Thursday, February 19, 2009

Killjoy, buzzkill, feminazi and other labels

by Chloe Angyal

Today at lunch, I was wearing my feminist hat. I don't really take it off anymore. It's become so much a part of who I am, and so much a part of how the people who know me think about me, that even if I wanted to take it off, I couldn't I get away with it.

During today's lunch conversation a whole host of issues came up, most notably the idea that women want to seem "dainty," and that, accordingly, they want to be with men who are stronger than them and who make them feel safe and small. Not surprisingly, I wasn't a huge fan of the idea. I was on Team Cultural Construction, arguing that in this day and age, when women run nations and Fortune 500 countries, when girls are consistently outperforming boys in school, the desire to be "dainty" or "small" is an outdated aspiration for women. And I was arguing that encouraging women to be small and dainty isn't really about physical size at all: women are encouraged by the media, and, once they've internalized the idea, by each other, to be delicate and small for a very political reason. It's about making sure that women don't get any, well, big ideas, and ensuring that they still feel like they can't be safe without men around to protect them.

Not surprisingly, I was arguing this against Team 'It's Just an Evolution Thing' ("women have always needed protection, just because we're naturally smaller and weaker"). And not surprisingly, it was four-on-one. That's a format I've become accustomed to, but afterward, one of the girls who was listening in on the conversation said to me, "I don't think I could keep that up for more than ten minutes. It must be really tiring." She was right; fighting a constant battle is exhausting. And, as Courtney Martin pointed out at Feministing today, sometimes we don't fight it as well as we should. Given today's lunchtime conversation, the last item on this list really struck a chord with me:

Here are five ways in which I'm still struggling to square up my ideas and my daily practice:

1. I apologize and say excuse me far too often in public situations when I am just taking up a normal amount of space.

2. I get intimidated when math comes up in daily life situations--whether it's splitting a bill among friends or trying to focus on the specific allocations in the stimulus package when I'm reading an article.

3. I feel like I have to wear makeup in certain situations even when I don't want to. At first I chalked this up to an age thing...I'm young so I have to wear make up in certain circles to be taken seriously. I'm starting to feel like it's just an excuse. (Unless I feel like wearing it, which happens sometimes, and that's cool.)

4. I still say no to friends or loved ones with a lot of trepidation, even if I know that they are asking me to do something I'm not interested in or don't have the energy for, etc. You might argue this isn't gendered, but in my family, it certainly was.

5. I sometimes listen to my guy friends objectify women and say nothing. It feels exhausting and killjoy-ish. Part of me feels like I should give myself permission to not be the feminist police all the time. Another part wonders if I just have a hard time doing the hard confrontation shit with my own buddies.

It is exhausting, and it does feel killjoy-ish. I don't particularly like being called a "feminazi" or being accused of calling men "thought criminals," as I have been this week. I don't particularly enjoy the four-on-one format. I'm tired of having to call my peers out when they say sexist things. But as tired as I am, I'm not going to stop, because I know that it's my responsibility. As long as there's sexism out there, we need to speak out about it, even when we know we're going to be perceived as killjoys. We need people who aren't afraid to speak up, even when it's exhausting to do it so often. We need more people who are willing to confront their own buddies., to argue with them four-on-one and to be, to use Martin's (perhaps ill-chosen) phrase, the feminist police. Perhaps if there were more of us, we could take it in shifts, so that some of us tired "feminazis" could take a quick breather.

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