RE: Am I a bad feminist?

Margaret Atwood’s Criticisms

Margaret Atwood wrote an article for The Globe and Mail titled“Am I a bad feminist?”responding to the #MeToo movement and calling for greater transparency in investigating the claims of sexual misconduct, referring to the case of Steven Galloway, a former creative writing university professor from UBC. Accused of sexual misconduct, he was subsequently fired for the accusations. It was later revealed that there was no evidence for such accusations and Atwood believed the man was treated unfairly.

She asks, “If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers?” In her article, she affirms that #MeToo is the product of a broken legal system as victims and allies of sexual abuse use the internet to take down abusive stars.

Victims have been empowered to tell their owns stories and with successful results. But Atwood remarks that the #MeToo movement brought upon an attitude of “guilty because accused” where “the usual rules of evidence are bypassed”.

Her article sparked debate and criticism on Twitter.Alicia Elliottsaid the letter “wasn’t calling for systematic change; it was upholding the status quo”. The status quo being, in this case, focusing on the perceived innocence of the accused over the needs of the victim. And she makes a good point.

In Canada, between 2009 and 2014, one in five sexual assaults reported by police led to a completed court case, about 1 in 10 of those court cases led to a criminal conviction. #MeToo wants to change the results of accusation, and to create a space for women to come forth with their stories in a world that silences and blames the victim.

#MeToo

The #MeToo movement is historical and absolutely necessary. Tarana Burke founded the movement in 2006 to spread awareness about sexual assault in underprivileged communities of colour.

The hashtag was adopted by celebrities in 2017 and took off after the accusations towards Harvey Weinstein were made public through online discourse. A multitude of stories came to light of his repetitive occurrences of sexual assault and harassment towards women, and men, within the industry. In Hollywood, it was also a well-known fact that he was a predator; it was commonly joked about at award shows and received snickers from the crowd. The accounts written about him are terrifying, disgusting, and quite frankly it’s shame it took so long for him to be “caught” so to speak.

Ultimately, Weinstein’s downfall, like the movement itself, was absolutely necessary. His life was rightfully ruined without a conviction as industry professionals and people around the world were served a wakeup call.

The waves and influence of this movement are unavoidable. It wasn’t too long afterward that Kevin Spacey’s downfall came with Anthony Rapp’s allegations of attempted rape when he was only fourteen years old. His career, his fame, his reputation – all swiped from under his feet, almost like he never even existed.

Women and victims have an enormous  amount of power right now unlike we’ve ever seen before. No one knows how long it will last so it’s been used extensively and rapidly, taking down people left and right.

m etoo
Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo Movement 

My Initial Response

It got to this point where I was reading different articles with different names with different and equally disturbing stories.

I quickly discovered my responses to these articles remained the same each time:

  1. Disappointment and disbelief
  2. Reading the account and feeling deeply disturbed
  3. Empathizing with the victim

I’ve discussed this issue with a wide range of people. Most women identified with one or a few of the women who came forward, and they gained support by posting #MeToo on Twitter or Facebook during its prime.

Some men also identified and empathized with the victims. Others were perhaps a bit more apprehensive, but overall saw the necessity in the movement.

I’ve noticed that many people, including sometimes myself, have a hard time separating the man from his work. Casey Affleck, luckily enough for him, experienced similar waves of accusations a year before the “Weinstein effect”, and just last year won an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Since this wasn’t a pressing issue in 2016, as it is now, his career was still intact and he was even celebrated for his work.

I saw the movie, it was good. His performance was great. It’s hard to separate Affleck from what he did to several women throughout his career, whose accounts of their experience with him, are just as terrifying as the accounts made towards Weinstein. Aggressive, entitled, powerful, and abusive.

When I asked the person, who didn’t see a problem with Affleck winning an Oscar, why he supported him, he said that he simply had the best performance that year.

My response: “If he was sent to a fair trial and declared guilty of his crimes he wouldn’t have been able to act in that movie.”

“Yeah, but he wasn’t,” this person said, and then added: “I separate the man from his work – you can be an asshole but still be great at what you do.”

I was troubled by these remarks because this is exactly the kind of behaviour that allowed Weinstein to prevail for so long. Opinions like this are, as Alicia Elliott said, “upholding the status quo”. And I’m quite certain that this person never took the time read the accounts written by Affleck’s victims, because I hope that if he had it wouldn’t have been so easy to say those those exact words. After taking the time to listen to the victims, I was then able to look at Casey Affleck differently because I placed what he did over his performances.

I know why it is so hard to look at these accusations and not want to believe the victims. Some of these people being accused are people that others have looked up to. When Johnny Depp was accused of domestic abuse, I shamefully admit that I didn’t believe Amber Hard, his wife and accuser during that time. I thought, what would motivate her to accuse of him of this? Money? Attention? A few months later, a video was released displaying his aggressive behaviour; screaming and throwing dishes around Hard, along with pictures of her bruises, and later, an article that stated she donated all of the money she received from her settlement with Depp, to an organization that helps women in domestic abuse. I couldn’t not believe her allegations and I was embarrassed that I didn’t before.

The most difficult part about peeking behind the curtain is that it forces us to examine our own behaviour, and some of us see are afraid of what we will see. 

The main reason I’m discussing this, and my experience with the #MeToo movement is to demonstrate that I am simultaneously in support of the victims, that I want to believe the victims, but that I am also conflicted.

The Allegations against Aziz Ansari

I have three stages when it comes to seeing an article with allegations towards someone. Three steps, and these steps were carried through when I read a anonymous piece about a date-gone-wrong between a woman and Aziz Ansari. 

(Before continuing, I implore you to read the article in full.)

Once I was finished this article, I was incredibly uncomfortable. The sexual encounter between Ansari and the women reminded me of the aggression and entitlement I’ve encountered throughout my University career. This was the first time I had read something where I could say “Me too”.

I believe the allegations and understand why this woman felt the way that she did. But this account lies under a mysterious grey area in which the notions of sexual assault, misconduct and a bad sexual experience become hazy.

Was this woman rightfully uncomfortable? Yes.

Can Aziz Ansari read minds? No.

I don’t have any license to say whether this was sexual assault, the only people who will know exactly what occurred were the people in the room, Ansari and the woman.

If Aziz Ansari’s allegations can speak to anything, it’s that it’s a symptoms of a much larger, systemic problem. Our parents’ generation call it “boys will be boys”, some girls in my classes call it “rape culture”.

I was floored to see men online commenting that if what Ansari did was sexual assault, then every girl they’ve been with was sexually assaulted. Because along with them were responses amongst female readers who noted their similar experiences. Both are indicative of the fact that we live in a world consumed with an incredibly unhealthy sexual culture. That some men must coerce, manipulate and press to get what they want, and that women must appease.

This unhealthy sexual culture obliges women to go along with uncomfortable sexual experiences when all they want to do is stop. It’s expected of men to decipher mixed signals and body language that belong to the grey areas of consent. To blame the women and say she could’ve gone home at any time isn’t fair, and to expect Aziz Ansari to read the mind of a woman who seemingly gave him consent, also isn’t fair. It’s so much more complicated than that.

rape culture

Am I a bad feminist?

I want to avoid declarative statements, especially today. Declarative sentences are dangerous phrases that can’t be taken back. But, if I were to answer the question Margaret Atwood posed in her Op-ed, who answered yes, then I think I would also have to say yes, I am a bad feminist.

Right now, with the #MeToo movement, to be a feminist is to read an account of sexual abuse and to denounce the abuser. Women, and men, have taken this issue into their own hands due to an ineffective legal system that lets powerful people like Casey Affleck fall through the cracks. To be a feminist means to dawn a robe and type on Twitter, to denounce and defame, and in a sense, become an online vigilante. If the system doesn’t work for us, we must do it ourselves.

Right now, feminists have a bomb in their hands and a crowd full of the accused where there’s a 99% chance they’re guilty. Let’s say there’s a 100 people there. All of them are exposed to the shrapnel.

Let’s say one one person was innocent.

This isn’t based on any data, this might be an impractical analogy for what I’m trying to say which is this: While I have grown to be empowered and in support of the #MeToo movement it has also given me an increasing sense of anxiety.

I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has been adopted by rich female celebrities at the “Times Up” Golden Globes, who have used activists of colour as their new fancy accessories on red carpets, and bullied women who didn’t dress in all black.

I’m apprehensive right now because the movement has led celebrities to publicize their support, more as a public relations move than an act of integrity.

I’m apprehensive right now because I live in a new culture where being accused makes you guilty, negating all previous notions that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

People view this issue in black and white. You’re on one side or you’re on the other. Because I am empowered and I support #MeToo movement, I have one foot alongside line and because I am anxious, ask questions and have my doubts, I’m also alongside another.

Fairness hasn’t existed for victims of sexual abuse throughout history, that is why the movement started. Yet, the notion that we must believe all women that come forth, without question, is based on the logic that all women are incapable of lies and deceit. Anyone can capitalize on an issue that is trending during a specific period of time for an ulterior motive. And to treat all cases with the same weight and pressure, for example Weinstein and Ansari, is not fair. If feminism is about fairness, then what has feminism become in the post-Weinstein era?

I want to support and believe but I also want to be fair, and right now that makes me a bad feminist.

I wholeheartedly think that more focus should be placed on the people that come forward on their stories than the perceived innocence of those who are accused; placing more importance on the victims doesn’t mean we should completely ignore the latter. But I also assume that most people read the headlines in the morning and don’t take the time read the entire story. It’s difficult to peer behind the curtain and see what nightmare is on the other side, it’s difficult to see all sides of the story. But, what’s harder? I think it’s telling the story.

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#MeToo movement 
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The Female Fraud: My Experience with Imposter Syndrome

Mainstream feminists seem to think that the be-all and end-all issue to fight is the wage gap. However, studies show that, for the most part, the wage gap exists but not for the reason that people typically think. It has less to do with women getting smaller paychecks than men in similar positions, and more to do […]

Mainstream feminists seem to think that the be-all and end-all issue to fight is the wage gap. However, studies show that, for the most part, the wage gap exists but not for the reason that people typically think. It has less to do with women getting smaller paychecks than men in similar positions, and more to do with how many women are not going towards those high paying careers.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the wage gap is a myth. In fact, the recent annual data shows that women working full time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that a full-time male employee made. And in some cases, highly educated women aren’t getting paid as much as men who have the same, or even less, credentials. 

The Flaw 

The main flaws in those numbers, is that researchers don’t consider different employment choices between men and women, or the number of hours they work. Almost none of them take into account the pressures women have on childbearing, and how pregnancy and motherhood can detract from a woman’s employment status.

In summary, within the Western world, the wage gap isn’t actually just as result of rampant discrimination. This belief leads to governments attempting to aid the situation with affirmative action. Thus, many men plead in defiance that they work just as hard, and women’s wages are still stagnant. This means that the issue is much more complicated than that.

I wanted to know why

Why are so many capable women avoiding those high paying jobs? There are countless reasons, and multiple online threads attempting to convince me that women simply don’t want to do those jobs, that they aren’t that good at bargaining for a better wage. While some I deemed completely laughable, others seemed quite fitting. The actual fault can be traced to the psychological effects of living in a legacy of women being excluded from professional spaces in the modern world. And the one that hit close to home for me, was the concept of Imposter Syndrome.

So, what’s Imposter Syndrome?

Individuals who have Imposter Syndrome, “experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud,” as written in a report created by the International Journal of Behavioral Science. 

Mind you, this isn’t a gendered phenomenon. High achieving millennials and graduate students are plagued with this mindset no matter what gender they identify as. But it is inarguably and disproportionally afflicted by women – including myself. 

My Experience with Imposter Syndrome

I found myself looking at the accounts written by female professionals, and connecting words that perfectly explained what I have been experiencing ever since I was a young adult. Like ever since I set foot on my university campus I have felt out of place amongst the academics and keeners who did everything on time and seemingly without flaw. Or when people offer me compliments, and tell me that I seem to have everything put together, I can’t agree with them. I immediately think of my messy room back home, the dirty dishes on my desk, and the piles of readings I have yet to finish.

In classrooms, where male students offer their opinions freely and confidently, I take time to repeat my answer over and over in my head until perfection, to the point where I still kind of stutter on my words, or the class has moved on to completely different discussion point.

I think about how social media has allowed me to curate a very edited version of myself; from the articles I share on Facebook, to the highly selective photos I’ve posted on my Instagram. Sometimes I am extremely thankful that I was born in an era where people can take a picture of themselves with the right lighting, angle, and dress so that those candids of double chins, belly bumps, or big foreheads don’t have to presented to the world. But then sometimes I scroll through my feed and feel like I’m lying to everyone. If one of those candids came to light, it isn’t that it’s an ugly representation of myself, but it’s actually the true version of myself.

There are even times where my friends send me links to entry-level summer jobs they think are a perfect fit, but I feel deep down there is a better candidate for those positions. So I don’t apply. I take away any chance of myself gaining more than minimum wage.

That, combined with my knack of belittling every achievement I have had, makes it seem like I simply have some poor self-esteem, except it feels like more than that.

It feels like I’ve built a small empire – of confidence, beauty, and success – on shaky infrastructure; a castle made of sand.

Why does it matter?

Imposter Syndrome is a complicated concept and it definitely cannot independently explain why women don’t allow themselves to go towards high paying careers. However, it should be examined much more than it is, when female law students, professors and CEOS “find innumerable means of negating any external evidence that contradicts their belief that they are, in reality, unintelligent.”

I do call on it when people condescendingly claim that the wage gap is a myth, or when people try to reason through that specific issue by explaining that women are just less ambitious. Both of those reasons are just examples of people attempting to continue the narrative that women are inferior.

I know I’m not. I know women aren’t, but I think we all have that voice in the back of our heads that makes us question our worth.

Back to the Wage Gap 

While millionaire actresses and celebrities stand with signs in their hands about the wage gap, uneducated as to why it actually exists, it makes their fight seem unworthy, and often exasperating. Not only to they stand with misguided signs, but are probably standing next to images of pink vulvas with the thought that all women are connected by same genitalia, and not mention, are all probably white. These acts are excluding many people and specifically disregarding how the wage gap disproportionally affects women of colour.

It’s extremely difficult to live in a time where everyone feels like everyone else is living better. It’s also extremely difficult living in the legacy where women have been excluded from the work force and academic spaces. Hopefully, the end of that legacy is closer than we think.

It is important to note that issues such as these cannot only be explained with numbers. It the lived experience that should be taken to account as well.

And in the meantime, we should create a mantra when those dirty, little thoughts sneak into heads, repeating over and over, “I can, I can, I can.”

Sources:
Image 1: https://studybreaks.com/2016/10/20/will-gender-pay-gap-shrink-future/
Grant, Tavia. Who is minding the gap? The Globe And Mail (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/gender-pay-gap-a-persistent-issue-in-canada/article34210790/
Clance, Pauline Rose; Imes, Suzanne. The Imposter Phenomenon In High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practise, 15:3. (1978).