The F-Word: What’s Scary About Feminism?

Every time I hear some young celebrity demur when asked if she’s a feminist, I want to politely slap her silly. Well, silly-er.  But it’s 2017 ladies, (and gentlemen) and it’s time to cut the crap.

For those afraid to call themselves feminists, what exactly do they think feminism means? Whiny about being victims? Hating men?  Going through life as brash harridans bearing lips without gloss and legs with hair? 

One can advocate for the rights of African-Americans, gays and whales without anyone assuming you have it in for whites, heterosexuals or mammals who live on land. 

A popular definition is that feminism “is the radical notion that women are people.”  That’s it, nothing too scary or earthshattering. Or is it?

Unfortunately, the fact that women are people is indeed a radical notion. This is a bad plight for women, but it hasn’t done the human race any favors either.  All the suffering, all the wasted talent and brain power and genius is sad enough. But when you think about it, most of (ahem) mankind’s woes can be traced to this inexorable need to make someone “The Other”.  Sometimes it’s Jews, blacks, Catholics, gays, immigrants, Muslims, people who enjoy “Two and A Half Men”.  But one constant “Other”, one worldwide persistent “Less-Than” has been women. 

When the Founding Fathers said “We, the people…” they didn’t mean women.  (They didn’t mean a LOT of people, but that’s part of my point.) When you see some people as less than, you can see them as property, as objects, as being easier to lie to, abuse, hate, and kill.  There are people and then there are women. There are magazines and TV networks; there are news stories and issues and concerns – and then there are women’s magazines, networks, stories, issues and concerns. There are movies, and then there are “chick flicks”.

I recently had an argument with a very liberal male friend about that. The New York Times had expanded its op-ed section and he was appalled that they’d included a piece by Gloria Steinem on why she hated the term “chick flicks”. He thought, considering all the shit going down in politics right now, the priority should eb to just focus on “real” and not “inane” issues, not Ms. Steinem’s “rant”. (His word, not mine.) He felt her essay belonged elsewhere, maybe the Arts & Leisure section.  Now, of course, the reality of today’s politics should be front-and-center, with millions of citizens’ rights and the planet’s safety seriously threatened. But Ms. Steinem’s essay, about marginalizing women’s experience and perspective in a chick flicks ghetto, is a substantive issue. This cultural and social lens has affected my entire life: my destiny, my health, my experiences, outlook, priorities and opportunities. The message that you and what happens to you and what you care about don’t really matter was loud and clear, and it absolutely shaped my choices, the way I was treated, and – perhaps most significantly — the way I treated myself.

But my friend who prides himself on being so very progressive still sees sexism as something society has already checked off its bucket list, and now we can move on to more important things. You know, things that aren’t just the pink and fluffy stuff that just affects half of the world’s population…and all children, education, the economy, healthcare, the environment, and lil ole life and death. Last time I looked, women still made less money than men. One in 4 were still being molested or raped at some point in their lives, while many are beaten and killed. I also seem to vaguely recall that the most experienced person to ever run for the office of President was beat out by a genitalia-grabbing incompetent, while millions of girls each year are getting their genitalia not just grabbed but mutilated. AND movies that are about or star women are called “chick flicks”.  Sexism and misogyny are alive and will be until everyone – man and woman – embraces the notion that women are not a second sex but actual, life-sized human beings.

A lot of people have this blind spot when it comes to sexism.  I often suggest people substitute “black people” (or some other group) in place of remarks about women. 

For example, recently my father-in-law explained that men vote with their intellects while women vote with their emotions. (Guess whom he voted for?)  My husband and mother-in-law sat there, saying nothing. I wanted to know what their reaction would be had he said white people vote with their intellects while black people vote with their emotions. I’m guessing most people would be (rightly) appalled. I know my New York Times-offended friend would have had a fit. But for some reason we still recoil from sticking up for women as full-fledged persons.  Why, do we not want to be seen as humorless, aggressive, “overly sensitive”? I don’t want to be seen as any of those things, and that’s precisely why I want to be integrated into the peopledom. People are allowed to stick up for themselves, to have emotions and yet still vote with their brains just like, apologies to Pinocchio, a “real boy”.

I am heartened by the fact that more and more so-called women’s magazines are stepping up to talk about fascism as well as fashion. And yet, these periodicals are often mocked and told to stick with lipstick. While nobody questioned that men’s magazines, like Esquire and Playboy, could have serious articles on serious topics, many seem unable to grasp that I can care about policy and Prada, about what Joan Jett wore and what Maxine Waters said, and that I can care about Beyonce’ on a variety of levels that could rival any PhD’s thorniest of theses. It’s readily accepted that men – aka people – can be interested in men hitting balls with sticks, semi-clad women dressed as schoolgirls AND science and international affairs.  Yet somehow my having vagina and an interest in Jen and Brad’s texts and glittery nail polish precludes any understanding of world events. (I’ll have you know I can watch “All In with Chris Hayes” AND do my toes at the same time. And often do.)

Now here’s where some people trot out the tired old, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist. I care about equality for all people.”
Well, DUH.

But that’s as inane as the “All Lives Matter” answer to “Black Lives Matter”. The point is that ALL lives matter, and that needs to include black lives.  And human rights don’t just  need to include women’s rights as a subset; women’s rights need to be synonymous with human rights. Because, well, remember that radical notion? Women are human. Women’s rights are human rights. When people see women as human maybe we can all take that leap to see that everyone is worthy of our respect, care, and empathy.

Samuel Johnson famously said “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs, It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” It’s supposed to be proof of his erudite hilarity. Well, I’m here to give the honorable Mr. Johnson my polished and glittery middle finger. 

My hope is that you too will stand up for women, because standing up for women is standing up for humanity. And yourself. Nothing scary about that.

Want to argue with me about feminism? Bring it on. You can find me on Twitter at @DameStyle.

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