not written in stone, which is okay, because this is something we all (I shouldn’t have to specify, but yes, I mean women AND men) live every single day. And every new perspective I read, every new life phase that I enter has the chance to change my worldview to some extent. For me, the true work of being a cultural critic, besides having the pretentiousness to call yourself one, is to be open and agreeable to that change, to want to grapple with those questions, even if you never arrive at a satisfying conclusion. So, yes, it can be incredibly frustrating to see questions and issues of gender inequality everywhere, especially if you do take a dip into those aforementioned nasty name-calling areas (comment sections are just The Worst); but not engaging and not caring is the choice to work against sexism, against racism, and against all forms of inequality.
I’d never tell you what to think, but I fervently would ask you to think, and to continue doing so as you hopefully allow your worldview to be challenged. To my earlier point implying that men can (and should) be feminists: one of the privileges inherent in being in the norm (e.g., being male, being white in America) is that you can go through a lot of life not thinking about your gender or race — not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have to. The awakening of this consciousness in those populations is absolutely vital work, and frankly, beautiful. I don’t vaunt male feminists above female ones simply because of their Y-chromosome, but because it is much easier for them to choose to keep their eyes closed, and to ignore the work that I feel we must all take on to truly change our world for the better. So when they make the choice to open themselves to this struggle, as we all should be doing, it is 100% a positive thing for our whole society.
At least, that’s what Master Abby thinks.
PS If any of you are in Seattle and want to warm the cockles of my heart, go check out my thesis. No, seriously, it’s actually a checkout-able book. It’s been nine years, but that still gives me a thrill!
(Photo courtesy of the genius XKCD, titled “How It Works”)