I could hardly say I grew up “Feminist”. Nevertheless, feminist movement and theory played a major role in my life. This part will be short and not nearly as personal. It stands very prominently for me. Like Robert Jensen, a great author I really admire, I cannot be sure that as a man I can call myself “Feminist”. Feminism grew to liberate women. As a result, I can be on the side of feminist movement, but I find it hard to put myself into the movement since it is not me who needs liberation. I only claim the titles “Pro-feminist” and “Anti-Patriarchal”. This way, I demarcate what I am for and what I am against. Up until now, I made very little mention of feminism. That is because I believe it to be too important to not talk about on its own. It deserves that much attention.
I want to be perfectly clear that feminist movement is not over. Many theorists speak of a post-feminist world, but we hardly see such a world. When I visited Colombia, many women who were abandoning the restrictive patriarchal laws of their culture to provide for themselves and others refused to refer to themselves as “feminist”. To them, feminists represented a radical fringe of power hungry women. These women I spoke with experienced liberation and continued struggling for it. Their social status belied the reason why they did not identify as “feminists”. Somehow, they did not belong in that hard-lining, elite category. Something similar can be said about feminists in this part of the world. For too long, feminism belonged to the elite, white, educated, middle to upper-class women. They wanted a piece of the power. When they received it, or at least part of it, they claimed the end of feminism. Meanwhile, women of color cleaned their restrooms, served their food, and raised their kids. For these women, feminism is hardly over. For them, feminism should not be over.
My parents raised me with a strong sense that men and women should not be considered unequal. My father always told us how women’s and men’s muscles are literally identical. Maybe various hormone-levels and body parts distinguish us, but nothing in our brains separates our abilities. Most importantly, spiritually, we were total equals. G-d loves all people the same. They consistently demonstrated how women could pastor churches, be educated, and do anything men can do. Patriarchy still finagled its way into our family. My mother did the grunt work of the child-rearing, food preparation, and house-keeping. When it came to important decisions, my father remained authoritative (although they could argue that he is less indecisive). He dispersed the harsh discipline, and he showed very little affection. I love my dad. Many things he taught me were valuable and incredible, yet patriarchy still had a hold of both my parents. I do not blame them; I do wish to move beyond the patriarchy that still infects them.
I graduated from high school the same year my mother graduated from George Fox Seminary with a Masters in Spiritual Direction (do not ask me what that actually means). She became a quarter-time pastor at their church later that year. Consistently, throughout my life, I faced the difficult scripts fighting one another. One claimed women to be equals, sharers in the load, and partners. Another, said men were to rule and dominate. They were smarter, stronger, faster, and more responsible. People told stories about how men were sexually aroused through sight unlike women. They talked about men’s various capabilities as powerful, physical warriors. In the end, these traits necessitated men to be the leaders in society.
Alternatively, I heard another story. It came from my mom, the seminarian. Humans were made to be peaceful. Women and men share all things. As this script began to take hold, I saw little usage for men to be powerful warriors. What seemed clearer was that the most violent men rarely made good leaders anyway. Slowly, the veil lifted from my eyes. As I grew older and heard story after story of men beating women, beating children, transgressing women’s sexual boundaries, and committing crimes even more horrible, it seemed stupid for us to commit power into a person’s hands predicated exclusively on their sex organs.
What were we to do? Obviously, one answer is to grant power only to those responsible enough to handle it, regardless of sex. This cannot be the solution simply for the reason that the most powerful and violent will seize power for themselves. Powerful people taking control of societies happens, but on the microcosmic level, it looks even clearer. Strong men marry physically weaker women. They use their strength advantage to physically intimidate and take power. Typically, patriarchy supports the man having power. Dominance can derive from any sex. Additionally, dominance oppresses people no matter what. Feminism revealed the oppression of women for millenia, but this way of gendered thinking stops short of the worse truth. The truth is this: anyone can dominate someone else; all they need is violence and power; and since people living in fear of the violence of the powerful cannot escape their fear, we must eradicate domination as the root in order to erase patriarchy. By permitting women to work outside the home, we fail to address the fear they have of violent husbands at home. By forming a society where dominance of one person by another is completely unthinkable, we eliminate the motivation of a man to dominate his wife whether he is stronger or weaker than her.
Many feminists blamed men for the problems of the world. Nevertheless, many men are good. Thus, clearly something intrinsic about men did not cause patriarchy. Rather, something intrinsic about humanity caused it. Humans desire to rule over others. Eventually, they even try to rule over G-d. Ruling over others initiated the problems caused by one group ruling over another group (seriously, it seems like pretty simple logic). I saw through feminism how spreading the power to a few more people, a select group of women, could prove to only create another group of dominators. The only final way to solve this problem was to eliminate domination altogether. Let everyone have equal power. Give everyone a fair, equal chance. I knew this was what I believed. By the time I was a Junior in college, I was ready to find others who believed it as well.