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  • Natalie Bennett

Feminism: Boys Need to Understand

“What do you think feminism is?”

If I had asked that question to a 9th grade class of boys and girls my age, I would repeatedly hear boys say, “To be a feminist is to hate men.”

The class would laugh and then go on with their business as usual. Maybe a group of girls would give these boys the stink eye and whisper to each other. But, mostly, the event would pass through people's minds like a cool breeze. Maybe there would be other remarks like, "Feminism is putting women above men” or, “all feminists are radical lesbians”.

These statements wouldn't make someone blink twice in this young adult age.

Throughout high school and middle school, it seems as if everything is a joke to everyone. Teens think that when they're young, it is the perfect time to laugh and have fun and not care about important issues like the feminist movement. In my school, you can't walk down the hallway without hearing misogynistic remarks about girls. People's conversations revolve around girls and women, and no one respects them. Growing up in a society in which women still don't have equal rights, it is common for boys in high school to think that women haven't been struggling for centuries. Feminism is defined as the belief in equality for the sexes, but lots of boys in their teenage years don’t know how to support the feminist movement. They often don't even know what it is.

School culture doesn't urge male students to think about feminism. Boys are often shamed by their friends for even being nice to a girl. Many young adults use the word "simp" to shame young men for being nice to women. To be a “simp” is to do or say things to a girl in the hopes of gaining their favor. Holding a door open for a girl makes you a “simp." Sometimes, even smiling or talking to a girl makes you a “simp." This word is used as an insult to describe boys who are being “whiplashed," or controlled, in a sense, by girls. Kids are raised to be nice and kind to each other, but, when you get to high school, boys are often thrown back in time to when men thought it was okay to belittle women. The word “simp” and other words like it, shame men for acting like human beings. Words and actions like this make it hard for boys to be accepted by their friends if they want to support the women's movement. It makes them think of women as less than themselves. They may be convinced that the only way to be a man is to treat women poorly. They stick up for girls less and less, because if they do, they will be called a feminist, gay, or a “simp." In 2020, why do we want to go back to a time when women could not get divorced or own property? Men need to stop bullying each other and come together to support women.

High school students joke about important issues like women's rights and politics. Everyone wants to skate by and laugh. This mindset is fun is some situations, but students need to learn how to recognize when an issue is too real to be satirized. From elementary school to middle and high school, the meaning of being an "upstander" against bullying changes drastically. If we had talked about feminism in elementary school, my teachers would say, “if you see something, say something.” This is a very common phrase for kids to learn at a young age. But, as soon as you step through the doors of your new high school or middle school, the saying is twisted into, “if you see something, it's not your business. Laugh it off."

One incident changed my opinion on how important it is for boys to understand and support feminism. I learned how oblivious even I was about feminism and women's rights at my school. At the end of last year, my school experienced problems with sexual abuse. For a lot of girls, this was the last straw. A sit-in was held in the hallways, and students walked out of class and sat on the sides of the hallways to share personal stories about sexual and racial harassment, discrimination, and abuse. A few of my friends and I sat in the hallways and listened intently to the stories.

One teen shared, “They body shame us and make you feel like you're somehow in the wrong."

They continued, “We can’t let them control us and dominate us anymore…”

“The only way you can be friends with (those) guys is if you let them walk all over you…”

As I looked down the hallway, I saw mostly girls and only a handful of boys. Where are all of the boys? I thought. Could they be on different floors? I realized that they weren't there. They weren't listening to these heartfelt stories that made all of us break into tears. They weren't seeing the importance of this issue. Some of my friends that were guys were not there with me and that made me angry. They thought that not being there was okay - that this doesn't affect them so they didn't need to come.

When I left that hallway I was still thinking about how these boys don't think that it's important to listen to strong women's stories and experiences. What if it was their mom speaking at the sit in? Or their sister? Or even me? Would they have come? I walked down to the cafeteria still filled with anger. I went up to my guy friends and asked them, “Why weren't you guys there? What is wrong with you all?” I received the simple response of, “We had some tests," and ”we were in class." They thought that these things justified not going to this sit-in to support women. I was in disbelief that my friends thought it wasn't important to listen and learn from women who have been sexually harassed and abused. They were being "bystanders."

They didn't give a second thought to going. Some of them would do the same thing again. If I talked about it today with them, most of them may just get defensive or just laugh it off. Some of them might even get annoyed that I brought it up at all.

However, I suddenly realized that I've dismissed women's issues before just as they had. I thought back to middle school. For one year, guys in my grade would say things to me like “go make me a sandwich.” I'd take these comments as an insult, but I'd also laugh it off. After a while, I felt less angry at my friends because I realized that I wasn't doing enough myself to do the right thing and support women. My friends needed to sit down and learn how important it is to be allies for women. From that moment on, I wanted to educate boys about the importance of supporting the women's movement. I should've spoken up right after the sit-in, but I was scared of being laughed at or dismissed. All young men in classrooms across the U.S. should know that a feminism does not mean hating men. Feminism means wanting women and men to be equal in all ways. To achieve progress for the women's movement, more men need to overcome their fear of supporting women and join the feminist movement.

Feminism does not need to be political. Some feminists are liberal women and others are conservative. 1848 was when the women's rights movement commenced in America, but women everywhere have been fighting for equality since the dawn of civilization. And we still don't have it. Women are still not paid as much as men for the same jobs. Women are still completely underrepresented in our government. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. This is just the surface of inequality. Society has always places unrealistic expectations on women and how they should act. Men being born and raised in a society in which women are shamed is not their fault. Now is the time to take action.

As we head down the path of feminism education for all genders, we are heading toward a world in which the hallways are crowded with boys and girls sitting, watching, listening, and supporting the fight for change.

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