I’m a feminist. But I haven’t always been.
I’ve been, I think, a pretty nice guy. But like just about every other man, I was blind for many years to my male privilege.
Actually, I’ve probably experienced more of that privilege than the average American man. That’s because I’ve been the beneficiary of both American and Asian male privileges. For most of my life, it didn’t occur to me that favoritism toward males in those spheres hurts girls and women. So while I got ahead, I failed to support women as they dealt with the social injustices they faced by virtue of their gender.
Privileged As An American Male
While growing up, I didn’t realize how good I had it. I never had to deal, as girls do, with a daily bombardment of messages from people and ads that value my appearance over my abilities. When I hit puberty, I didn’t experience a sudden onset of catcalls, whistles, uncomfortably long stares, or lewd comments about my body.
In college, I didn’t need to ensure I walked home from the library with a group (for fear of being sexually assaulted) or that I would need to carry pepper spray (for fear of the same). I didn’t feel compelled to sign up for a self-defense class (for fear of … you guessed it), and I never called campus transportation at night to drive me to my dorm (because … you know).
Was there ever a time I almost called security because I was stuck in a classroom with a creepy guy loitering outside? Nope. Did I ever have to file a police report because a man publicly exposed himself to me? Not at all.
Since entering the workforce, I’ve never had to worry about getting paid less than the opposite sex for doing the same work.
Since entering the workforce, I’ve never had to worry about getting paid less than the opposite sex for doing the same work, nor have I had to fear that a supervisor would use his authority over me as a license for harassment.
In my dating years, I never once imagined a date might drug my drink. I never asked a friend to make sure I got home okay from a night out. And I never looked around a room at a group of my male friends and thought, “If one out of every five of us will be raped in our lifetimes, I wonder which one of us it will be?”
These are all things that American girls and women experience. Some have to deal with more of it, some less. But all of these things happen commonly to them.
(Similar things do happen to boys and men, and I don’t want to minimize at all what male victims have gone through. Their suffering is equally horrific. Yet in the general population, these kinds of events happen to men with less statistical frequency. So we still have the term “male privilege,” though using it does not deny the trauma male survivors experience.)
And I, like most American males, have not had to face any of those things. Oh, how greatly advantaged I have been, and I’ve only told the half of it.
Favored As An Asian Male
I’ve also had privileges as an Asian male. Growing up, I could largely express myself in ways that fit my personality. I didn’t face constant pressure from family and friends, as Asian girls and women commonly do, to fit an arbitrary cultural mold for my gender – not too loud and opinionated, not too assertive and ambitious, not too wide or tall, and not waiting too long to get married.
I didn’t face constant pressure from family and friends, as Asian girls and women commonly do, to fit an arbitrary cultural mold for my gender.
I also knew Asian male privilege within my family. As the firstborn among all my cousins, I felt like I had a special place. But on my dad’s side of the family, I knew I did. It wasn’t that my paternal grandparents gave me more 压祟钱 (yā suì qián, the money that comes in a red envelope) than my cousins, but the relative degree of attention my grandpa showered on me was unmistakable.
Sadly, I never once advocated for fairness for my girl cousins. I just thought that’s the way it was.
Oh, what privilege I have had as an Asian male.
Parenting Girls Changed Everything
Everything changed when I became a father to daughters. Over and over, I was struck by the thought that just because they were girls, my daughters (now ages ten and nearly eight) would not be insulated from all the things I was.
I realized it was no longer sufficient for me as their dad to just prepare them for the harsh realities of growing up female. So for several years now, I’ve given much of myself to working for girls’ and women’s rights.
And I’m not done. I am committed to doing whatever I can to see that girls and women are valued and respected as much as boys and men are. In no way should any girl or woman ever be made to feel otherwise.
That’s why I call myself a feminist!
But what is feminism, after all? Some folks envision feminists as a bunch of angry women who go around chanting about their man-hate! In reality, not a single feminist woman I know is against men or thinks all men are insensitive clods. The stereotype is nothing like reality.
So what is feminism? Taylor Swift offered a nutshell definition when she told The Guardian, “Saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities.”
Dictionaries basically agree. They generally define feminism as the belief that females and males are equal in value and that they should have equal rights politically, economically, and socially. I would go further and say that a feminist doesn’t just believe that, but she or he also takes action to help make equality a reality. So yes, I’m a feminist!
It’s sad, actually, that only after having daughters did I wake up to my privilege.
But I deserve no praise for this. It’s sad, actually, that only after having daughters did I wake up to my privilege. I should have cared about the injustices that girls and women endure just because they’re human beings! Yet I’m glad I am more attuned to these issues now. It’s better than continuing to live in obliviousness.
I’m grateful for the folks who’ve helped me on this journey. They include feminist women and men, activists and academics, people I’ve known for years and people I’ve only known on Twitter, and folks from numerous ethnic and religious backgrounds. I look forward to continuing to learn from them.
That’s because I know there are other ways in which I’m still blind to my privilege, and I need to be open to critiques. To be a helpful ally to women, I need to keep listening to them and their stories, asking what kind of support I can offer as a man – both for them as individuals and for their cause as a whole.
There is a t-shirt meme that proclaims, “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like.” Here it is, modeled by Don McPherson. He’s an educator and activist, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and a former winner of the Davey O’Brien Award during his days as a quarterback at Syracuse University. He wears it with pride:
In that vein, though I don’t have one of those shirts, I’m proud to declare – I’m what a feminist dad looks like!