Sunday, July 6, 2008

Using My Words

I haven't posted all weekend and I have far too much to say and far too little energy to write it.

I am in an awful mood.

I enjoyed the fireworks. I enjoyed being sober at an event where everyone else was shit-faced drunk (no sarcasm, I actually had a really great time.) I enjoyed shopping with my mom. I enjoyed a few other things that I'm not comfortable blogging about yet, no matter how much I embrace the Overshare Culture of 2008. But that's pretty much where my enjoyment levels end. Today was shit shit shit. This will be as coherent as I can attempt to make it. Then I'm going to continue indulging in my day of Eat As Many Calories As You Want And Don't Go To The Gym Today Because Wallowing In Obesity Is A Fabulous Way To Counteract Moping In Your Bed With Your Laptop.

I had dinner last night with a guy who I consider to be smart and liberal. He believes in gay rights, wonders about the legitimacy of the oil war, and enjoys drunkenly arguing with people who support McCain. So imagine my surprise when I casually mention that being a feminist has always been pretty natural to me and it kills me when people of our generation equate feminism with stupid girls who make a big deal out of nothing and hate men and his response is: Really? That's not what feminists are? 
We sat over sushi and I tried to explain to him why saying you hate Hilary Clinton because "she's a bitch" is inappropriate. Even less appropriate is to expound on this by saying, "But people don't say mean things about Obama because he's nice." I tried to explain that I was pretty sure in our liberal suburb, even if Obama was presenting himself as a total asshole, describing him with racial slurs would not fly. I think the thing that fascinates me about feminism and the need for more equality between the sexes than currently exists, is peoples' ignorance towards it. I am in now way saying that racism does not still exist, even as we hope it is dying out. And I have no idea what life/ideas are like in places that are not the East coast of America. But what I am saying is that here, in my little suburb of the world, kids are brought up to know that racism is not okay. Racists comments are not okay. I have no doubt people still have racism embedded in them, and 
still might think racist thoughts, but by and large it is understood that you cannot verbalize or act on them. And that's a step. Somehow, equality for women in this same liberal little suburb doesn't seem to exist. No one ever got expelled in middle school for calling girls "bitches" or "sluts." People don't even recognize feminism as a legit cause! The guy I was with last night didn't know what the word misogyny meant, tried to argue that the reason men get paid more is because "statistically there are more men in the sciences, and those jobs just pay more money than other industries," even though I tried to explain that actually the wage discrepancy happens to people of different genders doing the same jobs in the same industries, and aside from calling Hilary a bitch also used my favorite anti-woman complaint about the lady and told me her problem was she "nags too much." OH, and he was intensely skeptical that any male in the world would ever identify with the word "feminist." Fuck, me.

So I just don't know. I respect a few points he made. There are feminists out there who make me crazy over their nit-pickiness, and I do believe that a lot of the "fight" is over and what we are working on now is more kinks and nuances, not so much a full on war. Just get the fucking coffee, lady! It's not because you're a woman...it's because you're an assistant! Hello, I work unpaid for 30 hours a week because that's how the media industry rolls...but I also understand that for some women out there, that case is a huge deal, and then I start thinking well who am I to tell them that's a case of being nit-picky and "making a big deal out of nothing," when for me the Dairy Queen ad, the Facebook group "Man Law", and victim shaming are really big deals. Feminism is so...fluid(?) these days. I don't know if that's the right word. Maybe it's more splintered, or divided. I don't know. Jess writes all these really intense posts about what she thinks about feminism, and I read Feministing and Jezebel on a daily basis, and I try to keep reading books like Full Frontal Feminism and The Story of Jane, and I basically just try to keep learning and learning and learning because I'm 19 and god knows I have so much more to learn, but it just seems so defeating when one of the most accepting and progressive dudes I know tells me being a feminist is a load of bullshit. Unnecessary. Over-dramatic. Oh and don't forget the man hating part of it!

It gets me even more when girls my age scoff, mock, or scorn feminism. It just truly baffles me how a woman cannot identify with a movement that strives to create real true equality for all people across the board.

I guess conversations like the one I was forced to engage in last night will keep me learning, keep me motivated to make changes, keep me evolving my ideas and the ways in which I can get them across to people who disagree with me. It's very easy to enter into safe spaces with people who totally get where I'm coming from and agree that feminism is both necessary and effective, but it's a very different experience to engage in real discussions with people who disagree with those beliefs.

So I think the conclusion I can come to this evening is that the only option is to keep talking, keep acting, keep writing. I want to do more, but I also think writing is effective. Something that made me mad last night was the accusatory tone the guy in question took on when I went off on how important this all is to me. "Why don't you do something about it then?" he asked. I wanted to yell, "I am doing something! I'm trying to talk some sense into you, for a start!" I know what he means. He means why aren't I majoring in politics so I can get my ass out there talking about issues. He means why aren't I writing the next great thesis about all the things that mean the world to me. Maybe he means, why aren't I in a third world country where things are even worse for women as opposed to debating him in some sushi restaurant in upper middle class suburbia. 

Those are all fair points. I do want to do more. I want to volunteer at abortion clinics, I want to tutor young girls so they learn from an early age that they can take on the world, I want to speak out and make a difference. But I don't think my writing or my genuine conversations are that different from any of those tangible actions. I hear so many times that the internet has made our generation lazy, that we make Facebook groups and attend meaningless protests instead of actually doing things. But I've always believed that having the ability to speak out and use my voice is one of the strongest and most effective ways to be heard, literally and figuratively, and so I will continue to do so. Actions, words, ideas...they all hold weight. The goal is to reach as many people as possible with the message of equality. So however one chooses to do that, I say it's an effective step in the right direction. Maybe my frustrating conversation last night was just a small step for this human being, but if I changed that dude's mind about anything he previously believed, or even just educated him about misogyny and its very real  existence...well then maybe it was a giant leap for humankind. 

4 comments:

Jess and Josh said...

I love love love love love this fucking post. So much. I'm going to do a mini entry on my blog linking to it because I think a lot of the new readers sent my way via HuffPo will love it, too. Full Frontal Feminism = amazing, Jessica Valenti = amazing, but really I have the need to constantly learn more, too. I've had a ton of people e-mail me articles they think I should read on feminist issues and I'd be happy to forward them to you if you so desire. I'm really happy you posted this.

Jess and Josh said...

Okay wait also, my straight guy friend - that kid Alec Niedenthal - called himself a feminist today which just goes and disproves that guy's point that men don't call themselves feminists. God I have so much more to add but my brain is mush right now, let me come back to this when I'm more coherent.

Vanessa said...

Jess-

I would love for you to forward me the articles you've been receiving--my email is on my facebook. And thank you for linking to this post on your blog--seriously, I am honored. And I love men who call themselves feminists. And I love this open forum of the internet that allows all of us to figure out exactly what that word means.

Thanks again--your comments really made my day.

Trina said...

This is an awesome post! I've been bopping aroung online following the whole Jezebel disaster, and came here via a post on Jess and Josh.

I am 30, married, and a housewife, and frequently feel the need to explain feminism to those who are dense and/or in denial. It really is a simple ideal, which many people seem unable or unwilling to comrehend or put into practice. I'm not running around with signs or yelling at those unwilling to listen, but I'm doing what I can to further the cause in my own small way. We aren't trying to castrate anyone or steal anything from them - we just want equal opportunities, and to not be defined by our reproductive organs.