Cryptozoology or: What I mean when I say that I am studying Feminism

Cryptozoology (from Greek κρυπτός, kryptos, “hidden” + zoology; literally, “study of hidden animals”) is a pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. The animals cryptozoologists study are often referred to as cryptids, a term coined by John Wall in 1983. – Wikipedia

 

I really might as well say that I’ll be studying cryptozoology.

 

Save for close friends and other feminists/feminist scholars, responses to my announcement that I’m studying for a PhD in Feminist Studies in Seattle have been more or less standard: incredulity.

 

First, there’s the initial shock that I’m going for a PhD, then after they ask about what I am studying, they tend to respond with an “oh wow, really?” The more honest/blunt/unreserved amongst them follow that with a “why?” Others would even share with me their opinions on feminism, which usually are in the vein of the following:

 

“Does this mean that you’re super aggressive and hate men?”

“I mean, I support equality and I love women but I’m not into feminism, you know? I’m not a feminist. I’m more of a – humanist (1)… I want everyone to be equal. Not just women.”

 

“Is that still a thing? Women and men are already equal aren’t they? And where’s the men’s rights movement? What about equality for men? I think women are doing even better than men these days.”

 

“I’ve never felt oppressed by men or anyone else. I don’t think there’s a need for feminism.”

 

Then there’s a shrug and a smile. And then I nod and smile. And then we part ways.

 

There are times where I’ve launched into an explanation of what feminism is about, but that either ended with me being tongue-tied (with too much information to convey in a concise ‘soundbite’ format) or with the listener looking excessively confused, and we end up parting ways still – except with an added dose of awkwardness.

 

Where do I even begin? How do you talk to someone about something that they don’t even believe exists (or needs to exist)? How do you get someone to see a problem where they see none? As both a Christian and feminist, at times I’ve found it easier to talk to people about God than I have with talking to people about feminism. At least people are familiar with the concept of God. Almighty being, creator of the universe, so on and so forth. But with feminism, people seem befuddled: what are you so upset about?

 

The first and primary problem that I encounter when talking to people about feminism is to do with definition. More often than not, the definition of feminism that I perceive from others is a visual and not linguistic entity. It’s a picture of women holding up protest signs. It’s an image of women burning bras, going topless, shouting angry slogans whilst campaigning for women’s rights. And that isn’t wrong. Those scenarios really are part of the history of the women’s rights movement. I can even understand the confusion, fear, or revulsion that those images may provoke. What I’m saying, however, is that that is not all.

 

Let’s do it like it’s grade school. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of feminism is:

 

Simple Definition:
1) the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities 
2) organised activity in support of women’s rights and interests

 

Full Definition: 
1) the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2) organised activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests 

 

And there it is. Men and women. Or, if we want to get even more specific, it’s about all people, not being discriminated against because of their gender (and that includes people whose gender does not fit within the binary of men and women). It’s about everyone, particularly minority, invisible groups in the mainstream being heard. So why the emphasis on women’s rights? Why the toplessness and burning bras?

 

It’s because the movement emerged from a realisation that, historically and even presently, women do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men in many parts of the world. And we haven’t even gotten started about people who don’t identify as men or women, or other groups that are usually forgotten.

 

The rebuttal to this is swift and predictable.

 

“Yeah, but the world has already progressed beyond that. Women enjoy a lot of the same rights as men. We see women in some of the highest seats of government, and they have access to education and the ability to work. I don’t think that women are oppressed anymore. As for the LGBTQ community, there’s already strides being made towards equal opportunity for them.”

 

A whole host of questions need to be asked at this juncture: Which women? Where? Is this true all over the world? What kinds of oppression have been eliminated, and which still exist? Do you know? To simply assume that equality has been achieved is a classic example of seeing anomalies and believing that they represent the norm.

 

The truth is, the anomalies that we see through the media eye usually exist in developed countries, prosperous cities, and are exclusive those who are privileged to receive education, political rights, as well as human rights. This is the tip of the iceberg – the 1%, if you will.

 

In other places less known to mainstream media and society, the stories of women and other marginalised communities are still bleak and devoid of proper economic, political, and human rights representation. This results in oppression of all kinds, ranging from violence to sexual slavery and forced labour to child marriages and honour killings, as well as mental illnesses that are related to these traumatic experiences. Wherever people are unable to make an informed decision and choose freely for themselves, unable to determine for themselves what they want for their lives, there is oppression.

 

And yet, even in developed countries and amongst privileged groups, social oppression that is unique to women and marginalized groups still exist. The gender pay gap is still an issue (2), rape culture – wherein women are in general more susceptible to becoming victims of sexual violence – is still prevalent in daily life, people with disabilities still do not receive the same regard as able-bodied people (3), and unchallenged, antiquated social stereotypes still hold many amongst these populations back from making the same achievements, accessing the same level of resources, and receiving the same level of recognition as people in the highest positions of power.

 

The thing is, if our societies are really equal, why don’t our organisation charts look that way? Why doesn’t it reflect the diversity of our abilities, our genders, our sexuality, our race, our class, etcetera?

 

Because we are all interconnected in society, the limitations imposed on one group affect also the dynamics of other groups. Feminism believes that the patriarchal (male-centric) system that most societies around the world subscribe to not only inhibits the development of marginalised groups, but also the growth of those in power – namely, men. It imposes a form of masculinity that, over time, has become rigid and even toxic to the point where there can be violent consequences for not conforming to masculine social behaviour. It paints a picture of men that doesn’t allow men to be both sensitive and strong, good followers as well as leaders, nurturing caregivers as well as competitive breadwinners.

 

Just as feminism emphasises the need for those in the margins to be properly regarded and valued as diverse, multi-faceted individual human beings, the end goal of feminism is to humanise us ALL, so that we no longer need to face violent, traumatic consequences for being complex beings that cannot sit comfortably within the confines of stereotypes. Whilst the world we see today operates upon the exploitation of one group by another, feminism subscribes to the belief that the world doesn’t have to be this way.

 

And so this is why we are upset – why we’ve been upset. The world is currently unjust, exploitative, and even egregiously oppressive to a lot of people, and we believe that this needs to be addressed and rectified. Thankfully, this change towards the positive has indeed been happening over the years since the first women’s rights movements have come into public attention, and I genuinely believe that we are now entering into a time of accelerated change.

 

What I see coming is a paradigmatic shift of values, towards what will hopefully be more humane, compassionate, and inclusive. I see this change as being inevitable, because of the swift move of climate change, because of the tense socio-political conditions that we now live in (ISIS, Brexit, even the circumstances of the current U.S. political elections are symptoms of this), and because of the related economic and ecological changes that are deeply entwined with it all. Because there can only be so much of this present form of endless consumption and exploitation. Our world is a finite resource, after all. I believe that we are on the cusp of a tipping point.

 

At this point, you might be thinking: what has any of this stuff got to do with feminism?

 

Cryptozoology (from Greek κρυπτός, kryptos, “hidden” + zoology; literally, “study of hidden animals”) is a pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not been proven.

 

In a way, feminism and/or studying feminism is about searching for that ‘hidden animal’ – not only the marginalised groups themselves, which do not often occupy a position of recognition in public consciousness, but also the causal link between the oppression and suffering experienced by marginalised groups and those big ecological, geopolitical, social issues that we see and hear about in our deluge of media. For those uninitiated into the definitions and concepts of feminism, it will most definitely seem like cryptozoology: a pseudoscience. But when you’ve personally encountered the chupacabra of patriarchy, when you’ve come to terms with the true definition of feminism, when you trace the roots of these issues and feel the same outrage over the various injustices that we see in our world today, you cannot help but be changed.

 

You will not only see these hidden animals, but you will also actively search for them, because if you can find the cause, you might be able to find a solution.

 

______________
(1) Humanism actually means something else…!
(2) Some argue that the gender pay gap no longer exists, but I would encourage you to research broadly into this issue, particularly with consideration of factors like class, race, and the social reasons behind why men and women of different groups make different career choices. These are good places to start: The Freakonomics Podcast “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap“, “Does Race or Gender Matter More to Your Paycheck?” from the Harvard Business Review, “The US Has A Racial Pay Gap, Yes, But It’s Not Quite What You Think Nor As Bad” by Forbes. This is a complex issue that warrants digging deeper, and to ask ‘why’, even after being presented with statistical facts.
(3) Compare the level of media attention paid towards the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics, for example.
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