A letter no one ever wrote me, but I kind of wish they had.
To a feminist in my life who might not know that I am listening:
You are amazing.
I don’t usually get involved in your discussions of feminism, or “like” or comment on your Facebook posts, or attend the events you promote. And even though I know should, I don’t usually speak out when I hear people telling sexist jokes, or cat-calling women on the street, or blatantly staring at a woman’s body. I don’t usually notice when movies or television shows focus on the stories of men, with impossibly-sexy female characters serving only as decorations or prizes to be won. I’m not usually conscious of how advertisements portray women as mere objects, lacking any personal autonomy and existing purely for someone else’s pleasure. Sometimes, I congratulate straight male friends for “getting” a girl, yet implicitly shame women who pursue their own sexual desires. I realize that most political representatives in our society are men, but don’t often tell these representatives that I actually think women should have a stronger presence in the political arena.
Naturally, you might think I haven’t been listening. You might think that I don’t want to talk to you about feminism and gender equality because I don’t agree with you, or don’t understand. But the truth is, I am simply humbled. I am not quiet about feminism because I don’t care or because I disagree. I am quiet because I am in awe.
I am in awe of how you put yourself out into the world, challenging stereotypes and speaking out against oppression and inequality. I am in awe that even though one in four North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, you still walk down the street alone at night. You take elevators alone with men you don’t know. You work and vote and participate in society even though this country still pays you less than it pays men for the same work. You live your life fully and wholly and publicly, even though the advertising industry insists that you are too fat, the private sector thinks that you are too bossy, and you can’t rely on the legal system to punish sexual assaulters. Men you have never met before rub up against you at dance clubs and send you disgusting, disturbing, or even threatening messages on the internet. And yet you dance. You call out injustice when you see it. You pursue your goals. You walk down the street. It shouldn’t be risky for you to simply go about the world, but it is. And you do it anyway.
When you explain and promote feminism someone usually tries to fight you on it. It must be scary and exhausting to push through all the people out there (ok, mostly men) who either think feminism is stupid or that they know more about how to do it than you do. I’ve seen these men. They comment on your Facebook posts, saying that you are not being a “good feminist” because you’re too harsh, or too bitter, or not inclusive enough. They critique you and insist that they know more about being an effective feminist than you do. They demand your attention and they demand a response. In one way or another you deal with these people every day.
You probably don’t know that I think about all this stuff, because I haven’t told you. I haven’t told you how much I admire your bravery — stepping out into a world that is constantly hostile towards you.
I haven’t told you to keep going. So I’m telling you — ok asking you — now: Keep going. Most of us are too proud to admit that you are right. But you are. And I’m listening. And I’m learning from you how to be brave so that I can also start speaking out, publicly, about feminism. Please keep going, because I am still learning.
Your silent ally who is quiet because I am listening.