I’m coming out of the closet and admitting to being one of those f-words. Yes, I am a feminist. Hear me out.
Feminism kinda gets a bad rap sometimes, and I totally get why. There’s a fear of the label. There’s fear of sounding too “extreme.” It’s often thought of this radical movement full of man-haters and bra burners. But I gotta tell you, gals, feminism’s actually pretty great if you take it for exactly what it is. What it’s really all about is equality. Equality for all … meaning men AND women.
My Start in Feminism + Roxane Gay
I’ve been a feminist ever since college, I think, but never really knew that one word described it. I was overthinking what feminism was, like I assume many other people do. But since I joined my book club circa 2008, I started realizing how much sense feminism made. The other girls in my book club and I agree on what books to reach each cycle, and without trying to, many of our book choices centered around social and cultural stories. One of the most recent books we read was “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay. And though I knew a lot of her points, the way she worded them in this book was like a lightbulb for me. A chorus of angels sang, the heavens opened, the trumpets sounded and it all came together. The longer I sat and digested her words, the more they stayed with me. Even though it’s been over a month since we finished the book, I keep thinking of it in everyday scenarios.
We also got the honor of seeing Roxane speak in person. She came to the University of North Dakota in April to be on a writer’s panel and to do a reading, and so our book club packed up in our cars and headed to Grand Forks to see Ms. Gay. She was amazing. So relatable, like any of your girlfriends. Admittedly shy and awkward in person but well spoken in the written word… as are most writers.
I wanted to share some of the wisdom I took away from both her talk and her book, and write a little more about my own thoughts on that f-word.
The Best of Bad Feminist
What I love most about Bad Feminist is how real Roxane is in it. She admits that even she sometimes contradicts traditional feminist ideas. For instance, she admits to loving dirty rap that blatantly objectifies women because those beats are so catchy. (I so identify with her in this point.) It goes back to not being perfect. We’re humans. Not one of us on this planet are perfect, and we need to cut each other some slack. Period.
I really love how she defines feminism as a whole. That it is flawed because the people representing the movement are flawed. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.
This unrelated statement on toxic friendships also stuck out to me, and I had to type it because it was broken up on different pages: “If you are the kind of woman who says, ‘I’m mostly friends with guys,’ and act like you’re proud of that, like that makes you closer to being a man or something and less of a woman, as if being a woman is a bad thing… It’s OK if most of your friends are guys, but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul search a little.” And “If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s you.” “I used to be this kind of woman. I’m sorry to judge.”
When Roxane mentioned in the book that an organization called Fix the Family actually has a list about why families should not send their daughters to college, I was so curious what these reasons were, I had to look it up (the list is here). I originally planned to address some reactions to their points in this post, but it would quickly spiral out of control, so do yourself a favor and check it out for yourself. There are some gems in it. (As in, head-scratching, ludicrous statements.)
In her book, Roxane also offers commentary (that is hilariously relatable) on pop culture, from Blurred Lines, to 50 Shades of Grey, to Girls, Hunger Games and Tyler Perry. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough.
I’m Not a Feminist, But …
One of the things Roxane discussed in her talk at UND was the statement so often heard from both men and women. “I’m not a feminist, but…” As if they’re tossing aside the label of feminism and can’t be associated with “that” movement. But whatever follows that statement, is often a feminist statement. It might be something like, “…I wish women got paid the same amount as men.” Because of the feminist stigma, people feel a need to downplay their feminist, aka, equality, ideals.
One other interesting point Roxane brought up was how she responds to blatant anti-feminist statements from younger men versus older ones. The gist was that older men are often so set in their school of thought that we can’t do much to change their minds, but young men are still impressionable and there’s still hope. They simply need a little direction. This is why it’s so important for families to raise their sons and teach them how to treat a woman. Letting boys loose in the world with no direction can often mean their education comes from the media, peers and porn. None of those need to be anywhere near the foundation of a proper education. This is something I’ll be keeping in mind should I have children.
Other Random Rambles About Feminism From Yours Truly
Women have it hard sometimes (not that men don’t have problems, but they’re very different problems). We’re tossed aside or marginalized in mainstream media, though this slowly seems to be changing. Women like Tina Fey, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are proving that women can be funny, talented and the shining star of a movie without a man sharing her spotlight. And yet, just as it seems things are changing, we take steps backward. Did ya’ll hear about those leaked emails between Sony and Marvel about why women shouldn’t be the stars of superhero movies?
One thing I’ve been super aware of recently (originally pointed out to me by Katie), is that women are so often sexualized by men…yet shamed for it at the same time. If a woman is confident in her looks or sexuality, she’s stuck-up or slutty. It’s hard to win.
And in the corporate world, as Sheryl Sandberg discusses in Lean In, we still haven’t gotten past accepting assertive men as leaders, but the same from a woman is often considered bitchiness.
Oh, and how many times are our emotions blamed on PMS?
I won’t get much into the rape culture discussion because it’s a slippery slope and a blog post in itself (plus I’ve already rambled too much), but it’s sad to see that too often when stories break about women being raped, people (men and women both) don’t believe them, thinking the story is fabricated for attention or some sort of revenge (and sometimes that may be the case, but why must we jump to that conclusion?) or they ask what she was wearing (as if showing some cleavage or leg warrants being assaulted) or how she was acting (are we not allowed to flirt without it being an invitation?).
I recently stumbled upon a TedxTalk video that I loved – this speaker has some really stellar points.
But what is really disheartening are the comments on the video. It’s clear that many people are still completely missing the message, and that hate is still rampant. One of the tamer comments says “Sorry, I am totally against feminism. I don’t believe for even a second that in order to promote women rights you need to take away male rights….” Once again, this frankly sucks that people actually believe that is the concept of feminism. That is so far from what feminism stands for. The tolerant feminism anyway, because remember, we can’t hold the few radical, outspoken ones to dictate the movement as a whole. Read the rest of the comments and you’ll see just how much work we have left to do. I had to stop reading at a point because I became so disheartened, and then enraged, at what was being said I couldn’t do it anymore.
Tearing Each Other Down Instead of Lifting Up
Sadly, a lot criticism of women comes from not men, but women ourselves! I think this is because of a few reasons.
1: We’re often so critical of ourselves that we end up playing the comparison game, which is a very dangerous game to play. Our insecurities come out in the form of anxiety, the inability to accept compliments, putting up walls, jealousy and cattiness.
Even though we’re held to impossible standards, have so many pressures and expectations, so many women tear each other down rather than band together and lift each other up. We are definitely not past the Mean Girls epidemic, even as adults. Though I can’t speak to this personally, the mommy wars kind of terrify me. Women judge and hate on those that breastfeed and those that don’t. Those that use cloth diapers and those that use disposable. Who cares? Can’t we each decide for ourselves what is best for our families and butt out of others’ business?
2: Part of the reason for this is good. It’s because we live in a society that allows for freedom of speech. We are allowed to have thoughts and feelings, and to express them publicly. Secondarily, in the age of the Internet and social media (and blogs!), it has become so easy and accessible to blast our feelings out there that we’ve lost our filters. It’s easy to be outspoken behind the screen of a computer.
This, to me, is also not feminist in any way. By attacking other women, how are we helping stand up for women? Love and acceptance should be the answer here, not hate and judgement.
(Reading this back, I do wonder: Does this make me a part of the problem because I judge those that judge? As if I’m perfect, which obviously I am not. See how tricky this is?!)
Even though strides have been made in career-life balance expectations for women, we still cannot win, on either end it seems. Decide to be a stay-at-home mom and you’re subject to criticism for not wanting to be a breadwinner and having no “calling.” Decide to go back to work after having a baby and you’re criticized for not wanting to be with the kids. And let’s not even talk about the maternity leave problems in this country. Even though women have no choice but to be the sex that carries, births and feeds children, we’re left at a disadvantage re-entering the workforce afterward. It’s something that’s weighing on me as I’m approaching that stage of life myself, and I have no clue what I’ll do if and when the time comes.
The Bright Side
I will say this though: Despite all of these points, and the glaring inequality in the U.S., I am incredibly thankful to live in a country that still treats us as humans. The playing field may not be totally equal, but we do have basic rights. We can vote. We can leave the house without the company of another man. We (legally) can wear whatever we like in public and show our hair. We are allowed to speak, work and have opinions. We aren’t in fear of war or genocide in our streets. Though the U.S. has a long ways to go, there are countries out there in far worse shape than us, and my heart goes out to those women that are fighting a much bigger fight.
By the way, I’ve come across a few solid blogs that discuss feminism in our lifestyle niche, so shout outs to The Lady Errant, Feminist Feline, Belle Brita and She is Fierce. Also, in a recent post on Alyssa Goes Bang, I really felt like Alyssa captured this whole discussion into one simple sentence: “I believe men and women are of equal merit to society.” Amen, girlfriend.
What do you think about feminism? Have you read Bad Feminist? Seriously, I want to know, so let’s talk. Just please be respectful when expressing your opinion. Any hateful comments will be removed.