Confessions of a Male Feminist
I have failed most all the women in my life.
Don't worry, this isn't one of those essays. By most of the world's accounting, I've treated women well. I've been a loyal friend and fiercely devoted husband to one woman for nearly a quarter-century—my entire adult life. I have worn the banner of feminism while living in places where that appellation was referred to as "the other f word." I have accepted and supported women in roles of leadership at work and in church or parachurch organizations. I have tried to seek out women writers to include in the curriculum of courses that I have taught, and to treat female students as prospective professional colleagues worthy of respect and deserving of my best efforts to help open doors and provide opportunities.
Increasingly, though, when I enumerate what I have done for women in my life, I find myself thinking of this quote from Henry David Thoreau:
I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.
Those words sting as only the truth can. Because the biggest way I've failed the women in my life is by doing and saying nothing. Statistics are the poor man's debate tool, but here is one that stunned me from Miss Representation, the feature film at the 2012 Women's Film Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I attended last week: 53 percent of girls entering their teen years report they are unhappy with their bodies, a number that rises to 78 percent by the time they reach age 17. You are welcome to argue, if you like, the film's connecting of that number with the 10.5 hours a day that the average American teen interacts with social media (television, film, Internet, video games), but I feel safe in saying that that is not a natural, God-instilled recognition of the imago Dei in all of us. I have to believe it is learned.
Here's another stat from the film: Approximately $235.6 billion is spent in advertising in the United States every year. That's more than the gross domestic production of almost all of the world's countries. Read that again. America spends more money on advertising than most countries spend on everything. Given how much advertising is used to create anxiety and insecurity so that we will be willing to spend money (we don't have) on things (we don't need) to make us feel better, the real surprise is probably not that so many of our young people buy into a sex-charged, secular worldview—1 in 5 report having sex before age 14—but that there are still teens who are able to withstand the inundation of media messages.
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