Feminist Suffrage Parade, New York City, 1912 – public domain
So, apparently today is Women’s Equality Day. You know, one of those bullshit, made-up, inconsequential holidays (in this case, made even more ridiculous by purporting to celebrate a thing that doesn’t even exist). It’s a thing that gives people permission to sit back, relax, and do next-to-nothing for the other 364 days each year, since – hey! I gave at the office on Women’s Equality Day, used the hashtag and everything.
I woke up irritated this morning, because I went to bed irritated. Last night, I saw a message on Twitter from a guy I’ve followed there for several years, a message about Beyonce’s VMA appearance:
“Have just come across the Beyoncé/VMA thing. The most self-involved shit I’ve ever seen. Girl’s bat-shit crazy.”
I hadn’t seen the show, so I went online and watched her whole performance. It was, in a word, perfect. It doesn’t matter what you think of her music, she is a perfectionist when it comes to her shows, and she put on a show that was right on the money. Then I replied to that Twitter message, asking if it was her performance he objected to, since I thought it was spotless. His reply?
“Hypocritical to the point of insulting. Don’t build your career as independent woman & then perform songs about ‘pleasing your man'”
Okay. Umm, what?
It’s very easy for me to forget that outside of my progressive little bubble – both where I live literally in Portland where I live virtually online – that many, many people still have no idea what feminism is. None. If my Twitterer had been paying closer attention to Beyonce’s VMA performance, he would have heard the definition loud and clear:
A feminist is a person “who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
The words were spoken by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Beyonce stood silhouetted against the enormous word FEMINIST behind her. It was a powerful moment. It made me smile. And apparently not everyone was listening.
I challenged my Twitterer:
“Being an independent woman doesn’t mean you don’t want to please others. What exactly do you think being a feminist means?”
And he replied:
“Probably not spreading your legs in front of your infant daughter. But that’s just me.”
And then I got angry. I probably shouldn’t have said what I said next, since I was already tired, heading for bed, and about to turn off my phone. But I said this:
“Here’s what I think. You’re spectacularly ignorant about what feminism is/is not, but have no problem calling people crazy.”
So I went to bed agitated. I woke up with a headache, still thinking about the exchange. (He didn’t reply.) I was reminded of an exchange I had on Facebook not long ago, when I posted a graphic that read, “Feminism isn’t about destroying families, turning people into lesbians, destroying America, bashing men, bashing conservatives, communism. Feminism is about equality.” My Facebook friend declared that “all feminists should be made to recite that before they put pen to paper.” I take issue with statements that begin “All members of X group should be made to do Y,” and I said so. He shot back with, “The sexist feminists do more harm than good.”
Yes, sexist people suck. And sexism goes both ways. What my Facebook friend doesn’t like is that the people he’s referring to are sexist. Which is not feminism.
I didn’t have the wherewithal to continue the Twitter conversation last night, but the more I think about it, the more I wish I would have said:
A feminist is a person “who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” Being an independent person doesn’t mean one is a hermit who hates other people. Feminists come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and degrees. They can be promiscuous and chaste. They can be extroverts and introverts. They can be gay and straight. They can be boasting and modest. They can be strippers and schoolteachers. They can be men and women. Because none of those things has anything to do with what feminism means. What you took issue with was, perhaps, a moral compass that’s pointing in a different direction than yours is. And that’s fine. That’s okay. What is not okay, however, is to cover that moral disagreement with the veil of “feminism” and pretend they’re the same thing. You have put the proverbial apples and oranges in a bowl, declared them all the same thing, and decided they are bad. That is, it seems to me, ignorant and foolish.
I am tired of these conversations. I am tired of having to spend more time explaining what feminism is not than people spend learning what feminism is. I am tired of people objecting to something – getting judgemental about something, getting defensive against something – that they fundamentally don’t understand. And I am tired of so many of us looking away when we hear comments like this, pretending it’s someone else’s job to speak up. Because when we stay silent, we perpetuate the falsehoods. Let’s call bullshit when we see it.
And let’s start with a bullshit non-holiday that, really, must be mocking us it’s so obviously not celebrating a real thing. I’d give up and call it Tooth Fairy Day, but I think more people believe the Tooth Fairy exists than equality of the sexes exist.
Good reading: Beyonce’s VMA Performance Was the Feminist Moment I’ve Been Waiting For