Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who's the Boss?

On weekdays afternoons after the bells ending the elementary school day rang, I used to go home, sit in front of the TV with my brother and some after-school snacks and watch Who’s the Boss. There’s this one episode I remember, although not particularly well, where the grandma character is telling the story of burning her first bra to one of the other characters- Alyssa Milano, maybe?

In this time period, references to burning bras on television and in popular culture were common. Working women in shoulder pads and navy blue power suits were predominant characters on television, but women sitting at home watching the episodes were hitting a glass ceiling in their own careers and lives. I think that in the early 90s there was a certain nostalgia for the suffragette movement of the 60s. There was a certain sense that feminism had no longer become a woman’s cause-- it had become the working woman’s cause, and the media became obsessed with stopping the sexual objectification of woman in the workplace. You remember that time. It was during that time period when you kept hearing phrases like “sexual harassment” and “lawsuit” never present without the other. You remember that time when your kindergarten teacher explained to you that you shouldn’t let the boys touch your bum, or play boys chase the girls. You remember that time when you would sing to your brother, “Anything you can do, I can do better?”

But before you were conscious of this, you were eating some cookies, maybe dipping them in some milk and wishing your first name was Sam, too.

During this same time period, it somehow became ingrained in my head that burning a bra was something you had to do as a woman, a rite of passage. I had no idea why it was necessary and it kind of seemed like a waste of good clothing to me, but I was under the impression that you had to go out, buy a bra, and promptly burn it for good measure.

By fourth grade, I still had no idea what feminism was, but things were said to me in my sometimes backwards town that instinctively struck me as wrong. Like when Mom took me to a new church just to try it out, and they showed me a children’s bible featuring pictures of gays being burned. I knew this was wrong. I didn’t even know what a gay person was, but I knew in my gut that burning them was wrong, and thought to myself that God couldn’t possibly want that. And one day in fourth grade, when Darryl Wilcox told me girls weren’t allowed to play baseball and couldn't be good at it because they were supposed to "knit and stuff", I instinctively knew this was wrong, too. A certain rage bubbled up inside me, and I told him he was stupid, that girls could do anything. (By the time sixth grade rolled around, I had to take anger management classes for this indignant characteristic of mine that overwhelmed my senses and caused me to have blurred fits of pure anger. But that’s another story.)

So, here’s the truth, flat-out: I am a feminist.

And as an university-educated female, I don’t understand why feminism has become such a dirty word.

Rejecting feminism as being outdated and the territory of your mother’s generation is the equivalent of coloured people deciding that Martin Luther King’s words no longer hold weight or relevance. You think equality’s been achieved? Of course it hasn’t. I’m not going to recite basic Sociology 101 facts. You all know about the wage disparity. You all know about the glass ceiling. You all know about the rapes and the women who are still pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen and abused by their husbands. You all know about genital mutilation, and you know about baby girls left in ditches. You all know this.

So why are you ignoring it?

Maybe I’m more sensitive to this because I spent my summer as a second-class citizen. Maybe it’s because I spent my summer working twice as hard as some of the men on the construction site, just so I could prove myself, prove my worth. Maybe it’s because I spent those days on the construction site never taking breaks until I was dehydrated and exhausted because I knew if I quit, even for a second, my job would be given to a man and I would be considered lazy, worthless, inept. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t able to go to the nakamal and drink kava because I was expected to be at home cooking dinner. . . or maybe I’m more sensitive to this because I had a certain ex-boyfriend who would constantly tell me that I was acting a certain way, feeling a certain way because I was a girl. He told me I couldn’t do things because I was a girl. He fabricated what he figured I must be feeling, because I was a girl. You just won’t get it, you’re a girl. You can’t do that, you’re a girl. (Strange, too, because that boyfriend's mom was a feminist.)

Maybe it’s because in English class last week, I could hold back my cynical laughter when Ryan kept referring to feminism as “feminist stuff” and “feminist things.” As in, “Oh, you go do your feminist stuff, and I’ll sit here and be manly, drink a beer, scratch my balls and make sure the world still operates in a functional manner.” Ryan is a third-year journalism student. He’s going to be a reporter someday, responsible for how you read about the world. And when our prof suggested that the character in the story had passed down feminist values to her sons, Ryan was absolutey opposed to and flabbergasted at the thought of men with feminist values.

Well, Ryan, here’s the thing: there’s another word for feminism and it’s egalitarianism. You believe in equality, right Ryan? Because I sure do.

And if you believe in equality, you’re a feminist.

Feminist. It’s heavy in my mouth, on my lips. It’s thick. It’s said with hesistation. But you know what? It’s not the hairy-legged, birth-control toting, Maya Angelou-quoting, Ani Difranco-listening, testosterone-hating uber feminists who are giving women are a bad name.

It’s the women who have rejected feminism. It’s the women who call other women down in the street.

Maybe our ideals of perfection, our ideals of body image and what a woman should be are created by men, sitting in their corporate offices and knowing that from now until the end of time sex will sell, but it is other women who enforcing it.

Slut, bitch, fat, dyke, tramp. Dirty prude, that whore, hello anorexic, did you look at how tight her jeans are?

These aren’t things men have said to me. It’s always been other women.

I am a feminist. I believe we don’t have to be catty, we don’t have to call one another down and we don't have to buy into the products being marketed to us. I believe we can be proud of our sexuality, our intellect, our ambitions, our bodies, our entire worth.

And I believe this is something we’ve all forgotten along the way.


  1. Anonymous8:46 PM

    You probably won't appreciate this, but one of my roommates said the other day "Equality won't be achieved until men are allowed to punch women." (In reference to the idea that men can't hit women, but women can hit men.) He meant it in a comedic-but-sexist sort of way, but the funny thing is, there's some truth deeply buried somewhere in that statement.

  2. Anonymous8:48 PM

    Hrrmm...for clarity's sake, in case somebody gets all crazy angry at me, let me also just state that I agree hitting women is wrong. I don't think hitting men is a good idea either. I'm a pacifist.

  3. Totally agree on both accounts. However, just for the record, women aren't allowed to punch men. Legally they can be charged for abusing men, just the same (although I admit, it doesn't quite hold the same weight in court, and it probably should).

  4. ive always pondered the fact that alot of women generally agree that they get along better with men than other women. a statement i find to be funny but also absurd.
    there are not to many men that would say that about their sex.
    which i find sad. i don't get why girls are so competitive amongst eachother. although im pretty sure it stems from the media and our history.
    any thoughts?

  5. I'm not sure I would agree with that. . .I know tons of girls who have never had heterosexual plantonic male friends.

    For me, I never had many girlfriends not because I was competitive...but rather because I didn't share many common interests with other females that I had met during that time period. (I would give examples of things that girls talk about that I don't like to talk about and I don't care about, but that would just be reinforcing stereotypes.) I think for a lot of girls, it might be a competitive thing, though. Who knows..?

  6. [irony]You look hot in stockings.[/irony]

  7. My grandma worked in the steel mill during World War II while the men were out fighting the war. She was the living, breathing incarnation of "Rosie the Riveter".

    My Great Grandma used to tell me about how she, literally, gave birth to her seventh kid in the morning, and was back out shoveling coal by evening.

    Growing up around those two was a lesson in feminism that paled in comparison to anything you might read by Jane Austen or Virginia Woolfe.

    Seen on a bumper sticker -- "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people".

  8. Anonymous11:47 AM

    I agree that you have hot legs in stockings, but this brings up a recent issue that I got in a ton of trouble for. I assumed that complimenting a woman on her appearance when she showed a lot of skin would be a nice thing to do. However this apparently isn't true when you compliment a woman on her display of cleavage. They even contacted the police who said I could be charged with sexual harrassment (though I wasn't). Any comments Miss Feminist?

  9. i loved this feminism rant. ps, those jessica lockhart pics version legs are pretty effin hot, yo!

    pps, are you going to practise the whole chasity thing with me :p AHAHAHA!

    cuddles. xo <3

  10. Interesting post. I agree. I think women are often more concerned with how they appear to other women... far more than how they appear to men. Men are often far more accepting of our appearances than those of our own sex. In high school I often felt the same way as you in regards to relating to other girls. Perhaps it was just the crowd I hung out with, or that I grew up in a house full of guys. I can also say without a doubt that the most painful, hurtful statements I have ever recieved were from girls. Often times from girls that I considered to be my best friends. I often think it stems from an insecurity in oneself that gets transferred to others. But, it is interesting how women are the quickest to pick out flaws on other women. That being said, some of the nicest compliments I have recieved have been from women too. I find that often the women who are admired most by members of the opposite sex are harrassed and belittled by their own sex the most, whether it be to jealousy, ignorance or misunderstanding. I can't say I have heard too many guys sitting around talking about how the Chris' arms are looking fat lately or that he is "Skinny only because he probably doesn't eat)
    Can you imagine how much easier teenage years and life in general would be if everyone saw the beauty that resides in difference and uniqueness in others.

    Also, I think that guy friends and girl friends bring different assets to our lives. I couldn't say at this point in time that I get along with one sex better over the other. But I think the friendships we make out of high school are far less superficial and we choose to be friends with people due to their individual characteristics that we find attractive, female or male.

    I am ranting. sorry, but this topic hit home.

  11. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Lots of interesting stuff here, particularly miss monique's response regarding women being more concerned with their appearance to other women.

    That said, I disagree with the "But you know what? It’s not the hairy-legged, birth-control toting, Maya Angelou-quoting, Ani Difranco-listening, testosterone-hating uber feminists who are giving women are a bad name." They seem to come from a man-hating, male-bashing slant, which is not better than female bashing.

    I'm all for equality, but when either side dislikes the other, they're no longer looking for equality, but getting even, and those are two entirely different principles.

  12. Anon:

    I think you missed my point, somewhat. Or misundersootd. Or misread. Because we're both saying the same thing.

    I agree the idea that the "uber feminists" aren't the way to go about things, which was the whole point of this rant. The "uber feminists" are giving feminists a bad name. But then again, women are giving women a bad name and digging themselves into a deeper hole.

    We, as both men and women, are responsible for redefining feminism. But no one seems to be taking up the arms to do that, because they misunderstand what a feminist is.

    I mentioned how my ex-boyfriend used to call me down and say I couldn't perform certain tasks because I was female. This made me angry not because I felt he was downplaying me as a female...but because he was stereotyping both sexes, and sincerely believed that all men are gun-toting, beer-drinking, ball-scratching, hockey-watching types, which are stereotypes women often attach to men.

    It works both ways.

    I guess what I'm trying to explain, in different words, because you missed the message somewhere, is that feminism isn't about hating, and people seem to think that it is, and we need to change that.

    Not sure what to say about sexual harassment. My gut reaction is that in a lot of cases it's bullshit. I think a lot of people blow the whistle just for the power trip.

    However, it's hard to say where you draw the line. If you're making someone uncomfortable (regardless of their gender), and if it's unwanted attention (and just because a woman is wearing a lowcut shirt doesn't mean it's wanted attention) then it's probably not okay.

    Putting all political correctness aside- unless the woman is your wife or girlfriend, or it's spring break on the beach in florida and you've been doing tequila shots out of someone's breasts you should probably NOT be verbally commenting on her cleavage and/or staring at it. I wouldn't call it sexual harassment, but I might get offended if it happened to me. . .although that's not to say you're not allowed to appreciate it in a quiet and discreet manner. The only people I allow to comment on my legs (which are more frequently displayed than my breasts) are the drunken bums in the park every morning when I walk to school. . .and even they are usually exceedingly polite about it and tell me they think I look beautiful rather than commenting on my assets.

  13. Anonymous8:40 PM

    Thanks for your comments Jess. They pretty much reflect my own conclusions on the matter after the incident.

  14. Anonymous11:38 PM

    i still hate stippers and sluts. i'll leave it at that, because you know i could go on for days about the 'feminist' thing...
    p.s. i wish boys would just fight back.

  15. Anonymous6:12 AM

    Jess, you would have been pissed if you had been in my Women's Writing English class with Emery last year. At the beginning of the term, he asked the class who considered themselves feminists, and about four people raised their hands. One was a guy. This was a roomful of intelligent women from Journalism and RTA and only four hands. What was really disturbing is that it was a roomful of people that are going to go on and control the media, form opinions, etc. I could get into a paranoid, feminist, anti-media rant, but I don't have time.

    Good post!


  16. Anonymous3:54 PM

    Let's just say I agree with your response, when you write "I agree the idea that the "uber feminists" aren't the way to go about things, which was the whole point of this rant. The "uber feminists" are giving feminists a bad name," and I disagree with your initial post which said "It’s not the hairy-legged, birth-control toting, Maya Angelou-quoting, Ani Difranco-listening, testosterone-hating uber feminists who are giving women are a bad name."

    See where the confusion, or misunderstanding came from on my part.

    For what it's worth, I'm a humanist much more than a feminist. I much prefer the former to the latter for the simply reason it suits me much better; I don't pick and choose a group to claim deserves equality. All individuals do, regardless of their group, and when one lumps themselves into any group they immediately tend to alienate themselves from others. Regardless of whether that's right or wrong, it seems most take a us vs. them attitude, such as TItle IX in the US. By looking for equality, period, rather than focusing on equality for a specific group, we're much more liable to help all rather than some. But now we're getting into the land of Venn diagrams, subsets and the like.

  17. Anonymous11:09 AM

    I won't get involved in any of the feminist debates, but this is an excellent post. Equality is an ideal however, that I think may never be reached. Until then, we can work our hardest to figure it out.

  18. Great!

    But those double standards are always going to stick.

  19. ok.. let me be the only one to stick up for Wonder Woman here and say.. you take great interactive pics of yourself with the color.. the balance.. the movement... and what does Wonder Woman get....... a crotch shot....... nice.. i think you made your point clear.