Why We All Need Feminism: Cutting through the misconceptions

It might surprise some to learn that I, a man, consider myself a feminist, especially when women like this one advocate how terribly feminists treat men and why feminism isn’t even necessary:


Obviously there are some serious misconceptions about what feminism is and what it isn’t. I think this picture is a great introductory point to these misconceptions and feminism as a whole. So let’s break down these misconceptions here:

“Not all men are rapists.”

The idea that feminists believe that all men are rapists is misunderstood, at best, and outright wrong, at worst.

While feminists do advocate against rape – it isn’t about placing the blame on men. In fact, feminists seek to change the perception that men are sexual animals who can’t control themselves around women (something the current culture advocates – whether intentionally or unintentionally).

Feminists are essentially empowering men while at the same time educating both men and women on consent, rape, drugs and drinking.

“I am not a victim.”

Feminism does not view women as victims. In fact, feminism views women as inherently powerful and equal to men. However, statistically and historically speaking it has been and is a man’s world.

Feminism seeks to disrupt the consolidation of power and responsibility men have and make sure women have their fair share of both as well.

“I am not OPPRESSED.”

Statistically, women are “oppressed” in that they have less opportunities than men – even if they may not realize it or feel it in their day-to-day life.

Some of this “unrealization” can be put down to the fact that we have all been raised in a patriarchal world and it’s hard to know what could be wrong if you literally don’t have anything to compare it to.

That’s another part of feminism: Changing the perception of what the world is and can be to one that is more balanced between the sexes. And thanks to the relentless work of feminists over the decades that is coming to fruition.

Women have the ability to vote, enter into previously male-only work fields, and be in positions of power largely thanks to the work of feminists. Men can be stay-at-home dads, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and work in previously women-only professions. And while things have certainly gotten better over the decades, there are still improvements that can be made.

“Men have problems too.”

Yes, they do, and feminism is helping them too. Every door that feminists open for women also opens doors the other way for men.

In addition, men have a wide range of choices, outlets, and support to combat their problems that women have struggled to obtain – from courtrooms to places of employment and beyond.

I’d also like to add that just because men have problems doesn’t mean there aren’t women’s issues to tackle or a need for a feminist movement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

“I am responsible for my actions.”

Feminism is all about empowering individuals. It’s all about having both men and women take and share responsibilities more equally. It’s about having an equal stake in forming and molding the world and future.

Feminists are not looking to place men as scapegoats for the world’s problems or blame them – and, in fact, they believe men have been just as damaged by patriarchal teachings in some ways as women have. They would be the first to tell women to take ownership over their actions.

I feel like this statement is hinting back at the rape issue, so I’ll just say this: Both men and women have been misguided by patriarchal teachings and the resulting “rape culture” it has created. Feminism seeks to help both men and women be more wary of things like consent and sex when alcohol and/or drugs are involved. It does not seek to misplace blame or skirt responsibility.

The price of extremism

Now that I’ve said all this, I’ll end with one caveat: There are extremists in any group. So you will find self-proclaimed feminists here or there who are simply “man-haters” – but they are not indicative of the movement as a whole and do not speak for the majority of feminists.

Real Courage: What LGBT people and soldiers have in common


Caitlyn Jenner recently won an ESPY award for courage, leading many to argue that the trials and difficulty she faced as an LGBT person weren’t at the level required to qualify as “courageous.” Even before Jenner was in the spotlight, people have been making this argument – saying LGBT are not brave for coming out of the closet or simply being an LGBT person – and often drawing comparisons between an undeniably courageous segment of the population: soldiers.

It is for that reason I’d like to take a moment to make a few observations regarding soldiers, the LGBT community, and courage.

First, it should go without saying that thousands of LGBT men and women have served this country over the decades in the military while hiding who they really are for fear of backlash. For someone to hide who they are while simultaneously putting their life in danger to protect people who would spit on them, beat them, or kill them if they knew the truth is patriotic, selfless, and courageous.

Secondly, while it might not seem apparent at first, there are many parallels between soldiers and the LGBT community. Statistically speaking, the way LGBT people have been treated over the years has actually had similar results to the way war treats soldiers.

Indeed, for both groups it has also been a decades-long, bitter fight to change these statistics – and really, it’s only recently that things have started improving (a push toward more adequate care for soldiers and equal rights for LGBT people).

Courage is not a competition and it is not mutually exclusive. The courage of an LGBT person to face another day, whether hiding who they are or proudly stating it, does not undo or take away from the courage of a soldier on the battlefield.

As for the rest of us: Let’s do what we can to make life better for both instead of debate who deserves to be called courageous more.

Counterfeit Lifestyles: The real threat to family isn’t coming from the LGBT community


In the Spring 2015 session of LDS General Conference, church leaders railed against “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles,” upholding marriage between a man and a woman as the one good recipe for raising a family.

This has led to backlash from individuals both inside and outside of the LGBT community and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who said that the comments were “disheartening and wrong, and remind us yet again that the journey to full inclusion for LGBT people — including our families and children — is not done.”

A Counterfeit Lifestyle?

But what exactly is a “counterfeit” family lifestyle? Counterfeit money is made to look like money and pass for legitimate cash. Yet it has no value and its introduction into the market can actually damage the monetary value of real money. So similarly, a counterfeit family lifestyle would be one that does more damage than good when weighed against the common parameters that designate a healthy family.

If that is the case though, then LGBT parenting fails to fit into the counterfeit category. Studies consistently show that LGBT parents raise their children just as well as straight parents. Even columns and studies that supposedly show the adverse effects of gay marriage or parenting can actually be seen as reasons why they are needed.

A real case of Fraud

So, if LGBT families aren’t counterfeit, what is? It may come as a shock to some conservative and religious people, but mixed-orientation marriages — and especially those who attempt to market them as a workable family unit — may be where the real cases of fraud lie.

Take, for instance, the TV show My Husband’s Not Gay. The show features mixed-orientation marriages that appear to be working. The husbands are supposedly attracted to men, yet making it work with straight women in an LDS marriage. Those in conservative and religious communities have been pointing to the show as proof that gay people can do fine in straight marriages.

However, the key thing missing from the show and much of the surrounding conversation is the fact that sexual orientation and sexuality are two different spectrums with very broad ranges and that these families featured are outliers — not the norm.

By the facts

In fact, the evidence suggests that mixed-orientation marriages are very likely to fail. Regardless of the study, the consensus is always this: Far more mixed-orientation marriages end in divorce and broken families than succeed.

Conversely, in addition to the fact that studies by and large continue to find no discernible difference between children raised by gay parents or straight parents, there appears to be no discernible difference in divorce rates either.

So while LDS leaders may call gay families “counterfeit” it doesn’t hold a lot of weight when looking at the numbers. And while the church hasn’t endorsed mixed-orientation marriages, they also haven’t discouraged them either. If the church truly wants to promote stable families and healthy upbringings for children they might do well to advocate for same-sex marriage and speak up on the possible danger mixed-orientation marriages can carry.

Misplaced blame? Gay marriage not culprit for divorce, child abandonment


Recently, The Federalist featured a column from Heather Barwick about how the gay community is hurting children. Barwick should know. She was raised by two lesbian women. In her column she explains that her mom was always gay. Still, she ended up marrying a man (Barwick’s father) because “things were different then.” When Barwick was the tender age of 2 or 3, her mom split from her father and settled down with another woman — the environment that Barwick ultimately grew up in.

Barwick describes the pain of divorce and always longing for a father figure even into adulthood — recalling how her father wasn’t around after her parents split. She explains how this pain and her admittedly cozy upbringing ultimately led her to realize that families led by gay parents weren’t good for children.

The problem is, at no point in her article does she manage to connect the two and explain why. In fact, the article could serve as a case study for how gay marriage bans can ruin families and hurt children.

Stuck in the closet

Rather than having a mother who was able to be open about who she was and raise a child in a loving, non-divorced gay household, Barwick ended up with a mother who tried to fit the mold of a straight society that proclaimed she was an abomination.

It’s no surprise that her straight marriage eventually collapsed and Barwick suffered. What Barwick doesn’t seem to realize though is that this is not a failing of the gay community. This is a failing of a society that pushed people together who never should’ve been together and forced people to betray the very fiber of their being for as long as they could.

The real problem: Divorce and child abandonment

Barwick’s experience isn’t anything exclusive to the gay community. In fact, throughout her column, everything comes back to her parents’ divorce and growing up with someone who was not her father — what she is actually detailing are the kind of feelings thousands of kids who have gone through family divorce have written about.

Barwick cites no studies to back up her claims about needing both a man and woman in the house — and even her own experiences don’t make it clear such a thing is necessary. At no point does she lend any clarity as to why a man and woman were both needed in her household beyond the fact that she felt she was missing a father — again, a common issue for many children who’ve been through a divorce (even those who end up with step-parents).

The remedy: Gay marriage?

The truth is, embracing gay parenthood and gay marriage could possibly prevent the sort of unfortunate childhood Barwick seems to have had — preventing more broken marriages and households.

If we were to base things off of personal experiences, there are thousands of kids in broken homes and thousands of adults who had a difficult time growing up who could write Barwick’s exact same column with the headline “Dear Straight Community: Your Kids Are Hurting.”

That’s why social science and psychological studies are important — they paint a clearer picture than those of subjective experiences. And right now, while there are few studies on the topic, the ones out there indicate that gay households turn out kids about as well as straight ones.

Interestingly enough, Barwick’s column could be seen as a testament to that conclusion — and possibly even be an example of why we need gay marriage.

Family vs. the world (How buzzwords can kill thoughtfulness)


Words are incredibly powerful. Even small nuances and phrases can unconsciously influence the way someone acts or thinks.

One of the recent refrains heard by religious establishments these days is some form or another of “Families are being threatened by the world.”

Us vs. Them

Without even realizing it, by using the phrase “the world” one sets themselves apart from everyone else – thereby absolving themselves of their own involvement in the world’s issues, while simultaneously propping up the idea that if everyone just did what they did it would fix everything.

This also reinforces the belief that it is unnecessary – and even counterproductive or dangerous – to let others live differently in the way that is best for them, to reach across the aisle, or to think outside the box to help tackle and solve the world’s problems.

Nevermind the fact that there are people the world over who have had families or relationships strained and complicated due to a religious dynamic (whether it be lack of religion, losing religion, or finding religion).

Family: Isn’t it about time?

That’s not to say that religions don’t have some great ideas about keeping families and community strong. Notions of togetherness such as family dinner, a day of rest from work and investing in family members are fantastic and necessary.

But even those are only good if they’re practiced, yet…

…too many people wait outside temple doors during a family member’s wedding simply because of a difference of belief.

…Sundays, a day of rest and family togetherness, are often one of the busiest days of the week – splitting up families for hours on end as they attend to different meetings and church duties. Weekdays are often a mad scramble between work/school and church activities and responsibilities with serious family time often getting pushed to the side or discarded.

…too many people have disowned or shamed family members who walk a less religious path for their own health – or have tried to coerce them into a religious way of life rather than loving them and encouraging them on the path that makes them happy.

…couples who would make great parents and want to start families, and could help alleviate the overcrowding in foster care and adoption systems, are unable to do so because they can’t legally marry or adopt children.

Us and Us

There are a lot of things that threaten families and we’re all to blame for the state of the world today. And while religion certainly holds some good ideas about how to run a family, it’s going to take a world full of different ideas, compassion and fearlessness to find solutions to the world’s problems. We can’t separate ourselves or close ourselves off in fear or prejudice.

Bullying, suicide and animalism: A matter of control


We aren’t just animals anymore. We can reason and understand. And, usually, we are no longer a slave to our urges.

Yet, when it comes to bullying our animal roots gets used as an excuse. “Bullying happens, people need to stand up for themselves. They need to speak up and put their foot down. It’s how, we as animals, are.”

Animals and us

Except it’s not. Animals flee. Animals can be submissive and meek. Not all animals are fighters. And when an animal that isn’t fit to fight goes up against an animal that is, the result is usually getting maimed or killed. And no matter how much physical training someone partakes in, there will always be those at a disadvantage. And that’s not including those with emotional or mental “shortcomings.” And no matter how much therapy, or how many drugs, some people will never be the outgoing, aggressive, confident type.

And even if that weren’t the case, even if people could train to their peak performance, do away with all physical limitations and psyche themselves into being aggressive, animalistic human beings, why would we want that?

Thanks to technology and science, we no longer conform to a “survival of the fittest” mold. We are beyond it. So why would we confine ourselves to such a basic, outdated way of living?

Suicide machine

What’s truly heartbreaking, and what truly shows some people have no idea of the breadth of human makeup and complexity of the human brain, is when people blame a bullying victim for their own suicide, writing it off as a simple choice the victim had to make and one they made poorly. This is justified by admitting that they, too, have thought about killing themselves before.

Indeed, who hasn’t? But there is a gigantic leap from thinking to doing. Someone who actually tries to go through with the act is wired fundamentally different than those who merely think about it:

The … person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

 Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be or you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. the variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

 It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

— David Foster Wallace

Suicide is the ultimate engagement of the flight response. Someone who attempts suicide often isn’t thinking in any sort of rational context, they are running on instinct — the same instinct that makes you remove your hand from a hot stove without even thinking about it.

Levels of instinct

“Flight or fight” is one of the absolute basic instincts we as human beings have — and one of the hardest to overcome. At one extreme we have suicidal people and at the other extreme we have people who kill their tormentors. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

I’ve been on both sides of the bully equation. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been the bullied, desperate for escape. I know it’s possible to overcome bullying tendencies. I also know that it’s possible to overcome suicidal tendencies and that things get better. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a lot easier to control bullying tendencies than it is to control the basic flight or fight response.

We’re not animals anymore, but there are still some things our brains have convinced us we need to run from or fight. I hope that eventually one of those things will not be our fellow man.

Elder Ronald Poelman: LDS Church is a guide to enlightenment, not the end goal


With the LDS Church’s General Conference this weekend, I wanted to take a minute to discuss one of the most illuminating General Conference talks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Spoken by Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy, it covers the difference between the Gospel and the LDS Church, how tradition and cultural norms can be misconstrued as gospel principles, and the extreme importance of free agency and questioning. Even though it is from 1984, it resonates even more today.

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant … Failure to distinguish between the two …. may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme instances, even disaffections.

The Gospel and the LDS Church are two distinct things with two distinct purposes. Elder Poelman states that while the Gospel is an unchanging guide binding us to God, the Church is a delivery system meant to distribute the Gospel. However, misplaced priorities and understanding about the two can lead to devastating consequences: diminished blessings and even disaffection. What kind of misunderstandings? Well…

Traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. … Those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. … It is important, therefore, to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

Cultural norms are not Gospel and the traditional way the Church has functioned does not necessarily mean that is the way it is meant to function in perpetuity. Indeed, it is not enough to simply obey church rules. They must be questioned.

Every church member has … the need and obligation to obtain (a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices) by exercising his free agency … Without such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.

An unhealthy focus on institutional requirements or cultural norms, especially without questioning and receiving a witness that such things are necessary, can become a burden for those in the church — as well as the church itself. Those who do pray and receive a witness that things should be done differently are also an integral part of the church.

When we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. Supervision is replaced by righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability.

As we question the Church and receive Gospel wisdom from Church leaders, institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. The need to be supervised by the Church also wanes as our own sense of accountability to God and our fellow brethren here on Earth grows. Indeed:

As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.

See part 1 of Elder Poelman’s talk here and part 2 here.