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On being a male feminist

I just finished reading yet another horrifying article about rape culture. Until today I’ve never been really active as a feminist. I don’t even think much people know I am, except for my girlfriend. I’ve been a part of groups that are predominately male for as long as I can remember; I went to a technical college, played video and table-top games and work in tech. I feel now that by not doing much, I’m actually contributing to this culture we’re in.

Growing up, my father never made any sexist jokes. He didn’t laugh at sexist remarks. Didn’t teach my brother and me sexist jokes. This was the same in the rest of my family, at birthdays I never heard anything sexist. But I also wasn’t raised knowing that it was wrong. It was just never spoken of.

It took me a long time before I realised that I actually am a feminist. My friends at school made sexist jokes, and when I couldn’t laugh, I just thought I was weird. People in the pub were talking about all the women they’ve had sex with, I figured I was too shy to be able to talk about it. When I played video games with over-sexualised women, I didn’t understand why they looked that way. But my friends seemed to enjoy it.

When I was 14 I went to the beach with some of my friends. They dared each other to undo girls’ bikini tops from behind. As they did, they ran away and I stood there watching from a distance. I felt ashamed. Then they dared me to do the same, and I didn’t want to. They called me names; chicken, pussy, gay; I went home crying. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t like them.

At my first programming job, I worked at a company with only men. They had (half-)naked women as their desktop background. I didn’t say anything about it, because I thought it was probably normal (unlike me). It was also a harsh environment, where everybody was blaming everyone else for the things that didn’t go right. Name-calling was normal. Calling each other moron, idiot or worse, with a smile on their faces as if it was a joke. I won’t say I didn’t take part in it, you get that way when you hear it on a daily basis.

In my late teens I spent a lot of my time at a youth club, which was more or less a pub that played rock/metal and sold cheap beer. There I had a new group of friends, more mixed gender. One night I noticed one of my female friends being grabbed in her ass by one of my male friends. Everybody laughed, I didn’t understand the joke. I thought it was a lack of confidence on my part that I could never do such a thing. She went home early, because she “wasn’t feeling well” and asked me if I wanted to bring her home as she didn’t feel like walking alone at night. We left without saying goodbye to the rest.

When we had a female client in the office, the atmosphere changed. You could almost smell the testosterone in the building. After she left, it was all everybody could talk about for the rest of the day. How they would “do” her. and “Did you see that ass!?”. I felt out of place again.

A few years later I went to a conference about front-end development, where I first learned about code of conducts. This community of front-end developers and designers was a lot different from the back-end community. They talked about respecting each other and everything that gone wrong in the past. I’m not saying there wasn’t any sexism, but for the first time I felt that I was the normal one with right ideas.

A few months later our company hired their first female designer. When she went home after her job interview, the jokes already began. “Did you see her boobs in that tight shirt?”, “I’d do her right on this desk!”, “It’s good she’s so short, she doesn’t have to get on her knees”. It was time for me to leave, but I didn’t say anything about those remarks. I couldn’t, but I should have.

In the years after I’ve seen and heard a lot of things, and most of them were in private conversations between males. I rarely said anything about it, because I was afraid of arguing and alienating people. I was too afraid of hurting my own personal development (which heavily relies on social contacts) and chose to stay quiet.

But this could hurt people.

A few months ago, a colleague was saying things that made me uncomfortable. I told him I’d prefer if he didn’t do that anymore and we got into an argument. On how he’s only joking and it was harmless. And there weren’t any women around. The rest of the group stayed quiet, but told me later that they thought it was brave of me. Speaking out for anyone that is verbally abused, even if they aren’t around, might impact the way someone is thinking. Of course, it could hurt your relationship with said person, but you might be better off without them. But I hope it will generate a ripple effect where more people, also men, stand up for themselves.

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