When I was completing my Master’s degree, I facilitated an activity called “Cross the Line” with one of my classes. You read a statement, and then anyone who identifies with the statement steps onto a line of tape on the floor. Very simple. It’s an easy way to get a group of people to notice their similarities and things they have in common. It can start out simple — “cross the line if you had braces” — and get increasingly more personal as people get more comfortable — “cross the line if you’ve ever had your heart broken.” The class was all professional teachers in their 20s and 30s, and it was all female with the exception of two male students. To my shock, the most awkward statement of the entire activity was “cross the line if you are a feminist.” Only the two male students and I crossed the line; every other person stayed in place, many of them shifting uncomfortably.
So what’s the deal? Personally, I think there are a couple of factors at play. The first is that people incorrectly equate feminism with man-hating. I can’t speak to all versions of feminism because feminism is as unique and individual as the countless individuals practicing it, but I don’t know anyone who actually hates men. That idea is odd and outdated yet somehow manages to stick around.
The second problem is that too many people think that feminism is no longer necessary because we’ve already accomplished equality for women. Wrong. So very wrong. That would be lovely — don’t get me wrong — but it’s simply not the case.
One of the most disturbing ways that we’re still fighting for equal treatment as women is in the horrifying idea that people, usually men, have some kind of right to our bodies. You can see this in the strict dress codes that are forced on women to avoid “distracting” men and adolescent boys. And we were recently given another example in the Facebook comments of New Hampshire state representative Josh Moore. While debating a state law that would make it illegal for women to publicly expose their nipples, including while breastfeeding their babies, Rep. Moore stated: “If it’s a woman’s natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that, than you should have no problem with a mans inclination to stare at it and grab it.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
As a breastfeeding mother myself, my initial reaction was to feel sick to my stomach because the first thing my mind went to was how horribly violated I’d feel if some jerk actually did that. Then I just felt really, really angry.
The need for feminism has not passed. It needs to grow and evolve, but we are still a long way from women feeling safe in our society.