Written by: Bethany Ao | Photograph by: Abi Koh
“Feminists just hate men,” my younger brother said to me across a bowl of lobster nachos at dinner. “There’s not that much for them to fight for, everything’s pretty much equal already.”
A wave of annoyance and anger swept through me as I stared him down. My mind started racing, gearing itself up for an argument.
The definition of feminism, according to Google, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. Hatred of men is called misandry. If “everything’s equal already,” then why are there pay gaps between men and women doing the same job? Why are women objectified in a way that men rarely have to face? Why do women only make up 20 percent of the U.S. Senate, when 50 percent of people in this country are female?
Meanwhile, my brother watched me smugly as I struggled to form my thoughts into coherent sentences. My mom, choosing to opt out of the tense conversation, reached over the table for another chip.
“Don’t you know there’s a pay gap between men and women doing the same jobs in this country?” I eventually sputtered, so frustrated and indignant I couldn’t think of something smarter and more articulate to say.
Turns out, he didn’t know. But it didn’t matter – he was convinced that his argument was right, and because I was so overcome with emotion, I couldn’t put together a clear and objective argument to prove him wrong.
After spending one year at a prestigious university filled with brilliant people, I finally felt comfortable calling myself a feminist. I had always believed in the same things, but it wasn’t until college that I finally looked past the stigma associated with the term “feminism” and began to embrace it. I wasn’t the only one – just a few months ago, Taylor Swift revealed that she didn’t begin classifying herself as a feminist until her friendship with producer and screenwriter Lena Dunham.
I took classes about feminism. I explored topics such as body image in sports and sexual assault in my reporting classes. I talked about feminist issues with my friends and studied academic texts about feminism. After the school year, I came home, more confident than ever with my newfound label as a feminist. It was time to share that with my family.
I started with my dad. I brought feminism up in the car on the way home from the grocery store one afternoon, and he listened politely.
“Is that really what you believe now?” He said to me after I was done with my spiel, looking at me with a mixture of amusement and disbelief.
I tried my mom next. She was more receptive about the topic when we talked one-on-one, but when my brother and dad were in the room, she usually took their sides.
By the end of the summer, I had given up. My brother will get to college and understand what I’m talking about, I comforted myself. And my parents grew up in a totally different environment so I guess I kind of understand why they aren’t very receptive to it. It’s not the end of the world.
But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that backing down was not the right approach to educating my family about the issues I cared about. I also realized that I could not possibly be the only person who came home from college after their first year with new ideas and political ideologies.
I didn’t want to give up talking to my family about feminism, even though it was incredibly frustrating. I just wanted them to see from my point of view. But perhaps one summer and a few conversations aren’t enough to do that – I realized I needed to be more patient. After all, I thought about feminism regularly during my classes and meetings for the student organizations I had joined, and they didn’t. They had to focus on doing their jobs well and paying the bills and cooking meals. They didn’t have time (and it was unfair of me to expect them to) to sit down and think, “Hey, so what do I personally think about this feminism thing?”
As this summer winds down, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t gotten very far in educating my family about feminism or the issues women of color face. But it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up. Instead, I plan on taking even more classes about these topics and coming up with stronger arguments for the causes I believe in.
Educating people about new ideas is always a process, and family members are no different.
Bethany Ao is currently a student at Northwestern majoring in Journalism. She loves reading about social justice issues, trying delicious new foods, reading good books and hanging out with her pug. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BethanyAo.