This is What a Feminist Looks Like | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

Jonny Isaacs explains why he chose to become a feminist

November 2008, Beyoncé drops her third studio album I am … Sasha Fierce – and a young feminist was born.

Okay, so it didn’t quite happen like that, but I do trace my feminism from this point. As an 11-year-old boy, being a Beyoncé fan was a guilty pleasure, my dirty little secret – I enjoyed her music, and (although I didn’t know it yet) her message, not her body.

As part of discovering the world and your place within it, we build a sense of identity around what groups us with some and differentiates us from others, we give these notions value
 Adolescence is a strange time for everyone; beginning to discover your sexuality as well as your social and political consciousness, I strongly believe these go hand-in-hand. Despite the best efforts of social activists, our society (especially conservative North-West London where I grew up) believes that to be straight is the norm, hence the reprehensible but extremely common insult ‘gay’. As part of discovering the world and your place within it, we build a sense of identity around what groups us with some and differentiates us from others, we give these notions value; I’m a guy, I must, therefore, project masculinity if I am to be accepted in society. We so often define our groups by that which we are not or that which we oppose (frankly it’s ridiculous!), to be Labour is to hate Tories, to be Zionist is to reject the legitimate claim of the Palestinian people. And so, to be a guy, to be a straight guy, I can’t be effeminate. I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to like Beyoncé’s music.

I’m ashamed to admit that for the next 5 years I tried my hardest to live up to, what I thought was, society’s expectation of a straight man: I made sexist jokes, objectified girls, engaged in ‘banter with the lads’
 I’m ashamed to admit that for the next 5 years I tried my hardest to live up to, what I thought was, society’s expectation of a straight man: I made sexist jokes, objectified girls, engaged in ‘banter with the lads’, we defined ourselves by sexual ‘achievement’ and by the girls with whom we had done so. For their part, the girls would engage in similar behaviours, judging each other by the guys they got with; labelling each other as ‘frigid’ or ‘slutty’ depending on what they wore and did; making lists of boys, ranking them by looks. When I think back on it, I feel physically sick. I was immature and didn’t understand the social implications of my behaviour, but I think it says a lot about our society that such a tribal understanding of ‘male’ and ‘female’ is seen as a natural stage of development. One argument says it was a childhood, formative experience, allowing me to be a rational adult. I reject that!

As he explained the meaning of feminism, it dawned on me that I’d been dismissing the word for the same reason as countless others - the ‘fem’ part
 The first time I met a guy who labelled himself a feminist – honestly, I was taken aback. I’d come to a new school, I was keen to make friends, he seemed chill, clever and nice, I wanted to be his friend so I listened to him. As he explained the meaning of feminism, it dawned on me that I’d been dismissing the word for the same reason as countless others - the ‘fem’ part. On reflection, I am certain that this wasn’t my first opportunity to discover the truth, but why did I only listen when told by a male? Spending the next few weeks getting to know Tom and his views, I began to understand the unbreakable logic behind it, and it all resonated with that essential message Beyoncé had been trying to teach me for over half a decade: female empowerment for the sake of equality, crucially, not supremacy.

At 11, If I Were a Boy told me I was in the better group, male. At 20, it’s a heart-breaking and honest account of inequality. Fortunately, I met Tom when he was in a position of power, and at a time when, in confronting mental health issues, I was beginning to define myself by my own standards and not society’s. I’m concerned that had this not all fallen into place when and how it did, I’d be a different man.

To be a male feminist is to accept that you have privilege
 We should all, male, female and non-binary, take some time to read ‘me too’ posts and see what women and girls have to deal with on a daily basis. Listen to Beyoncé, really listen, watch feminist comedy like HBO’s ‘Girls’ or Amy Schumer, try to see beyond the form and hear the message – even a self-proclaimed feminist, of any gender, will find there’s something to be learned. To be a male feminist is to accept that you have privilege, but does it stop there? Should I apologise for my previous actions? For my sex’s suppression of women? Am I responsible for my male friends’ behaviour? Or my female friends’ view of themselves? Should I enlighten young men? And what do my answers say about me?

I write about things (@jonnyi94)



Published

2nd December 2017 at 9:00 am



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