"But you're not a feminist"
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:
- 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?
- 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.
- The writing is above my breasts, not on them.
- Ok, but it’s on your cleavage.
- The shirt doesn’t show any cleavage.
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.