By David Michael Newstead.
With women’s rights at the forefront of politics, I’ve been trying to reach out to different people I know: to ask questions, learn more, and to get their perspectives on gender issues in America. Recently, I had the chance to speak with my friend, Charity Sperringer, about the role feminism has played in her life. Charity is a committed feminist living in Washington, D.C. where she’s started a feminist book club to delve into many of these issues. Our conversation is below.
David Newstead: When and how did you first become a feminist?
Charity Sperringer: First of all, I am in no way an expert to all things pertaining to feminism. If you asked me prior to the book club’s humble beginnings in December 2014, I may have not considered myself a feminist. Now that I know what being a feminist entails (thanks to the diversity of texts and open discussions from the book club members!), I would say I’ve only recently been the feminist I want to be – the one who advocates for feminism beyond my own personal gains.
I have been entering traditionally male dominated spaces since I was young because I didn’t understand the typical female trajectory that society expects from women. Some examples include taking advanced level statistics among a class of males because I knew that having a woman question statistics was rare in panel discussions and of course playing video games and watching animes with my brothers while growing up. This is partial to having been raised with expectations similar to my older brother and partial to being told by society to be someone that I wanted/would like to challenge. That’s one way of looking at feminism, in a personal way.
In college I dated a man who was vocal that he was a feminist. I didn’t know what that meant for a man to do that. He wanted to fight for equality for all races, genders, and sexualities. He also worked for the ACLU and dated women before me who were passionate about acting for others. That’s another way to look at feminism and the way I aspire to be.
I can’t forget about entering the private sector and leaving the non-profit sector. That’s when I started the book club. That was a whammy for realizing work place inequality. The book club was a safe space to discuss whatever we wanted. I was immersed with mostly women previously at non-profits, then I jumped into an area dominated by men in leadership and unfortunately with ulterior motives. I still work in a mostly male dominated environment and am constantly presented with scenarios that are laughably about me being a female rather than my abilities or qualities.
David: Do you feel like that becoming a feminist has changed you as a person? If so, how? Are there any examples from your personal or professional life that you’d feel comfortable sharing?
Charity: Yes, owning the label “feminist” has changed me. I have more open discussions about gender, race, equality, access, and history with coworkers, family members, my boyfriend (also a feminist) and friends. I’m referred to as the liberal or the feminist at work now and am completely comfortable with it – whereas before I was hesitant to accept it because I associated it with women who knew more about being a female than I did. Now that I’ve built this identity, I have former colleagues from school ask me questions about impacts on women of policies and I have coworkers who send me events and news articles they think would be of interest to me. It just so happens that it’s a great time to be a feminist! Making it ok to be labeled as a feminist is a bizarre step towards the goal that I’ll take. Letting people know that feminism entails equality in addition to WHY with examples of inequality to illustrate, and what the next steps are – this is more meaningful. As I said, I’m no expert in feminism and I hope other people don’t feel that they have to be to consider themselves as a feminist. If I have to be that person in the office to encourage dialogue, I’ll be that person. Every office should have that person.
David: What do you think are the best ways of addressing negative and toxic forms of masculinity?
Charity: Some great ways to address negative and toxic forms of masculinity are to address them head-on. This is something I admit need to do more so at the workplace when I’m confronted with scenarios of male colleague using language to belittle me because I’m a female (calling me “sexy”, referring to me as “little girl”, laughing at my female colleague for getting harassed on the street as a “china doll”, and more). I’m also trying to be more patient to the males in my office who defer to violence as the answer to understand why they approach difficult scenarios this way. I’ll let you know how this method works. Talking to your male partner, father, brother about negative and toxic forms of masculinity is also important so that they can carry these conversations back to their male buds and relatives. Lastly, accepting males when they aren’t traditionally masculine and letting them know you appreciate their qualities is important. Everyone just wants validation.
David: In closing, what’s the main challenge or challenges confronting feminism right now and how should they be addressed?
Charity: Can I have a less weighty question? Haha. I think it’s pretty basic and not even substantial to the critical principles of it – getting people on board that it means equality and not special privileges for women. And that you can be a Republican and also a feminist. Kind of like you can be a Democrat or a Republican and think that trafficking humans is wrong. Unfortunately “feminism” denotes “female” and starts fun, circular and ceaseless conversations about why feminism doesn’t mean equality among everyone. How to address this? Discussing inequality can be enough to get people on board with tackling it. And then you can say GOTCHA! You’re a feminist! But also, getting males into the conversation of feminism.