How to do feminism 101

My brother asked me a question.

Korean society has a lot of feminist issues. I’m a man, but being your brother, I learned a lot and was able to see things and say, “ooh, this is hella heteronormative; this is super sexist; this is misogyny.” But what do you do, for example, if a woman has no idea about feminism? What do you do if a woman says, “well, a wife should obey her husband.” Or, if a mother tells her daughter, “you should put up with your husband[‘s bullshit] because he’s the head of the house. How do you enlighten someone like that?”

The reason that my brother is adorable, and the best, is that 1) he asks me questions like this and 2) he thinks that I am The Most Qualified to answer.


My choppy and incomplete thoughts on the question:

I don’t think you could convince someone to be enlightened. I don’t think you could convince someone that they have a problem that they don’t think they have. Everyone chooses for themselves what kind of oppression they allow themselves to be subjected to.

But what do you do with social issues as they relate to sexism?

I think you have to break it down to specifics.

For example, let’s say a woman thinks that a wife should obey her husband. In what ways is that a problem for her? If she does not experience it as a problem, then I don’t think it’s a problem.

A lot of feminists will disagree with me, but I think that it’s condescending to tell someone that they should be happy or unhappy about a situation because it assumes that an individual’s own feelings, thoughts, value system and agency should not be trusted.

Let’s say that the woman thinks that she should be able to go out with her friends without her husband’s permission, but the husband disagrees. Is this a problem of communication, of trust, or of differing value systems between a couple? In each case, there is a different set of conversations to be had.

I think that what you’re asking might be about the last case — what to do with differing value systems (e.g. a woman thinks that she should have just as much autonomy as the man, and the man disagrees).

A woman — or anyone really — who decides to go against a dominant paradigm (which is what sexism and misogyny are in most places), she will be met with resistance at best and derision and punishment at worst.

I think in that case, she can count on two types of support: 1) internal and 2) external.

Internally, she can draw from her own strength, her own deep belief in her own full personhood, her own reserve of resilience. She’ll need all of that.

Externally, she can form social and political alliances which can provide her with support.

I think, reading books about feminist philosophy and history can help, because they help us understand how pioneer thinkers have dealt with these problems. It equips us with religious, moral, social and political justifications for why women deserve equal rights in a world where that idea is not self-evident to too many.

If you are a feminist as a man, you can identify yourself as such and let your female friends and acquaintances know that they can count on your allyship. You can speak out publicly against instances of sexism and misogyny that you see. You can support organizations and political parties that prioritize legislation that further gender equality.

It’s important to be vocal when you’re advocating on behalf of a minority, because it is risky to do so from the position of being a minority.

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Simone Grace Seol