Prologue: Aishwarya tagged us all for "five things that feminism has done for you" and i really think I would not be able to do justice to any of this in a paragraph. So I've decided to write 5 posts. This is the first of the posts. Essentially, as Aishwarya said, all of this boils down to "being a person". So a lot of what I say might not be integral to feminism per se. It is just that I have recognised these things largely because of feminism.

A sense of Responsibility.
that's right. Responsibility with a capital R.

"every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty"

- John D.Rockefeller Jr.

in a very narrow sense, responsibility is about being answerable to someone for one's actions. in a higher sense, responsibility is about having the capacity to make moral decisions and thefore being accountable.

While all of us (well, most of us anyway) recognise the veracity of the first, not too many of us really acknowledge either the validity or the relevance of the second. This is why the average man on the street takes no "responsibility" for a rape committed by one of his kind; why the average asian based in america takes no "responsibility" for the "war against terror"; why the WUCHM takes no "responsibility" for the fact that his tribe has been the single biggest human-rights offender in history of the human race; why the average indian non-voter takes no "responsibility" for the actions of the government.

we ARE responsible. it really does not suffice to say "I didn't do it!". it really does not matter if you AREN'T the perpetrator. it is really not good enough to say "I don't approve of this, so I'm not to be blamed!". WE are responsible.

WE have a collective responsibility. While it is true that each one of us has a right to our own personal space, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that the exercising of this right does not deprive anyone else of theirs.
While it is true that the question of whether a guy likes his girl-friend having hair-free legs is entirely his choice, the question of actually asking the woman to shave is not one that HE can choose to call "his own business": he has the responsibility of understanding that a woman has a much greater say in that issue AND he has the collective responsibility to ensure that his personal preferences do not re-inforce a social stereotype - especially one that is a feminist issue. (Laura has been kind enough to allow me to link to this post. I think it explains the concept perfectly. Read the comments too! )

It is not enough to know or to believe that domestic violence is a crime; or that pornography is demeaning; or that sexual harrassment is unacceptable. each one of us has the responsibility to ensure that no woman is subjected to domestic violence; that no man uses his male-privilege to enforce his opinion on the women in his family; that no country uses its military strength to invade another country. we have a responsibility to the collective to ensure that the world is a safe and fair place.

How does this tie up with feminism? The fact of the matter is that I used to insist that I be treated purely on the basis of merit and with no positive or negative bias because of my race, gender, religion (well, the lack of one) or sexual orientation. Six months ago, my argument was this .......

Why should I be mis-trusted or blamed for something that had been done by someone who shared with me nothing more than a gender, a country-of-brith, or a religion. Why should I not be trusted by a girl because some other male had abused her? I didn't do it, did I? I'm not a creep. I'm dependable. I live by my own code of ethics. If you do have anything against me, let it be on the basis of what I believe in; not on the basis of what other people who share SOME characteristics with me believe in....

This was, I used to feel, a complete and sufficient arguement. In fact I believed that I was being fair and that others weren't if they used a stereotype to classify me. It took feminism to drive home the point that I cannot disclaim responsibility for the actions of the people around me; that I cannot claim to have no responsibility for the actions of other men; that I should be treated without prejudice inspite of the fact that men rape, abuse, hurt and crush women everyday all over the world.

The fact is that given the number of atrocities we men commit against women individually and against womenkind as a collective by supporting or not protesting against gender stereotypes about beauty, it is almost a miracle that I have managed to find women who have treated me without prejudice as a person, as a friend. They had no cause to. They had no reason to. MEN (like me) had hurt them, abused them, subjugated them. And they trusted me. Even though I was a man. Even though i was disclaiming all responsibility for the actions of men.

I want to thank them for helping me realise that I do have a responsibility to the world. I want to thank feminism for helping me realise that every action of mine is not only a reflection of my personal preference but also representative of every male on the planet. I have feminism to thank for helping me see myself not as an island put as part of the main.

Epilogue:
every human's death diminishes me, for I'm a part of humanity;
so never seek to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for me.

adapted from John Dunne's "for whom the bell tolls".

(update: added link to Laura's post: A rethink on choice)