Can a White Male be a Feminist?

This is my final official post for the Fem+Media+Health class that I took this semester.  I’ll certainly keep this up and running even after the class concludes tomorrow, although I would imagine the postings will be a little less frequent.  If they were more frequent, I guess that’d be sort of ironic…

It isn’t obvious who is a feminist.  I certainly believe in the equality of both genders, but the fact that I am a man does not lend itself easily to the classic portrayal of a feminist.

I think a white male can be a feminist, but let me first give a quick recap of and explain what I liked most about the class.

I’m not a fan of the pharmaceutical companies.  They do save a lot of lives, but it isn’t as if they do it out of the goodness of their heart, they make a pretty penny in the process.  Which is fair, we live in a capitalist society so they can make their buck.  If it was up to me things would be different, but nobody put me in charge.  I did find it interesting that we began the class with this discussion of the modern health industry.  But looking back it seemed to be the best place to start.

We spoke about body image and the way the panopticon of society forces women to follow a specific beauty regimen.  I would imagine that most women would like to break away from this pressure, thus it seems that men are the majority of active participants who reinforce these beauty principles.

The feminism movement has come to encompass other persecuted groups, specifically the LGBTQ community which suffers under the concept of compulsory heterosexuality.  This isn’t always an active compulsion, but the way our society is constructed tends to promote straight relationships over gay ones.

I will add that of all the guest lectures we had, not one was conducted by a man.  It is interesting to point out, and it only adds to the argument that men cannot be feminists.  Never the less they were all so interesting.  The ones that stands out in my mind the most though were the one from Professor Tiger and from Shelby Knox.  They are both gifted and clear speakers, highly engaging, and left myself and the class wanting so much more.  And to say one more bit about Shelby Knox; what an inspiration for anybody who wants to achieve a goal!  I know that I’ll look back on that movie and her guest lecture whenever I find myself frustrated

But what made the class truly special was the free range given to us, the students, to speak our minds; both our ignorance and our expertise.  We all learnt together.  And that is important, because in determining equality, there is no guidebook.

I did feel a little awkward at times.  At Hunter I’m used to being the minority gender in a classroom, but this was definitely a percentage of female to male students that I had never experienced.  But that had far more benefits than I could have imagined.  It forced me to listen and think and then respond, I couldn’t say something -anything- unless I knew it to be logically sound.  Which is good, because the only way to learn is by exploring new ideas.

So I thank my two professors.  I know many of us in didn’t know some of the terms and ideas that we used on a regular basis in class until we learnt them throughout the course.  But that is what school is for, to learn.  I can’t thank Professor Daniels and Professor Richardson enough for opening my eyes to a whole world of ideas that had been left undiscovered.  I have already seen how the tools I learned in this class will be forever used in my life.

And to my classmates, there is no better learning tool than to bounce ideas back and forth off of each other.  Whether it was before or during class, or on the twitter.  I was reluctant to use it at first, but I’ve had so much fun with it.  I hope people still use the #hons201 after we finish the course.  I was always a little nervous around new media.  But now I have confidence to use it and wield it when I need to.

Finally, to resolve my initial question, the answer must be Yes.  The goal of the feminist movement is to achieve equality throughout all aspects of society for women.  How can that happen without the active participation of men?

I know I learnt a whole lot this past semester and I sure plan to implement that as I move on in my studies and then into my career.

Oh, I almost forgot.  The interviews I did with Erin Gloria Ryan and Jill Filipovic were so much fun and really eye opening.  I owe them so much, that these two rising stars took the time out of their lives to answer my questions with honest, candid responses was truly amazing.


-Zachary Schrieber

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My Mother

Before I took this course, I think I probably only encountered one true feminist in my life.   Yah, plenty of my friends’ mothers worked but they barely saw their kids.  Besides, I don’t think the simple act of having a job qualifies one to be feminist.

No, the first feminist I knew and the only one I was sure I’d known for a long time was my mother.

If we define feminism in the extremely broad way of “bringing social, political, and economic equality to women”, then perhaps nearly all of us believe in feminism.  But to be a feminist, one needs to actively seek out ways to bring that about for not only herself but for others as well.

My mother began her career as a law librarian in the late 1970s and quickly rose through the ranks to the top.  As she still likes to remind my father (who worked in the computer science world at the time and now finally approaches his own retirement at the social security age) “I used to make more than you”.  But she gave it up, and retired after about a decade on the job.  Why?  To start a family and be there for her children as much as possible.

I wasn’t the best child, I remember complaining quite a bit.  I remember being bored an awful lot; my mom loved to frequent consignment shops, buy an old piece of furniture, fix it up, and then sell it back.  It sounds like fun now, but what the heck was a 6 year old supposed to enjoy about it.  Luckily though, I had my twin brother to keep me company and the two of us certainly caused some trouble.  Thankfully, my mother was not afraid to scold us.  It was a hard lesson to learn then, but I’m very appreciative that she did what she did.

The one listen my mother made sure to instill in me more than anything else was to respect the girls in my class.  Don’t pull their hair, don’t tease them, and so on.  Now I’m sure all mother’s teach their boys this, but mine was one of the few that picked me up from and drove me to school, took me to swimming lessons, went to play baseball games with me, to the batting cages, food shopping….  Whether it was convenient for her or not, she took every opportunity to spend time with me and turned it into a learning experience.  Her lessons stuck with me more than the ones I heard in class.

Now don’t get me wrong, this came to an abrupt end when I hit 5th grade and started going in earlier and staying later and realizing that hanging with mom wasn’t as cool as it may have once been.  But the real world lessons she taught me have stayed with me long since our relationship became a little more normal for a mother and son.

But the thing I appreciate the most about her, above all, is that she was there for me.  And I don’t mean emotionally, I mean literally; physically there for me when I needed her.  I’m well aware of the money she could be making now if she had stayed at her job and hired a nanny to raise me and my brother.  That weekend home in Connecticut with the Jaguar in the driveway that she’s wanted would probably have easily been purchased years ago.  She gave all that up, so she could raise a family.  What an honorable and powerful thing to do.

Many simpletons out there think that feminism is all about putting women in the workforce.  They’re wrong, it is about allowing a woman to choose her role in the world, whether that be in a job, as a mother, or as a homemaker.  My mom chose to be a mother, a wife, and a homemaker.   My mom made me a feminist.  I couldn’t be more thankful for anything else in the world.

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The Flu

We spent the first couple of meetings of Fem+Media+Health class discussing how modes medicine has evolved from the more natural and home remedies that were used up until the late 19th century.

Michel Foucalt writes of Biopower – the way that the state uses health to enforce a specific lifestyle.  In America, we believe in Capitalism (the plusses and minuses of that lend themselves to an entirely different blog post).  One of the main components of capitalism is that each and every citizen must be an economical productive member of society.  Yes, each governmental system requires its citizens to be productive, but capitalism has a specific economic element to it.  If you’re not adding to the GDP, then you’re basically worthless.

Well, I got sick last week; fatigue, chills, cough, the whole works.  I barely got out of bed for like a day and a half.  I didn’t have any sort of medicine in my apartment, and my doctor was back in Jersey while I was still in NYC.  But I managed to make it home thursday night and went to sleep with the hopes that the Jersey air would somehow make me feel all the better.

It didn’t.

But I didn’t really have the time to go to the doctor.  I did, however, have a bottle of CVS’ generic dayquill/nyquill which promised to make me feel better.

It did.

So you know my story, why is this even remotely important to you?

Well, this ties back to my opening about capitalism and the constant need to produce.  We’re about to start finals, I have like 30 pages worth of writing to do in the next 6 days and 3 tests to study for as well.  I don’t have the hours it’ll take to go to my doctor and sit and talk and diagnose and prescribe medication.  I needed a quick solution.  Something that may not fix the problem, but it would at least give me the strength during the day to do what I needed to do and I could heal at night.

This is not the optimal situation.  Rest and chicken soup is the only thing that’ll get me back to 100%.

Oh yah, and time.  Which is something I don’t have much of for the next 6 days.

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It can’t happen here

That’s what we always tell ourselves.  Whether it is with illness, war, fire, or sexual abuse.

I grew up in suburbia; my hometown Fair Lawn has a little over 30,000 people.  There is maybe one murder a decade, a couple of robberies and one rape per year.  Nearly all of my friends’ parents are married, and have been married for decades.  To summarize, I didn’t grow up around crime and thankfully was left innocent to many of the atrocities that are perpetrated by men in power positions.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t aware of what could happen.  My mom made sure I didn’t accept rides from strangers.   And I certainly saw the news reports about the Clergy.  There was even the one case of Baruch Lanner, who abused children for many years, but he was the exception to the rule.

Then, a few years ago, a story broke about Adam Melzer, who was the basketball coach at my elementary school and was accused of convincing teenage boys to take naked pictures of themselves and their female family members.  The story hit close to home, but the administration took immediate action to rectify the situation.  Yes, it was scary to think that this could happen, but at least the leaders understood that they needed to take these charges seriously.

Yesterday though, the Forward reported an even more damning scenario; one that I never imagined would happen.  After reports of sexual abuse in the 1970s and 80s at YUHSB (my former high school), teachers were quietly dismissed without any formal investigation or police notification.  As I said earlier, we can’t stop every abuser from gaining access to children.  But what we can do is take these charges seriously and protect the children instead of protecting the institution.

I always feared that it could happen, but I had confidence that those in charge would take action, act seriously, and rectify the situation as best as possible.

I was wrong, and that makes me realize that there is no community immune from horror.

Sadly, it can happen anywhere.

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High Heels

This past weekend, I worked at a hotel for a convention for a Jewish teenage organization.  I thought it would be fun and interesting to utilize some of the ideas we learned in my Femism+Health+Media class and put them into action.

“I’m not sure”

“They make my legs look good”

“They’re stylish”

“They make me taller”

These were some of the answers I got when I asked a group of teenage high school girls this past weekend why they wear high heels.  None of them mentioned that high heels tend to leave women vulnerable to men and when I commented that high heels are designed in part to force a woman to need a man for support, they didn’t think much of it.

Now I do have to commend some of these girls; they managed to teeter 6 inches above the ground without any help for most the evening, and I even saw of two of them run around the lobby at full speed without tripping once.

I fully understand the appeal of some women to wear heels, especially those girls who want to appear a little taller.  With height comes respect, power, and attention.  Even a 16 year old realizes that.

But those qualities are best suited in a workplace environment, not in a relaxed setting of about 200 high school aged kids.  The desire for respect and attention has noting to do with survival in the labor force, rather it has solely to do with sex appeal.  As one 16 year old girl in a more modest 2 inch heels remarked to me “It is sad how teenagers can’t act like kids anymore.  Everyone wants to look like an adult”.

I’m not arguing that women should not wear heels, nor am I saying that teenagers should not wear heels either.  Rather, I’m merely trying to highlight the parts of our culture that promote sexualization over respect.  That is what needs to change.

I hope I helped some students better understand the way they dress; and that they choose their outfits from beyond what they see in “seventeen magazine.”

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UN Rebuilding: Blog Assignment #7

It is nearly impossible to ensure the safety of each and every person.  This goes for a stable society, it is true all the more so for countries in the midst of civil war.

This does not mean we should not take every stop possible to ensure the safety and security for as many refugees as possible.  And even though the task is difficult, it is doable.

The first step must be passage of Catharine MacKinnon’s recommendations for a new and updated “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.  There must be specific language that bans all forms of sexual abuse.  Even if the the UN does not have the full ability to enforce those ideas, it would be a step in the right direction of creating a culture that condemns violence against women.

The second step needs to be education, and it needs to be done in the language of the local populace.  Obviously it would be difficult, nay impossible, to educate hostile warring bodies, but the residents of an IDP camp should receive some sort of basic code of conduct training.

Finally, there needs to be an international effort to prosecute criminals who commit violent acts against women.  These cannot be treated as regular rebels or murderers, but rather as an entire other class of criminal.  They attack those who cannot protect themselves, which is a far different violation than attacking those of an enemy combatant.

It is, however, important to remember that there is only so much an outside body can do. Generally speaking, physical revolutions last a long time, and cultural ones last even longer.  Here in America we have an intricate and long established system of laws and penalties that is based upon hundreds of years of slow social and economic improvement.  While we want to help those in the 3rd world with our excess resources, it is hard to expect them to follow our laws immediately.

But the lessons learned from the movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” teach us that the best way to end violence against the innocent is to end war.  The UN does its best work as a peace negotiator, not as another armed force.

When war ends, and rebuilding begins, there comes a time for new laws; ones that promote values that are true for all people regardless of ethnicity, religion, and culture.  The UN’s work as a peace negotiator should continue into the rebuilding process.  Only then can a new understanding of society truly come to fruition.

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Humanitarian Aid (Video #4)

So we tried to think of something fun and innovative to put our message across, but since none of us wanted to appear on camera it was a little difficult.  We did, however, come up with this great idea to do a radio style Q&A format.

Hopefully you will enjoy.  Thanks to Christine for putting the video together, Tessa and I are slightly incompetent when it comes to that.  And, thanks to Tessa for going all the way out to Liberia to help out with this interview.

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