Okay, so here’s the thing: I am a huge nerd.
No really, I am totally that person who, at the slightest provocation, will start to go about social insects or childbirth in America or the history of syphilis, because I think it’s just that cool. Thanks to a rabid curiosity about the world, a fairly good memory, and nearly constant Internet access, I have become a veritable well of quasi-useless factoids. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and in elementary school a good portion of my interactions with classmates were them asking me for homework help.
I’ve met a lot of people, in a lot of different contexts: different jobs, different schools, different social events, and as would any person, I’ve made a variety of impressions. It would be grossly misleading to imply that everyone I’ve ever met has liked me; I’m obviously not an impartial judge but can imagine that some of my negative traits include a grating sense of self-righteousness, over-prurient sense of humor and a not insubstantial amount of social awkwardness. However, there’ve been very few interactions with people where I felt that the other person saw me as too stupid. Yes – obnoxious, annoying, boring, lazy, inconsiderate – but not slow-witted or unintelligent. Whatever people’s other feelings about me have been, I’ve managed to go through my life having my intelligence relatively unassailed by would-be doubters (or if I haven’t, I’ve obviously been too dense to notice a lot of it).
I can assert that yellow jackets are wasps rather than bees, that tetanus doesn’t actually come from rust, or that rabies is the only disease that can be prevented after its transmission without people batting an eye (except perhaps in disgust). There is, however, one thing I can do that can completely change the way a person is interacting and speaking with me, so that in a moment I go from “pleasant, acceptably well-informed person talking to me about ______” to “OMG HOW DID I EVER LISTEN TO THIS PERSON AS SHE’S CLEARLY NUTS.” That thing, of course, is to say something feminist.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all of the time. It certainly doesn’t happen with close friends, who’ve already been vetted for pro-feminist leanings and at any rate are used to my dealings in such so as to not be surprised when I mention them. And sometimes, I meet new people who are just as into the femmo-blogosphere and angry rants as I am, which is super-cool. A lot of the time, though, the mere mention of something “subversive” is enough to bring the conversation to a screeching halt.
It’s interesting, too – what can do it. As a rule, I surround myself with fairly liberal people, so as long as I toe the liberal “party line” I’m okay. It’s just a matter of not challenging the status quo too much.
- I think women should get equal pay for equal work.
- I support the troops, but really think the military needs to get its act together and repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
- I’m pro-choice because it’s a private medical decision to be made by a woman about her body.
- Religious fundamentalists really bother me because of their policing of human sexuality.
- Rape is an awful thing to happen to a woman, and anyone who does it is a monster. No means no!
- I think part of the reason that women’s earnings relative to men’s in this country have been stagnant for 30 years is because of the continued expectations that women will take care of all domestic duties (such as childcare and housework), which men as a group seem in no way to be willing to take on, in addition to the fact that some job types are segregated by gender and the “pink-collar” workers are paid much less than equally-skilled workers in “blue-collar” jobs.
- I support the troops, but really think the military needs to get its act together and repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In addition, the sexual assault rates for American soldiers is absolutely disgraceful, and our military needs to get its act together and deal with the rampant misogyny endemic to its culture if it wants to create a suitable environment for female soldiers, which then again maybe it doesn’t want to do after all because militarism is a key component of patriarchy.
- I’m pro-choice because forcing a woman to remain pregnant and/or give birth against her will is a form of physical and psychological abuse, and the entire anti-choice movement is predicated on the belief that sex is dirty and women should be punished for it in order to be kept in their proper place, which is why very few if any anti-choice organizations support contraception.
- Religious fundamentalists really bother me because of their policing of human sexuality, and female sexuality in particular (among other things, of course).
- Sexual assault is a crime committed almost entirely by men to women (and men). “No means no”, while absolutely true, is an inadequate response to sexual violence, because it places the onus on the victim to protest, rather than establishing it as a given that every person must ensure that all sexual partners are freely and enthusiastically consenting. In addition, while sexual assault is a monstrous thing and thus its perpetrator might tautologically be called “a monster”, more often than not a rapist is someone who appears fairly normal and is in fact more likely to be someone you know than a stranger on the street. Furthermore, while any person who sexually assaults someone is responsible for their actions, we as a society bear some blame for contributing to and perpetuating rape culture, which teaches among other things that women are sexual objects to be competed for and won, and that any means of obtaining “consent” short of physical restraint are absolutely fair game.
(I had more of these, but I figured enough was more than enough)
See the difference? The first ones you hear all the time. The second ones get you uninvited from parties. Even if you don’t deliver your thoughts in long-winded paragraph form, declaiming on a podium in the center of the room, merely expressing views similar to these is the fast track to derision and dismissal. In the blink of an eye, you become a hysterical female completely incapable of critical thought.
I understand, of course, why this happens (at least on an intellectual level). I am not believed because saying these things draws attention to the fact that I am a woman, rather than just a regular person (“one of the guys”, or at least one of those women who’s content to go with the flow and not cause trouble); because these are (culturally speaking) extraordinary claims that require extraordinary proof; because anything remotely pro-feminist has long ago been publicly discredited as the end result of man-hating, false martyrdom, and loneliness (which in turn is predicated on the basic assumption that patriarchy doesn’t exist, thus any response to it must be dismissed somehow); because of the false belief that the best and most “objective” judges of what constitutes a particular oppression are those who will never have the misfortune to experience it. I get all that – if being a feminist were super-easy, then we wouldn’t need it.
But it still takes my breath away. How can someone I’m talking to, someone who’s known me for months, years even, someone who knows that I am not very prone to exaggeration or fabrication except for the purposes of humor, someone who knows how much I read and think about things before stating them as fact, someone who is perfectly content to accept most of the things I say as truth even if they are surprised by the revelation, suddenly do a complete 180 and insist that I must be either deluded or deliberately misleading when I say something feminist? And then, once I start talking about army ants or the etymology of the word “quarantine” again, everything is perfectly fine and I’m back in the circle of the learned and reasonable. How can people that are completely behind me 99% of the time suddenly mock me or treat me with extreme skepticism when (and ONLY when) I say something about gender equality, and then revert back to the usual modus operandi when the moment has passed?
It’s as if people assume that I tripped and fell into the lake at a women’s college and emerged a fully formed feminazi, toting Dworkin in one hand and smearing Rogaine on my legs with the other. It wasn’t like that. I too was originally of the viewpoint of my erstwhile conversational partners – highly skeptical of the idea that feminism had any practical modern application and that feminists had anything remotely useful to say in this day and age, except to certain pockets of holdout sexists from the 1950’s. It was only after a great deal of reading and observation and a tremendous amount of thought (all of which is still ongoing, of course) that I started to get a handle on what I felt was actually true. The incorporation of information that I honestly hadn’t been aware of into my worldview, coupled with critical thinking about cultural attitudes and beliefs that I had taken for granted, is what actually “converted” me to the feminist cause. Not “drinking the Kool-Aid”. Not being lonely/fat/hairy/lesbian (not that any of those are bad, or that several of them don’t describe me, but they’re hardly an impetus). Not going to a women’s college (though that probably helped).
Obviously, as long as most people remain firmly convinced that patriarchy doesn’t exist and thus feminists are both unnecessary and deranged, these reactions will keep on coming. It’s not surprising, but it is insulting – both as a feminist, and as a thinking person, to have people assume that I’m completely ’round the bend or just silly enough to “follow a trend” without thinking it through. And it’s hurtful. I eagerly await the day when my credibility as a person will not be severely compromised by the usage of the word “feminist”.
AN: Upon rereading this, I realize how much it resembles a personal religious revelation and an impassioned plea for others to “see the light”. As a distinctly non-religious person, I have nothing constructive to say that would address this, except that feminism is based on reason and evidence whereas faith is, by its very nature, the antithesis of those things (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but not applicable to the matter at hand). And also that I don’t care what religion someone is as long as they don’t use it as an excuse to be an asshole.