New Year's Resolution: Stop Clapping

by Madeline Anscombe

A few years back a friend told me that her New Year’s resolution was to quit praising men for being feminists. When she told me this over coffee one afternoon I was shocked; thinking about all of the times at which I have celebrated men for understanding a simple truth that I have known for all of my life. She elaborated, telling me how, as feminists, we expect women to understand our own worth but feel genuine shock when men can wrap their head around any notion of equality. I made the same resolution that day and have learned a lot from my commitment over the past few years.

On one hand, it makes sense to believe that men have a long road to enlightenment on the issue of women’s rights. A lifetime of subconsciously undermining women and failing to see privilege comes naturally when you grow up being told that you are the fastest, smartest and most level-headed person in the room. To a certain extent, I can understand this myself. It has taken me years to understand how my needs might look different than people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Learning where my privileges lie has not been easy and I have spent countless hours researching articles and studying to become better informed, broadening my horizons in the media I consume, and surrounding myself with a more diverse range of people. At 21 years old I am nowhere near done learning about how my experience differs from those around me; it’s a lifelong learning experience. While enlightenment is not always easy or natural, it is not by any means for celebration. No one should throw me a party for recognizing that black lives matter, and Thad in your women’s studies class doesn’t need a standing ovation for understanding that we all deserve to be treated as equals. When we celebrate not being bigoted, we encourage one another to stop looking inward at what we can improve about ourselves. Brad will take his awakening and continue on with his life. When his friends make sexist comments, he might occasionally speak up, but you are unlikely to find him continuing to engage in the conversation. He will likely take praise as a stopping point, never even thinking about the diverse issues that women are disproportionately exposed to. Simply labeling himself as a feminist will feel like the finish line.

But feminism, or any human rights issue, does not have a stopping point at which we can roll our sleeves down and pat ourselves on the back. In a constantly evolving world, even the most engaged and educated people always have something left to learn. A close friend who self-identifies as a feminist called me shocked after the Harvey Weinstein news broke because he was floored at the regularity at which sexual assault and harassment occurs. Even though he believes in equality, he has not pushed himself enough to figure out what exactly that means or what fronts we need to challenge in order to achieve this goal. In my work promoting sexual assault prevention across campus, I have rarely found men of any orientation, fraternity house or background who have gone out of their way to engage in the conversation. Even once pushed, many have decided that agreeing not to assault is a noble stopping point. Many women also refrain from these conversations because while they support survivors, it is an uncomfortable conversation to broach. Again, simply acknowledging that there is a problem or believing in equality is not something to celebrate but to challenge. Identification is not enough, and like learning to walk, empathy should be considered normative.

I understand that everyone is not going to be an activist and that’s okay. But being aware of basic human rights is not something to celebrate, it is merely a starting point at which we must all reach to make larger societal change. Being a feminist is not “woke,” it is the only option that is not flat-out sexist. Seeing women as more than objects is not flattering or a turn-on, it is literally the least we can expect from you. I refuse to be impressed by anyone, regardless of age, sex or socioeconomic background who is able to grasp (what should be) extremely simple and accessible world truths.

If you want to win my praise, I’m expecting a manifesto that rivals Beauvoir, bravery that rivals Wells or compassion that rivals Addams. Take initiative in communities still inaccessible to women and challenge them to think critically about what they (and you) can do better. Your acknowledgement of feminism means nothing unless you are actually trying to push for equality, Brock.

Years after that initial conversation, my resolution is to continue to learn about everyone and anything that I am not, especially when it is hard. I do this not because I deserve reward but because life is always a learning experience and I don’t know everything. In the spirit of Truth + Dare and the new year, I encourage all to follow suit: both in conducting similar explorations and in expecting others do the same.

Madeline Anscombe