Girl Trouble

When asked about my interest in writing this opinion, the first thing I thought was “I am walking into a minefield.” I am, along with most men I know, afraid to talk about women’s issues. Part of that comes from the fact that I am a tall, privileged, white man but the other part is that I’m afraid of being attacked for either saying or doing the wrong thing. All my life I have been surrounded by strong women and have always believed that someone’s actions are what should define their success in life, not their gender. I felt compelled by their example to speak my mind on this topic, even though it might be uncomfortable at times.

For most of human history, women got sidelined in what rights and opportunities society afforded to them. Thanks to the feminist movement there has been real progress towards equality. Sadly, alongside these advances, there has been a swing away from the equal opportunity of women to “man bashing’, by a small but loud segment of the feminist movement. This group disallows men to claim any suffering or mistreatment as they believe their gender precludes them from understanding the experience of women. When these individuals are called out for their comments, they often fire back with accusations of sexism even if untrue. These unjustified assaults have made potential allies cautious and emboldened those who do wish to stop the spread of equality through society.

I was the only boy in the school choir through most of middle school. In high school, I continued to be part of the vocal music groups including an all-male choir. The choir included straight, gay and transgendered young men. Throughout those years of school, the choir guys often were targeted as “the faggots.” When I have discussed this treatment with people, the most common reaction is that these actions were just “boys being boys.” I have often a time seen the surprised look on someone’s faced when I revealed that this bullying was predominantly lead by women in the schools I attended. I was treated as less of a human being because I enjoyed singing and dancing on stage because I embraced my so-called “feminine side” (a description I abhor). This kind of double standard continues beyond areas of life where men choose to express themselves in creative or sensitive ways.

Like many people here at Acadia and across the world I was the target of bullying through the entirety of my time in school. My mother still talks about when I would come home with bruises on my back from when someone had shoved me into a wall or onto the ground. Not only did I have to deal with the physical injuries inflicted on me, but also the ones that left me questioning my worth a person. I am unashamed of the fact that I have and continue to see a counselor to deal with these issues. I have also never tried to hide the facts about what I have endured and I that have sought help to deal with many of the issues with which I have had to grapple. When we talk about feminism, it is often a topic of strength. The strength to fight back, the power to express yourself and to overcome the stupid notion that women are weaker than men. But sensitivity and creativity when displayed by men are still viewed as weakness by society. For a man to admit that he has suffered abused means, he will be perceived as weak if he seeks help to reclaim that basic sense of dignity and purpose of which he feels stripped.

As I have worked my way through creating this article I have tried to think of ways I could suggest to help bridge the gap we face as I did not want just to critic but build. I am not an expert on gender equality issues, nor will I claim to be so I reached out to others so I could look past my point of view. While there were more than a few differing opinions and thoughtful suggestions on how we can all better ourselves as individuals what I always heard was it is important to have a dialogue. I am aware that many, if not most of you reading this will disagree with what I have had to say. I hope you find a way to express what is on your mind as every person can add something to this dialogue. I would consider myself to be an open-minded person, so I am sure I could learn a thing or two.

Over the last century, there have many strides forward in gender equality. In our nation, women have moved from being treated as second class citizens in almost every situation and are now viewed as equals. While we certainly have much further to go, I do not believe any reasonable person can look at what has changed and say it is not getting better. As we continue to push forward, we must not allow ourselves to become blind and only shift our biases from gender-based to those of one’s character

Jonah Van Driessum

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