Thursday, October 23, 2014

Essential Feminism

In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay writes:
"Essential feminism suggests anger, humorlessness, militancy, unwavering principles, and a prescribed set of rules for how to be a proper feminist woman, or at least a proper white, heterosexual feminist woman -- hate pornography, unilaterally decry the objectification of women, don't cater to the male gaze, hate men, hate sex, focus on career, don't shave. I kid, mostly, with that last one. This is nowhere near an accurate description of feminism, but the movement has been warped by misperception for so long that even people who should know better have bought into this essential image of feminism."
For the most part, I think that the term feminist is becoming more widely accepted, more palatable (thanks, Beyonce!), but it no doubt still carries this stigma.  Just a few months ago, I was showing some of my straight male friends my dating profile (since deactivated), and one of them said, "Are you sure you want the first thing guys to know about you is that you're a feminist?" And I said, yes. Yes of course I want the men I go out with to understand that I'm a feminist. If that is something that bothers them, then I don't want to go out with them.

Remember when I casually mentioned that I went on the worst date ever not too long ago? Well, it was the worst date ever because this person clearly didn't understand (or respect) who I am.

It's important to note that I met this person at a work-related event, so when he asked me to get a drink to discuss work-related matters, I assumed we would be getting a drink to discuss work-related matters. Foolish of me, I suppose, to think this man would have considered me a professional equal.  Shortly after we sat down, he asked me, "So, what are you looking for in a guy?" To which I responded, "I'm actually not looking for anything. I'm not interested in dating right now." And then he said,
"Let me tell you what I think you're looking for."
He proceeded to explain to me that I was looking for a gentleman. And I said, "I don't think that's what it is, actually." And he asked, "Really? Why?" And I said, "I think there is a fine line between a gentleman and a chauvinist." And he said, "I totally know what you mean."

Shortly thereafter, he asked me what I was going to get, and I told him that I was in between two things, so "I'm going to make a game-time decision." Seconds later, when the waitress came around, he ordered for me.

What I found most interesting about this date-that-wasn't-supposed-to-be-a-date was that this man told me he was attracted to me because I was "so outspoken and smart". And yet, for the entirety of the date, he told me how I felt, what I wanted, and generally didn't listen to a word I said. What's more, he had such a great time that he couldn't wait to hang out again, when I obviously did not feel the same. But despite how appalled I was by his behavior, I know that he is not a bad person, really. In fact, he genuinely believed he was being chivalrous. (After all, his dad taught him "how to treat women".) But that's what sucks about patriarchy: Condescension is mistaken for chivalry, and chivalry is mistaken for respect, and women are angry feminists if they point out the problem with that.

It's never enjoyable, for anyone, to be told what you want or how to feel. For me, feminism is having the freedom to define those things for yourself as an individual. So yes, it's very important for people to know right away that I'm a feminist.

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