I know that the common perception of feminists is that they’re histrionic, hysterical, humorless women who enjoy “playing victim politics” because viewing themselves as martyrs is the only way to bring meaning to their empty, loveless, joyless lives.We eagerly hunt down or completely fabricate instances of psuedo-discrimination, (because nothing gets you more power than saying you don’t have any), and by “playing the gender card” and getting people to feel sorry for us, we hope to take over the world (and kill all the men lolz).
Shockingly, I don’t agree with this viewpoint (spoiler!). Obviously, I don’t agree with any of it, but one point in particular that I want to discuss is the “enjoying” bit. The whole idea that we “look” for things to get pissed about is excellently debunked by Liss at Shakesville here, and I heartily concur. I do not spend my days combing through websites and books, eavesdropping on people’s conversations, watching films frame by frame, in order to catch any minute instance of someone not being “P.C.” so that I may pounce and say “ah-ha!”. And if/when I find something, it doesn’t make me happy.
Granted, there are times when I go looking for instances of a particular brand of misogyny, perhaps while researching statistics for a blog post or trying to prove a point to someone (“See! Sexism isn’t dead!”). It gives one a sense of agency, a sense of purpose and control, to be able to respond angrily to blatantly offensive things instead of just sitting back and taking them; nonetheless, as satisfying as fighting back can be, I usually don’t have to expend any energy to find something to fight back against. It’s more a question of “which thing slapping me in the face am I going to actually deal with today, and which things am I just going to ignore for the time being?”
But of course, everyone needs a day off. Being a cranky badass, awesome as it can be, is also exhausting. Sometimes you just need to sit, back, relax, and forget about fighting The Good Fight for a little while. I fully support, as well as participate in, the critiquing of various pop culture and media works. I think it’s very true that pop culture, such as television shows or magazines, both reflect and influence our attitudes about any number of social issues (creating a self-reinforcing cycle), and that every time a sexist joke gets told on a sitcom, somewhere a feminist loses her wings. However, and I don’t want to shout this from the rooftops because I have the kneejerk feeling that it makes be a BAD!FEMINIST, there are definitely times when I just don’t care. When you’ve been pushing back against an enormous wave of crap all day, just lying back and resting for a while and letting all the things float by without comment can be, quite frankly, the only way to deal.
Feministing has a recurring series about this, called (Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasures – things we disapprove of on an ideological level, yet still like in spite of ourselves. I think it’s a really good idea to point out that everyone has these, because of course feminists grew up and were socialized in the same world that everyone else was. Even though I know it’s wrong, I sometimes still find jokes that are offensive to some marginalized group funny, or at least not bothersome enough to boycott their source. There are also, of course, all the things I liked before the Big Feminist Awakening – things that were grandfathered in, and only now upon rewatching or rereading do I realize how creepy they are (Animal House, anyone?). Even if somebody would be perfectly content on an all-feminist, LGBT-positive, anti-racist, free trade and vegan diet of movies and books, I don’t know that it’s really possible. That is to say, most writers, directors, producers, and people with any sort of power in arts production are men and other privileged groups (such as white people); this makes it very difficult, even if someone had a completely pure vision, free of any kyriarchy-related detritus, to actually see it through to completion. The quality may be exemplary, but the quantity is sadly lacking.
It’s always upsetting to be emotionally attached to something that produces those niggling feelings of anger and guilt. It’s the slow and grinding way of wearing someone down, rather than abruptly bulldozing over them, but the end result is the same. I think the worst kind is when you’ve been happily immersed in a new TV show, say, and are watching episodes at a merry little clip, all the while thinking what an intriguing and fun story this is, and how great it is to finally find something you can just relax about and not worry about all that misogyny crap, and then it hits. In a previous post, I described a similar revelation as a hypnagogic jerk, but this is a little different. It’s more like looking at something you’ve seen a hundred times before, and suddenly, this 101st time, looking at it from just the right angle or view, to see something you hadn’t seen before. A twist, if you will, on the way you were looking at it before. “….ohhh. I see.” The small sense of betrayal, and letdown, but mostly resignation, because at this point should you really be surprised anymore. Like waking up from a nightmare, only to realize that you’re still dreaming after all. To paraphrase one of my friends, it wouldn’t be a very good patriarchy if you could escape from it from any substantial length of time.
There are, of course, shows and there are shows. Battlestar Galactica is different from Friends is different from Bridezillas. But when even your favorite shows cause you to keep up a mental tally of little pangs (“and when it gets to this number, I’ll actually do something, dammit!”), the quality of your relaxation is going to be inescapably diminished. I know feminists don’t flip a “I’M OFFENDED” switch on just to piss dudes off, because if we did, I’d be able to flip it off. Ignorance is bliss, and once you’ve become familiar with seeing and analyzing all the ways in which society’s prejudices are reinforced, you can’t just stop seeing them (at least, not longer than a little while). If my whole purpose in pointing out misogyny was to “shake things up” or rebel, then it’d be an act that I could drop when I was all by my lonesome and wanting to unwind. But I can’t. And it really, really, sucks.
To be fair, it’s not feminism’s fault. I’d rather be informed and actually able to do something about it, rather than blissfully ignorant, because of course people are negatively affected by sexism without even knowing it. But I think it’s important to talk not just about how the little things affect the Big Things (like domestic violence and rape culture), but about how the little things are also Things in their own right. After all, when someone who has the fortune and privilege to not be experiencing or fighting against one of The Big Things at the moment, can’t even catch a real break without being constantly reminded of her second-class status and the other myriad ways in which people are marginalized the world over? That, my friends, is a good patriarchy.