Today I have a guest post up at The Outlier Collective for their week of conversation about Feminism. Have a look at this and the other contributions, as well as the conversations that have ensued. Fascinating stuff. I’m proud to be a part of it!
Here’s an excerpt from my post:
Why it took 47 years and six months or so for me to get to that place, I’m not certain, but I do know one thing: I had met the type of feminist who feels the need to speak up every single time someone says something that might be construed as sexist in any situation, and I did NOT want to be one of them. I don’t remember ever saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…” but if I did, then I was–I was a Feminist Butt. I wanted everything feminists want, I disliked everything (most) feminists dislike and work to change, but I did absolutely nothing to promote equality, and I certainly didn’t call myself a feminist because yikes, what if someone thought I was one of those feminists?
Guest post by Sid
I watched a fair amount of TV growing up—much more than I do even now (I also played outside more than I do now and read more than I do now, so I assume there were simply more hours in the day back then). When I was old enough to stay home alone—during the summer in particular—I would watch whatever I could find on TV while I baked or ate lunch or figured out which book I would read that afternoon. It was at this time that I discovered the channels with stand-up comedians on the air, back-to-back, all day long. And I watched them. I watched them all. Well-known or not, dozens of them came across the screen, often in sets of three on something like Premium Blend.
Often, the shows would repeat, so I’d see them a couple times, and over time I came to notice that several of the male comedians had a common theme—they complained about women. A lot. Women did this, and women did that, and doncha hate it when a woman does this? “Oh,” I thought to myself at the time. “This is like…a guide. This is stuff I shouldn’t do.” And that was the first time—but not the last—that I would think to myself, “Well, I don’t want to be one of those girls.”
One of those girls. At—charitably—twelve, I didn’t want to be like the loser wimpy girls who love shoes and shopping and pink and ribbons…because those girls were annoying. Those girls were troublesome. To men. They were annoying to men. And at twelve, I didn’t really have the capacity to understand that these people on stage were not representatives for all men everywhere. My house consisted of my mom, my dad, and me—I didn’t have brothers and I didn’t have a reliable way to gauge what these comedians were saying against the real world, so as far as I knew, these were important tips that I needed to remember for when I was old enough for them to matter.
I ended up internalizing a lot of it, and at this point I don’t like shopping because…I really don’t like shopping. I can’t stand the crowds, trying a bunch of stuff on is exhausting…plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with some random jackass comedian I saw when I was twelve. But that’s still where a lot of it started. Once I started dating, I had this list of things in my mind that I couldn’t be or shouldn’t be. And like I said, now I simply am who I am, all preconceptions be damned, but I still think it’s interesting to examine how I got here. I didn’t want to be one of those girls. (To be completely honest, I still hate pink, but for no really identifiable reason. This one might be a remnant from the time I’m talking about because nothing about the color is inherently offensive to me, but my avoidance of it borders on compulsion.)
I have a friend who is vehemently against people who say they aren’t one of those feminists. Pushing yourself away from the word and the cause behind it, she posits, only serves to weaken the base of feminism and what it represents rather than strengthen that base. I think she has a very good point, but I have been guilty on more than one occasion of hesitating to use the word “feminist” to describe myself. The word holds such a stigma—and while I agree that “fuck stigma, feminism is not a bad word,” I know that more than once I’ve tried to set up a barrier between myself and the word “feminism” specifically because I wanted my audience to take my point at face value, not filter it through an “oh, she’s just talking about girl stuff” lens.
Is that wrong? Or is it just tactical? I’m honestly not sure, and if it leaves me open to criticism then I’ll take it. Either way, though, the fact that I feel like I have to frame my words for anyone to hear them is part of the problem—if not the crux.
My roommate has a theory that the problem with the words “feminist” and “feminism” are the “–ist” and “–ism” suffixes. In our vernacular, he suggests, that suffix is almost exclusively associated with negative things or forms of supremacy. “Racist” and “supremacist,” specifically. In this way, the word itself is actually damaging to the cause, because the word itself provokes defensiveness. This is a fascinating approach, and while I don’t exactly agree with it (especially after a quick Google search that immediately disproves the “most –ist words are negative” part of the theory), at the very least, it’s an interesting thought experiment—would we have a better reaction if we called feminism something else? Would it be easier to talk with people and explain simple ideas? Would we be less likely to have our points dismissed as “girl stuff” or “angry stuff”?
One way or another, though, separating ourselves from other women for the sake of looking better to men only hurts us. It shows the kind of men who would try to bully us out of our autonomy and into fantasy roles that this is an excellent plan. That if they continue, they will get the results they are after, because look, this girl totally agrees with us.
When I was in my early twenties back in my hometown, I was talking with a high school friend of mine. He was getting into venture capital and telling me, along with two other guys, that their firm had one really hard and fast rule—they would not deal with female business owners. “Women are crazy,” he explained in the same tone of voice you might use to explain that grass is green and fire is hot. Naturally, I had an immediate and loud reaction to this.
“Yeah, they are! I know exactly what you mean.”
Because I wasn’t one of those girls, remember? I was cooler than that. I got him because I was awesome. Or because my self-esteem was in a shape at the time that I couldn’t really argue, because then I wouldn’t be as cool (and he might think I was one of those girls after all).
This conversation stands out in my mind not even because it was the first time I’d said something like this, but because I remember feeling a strong, “Are you serious?” reaction underneath my verbal reaction, and that was new. Even while I was agreeing with him, I was suddenly very certain that I did not want to be around him. This may have been the last time I saw him.
I don’t think my high school friend was trying to bully me or anyone out of autonomy—truth be told, I’d bet a small fortune that he was only parroting what someone at his job had espoused—but he was, intentionally or not, supporting the kind of attitude that breeds this bully behavior by placing the central tenet on a pedestal: women are less. From there, it’s a simple jump to assuming they should behave as you wish. Because they are less than you.
By separating yourself (as not one of those girls), what you’re really saying is, “But I’m not less,” when what you perhaps ought to be saying is that none of us are less.
One of those girls, one of those feminists, one of those anything—no one identifies themselves that way. So whoever you are and whatever you represent, remember that separating yourself from a group may be a quick method of self-defense, but focusing on the group as a whole—and pointing out that no one is less—is the only way to make any lasting progress.
This will be a rant. You have been warned.
When I saw this flag, I had one of those YES moments. It sums up so much using so little real estate, and yet, it reminds us that it represents the tip of the iceberg because it stands for a nation that still accepts sexism as normal. That is not to say we like it, or that we support extremist efforts to roll back women’s rights. But in a society that treats women as less in so many subtle ways, it’s difficult to avoid becoming a participant in the abuse.
Some well-meaning folks who believe they are feminist allies unfortunately aren’t self-aware enough to learn from criticism that tells them their behavior is part of the problem, so they perpetuate that behavior amongst their well-meaning, feminist-ally circles and make things worse. (Poster-child for Progressive Sexism: Bill Maher.) And even the best of us (and I’m far from that) find–when we’re honest–that we contribute now and then. In a climate like that, how much easier must it be for the true misogynists, the powerful men who fear powerful women, to propagate their ideologies?
It’s just a few wingnuts, some people say. Well, I call bullshit. When you’ve got Pat Robertson on national tv telling husbands to move to Saudi Arabia so they can beat their wives, when judges set rapists free and blame victims or claim that silence=consent, when advertising LITERALLY reduces women to their parts, when women can’t walk the streets and feel safe, when girls and women experience multiple assaults throughout their lifetimes and it’s not even uncommon…well, I just don’t see how anyone can deny that there is a deeper problem than a few extreme right-wing politicians and religious fanatics (not to be redundant).
What are we going to do about it? Here’s one suggestion:
And as long as we’re solving the country’s (and the world’s!) problems using only viral Internet images, here’s another:
This will be a bit of a rant rather than a well-constructed article. You have been warned. Love ya!
Ok, so, I’m really effing sick of people purposely reframing “pro-choice” to mean “pro-abortion.” In the past week or so, I’ve seen those of us who fight for choice referred to as not only “pro-abortion,” but as “abortion advocates.” Who are these creatures who walk the land espousing the virtues of abortion?” I asked. “I’ve lived half a century, and I haven’t met a single one.” And no one could point me to any. Talk about your Straw Feminists.
Yes, I’m pro-choice. No, I am not pro-abortion. I do not advocate for abortion. I would never tell someone to have an abortion unless I thought that not doing so might kill them. I don’t think it’s something that should be entered into lightly. I believe there should be science-based limitations on when and how abortions can be performed. (I certainly don’t believe that a doctor should be allowed to kill a baby that survives a “botched abortion” — WTF, is that really a thing?) Yes, I know there are people who will judge a person evil if they claim to be “pro-life.” I’m not one of them–I get that some people actually believe abortion is murder. If I believed that, you can bet I’d be out there doing something about it. It makes me wonder how many on the right truly believe this in their hearts; why aren’t they taking to the street by the millions protesting all these dead babies? Why is this more of a political issue than a social one for them? I sincerely don’t get it.
Also, I’d have to turn myself in to the police, because I have had an abortion. I’m not sure I did it for the right reasons, but I do know that I was not in a position to provide for another child, and I believe that it happened so early in the pregnancy that it was not a baby, but a potential baby. And yet, that potential haunts me. Partly because I’m a mother and I know what it’s like to take a pregnancy through to term and give birth. And partly because I have a vivid imagination and can picture what that potential might have become. I’m sad about it sometimes, and I wish I’d been able to choose differently, because it turns out that was my last chance to have another baby. Sometimes the thought of that makes me cry. Sometimes (like, for some reason, when I watched Juno) I cry a lot. But none of this sadness or crying is about the idea of killing my child; I don’t believe that I did. I terminated a pregnancy in the first trimester, and to me, that is not murder.
But there is the potential, and there is the sadness. A few years ago I had a hysterectomy to eliminate the menstrual/ovulatory pain I’d lived with all of my teen/adult life. At that point, I still could have chosen to have a baby. I chose not to. I had what they called the “Blue Plate Special,” which means they took the works (uterus and ovaries). All those eggs…each of them was a potential life, too. Did my surgeon and I conspire to commit mass murder? No. No more than I did when I used birth control to prevent those eggs from becoming fertilized. No more than a man does when he pleasures himself or spills his seed into a spermicide-coated condom.
No, the sadness is about what might have been, but don’t discount it: it’s very, very real and once a woman chooses abortion, it can live within her for the rest of her life. Some might not like me pointing that out, but it’s true whether you like it or not. However, sometimes it’s the best solution to a difficult problem. Sometimes the condom breaks. Sometimes the pill fails. And if you don’t believe that the moment when sperm meets egg is tantamount to a lightning strike from God installing a soul and consciousness in that magical moment, well, then it’s simply not murder. I get that some believe that it is, and that drawing the line anywhere else is arbitrary. I just don’t agree.
And yet, here I am advocating not for abortion, but for options. Women must be allowed the option to choose not to carry a child. Women must not be forced to carry children in their bodies against their will. This seems so basic to me.
And another thing: Like voter fraud, I think the problem of sex-crazed women eschewing condoms for the convenience of their local abortion clinic is a made-up problem. Voter fraud almost never happens, and let me state this for the record: ABORTION IS NOT CONVENIENT OR FUN. If you’re a woman, ask yourself how convenient and fun a pap-smear is, and how often you’d opt for the super-invasive, painful, surgical version over actual birth control. If you’re a man and you’re completely grossed out by the preceding sentence, ask yourself the same question.
Ok, done ranting. I’d love to hear what you think.