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Despite being born in 1941, my dad was progressive when it came to gender. Maybe it was a lifetime spent in academia, or simply who he was, but my parents’ relationship was always equitable. They shared responsibilities, he was intensely proud of my mom’s academic accomplishments later in life, and for the most part, they split the domestic labor.
I never heard my dad call a waitress “sweetie” or “honey,” and he had the utmost respect for his business partners or colleagues who happened to be women. To him, their gender was inconsequential.
Despite this, I had a lot of learning to do before I turned 30. My dad was a strong influence, but so was the patriarchy. I stumbled through some sexist, ignorant growing pains.
Even though it took me until I was 30, it’s never too early to learn these life lessons.
1. Women don’t owe men anything.
Just because men don’t harass/assault/abuse or otherwise treat women like garbage doesn’t mean they deserve a medal.
Throughout high school and into my 20s, I thought I was entitled to the company of women simply because I was “nice.” I eventually realized that “nice” shouldn’t be an effort men make only to win women over, but a default position.
First of all, it’s a basic part of being a good person. Secondly, when men feel like women owe them something just for being nice, it can breed unfair resentment when those women aren’t interested in being their friend or dating them.
Ultimately, men shouldn’t have different expectations for women than they do of their brethren.
2. A polite refusal is not an invitation to try harder.
A year ago, one of my best friends, Alaina, asked me how to politely but firmly tell a guy she wasn’t interested. I told her not to worry about letting him down easy, because some guys take any perceived crack in the door as an invitation to keep trying. Instead, she’d have to be blunt and simply tell Romeo that the door was firmly closed, locked, and barred from the inside.
She was skeptical, but did it anyway. Later, she told me the guy had emailed one last time to simply say thank you for the crystal-clear message. She never heard from him again.
Women in American society are taught to avoid confrontation and be polite, while men are taught to never say never and be persistent in all things. As a result, American dating and courtship are rife with mixed messages, ambiguous situations, and a whole generation of women trying to say, in the nicest way possible, “not a chance.” Men, however, hear “not a chance” as “try harder.”
If only all guys took polite refusals at face value.
3. Sexual assault is never a woman’s fault.
This nonsense has to stop. We, as people living in organized society, have learned to resist a number of basic, more primal biological urges. We don’t crap in the street, we don’t beat people up and steal their sandwiches because we’re hungry, and most of us don’t masturbate in public when we’re feeling horny (and the people who do seriously need to quit). This is the price we pay for something other than chaos.
The same should go for rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and otherwise being a criminal chauvinist. A woman is never at fault for being attacked, because it’s up to the perpetrator not to rape, assault, or harass women.
No one would ever tell someone working the late shift at the gas station that their choice of employment led to them being held up at gunpoint—it’s up to the armed assailant not to rob the gas station! So, why is it different when it comes to women and sexual assault? Because men suck. That’s why.
4. Women can (obviously) be just as smart and industrious as men.
Lots of dudes need to stop bristling at the idea of being bested by a woman. Simply put, there are women that are better, faster, and stronger than men, and many guys need to learn how to accept that fact.
5. Women aren’t hardwired to take care of men, so stop expecting it.
Any discernible differences in behavior or emotion between men and women are the product of culture, not biology. Simply put, it’s the way someone was raised and what they were taught, not how they were born.
Women are not, as a natural state of things, better equipped for domestic roles or caregiving positions, so men need to stop expecting women to pick up where their moms left off. They also need to stop assuming women automatically like babies, because not all women do!
6. Women are in charge of their own bodies.
This goes for all sorts of things: abortion, reproductive legislation, sexual consent, fashion, fitness, sports, body modification, diets, and more.
Politicians—especially men—need to get out of the collective vagina. They have no right to legislate what women do with their own bodies. Imagine the unbelievable sh*tstorm that would rage as a result of penile legislation. Wars would be waged and cities would burn!
Women should get to decide, just like men, what they do with their bodies. If women want to get drunk, it’s their prerogative. If women want to eat dessert, it’s their prerogative. If women want to have babies or not, it’s their prerogative. If women want to get an abortion, it should be their prerogative. See the pattern?
7. Women can have sex whenever and with whomever they want to.
We are animals with animal needs. We like to eat, we like to sleep, and we like to have sex. A strong sexual desire is not an exclusively male trait, so women need to clean the theoretical pipes, too.
If women have strong sexual appetites, they’re not whores or a sluts, they’re simply human beings with sex drives. (And if they don’t have roaring sex drives but it doesn’t bother them, that’s OK, too!) Men aren’t slut shamed, so why should women be?
I was absolutely guilty of this kind of behavior when I was younger, but now I realize I was probably just jealous that some women were having more sex than me.
8. Man or woman, earning someone’s respect is a two-way street.
Just like men, when treated with respect, women are inclined to give it in return. Really, there isn’t much difference between men and women at all. We’re all slogging through the same daily quagmire and doing our best not to have a total breakdown.
So men shouldn’t try to figure women out, we should simply relate to them, because what matters most is that we’re all humans just trying to make it through.
9. Women aren’t trying to conquer or oppress men.
Gender equality and feminism are not about oppressing men or restricting masculinity, they’re about decriminalizing the act of being born a woman.
Being a woman is having to always think about being a woman. Men on the other hand, don’t have to think about being men. They can simply be. A man can usually cut through New York City’s Central Park at night on his way back from the bar without thinking about being attacked. A man can usually have another slice of pie without thinking about his figure, or rather, what other people think about his figure.
Gender equality and feminism are about getting to a place where women don’t have to constantly think about being born as women, and where society doesn’t punish them in various ways for it either.
This article was originally published at Self. Reprinted with permission from the author.