Becoming a Feminist: What took me so long
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
What follows is a twitter thread I published in response to a tweet by Kirstine Stewart that read: “To all the men who say it took having a daughter to “understand” why women need equality and respect, please remember – you ALL had mothers first. What took you so long?” It’s a fair question and one I’ve struggled to answer myself. I have often repeated that having my first daughter was my motivation for joining the board of Parker P Consulting (a social enterprise in the business of promoting gender equity). Here is my attempt at an honest answer to Kirstine’s question.
@KirstineStewart, I consider myself an aspiring feminist. I say aspiring because I realize I have a lot to learn and, equally, to unlearn. I’ve admitted frequently that having my first daughter 3 yrs ago is what motivated me to care much more intensely about gender issues.
You and many others are now questioning what took guys like me so long. We’ve had mothers, sisters, girlfriends, etc. Why didn’t we care for their sake? It’s a fair question.
So here’s one answer from one guy who was trying to be a decent human being all his life.
By way of background, I grew up about as privileged as one can be. Upper-middle class, white male, living in west Toronto. My parents grew up quite poor but had opportunities, went to school & worked hard. I was taught to get lots of education and become financially secure.
My time and attention were narrowly focused on myself and my friends and family. Our household was progressive about gender issues. But not activist or vocal about it. Mom & Dad believed they were equals and my sister equal to her brothers.
So, growing up, I didn’t have any experience with anything I recognized as sexism in our home. Of course, sexism, discrimination, and gender violence were all around me. But I didn’t directly encounter the most obvious/brutal forms.
But I was steeped in, and guilty myself of the more insidious forms (think Aziz Ansari vs say Harvey Weinstein). I wouldn’t even recognize these insidious forms as violence, harassment, and discrimination until MUCH later in life.
I did and said a lot of things growing up that I’m now ashamed of. And having a mother (and even an older sister) didn’t immunize me from this behavior because I didn’t recognize it as wrong. I grew up in the 80’s/90’s. There were very few views of masculinity that weren’t toxic.
I lived and went to school with many first-generation European immigrants who held very traditional views of gender roles. I played very stereo-typically male sports like football and boxing and grew up watching movies like …
Sixteen Candles, where nearly the entire movie normalizes date rape. Breakfast Club, where Judd Nelson dives face-first into Molly Ringwald’s crotch at one point. Weird Science, where teens Gary and Wyatt decide to create their own woman to do their bidding.
Much like looking back at my own attitudes and behaviors, looking back at these movies is horrifying. Here’s an actual line from Sixteen Candles from knight-in-shining armour Jake who says,
“I can get a piece of ass anytime I want. Sh*t, I got Caroline in the bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” But he doesn’t, not because it would be morally reprehensible but because he’s looking for a nice girl to settle down with.
Feminism is an attack on the social practices and habits of thought that keep womena nd men boxed into gender roles that are harmful.
Families would gather around with their teens and watch movies like that at home on movie night b/c it was viewed as a feel-good, coming of age, rom-com at the time. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone talk about how toxic it was.
Flash forward 20 years and it now is appalling. And having a daughter was a major contributor to that realization. I felt a very strong duty to think carefully about the world she was growing up in and how I wanted to shape that world and what values I passed on to her.
But also, coinciding with that was the #metoo and #timesup movements. Not only was I now motivated to learn but I was exposed to important stories and conversations that were happening. And I began to learn and unlearn important, long over-due things.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long. And I wish I had done it for more noble reasons. But I didn’t. I’m still uncovering my own unconscious misogyny while taking active steps to fight gender violence and promote gender equity in ways I feel are important.
I hope this sheds some light on how it could take a guy so long to start supporting women. A powerful cocktail of normalized toxic views of masculinity, inertia, and privilege conspired against me. I’m only speaking for myself here but I’d be surprised if I were alone on this.
About the Author
David O’Leary is Founder & Principal of Kind Wealth and host of The Impact Investing Podcast. He is the former Managing Director of Origin Capital; a provider of high-impact investments that provide an opportunity for the world’s most vulnerable people in the hardest to reach places. Read Dave’s bio or connect with him on LinkedIn.