Feminist in a Frat House
The Future of Feminism: Intersectionality and Starting Where People Are At
I hate men. There, I said it. Before you dismiss my valid feelings that don’t require an explanation, let me give you an explanation so that you don’t dismiss me anyways. My father is great, and the first boy I ever kissed was a good guy. I have had several great relationships with great, really nice men. My friends make fun of my misandry, pretending that one bad boyfriend made me bitter. It wasn’t the one bad boyfriend. It was his fraternity brothers. It was the constant apologies preceding horribly sexist and racist statements. It was the feeling of never really being anyone’s friend, of only being related to someone based off the purpose you served for them. It was the fact that in four years at an all girls high school I never once felt the way I did almost constantly amidst day to day mundane interactions with men at college: unsafe, vulnerable, unimportant. Men, while at first exciting, became unbearable for me to be around, and sometimes, ok most of the time, they still are.
Flashback to early in fall semester of 2015. “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap filled the air, leaving just enough space for one on one conversation. Fox news, however unusual it was that the news was on at all, played muted on the tv. I sat on a lofted couch, reading my Anthropology 101 assignment detailing the history of racism in sports, very aware that an 18 year old with a staple gun and a few nails built the fragile pile of wood keeping me 7 feet in the air. Two boys, one of them my then boyfriend, sat at a table just below me, feet firmly planted on the ground. Another dribbled a basketball in the corner. I was absorbed in my reading, and relishing the comfort and familiarity of the Tuesday night scene around me.
Soon the verbal silence produced by the loud music was broken. “CC, I am sorry, I know you are not about to like what I am going to say, but please just don’t yell at me or argue about it. Be chill.” I looked up from my book, intrigued and smirking, but confused. I was worried for what was about to happen. I liked being the girl people were afraid to say horribly sexist and racist things in front of. I did not like hearing the horribly sexist and racist things, and furthermore, I was starting to catch on that just because they apologized, didn’t mean they realized, or cared, that they were wrong.
“Hillary Clinton,” He paused, making eye contact with each of his fraternity brothers in the room, “The world just ain’t ready for a woman president of the United States of America”
Relieved that this sexist remark was at least not directed at a personal friend of mine, or at me, but instead was aimed at a public figure whose importance was, at the time, rather removed from the immediacy of my life, I responded, “the world may not be “ready”, but they’ll get used to it.”
The boys kept talking. Saying the foreign leaders wouldn’t respect her, and that while they can see her merits, she had “way too much going on.” I tried to make a few points, my biggest being that if the United States had a woman president that it would positively impact the entire world. “Don’t you think that, if like you said the rest of the world isn’t ready, that having such a powerhouse like the US take that leap would be great?” They were silent. “I mean tons of countries usually considered less progressive or less developed have women leaders!”
“But, those countries aren’t the United States.” The original offender said, with a tone of superiority. It took all of 30 seconds for Monica Lewinsky and Bill to take main stage of the conversation. There were 3 of them, and one of me, and at that point none of them had really disputed my arguments. Even if I did keep talking, what good would that do? They were not going to agree with me in front of their friends.
I told myself I thought I had done my part. I gave them something to think about. I had reading to do, and the election was so far away. But I made a mistake. They weren’t talking about the world not being ready. They were using the world and a scapegoat. They weren’t ready. And, honestly, I wasn’t ready to engage them. I wasn’t ready to leverage my power against their institution. This was one of the many times that the mundane, daily interactions with men drained me and forced me to retreat within myself; or to retreat to my safe group of girlfriends.
Eventually the toxic masculinity that came along with doing my readings on lofted couches got to me. I realized this idea that the “world wasn’t ready” for Hillary was not a comment on the slow uptake of women as equals worldwide, but a manifestation of misogyny on a very tangible and personal level. As I grew into college, I found friends who made the world of lofted couches seem juvenile. I began to read at coffee houses with the odd mix of light jazz and Kendrick Lamar playing. I found people who already agreed that if the world wasn’t ready for Hillary, they would get there. The world would “catch up” to where we were, and embrace her. Even better, I found people who thought Hillary was too conservative, but who believed in her ideals and supported her throughout her campaign regardless. For a short time, I didn’t face sexism, or at least I could avoid it by staying in my safe bubble of feminist friendship. I never sat on lofted couches anymore. I didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with that kind of defeat regularly. Why would I hang out with people who I so deeply disagreed with? Who’s sexism, racism, and classism were seemingly boundless? I mean, I could hang out with my real friends. You know. You have them too. The people who, after a long debate, all laugh with you because you were all arguing for the same thing, in different ways. The people whose arguments for Facebook fights you proofread before they post. The people who you joke you would become “radical lesbian separatists” with, and mean it, because with these women, you’re safe. The people who come to you, after a long day, and say “Can you believe this shit!!” And we never can. We can never believe their shit. Because when we’re with them, we like to forget.
I am ready to live in a world where I pull women up, where women support each other’s decisions, and do so regardless of the decision, in the name of feminism. I am ready to live in a world where trans inclusion is not an afterthought. I am ready to live in a world where animal rights are important. While I am ready for this world, and while I spend most of my days living in a futuristic bubble of fellow like minded progressive feminists, I think we sometimes forget about the masses.
We forget about the 66% of white women who voted for Trump. While we complain there are “no really good men”; we forget all at the same time that the not so great men make up a large portion of our society. We forget that not every one started where we started, some people started a little further back on the progressive spectrum. Ok, these particular people started a lot further back.
I am a white woman. I did not vote for Trump, but I did abandon those who did long before the election ever happened. The conversations were too hard. I abandoned the frat house because try as I might nothing I said could dismantle the institutionalized patriarchy held in those walls. They would always outnumber me. They would always have the upper hand. So, I left. But me leaving was not enough. While I was privileged enough to be able to leave that single institution of patriarchy, that institution still exists, and affects millions of others. The frat house is just a microcosmic example of the institutionalized forces at work. We can’t just break up with a boy and be rid of every source of patriarchy in our lives. If only it were that simple. Feminists can leverage their power as it exists in their worlds, and dismantle the patriarchal institutions they are affected by, but it is not as simple as one individual resisting the cultural norms.
So, I posit that the future of feminism, dare I say it, and as much as I wish this wasn’t the case, will include men.
To understand the way in which I am proposing the inclusion of men is necessary, and to understand that it can be done in a way that would not give men the role of savior, rather participant, it is necessary to understand Foucault’s analytics of power, found in his book The History of Sexuality. An analytics of power is Foucault’s notion that in order to understand ourselves, we cannot rely on the discourse provided for us, we must consider how knowledge and power around us influences us. “Power is everywhere”, it is not a juridical binary as we often conceptualize it to be. Power is a circuit; it does not exist in a vacuum. Power inherently has resistance, and that resistance, in this case, is feminism. With every oppression, there is room for resistance. With every attempt to control, to force discourse, there is power, be it however small, in other areas. Utilizing these analytics of power, I have theorized a way that feminists can capitalize on and leverage their power against their oppressors. While men are “the oppressors” their inclusion in feminism could actually solve a lot of problems. The inclusion of men into feminism will follow the trend of inclusion and intersectionality currently being set by feminists, and it could deter toxic masculinity, extend the “feminist bubble”/safe space, and create strong allies who support femmes.
Including men would be the next step in the current feminist trend of “intersectionality”, which has created a space where feminists are at least trying to be more inclusive and disengage from the “white feminist” or liberal feminism of the past. This means that present day “Good” Feminism is about recognizing not only your oppression, but also your privilege. It is “intersectional”. Intersectionality can be found in most modern feminist discourse, from social media to published literature. It isn’t just about being a woman, it is about realizing how class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, the gender spectrum, ability, and more intertwine, interconnect, and affect each other and a person’s experience in our world. I would go as far as to say “good” feminism is a form of feminism that would never criticize another woman, or her feminism, but engage her and exchange ideas and experiences about how each woman practices her brand of feminism. Good feminism requires we recognize our privilege; it is, to use the buzzword “intersectional”. So, because feminism now is striving for an intersectionality and support system among femmes, I am arguing that future feminism will stretch to include men, and the “general population” or the “masses” that are currently often living outside of the feminism bubble.
The challenge comes in the actual inclusion of men. Before you can get someone to recognize their privilege, it is often easier to get them to recognize their oppressions. When we reach out to our femme friends, acquaintances, and family members, when we try to bridge the gap and get one more femme to call herself a feminist, we often capitalize on their bad experiences. We lean in as they complain about their boss’s sexual harassment, or their fathers controlling behavior, or the man who cat called them. We start where they are, and we eventually show them how so many other people are oppressed in other ways their privilege kept them from realizing. So what do you do when the people you’re talking with aren’t oppressed, or worse, when the culture of toxic masculinity around them tells them not to ever admit it? How do you engage a frat boy? In this question you can see that the future of feminism starts where people are at. In order to engage and bring people to understand feminism, we have to start with their experiences, with where in their journey, in their life, they are “at”.
Moreover, feminism must include men because feminism must backtrack, and extend its influence into historically excluded groups, in order to create a culture of feminisms. Men do make up a portion of the voting, culturally participating beings in our society. Just as we cannot forget men, we cannot forget the 66% of women who voted for Trump, who arguably did so due to internalized misogyny. We cannot forget the millions and millions of men who didn’t think twice about seriously considering Hillary as a viable candidate. We must find them, and start where they are at. If we do not, they will continue to live in ignorance and further perpetuate their cultures of toxic masculinity and male privilege. Our options are either to become radicalized lesbian separatists or never have to deal with men while living in a feminist utopia, or to engage men. Since science won’t let the species persist without men, I guess the culture will have to solve this problem.
Currently, feminism, while it does span classes and races and ethnicities and sexualities, while it can be found in people of any kind, it does miss one target audience, which for this paper I will call “the masses”. “The masses” are exactly who you’re thinking about. It’s the people who have lofted couches, it’s the people who voted for Trump. If we can pull the most lagging, backwards, anti-feminists into feminism, we can catch them up, and then they will be ready for a woman president. We can eliminate the opposition, and free them from their own oppressions which they historically self designed. We can create a cultural shift. Rather than as Foucault discusses, surveilling sexuality, we can create a culture of feminism, just like our feminist friend group bubbles. If each of us takes the steps to regularly embark into “the masses” and engage, we can spread the ideas.
If we engage them, and we convince them, then we are one step closer to eliminating the oppressor. In order to not be oppressed, the oppressor has to stop oppressing. So, the near future of feminism will mean engaging with the oppressors, with the majority, and explaining what has gone wrong. In engaging, we leverage our power as femmes and feminists, to dismantle oppressive systems. When I sat on the lofted couch and misunderstood that it wasn’t the world who wasn’t ready for Hillary, it was this very frat boy, someone I considered a friend, who wasn’t ready, I missed the opportunity to engage. I hadn’t reached a level of understanding of the “other” or how to “start where they were at”. Had I pressed, or taken more time to consider the comment, I may have better understood, and addressed the claim in a more effective way.
In engaging men, we are seeking to show them how their male privilege and toxic masculinity affects others, in the hopes that they will then become “woke” and change their behaviors. At the very base level, protecting ourselves from toxic masculinity is the first step towards security. In engaging men in conversation and starting where they are at, we can bring them to better understand the world as we do, and hopefully inspire them to change their actions. In theory, if we continually dismantled toxic masculinity, we would also reach some of the 66% of white women who voted for Trump, and many other women affected by internalized misogyny.
Furthermore, even if we restructured the system, even if we did it without them, and created a magical space where men, specifically white men, didn’t have so much power, there will always be an opposition. The only true way to kill an idea, is to convince people it is wrong, and build a culture of morality that reinforces the wrongness of the idea. Similarly, the only way to spread an idea, such as spreading feminism, is to actively show people and bring them into the safe space, thus expanding the safe space. In engaging with our opposition, in starting where they start, we can show them what feminism really is, and we can dismantle the patriarchy.
Lastly, the future isn’t girls changing to better the world, it’s men changing. Women should not have to change. It is not women’s responsibilities to exist in the toxic space we have been given and to succeed, but it is men’s responsibility to better themselves, and dismantle the oppressive system they designed. Men taking responsibility is the future of feminism. Men ending male gaze. Men serving as allies, and good ones at that. Just as racism ending will require white people to not be racist, and to dismantle racism in the everyday and in their institutions. We cannot, as Melissa Harris-Perry explains in her work Sister Citizen, ask women, she specifically means black women, to stand straight in a crooked room, and do so “correctly”. We must straighten the room, and we must do so with an intersectional framework, as to not leave anyone behind. This will require a massive “plurality of resistances” as Foucault theorizes, in which many women overturned their different systems of oppression at once, to overturn the cultural influences and institutionalized oppressions at work.
The distant future of feminism includes true intersectionality. The future of feminism is progressive, it is beautiful, it is blissful. It will welcome new challenges and new identities, and strive for inclusivity at every turn, making inclusion a primary concern. It will not, as past brands of feminism did, ask Black women to take a back seat, or ask women to dress “respectably”. The work we must do to get there will not be blissful. It will not be beautiful. It will include hard conversations. I am not saying we need men, but I am saying we need to talk to them. Cultural change can’t happen with half the population of the culture on board, and these men- the ones who exist in worlds with lofted couches- they have power. What they believe, due to just their sheer numbers and presence among their environments, matters. As long as we exist in the crooked space which gives white men this power, we must engage with them.
It is in a “plurality of resistances”, Foucault explains says that people with historically less power can leverage their power against the oppressors. This one method of resistance is in no way a cure all. It is just one of the many ways we can strive to reach a better future for feminism.
The future of feminism is diverse, because no one prescriptive will treat the many diagnoses. It is in working together, and each living our own truths of feminism, that we will reach any form of a world better than this. In understanding the world through Foucault’s analytics of power, we can recognize that we have power against the institutions, but the individual alone is not enough. While including “the masses” into feminism is a small part of the future of feminism, the inclusion of marginalized groups in today’s struggle for true intersectionality is arguably more essential. It will take all of us, each leveraging our power in our own ways, to resist, to make change. If we try and succeed we may end up with a world where more spaces than not have the comfort, safety, and familiarity as the small feminist bubbles we created for ourselves. If we can change the minds of the masses, then minorities can live in spaces with less oppression. While including men in feminism is just one singular plurality of resistance, it can create a culture of feminism among “the masses”, which would create safer, less toxic spaces for everyone. When we engage them, when we start where they are at, and work to bring them to where we are, we are eliminating the opposing culture and destroying patriarchal aspects of society.
The future is femme, the future is intersectional, the future includes a widespread culture of feminism. I want the future of feminism to not be weighed down by directives and restrictions, to never ask a woman to do something else. I want it to be truly a free space where women can be free of being told what to do, but to get there we will each have to do our own plurality of resistance. I only regret that mine has to include men. Hopefully, in the future, I don’t hate men. But we’ll see.