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.
Written by Sid
Reposted with permission from http://makemeasammich.org.