Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"But you're not a feminist"

By Angie D

As our readers may or may not know, twice a week contributors to Equal Writes don t-shirts with the words “this is what a feminist looks like” printed across them. This act serves at once to promote awareness for a cause we believe in and to encourage others to confront stereotypes they may hold regarding who or what a feminist is.

But, in addition to promoting awareness and encouraging reflection, putting on my “feminist t-shirt” has resulted in some unexpected learning for me. My friends’ reactions to my apparel revealed that feminism, as a part of my identity, was both threatening and menacing. Many of them questioned:

- You’re not really a feminist, are you?

When I responded that, in fact, I was, people did not hesitate to voice their surprise and even their disapproval. Apparently my behavior was inconsistent with their notion of appropriate feminist comportment:

- But you don’t hate men.
- I don’t think feminism is about hating men. It’s about recognizing the equality of the sexes and manifesting that in our laws, our culture, our social interactions…
- Right, but you’re not going to get all whiny and complain about it, right?

Believe it or not, this was my interaction with a female friend. Well, my friend, as long as you remain complicit in your own inequality (through your silence and scorn for feminism) yes, I will continue to be the squeaky wheel.

Another friend was equally taken aback, not by my ideological stance, rather by my public identification as a feminist:

- It’s not that I don’t agree with Equal Writes. It’s just that I’m surprised you call yourself a feminist.

While this statement may seem counter-intuitive, it gives voice to a legitimate concern. The feminist label is so loaded that it sometimes feels more like a burden than a liberating stance. Other comments I received confirmed this notion that calling one’s self a feminist can make one a target; it means inviting challenges and confrontation – even if they are couched as humor:

- If that’s supposed to be a feminist shirt, why is their writing across your chest? You’re just drawing people’s attention to your breasts.
- The writing is above my breasts, not on them.
- Ok, but it’s on your cleavage.
- The shirt doesn’t show any cleavage.

- Yeah, but we all know its there. Under the writing. We’ve seen it before.
- …?

I had trouble responding to this one. As a feminist, I do not consider it my duty to deter attention from my feminine features. But I do consider their commodification unacceptable. I’d like to think that I can put whatever I want on my body – cover or reveal as much as I’d like – and continue to receive the respect due to me and my body. But I find it difficult to publicly distinguish between my choice to present myself as I see fit (as modestly or provocatively as I choose) and what may be misconstrued as succumbing to cultural and commercial demands to be subdued or sexy, to treat my body as a commodity – part of the total package that I am “selling.” Perhaps if I continue to wear my “feminist t-shirt,” I will be able to set the record straight. If not, it’s certainly a heck of an interesting conversation starter.


At November 12, 2008 at 12:50 PM , Blogger frau sally benz said...

I've gotten the last one before with shirts I wear that have messages on them. I usually say something like "well, when men wear the same exact shirt, the words are over their breasts, so why doesn't that concern you?" Seriously, shirts in general have messages in that area b/c it's the most visible, so it always shocks me how many people say that!

Aside from that, keep on wearing your shirts, y'all rock!


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