I have all these thoughts on feminism and what it means to be a feminist that I can’t make coalesce into anything. I even tried to draw a bunch of comparisons between my love for Britta from Community and the popular reaction to her character (but she’s inconsistent! And contradictory! And says feminist stuff while wearing spike heels and being blonde!! THAT IS NOT ALLOWED! The romantic interest should be kind and wait faithfully for the protagonist to notice her while he sleeps his way through the guest cast!!!!! Besides, she is a vegetarian who wears leather jackets! And she’s mean to Jeff when he objectifies her! What a bitch!) … but that reaction kinda says it for me. Wait, her ideals don’t always match her actions? She’s self-defeatingly insecure and struggles with balancing her principles and her popularity? She fears being seen as a “blow-up doll” but still wants boys to think she’s pretty? This isn’t ringing a single bell for you, ladies? For real?
I love her, y’all. It took me a while, too, and I’m embarrassed by that. Lately I’m a bit too prone to filtering things with my feminist goggles on, and I end up working up a head of steam about the way we stereotype and the things we do and don’t find acceptable in popular culture when it comes to women and female characters that I then can’t seem to convey to anyone coherently, since the things I want to comment on are so mainstream as to be basically unnoticeable. (I guess much the same way that, as a middle-class white person, I got to grow up believing racism got solved AGES AGO, and isn’t my problem.) So I’m watching this show with an ostensibly badass feminist take-no-prisoners chick, who’s kind of abrasive and weird and the sort of pretty that other girls are threatened by, and I’m judging her for her contradictions and for her self-sabotage, and for doing Girly Girl stuff while also dressing her cat in tiny sweaters. It took me a while to realise that the fact that she’s a massive hypocrite is what makes her great. Makes her REAL. I’ve seen so many one-dimensional female characters I’ve started to think depth is a character flaw. I adore Jeff despite (or even because of) his caustic nature, but make a pretty girl prickly and watch the hammer of judgement FALL.
I was reading a review blog earlier that spent PARAGRAPHS explaining why Britta is a shitty character for not falling immediately into Jeff’s arms, because HE IS HOT AND SHE IS PRETTY, AND WHY DOES SHE ALSO HAVE TO BE ALL MOUTHY AND OPINIONATED? Written by a woman, natch. Britta calls out the misogynistic stereotypes someone in her position is supposed to embody — and some of the audience still gets mad at her for not embodying them. This is how we roll.
I consider myself a feminist. I find those hard words to type, and because I do, it needs to be said. In the world I live in — and you probably do too — it’s cool to be into equality, in an abstract sort of way. Girls are cool. Boys are cool. We’re all cool to do whatever. But feminists are, like, weird, right? To be one, to identify as one, I may as well claim to hate men or stop shaving my legs. Feminism, within my frame of reference, has been a pejorative term, a label claimed by bitter or entitled or unlovable women who make a big deal about something no one’s cared about in decades. Women who are probably fat or loud or ugly.
I shave my legs, internet. I love shoes and makeup. I like boys. I care what other people think of me. Sometimes, and I’m not proud of this, I assume pretty girls are stupid. I’ve called women sluts without passing any judgement on the men they sleep with. Older men have assumed they can tell me how to do my job because I’m young and my skirt is short. Recently, I’ve been told over and over again that if I get published my name may alienate male readers.
I am a feminist, and you should be too.
It’s 2010 and in parts of the world women still have the same rights as goats. Here in the enlightened West the Catholic Church still considers the ordination of women a “grave sin”, and no means no unless you’re wearing skinny jeans. Women still write very little of our entertainment, get paid less money, hold fewer positions of power.
I once went for the same job as a colleague. At the time, we worked in the same team and had the same job title and the same responsibilities, although I was better qualified and worked harder. He got the new job — not because he knew more, but because when they asked ‘can you do X?’ he said “Sure!”, meaning “I can learn”, and I said “I can learn” meaning “I think so, yes”. I don’t know whether it’s nature, culture, or both, but in general men seem to aim up, and women play down.
None of this means I hate dudes. I love the menfolk. But I think it’s important, as a female, to think about what it means to be female. What society says we should be as females. How we’re portrayed in media and fiction. How we judge each other.
And then, motherfuckers, I think it’s important to be NICE to each other.
Because, let’s face it, we’re hard on ourselves. The people hating on Britta for being imperfect and prickly seem to be largely women. The people leaving cruel and judgemental comments on parenting blogs are mostly women (yes, snap, I read parenting blogs. BUSTED!). My best friend has had her parenting chastised by strangers in malls, and I know how much that hurt her as a loving (and freaking amazing) mother. Meanwhile, at 27 and single, I’m embarrassed to admit how much I want a baby, like it’s in poor taste to cave to freaking biological imperative. Having kids, of course, means you don’t want a career. But not having kids still makes you faulty as a woman. Working as a parent makes you a bad mother, but not working means you’re lazy and oppressed. We’re forever trying to box each other up and pull each other down.
To me, feminism doesn’t mean picketing modelling agencies or wearing sensible flats. It means being informed. Being aware. Taking the time to think about my preconceptions and my snap judgements and my double-standards. To think about how I treat other women, and what I expect of them. Does it mean I’ll stop using “crying like a girl” as an insult? Maybe. But I’m not going to get all up in your grill about it. I’m sick of watching movies where the female lead is only there to provide eye-candy. I’m sick of reading that women can’t open movies and boys don’t read books. I’m tired of the fact that no one will help me in electronics stores. It bums me out that guys still get to be grossed out by periods and childbirth, and that part of me feels unladylike for swearing on the internet. But mostly, it makes me sad that most of the women I know don’t think any of this is their problem, or has any relationship to the way we’re all drowning under the weight of our own expectations.
I sent a draft of this to a friend, and in her reply she said:
I don’t know if I’m a feminist? … I mean, obviously I think we should have equal rights/opportunities/pay etc, but I don’t DO anything about it. And I’m loathe to use the term cos it brings to mind crazy hairy lesbians shrieking rape and hating on men (which I’m also embarrassed to admit).
That’s pretty much what I’m trying to say. We’re all feminists. We’re all people. You can love makeup and boys and still be a feminist. You can even contradict yourself, or be blonde, or bone Jeff Winger. Feminism isn’t reserved for the fighting few, and using it like it is, like it’s a put down or something embarrassing or unnecessary, is part of why it’s still an issue. All women should identify as feminists. Hell, all men, too. We all love each other. We all want what’s best for each other. You don’t need to rage against sexism or even have experience of it. Just think a bit harder about the labels you put on people, and the expectations you have of them. It’s tough to be a chick sometimes.