Last night, I found myself trying to criticize a blogger for thrusting arbitrary concepts of binary gender onto her children. Her son wanted to wear purple Tinkerbell socks, and instead of saying, “Okay, cool. Wear what makes you happy,” she and her utterly appalled husband threw away all the kids’ socks in the house and bought blue ones for the boy and pink ones for the girls.
The tweet I ended up with:
A-hole, your son can wear purple Tinkerbell socks if he likes them, and your husband can stfu with his horror. Quit categorizing your kids.
It took me a long time to settle on “a-hole.” I’m still not happy with the choice, as I’ve become hyperaware of the idea that vilifying anuses plays into body shame, but with 140 characters and the desire to make my ire known, I eventually had to settle.
I started out with, “Bitch,” and was like, “No, that’s sexist.” Then I moved on to, “Stay-at-home blogger mom,” and I was like, “No, that’s really sexist.” I wanted a genuinely gender-neutral insult that avoided being sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, and all other kinds of people-bashing.
And you know what? It’s hard! In the heat of the moment, it is really hard to find a relevant way to smack-talk someone. (Some may say that the solution is to not smack-talk people, but being honest with myself, that would not function for me.) We have developed in an environment full of discriminatory insults, to the extent that we don’t realize upon saying them what they imply. We don’t immediately realize the history of discrimination that may come along with a word.
The first step to ridding ourselves of discriminatory language is to forgive ourselves for messing up sometimes. We have to start somewhere. We are not responsible for the climate we were brought up in. When I default to “bitch,” it’s not because I’m a terrible sexist. It’s because my whole life, that word has been tossed around as a useful insult.
The way to continue progressing is to make note whenever you say something discriminatory. Figure out why it’s an inappropriate thing to say and try to file it away in a list of words not to use haphazardly or generally. Commit yourself to choosing your words more carefully. And when you mess up, it is okay to say, “Sorry. I didn’t mean that.” You can correct yourself, and in doing so, you’ll be an example to others. Because it is genuinely a struggle. And we need to acknowledge that if we’re going to have any success.
In the same vein, when someone else screws it up, I default to a couple different behaviors depending on my relationship with the person.
The best any of us can do is try to be aware and to learn from our mistakes.
The best any of us can do is try.
We seem to have had a miscommunication here.
Feminism is not the fight for female superiority or male disempowerment. Feminism is egalitarianism. Calling myself a feminist is therefore accurate. The perception of feminism as something anti-men is easily dispelled with once a person is confronted with real outspoken feminists. The more feminists—male, female, and otherwise—become known to those around them, the more “feminism” will be understood for what it is.
There are many reasons not to ditch the term “feminism.” It’s an old term, one that’s been used for years and that people recognize. Further, it’s more specific than “egalitarianism.” Feminism specifies the branch of egalitarianism we’re focusing on. There’s just not a better term that’s widely recognized. I could call myself an “egaligenderist” or some such thing, but then I’d come off as a countercultural instigator, a splinter from the feminist movement. Since my goal is solidarity of all people, that’s a move I don’t want to take.
I am a feminist. I am working to educate people on the ways in which women still do not have social, economic, or political equality with men. But even in that, I recognize where mixed-gender or genderless people are underrepresented, and I try to use inclusive language as much as possible, but it’s a struggle, especially given that our language is set up in binary gender.
That’s a huge, destructive stereotype. I encourage you to rethink it. Feminism is egalitarianism. It’s empowerment for all people regardless of gender. The word “feminism” seems to be the biggest problem people have with feminism. If you replace “feminism” with “egalitarianism” everywhere you see it, I’d wager you might feel a bit less aggressively towards it.
As Rebecca West famously put it, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
I’m not a lesbian. I’m not a man-hater. I rather enjoy men, being a person who chooses to have romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships with men. I think if you take the time to read my posts and not read through that assumptive lens, you will see that none of my language is in any way anti-male.
We are all hurt by inequality all the time.
Part of understanding feminism is being willing to see the inequality that exists in our society. It’s a decision you have to make, and I hope you’ll make it.
I appreciate you sharing your feelings.
I’m curious what particular bits you’re offended by. I’d love for you to let me know when this happens on the discussion boards so we can get to the heart of where we’re misunderstanding each other. This blog certainly asks people to rethink their cultural conditioning, but that’s something we all need to do, myself included. (I write many posts here and elsewhere that result from my realizing I just had a bigoted thought.)
What really inspired me to create Femyne was realizing just how much we’re immersed in a Photoshop culture. Everything sort of spiraled out from there with more research and thinking.
That statement isn’t actually meant to be in comparison to anything. It’s a kind of statement of credentials. Why do I care about women’s issues? Why do I have the authority to speak on these issues? Because I am a woman. You could answer that question with “because I am a man” or “because I am genderless” just a well and it would be equally valid. But there’s something to be said for rhetoric.
Whether you pronounce it like an English-speaker or an hispanohablante, the VaginaPagina community on LiveJournal is perhaps the most awesome thing I’ve discovered this year. Unless I discovered the Diva Cup this year. Hmm…
Anyway, it’s a community for people with a vested interest in vaginas, a safe space to ask and answer questions about female bodies and reproductive health.
I’ve been answering questions avidly since I discovered this two nights ago. I’m loving it because it gives me the chance to help people with their perceptions of the female body and help them to be healthier and more aware.
If you have questions or want to help with answers, check out VaginaPagina.
I’d say any role they feel comfortable playing.
The role I feel is most effective is just being an advocate in everyday life. Most often, this means pointing out sexist behaviors of peers: not letting rape jokes go uncommented on, pointing out that it doesn’t matter that the driver is female, adding reason and sensitivity to discussions about women.
I know plenty of guys with really healthy perspectives on gender issues who just let their friends say whatever appalling garbage they want to, because they’re all “good people and don’t mean anything by it.”
Encouraging others to be more thoughtful is, I think, the best thing anyone can do for the feminist movement. Doing this on a personal level in a gentle non-accusatory way is the best avenue for success.
Thanks for the feedback! Also, I do have a Disqus board up on every post, and I’d love to discuss where we disagree on particular points. Communicating about these issues helps everyone understand them better and improves our ability to be clear in messaging.
Thanks for reading, and I do hope to hear from you again!