I was being interviewed by a journalism class last quarter when a student asked me if I was a feminist.
“Of course,” I shot back. “Aren’t you?”
She looked at me, somewhat quizzically. “Well,” she said, “how do you define feminist?” To which I replied, perhaps too glib and maybe even borderline cranky, “A human being.”
I continued, something along the lines of: It means you’re in favor of equality. Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Blowing up gender stereotypes.
My turn to be quizzical: “How can anyone NOT be a feminist?” I asked.
Really. I believe that. Which is why I am baffled, flummoxed, dangling on the precipice of wild-eyed disbelief when I am reminded that in 2010 there are still people who find the need to marginalize those of us who believe in the radical idea that women and men are equals and should be treated that way.
Most recent case in point, via Huffpo: the cyber-dust-up between jezebel.com, and Scott Baio, he of “Happy Days” fame, which recently escalated into the stratosphere when Baio’s wife referred to the jezebel staff as “lesbian shitasses” on her Facebook page, saying no man in his right mind could put up with their – well, never mind. Let’s just say it was a deeply offensive reference to a part of the female anatomy.
First fail: “lesbian” as perjorative. Not cool. But look closer at the rant: why that particular brand of diatribe? Could it because the Jezebel bunch are known feminists?
I suppose you can dismiss the Baios as weirdos. Outliers. But for a more subtle reality check re the way feminists are still marginalized, look for the subtext in this Q-and-A on dollmag with Jessica Valenti, founder of feministing.com and author of “Full Frontal Feminism” [Full disclosure: her publisher, Seal Press, is also ours.] In this first exchange, she talks about the persistence of sexist comments:
How do you deal with misogyny and sexism on a day-to-day basis? For example, what do you do if a friend makes a sexist comment?
That’s one of the hardest things. It’s easier for me because my friends know better than that now. For most women that’s a daily occurrence, and they have friends that make sexist or racist or homophobic jokes. It’s really important to call them out. I don’t think you need to call them out in a really confrontational way— (in an)”oh my god, you’re a sexist,” kind of way. But you can say, “why do you think that’s funny? I actually find it kind of sexist.” And leave room for conversation. People can get really defensive and you don’t want to make people defensive, you want to open it up for conversation and hopefully open their mind up about it.
In another exchange, she briefly addresses the media ruckus that ensued when she wrote about her “feminist wedding” — as if, her critics seemed to imply, the term itself was an oxymoron:
You seem very open about your life, and you often relate feminism to your personal experiences. Have you ever shared anything you’ve regretted later?
Pretty much always. I thought that writing about my wedding would be a good way to open up a conversation about (the fact that) we need to have more feminist weddings, but it just opened me up to a lot of attacks. Anyone who writes about their personal life regrets part of it at some point.
(Salon.com’s Broadsheet featured a roundtable piece on whether Valenti’s decision to get married was feminist, which she found “bizarre.”)
When I started blogging under my real name, I never really thought it would get to this point, that (Feministing.com) would have this kind of readership. I often wonder if I could do it over again, if I would blog under a fake name. Maybe I would. Maybe my life would be a lot easier in some ways. At the end of the day, I’m happy that I’ve been forthcoming. I feel like it has made people relate, and it has made the subject (of feminism) a bit more approachable for readers, so I’m okay with it.
All of which makes so much sense. But what’s bizarre to me is that, again in 2010, we somehow need the reassurance of knowing that, wow, a “real person”, someone like the rest of us, is also a feminist in order to make the subject approachable.
We’ve written quite a few posts about feminism in this space, but one early post put the F-word front and center:
Are you a feminist?
A loaded question. But why?
When I was in college, I drove a car I inherited from my mom, a cute Cabriolet convertible which came affixed with one piece of flare: a bumper sticker that read, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Radical indeed. A neighbor asked me if I was going to take it off. Take it off? “Well, you’re not a feminist are you?” she asked. I was too stunned to come up with a response other than, “I’m female–of course I am!”
At its core, that simple sentiment–that women are equal people–is, indeed, what the movement is about. But somewhere along the way, it came to mean a great, tricky, amorphous Something Else. Something that carries a stigma, to this day. Something that has young women yes- or no- but-ing, when they’re asked whether or not they claim the F-word.
That post generated quite a few responses. One of my favorites came from a young lawyer who suddenly realized that the answer to that question was yes:
I have never considered myself a feminist for this reason: I always thought that feminism involves more than just fighting the little daily fights that are personal to me (i.e., knowing I am entitled to equal pay and equal opportunities, and demanding those things for myself). Because I am not involved in feminist causes, and do nothing to champion the rights of other women, I never thought the feminist label applied to me.
Thanks for this perspective, Shannon. Maybe I am one of “them” after all.
Well, of course she’s a feminist. Aren’t we all?