Honestly, it shouldn’t be.
Feminism recognizes the humanity of women, including women of many different ethnic backgrounds.
It fights for equality between all sexes and genders; for equal representation and treatment.
It is there for those who have suffered, and it is a means by which people can share their stories to educate others about a system that needs improvement — our patriarchal society.
It identifies the problems within our society, analyzes them, and tries to change them for the better.
Feminists believe in gender equality, and do their best to take steps towards it.
They’re always doing something to better the world, despite what people may think.
So what can you do?
What can the average person do? A person who isn’t a famous activist, who doesn’t really have time to devote to volunteering for women’s organizations, but still wants to make some sort of difference?
I’m glad you asked!
Here are a few things you can do to support gender equality, no matter who you are.
1. Really, truly believe that women are worthy.
Especially if you are a woman yourself. If you don’t believe you’re worth the effort, then how can we fight for equal and fair treatment? It really does start with believing in ourselves, as corny as that may sound. If we don’t truly believe we deserve equal and fair treatment, it’ll be hard to convince others that we do.
For me, this includes all women — not just cisgendered women. If you identify as a woman, you are a woman and you deserve the same just treatment that cisgendered women fight for.
So speak your mind. Listen to each other, help each other, and believe in yourself. You matter!
2. Men, listen to and discuss feminist ideas.
I know that it’s hard to admit that you benefit from a system that hurts others — especially if you’ve been oppressed yourself. But if you can admit to the benefits you have, then you can help break down the same system that hurts you too.
Because it’s true: our patriarchal society hurts men as well as women. (That’s why feminism helps men too, not just women.)
Though many men experience discrimination and abuse, especially men of colour, it’s still true that in our society, being a man is much different from being a woman. And in order to be the best feminist you can be, you have to understand that. You have to be critical of your experience and women’s, not just women’s and not just your own.
So yes, it’s totally important to know your own experience. But if you want to truly support gender equality, you must listen to what women have to say too — especially if you don’t understand! Make a point of talking to women about sexism to understand their perspective and analyze your experience.
And when you’re talking to fellow men, discuss your collective experience as men, too. Use your male privilege to point out that women are human, and that they deserve respect just as men do. Don’t shy away from talking about feminist ideas, because since you’re a man, people are more likely to listen to you. Just create conversation and encourage critical thinking — it’ll make a huge difference!
3. Point out sexism when you see it.
We lose when people see sexism and then just ignore it, because nothing is being done.
If you want to support gender equality, you must no longer stand by and watch. Sexism is so normalized, it’s hard to see it at times. But when it’s obvious and still you say nothing, you are supporting it. You are accepting that sexism is normal, instead of pointing out that it shouldn’t be.
I don’t mean you have to be aggressive and angry — in fact, try to be as calm as you can. Often people don’t even realize what they’ve said, so if you say anything, you’ve done something good: you have made them think! And that’s the goal — whether they admit it to you or not, they’ll go home and think about it.
So don’t be afraid to say something — you’re making a bigger difference than you think!
Want to learn more about gender equality? Download my mini e-book:
4. Share your belief in gender equality with kids.
Kids are so much more open to new ideas, and they really are the future.
As a substitute teacher, I often hear elementary-aged children say things to insult their male friends, like “But you fit in with the girls, right? Ha!” or “You throw like a girl!” or “Go back to the kitchen!” They don’t really notice what exactly they are saying, and sometimes they really do only mean it as a joke — especially high school kids.
Usually, I just ask what they mean, and that stops them for a second. They’ll say, “I don’t know,” because they feel they are in trouble. But instead of just getting angry, I say, “It sounded like an insult to me, and I don’t understand that. You’re saying he’s like a girl, but what’s wrong with being a girl?” Usually then they realize what they’ve said, or a female student will pipe up and say, “Yeah, what’s wrong with that?!” That really helps because often since that girl is one of their friends, they do care about her — and that makes them think.
I tend to add that I don’t think calling each other girls as an insult makes any sense. Every time, the kids agree and it’s a magical learning moment. Yay!
With older kids and adults, it gets trickier. I’ve tried the same method, and have definitely received eye-rolls. At least I said something, right? But I’d rather really talk about it.
So instead, I usually approach it in a “Come on, you can do better,” kind of way. You can still say, “What do you mean?” because then usually they act like you should know what they meant, and then you can say something similar, like “No, I don’t understand, because being a girl isn’t weak or shameful,” or whatever it is.
As long as you say something, and say it in a non-aggressive way, or like you don’t understand, you should be okay. Just make sure you question instead of attack! Often, the person you are calling out gets defensive, but someone else will recognize it and say something, much like those girls who have called out their peers in elementary school.
5. Change your own judgmental habits.
This one is hard for everyone. I myself struggle with it. The values our society teaches about women are taught from such a young age, it can be hard to break out of those habits. But with practice, you can unlearn these problematic ideas!
For example, if you catch yourself judging a woman’s sexuality based on what they are wearing, just notice it and catch yourself. Ask yourself why you are judging them. Generally, a woman is negatively judged no matter what they wear — a “prude” if they don’t show any skin or a “slut” if they show a lot, both of which are completely unfair. Try to remind yourself that women are all deserving of respect no matter what they wear.
And the same goes for judging men. If you catch yourself thinking a man is too emotional, remember that emotions are natural. If you catch yourself thinking a man needs to suck it up and deal with his pain, physical or emotional, remember what it’s like for you to experience the same If you catch yourself thinking a man shouldn’t be a stay-at-home dad, ask yourself why you think that.
There are so many things to catch yourself doing, it’s not possible to list them all. So just always remind yourself that gender roles are not realistic. No one fits into any one role. If you’ve ever felt like gender expectations have been unfair to you, you’ve seen exactly why gender roles only harm us — so any time you judge someone, ask yourself why you are judging them that way. And if it’s due to gender roles, try to unlearn that habit.
Again — don’t be hard on yourself if you find this difficult! It really does take practice and time.
Download my mini ebook to learn more about feminism and how you can support gender equality:
6. Stand up for yourself.
It’s one thing to point out sexism when someone makes a comment in passing, and another to stand your ground when it’s directed towards you.
A while ago, I got into a pretty big argument with a male friend because he would not stop interrupting me. He probably didn’t mean it in a sexist way, but the truth is it was happening so often that I think it was likely internalized sexism. He doesn’t interrupt his male friends the same way he interrupts me!
So that time, I stopped letting him interrupt me. Instead of just letting him interrupt and letting myself feel like my voice didn’t matter, I spoke the hell up. I cared a lot about what I had to say and I let him know.
You know what happened?
He felt like I didn’t care about what he was saying.
We ended up having a long discussion about why I wouldn’t back down, and how the way he felt was how I’d been feeling for months.
If we’d had that discussion earlier on, we would’ve saved a lot of arguments!
So maybe don’t do it the way I did, where I angrily shut him down and made him listen to me because I’d had enough. But do say something about it.
Even those we love and care about, those with whom we share values and beliefs, can do and say sexist things. (Besides this, I’ve had to point out when he says something sexist too.) It’s up to us to do something about it — no matter what the sexist statement or behaviour is.
7. Learn as much as you can!
So much of what I’ve said has been about catching yourself, breaking habits, and teaching others, which is all very important. But learning about feminism and the fight for gender equality yourself is key.
It used to be that feminism was very much for the elite rich classes, but it is becoming more accessible as more and more people that don’t have academic backgrounds get involved.
And that’s powerful, because it means that everyday people can make real change — not just one small group of people.
So we must keep learning.
Discuss what you’re not sure about, and ask questions. Stay critical of what you see and hear, but listen to as much as you can.
Most importantly, remember this: no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you’re from, your voice matters.
What do you do to support gender equality? Let me know in a comment below!
This article was originally published on Caitlin Cheever’s website, And Possibly Dinosaurs. I have updated and added new information here with her permission.