Like many women (and everyone, hopefully,) I have found myself newly inspired by Emma Watson’s speech for the UN on gender equality. At the end of her speech, she asks, “If not now, when? If not me, then who?” Like a slap in the face, I am instantly reminded of a few recent situations during which I have failed to uphold the “when” and “me” factors.
I am a feminist. I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. I will preach it loud and proud, when I feel like it is appropriate. It wasn’t until very recently that I found myself in the presence of someone who aggressively believes in and preaches the inequality of women. I witness and endure situations of gender inequality every single day of my life, however, never before had I heard the female gender attacked so deliberately.
Here’s what happened: I was riding in a car, driven by a close relative of a loved one, alongside the driver’s wife. Suddenly, the song “Man, I feel like a Woman” by Shania Twain came on the radio, setting this man off on a rant about how Ms. Twain is a “castrating, man-hating whore” for leaving her husband (who had an affair with Ms. Twain’s best friend). His aggressiveness and ferocity only increased as he went further into his rant, using words like “bitches,” “whores,” and even “homos” to make his point. Yet, I said nothing.
As someone who hates confrontation and disturbing the peace, I kept my mouth shut. I would hate to put anyone in an uncomfortable position or create an argument, particularly among family and especially in a constrained setting. But at what point is that line drawn, where speaking about the importance of gender equality is sacrificed for keeping the peace in a crowded car ride?
I cannot stress enough that these were some of the most offensive words I have heard spoken so directly against women as a population. This man did not think twice about saying these things in the presence of 2 women, myself and his wife. As much as I do hate to cause any family drama, I cannot deny that part of the reason for my own silence was the fulfillment of the expectation that I should not stick up for myself. I am a much younger, much quieter, much more female person. Clearly this man would not say such things if he expected anyone else to argue with him, as his wife sat perfectly calm. So, why bother trying?
I am painfully aware of how my own perceptions of inferiority, (to men, to older relatives, to loud or aggressive people,) stopped me from speaking up. If I’m only comfortable defending feminism around people I know will accept it, can I even call myself a feminist? Am I maintaining the peace, or allowing incidents of inequality to continue happening?
Like Ms. Watson said, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is enough good men and women to do nothing.” I refuse to let evil triumph, and yet, I still do not know what I will do next time I see that man.