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Feminist of the week: Andre Pant

Name: Andre Pant
Age: 27
Occupation: Engineer/Physicist

How would you describe yourself and your life?
I like to think I enjoy a pretty well rounded life.  I’m a pretty big science nut, with a background in space engineering and plasma physics.  I also care about the social side of humanity, and have been involved in international development for some time.  I enjoy photography and music: I play the bassoon and saxophone, and am trying to learn the violin. I like eating great food, and subsequently enjoy cooking, especially for other people (I’m living on the east coast of Canada, right now, and am taking advantage of all the seafood). I love the outdoors, too, and often go hiking, camping, and canoeing. I love living in new places and trying new things.

What does Feminism mean to you?
In a nutshell, to me, it’s about equality. Obviously it is more complex than that, and quite frankly there are a lot of different aspects of feminism that I still debate, even with myself.

Feminism has evolved a lot in the last 100+ years.  There will always be points of contention between each ‘wave’ of feminism as they arise and it’s easy to get lost in the details, but whenever people ask me questions or look at me funny when I say ‘I’m a feminist’, equality, choice and respect, I tell them, whether political, economic, social, etc. is basically what it boils down to.

Do you think feminism has a place in today’s society?
I think that there is a lot of contention with feminism in today’s society.

On a personal level, in both school and the work place, (which, in my field, is about 90% men) I have found massive sexist and misogynist personalities.

That, in turn, makes a lot of people I meet reluctant to identify as feminists. Negative stereotypes and an environment largely unwilling to recognize injustices inherent in the system make it difficult for people who don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ as it were, in their social circles.

I hope, idealistically, that my future grandkids will ask me if I was a feminist.  They won’t understand the concept, you see, because we’ll live in a society that respects women 100% equally with men.

Right now, though, as a whole, I don’t feel that women are treated equally in society, and so we need people who are willing to make it better.

Feminism has a place in today’s society precisely because society has little place for it.

Which feminist stereotype annoys you the most? Why?
I don’t know if the phrase is still around (I hope not) but in high school, people used to use the term ‘feminazi’. I know I’m not that old, but I like to think I’ve been around and seen things; I’ve never met a (neo)nazi who was also a feminist. It’s possible they might exist, somewhere, but I doubt it.

I couldn’t really describe exactly what it was that they meant when they said it, though I think they probably just watched one too many bad movies stereotyping college life (whose creators didn’t, in turn, understand that feminist protestors never actually burned their bras), and took it as wrote.

I think a lot of people have a similar view of feminists. Such a stereotype that is so pervasive, and yet so false, denigrates all feminists, women and, quite frankly, society.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to other feminists, what would it be?
As an example, a few years ago I attended this workshop at school, it was a two or three day affair, talking essentially about “how do we get women into the sciences”.  There was a lot of discussion, with lots of bright people, don’t get me wrong, mostly things being discussed were ‘get role models, establish peer groups, etc, etc.’  it took awhile, not till the end of the workshop, before someone said anything about ‘don’t take sexist crap from your colleagues’…

Stand up for what you believe in. If something is offensive, if something bothers you, say something about it. You shouldn’t necessarily get angry about it (though I’m guilty of more than couple ‘blow-ups’…we’re all human) more often than you might expect, people welcome polite comment.

Unfortunately, you will meet people who, let’s just say ‘don’t agree with you’.  My philosophy on that one has always been, if you’re not going to be friends with a person, best get it out in the open as soon as possible, especially if you have to work together.

You don’t have to say it any more passionately than you want to, but don’t be afraid to say it. Like I said before, when you’re afraid to say something, that’s probably when you should.

Identify as a feminist!

Has your attitude towards feminism changed with time? Explain.
I don’t really think it’s changed radically over time.  I’ve obviously been pretty basic in my descriptions here, mostly because I’m not eloquent, so it’s difficult for me to explain anything more complex.

I’ll spare you a (pretty appropriate, I must admit) physics analogy, but what has happened, though, is that I’ve found out more about what feminism is, and the diversity within it.  My core values haven’t changed, (sexism is wrong, women should be treated equal with men…) but through conversations I’ve had with people and friends I’ve met over the years, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the manifestations of those inequalities as well as appropriate responses (on a personal level) to those manifestations.

In a nutshell, what started out as black and white turned into shades of grey. I will always find more subtleties, and consequently will always seek out new information from people I trust (and, let’s face it, Wikipedia) to figure out just how I feel about them.

Have you ever encountered negative attitudes from others when revealing your feminist beliefs?
Of course.  Sometimes from colleagues, sometimes from acquaintances…It’s an unfortunate reality.  I try my best to explain the more fundamental tenets of feminism, and dissuade them from accepting the pervasive negative image of feminists in the media, but I sometimes have to accept that there are people who don’t want to have an open and honest discussion about pervasive hypocrisies.

Standing up for something you believe in, especially when it isn’t the norm, is hard; people don’t like their boat being rocked.  Though you might lose friends over it. I think about it in a different way, that the friends you gain from standing up will only serve to make you stronger.

Do you think it is possible for women and men to treat each other equally without falling back upon the conventions of femininity and chivalry? Is this notion desirable to you?
I do think it is possible for men and women to treat each other equally, though I do understand that might be idealistic to some. I do understand there are differences between men and women, but I don’t think that they need to get in the way of us treating each other the same.

It also depends on what is meant by femininity and chivalry.

I figure, if you want to express your ‘femininity’ go ahead. If it makes you feel good, who am I to argue? If you’re doing it because you feel you have to, that might be a different story. On the same token, if you want to hold the door open or otherwise help someone out, go ahead! Don’t do it because ‘she’s a helpless woman’, and don’t just do it for women. Whatever point on the spectrum, do it because you want to, not because you have to

Do you believe all women should be feminists?
Regardless of the people and personalities I meet, I do find it hard to believe that anyone, male or female, could say they weren’t a feminist.  To each their own, however, and so long as a person isn’t harming anyone with their personal beliefs, who am I to argue with them?

I think the more important statement is that I believe no woman should be afraid of being a feminist.

Do you think it is okay to laugh at sexist jokes if you are a feminist?
That’s a complicated one.  I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously (as Bugs Bunny said, “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never make it out alive”) but more importantly, if something is offensive or just plain makes you uncomfortable, then you should say so.

If a joke is funny or clever, then I’ll laugh, though generally speaking, when you say ‘sexist joke’ the notion of it being funny or clever doesn’t spring to mind and I can’t think of a situation where I would have the patience for one.

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