No one is perfect, and sadly this includes our friends. But even knowing this, when friends do things like make anti-feminist comments, it can be hard to figure out how to react. After all, you're (hopefully) friends with people because you like them; hearing them say something that goes against your beliefs can be jarring.
Feminism has become less of a "dirty word" of late with more and more women — and men — adopting the label. But we're by no means at the point where you can just assume that someone's a feminist. A lot of people still have a ton of misperceptions about feminism, and even more have internalized the sexism and misogyny that feminism tries to fight, whether they wanted to or not. Even people who are feminists and who believe in gender equality still say sexist or anti-feminist things sometimes. And when those people are your friends, figuring out how to respond can be a bit...difficult.
After all, ditching your friends because they disagree with you about something — even something major — is a very quick way to have no friends, and isn't really a solution anyway. Because for one thing, only being friends with people who agree wit you about everything sounds boring. And for another what's actually important in a friendship isn't agreeing on everything, but being able to talk about the important stuff.
So here's some suggestions for how to talk about the important things when they come up — namely, how to respond to anti-feminist statements your friends make, both the obvious and the more subtle.
"I'm not a feminist, but..."
Millennials are the "I'm not a feminist, but..." generation. Lots and lots of people, men and women, believe in gender equality but are much more shy about feminism. The problem of course being that feminism is all about gender equality. And trying to separate the two things — gender equality and the movement fighting for gender equality — is the definition of counterproductive. And yet people do it all the time.
Short answer: Tell your friend that whatever thing they've just said after the "but" actually makes it sound like they are a feminist, and that you agree. And add that there's nothing wrong with being a feminist; you're one and look at how awesome you are.
"You aren't like other feminists, though. You're not [insert stereotype here]."
People have all sorts of stereotypes about feminists. And while your friends might try to be nice by reassuring you that they don't think of you this way, it's really just annoying to hear them stereotyping your big, diverse, inclusive movement.
Short Answer: Tell them that feminists can come in just about any form, and that just because you aren't angry or you like makeup or whatever else, that doesn't mean you don't believe in gender equality. Because everyone is allowed to fight for gender equality.
"I just don't tend to like other girls."
Because society is full of all sorts of awful stereotypes about women and girls, and just sort of generally de-values women, a lot of girls internalize that message. And while there's nothing wrong with most of your friends just so happening to be guys, there is something wrong with not being friends with women because they are women.
The whole point of feminism is that there's nothing wrong with women. And the fact that women are socially conditioned to think less of each other or compete with one another or generally not band together and form strong bonds is one of the ways patriarchy manages to survive, keeping us divided instead of united.
Short answer: Tell you friend that they can be friends with anyone you want, but that you don't think there's anything wrong with other girls — in fact, you think they're pretty awesome.
"You're not like other girls"
Lots of guys, even your bestest guy friends, often think this one is a compliment, but it very much isn't. Because implying there's something wrong with your entire gender isn't really OK just because they promise they don't see you like that. Either you respect women and see them us as people or you don't.
Short Answer: You can either tell your guy friends that you are exactly like other girls, and start a conversation about gender and stereotyping, or you can say that that's the most insulting thing you have ever heard because other girls are awesome. I'm a fan of both approaches.
"I don't see why people have to talk about feminism all the time."
People who aren't feminists have this weird idea sometimes that feminism is something that comes up all the time. Which is funny because feminists often feel like no one is talking about these issues at all. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but that doesn't change the fact that talking about sexism is important. And since it permeates just about every aspect of modern life, it's not like there are things that aren't relevant to feminism. Not everything has to be all feminism all the time, but trying to shut down those conversations is not helpful.
Short Answer: Tell your friends that you're glad that these conversations are happening in our society because that hopefully means things will get better — so that, you know, we won't have to talk about it anymore. But in the meantime, the real issue is all the problems feminism is trying to fix, not feminism itself.
"Gender equality already exists. I don't feel unequal to anyone."
The thing about being socialized in a patriarchal society is that all the inequalities around you don't strike you as problems but just as...normal. Plus, we all know that things used to be a lot worse in this country for women in a number of ways, which makes modern life seem like an egalitarian utopia by comparison. But that doesn't mean things are equal. And while it's true that women are equal to men in the larger, moral sense, society doesn't treat us that way.
Short Answer: Tell your friend that even if they've been lucky enough not to be affected by sexism, that doesn't mean other women can say the same — or that they themselves won't be affected in the future. And that they might be treated unfairly and not have even noticed. I've found that providing examples can be illuminating.
So keep talking to your friends about what's important to you. And keep fighting the patriarchy. Maybe someday, these conversations won't even be necessary. Here's hoping!
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