One of my biggest pet peeves, if you believe it, is when women fight with other women – publicly – about how they should behave on the Feminist Spectrum.
What IS the Feminist Spectrum (my name, btw)? It is the spectrum that exists for feminists – where one end is an extremist about it while the other is the label wearer only where their actions may not match their label.
Like every label, there seems to be those who believe others are not “wearing it right”. There are people who believe they are the standard for others. And all those not doing it, are doing the “movement” harm instead of seeing that everyone positively contributes in a way they can – and is comfortable to them.
Recently, this came to a head on Fetlife when someone wrote a brief post saying “I hate it when men catcall at me when I’m on the street.” That post – someone’s feelings posted on their own profile has erupted into an all out war between women within our community. Personal attacks have been thrown. Slippery slope theories have been applied. And no respect has been given to anyone, their feelings or their opinions. I can’t forget the wild assumptions being made about the people on both sides by their opponents in this debate. It seriously has become an all out, online cat fight.
Can I point out to them how this behavior by both sides is totally destructive to women in general and the cause they seek? Nope. Can I point out that to say all women have to respond the same way is unrealistic and could put the woman responding at risk? Nope. Well, in both cases I could, but it wouldn’t help. Can I point out that just because I don’t do feminism their way does not mean I’m doing it wrong? Again, not without being attacked.
For me, correcting a random guy on the street is counterproductive. Hearing a guy say “smile – you are too pretty not to be walking with a smile on your face” may somedays result in me wanting to tell him to fuck off. But, by doing so, am I prepared to be called a bitch, a slut, or a whore for not accepting his advances? Not when I’m having a shitty day. And at the end of the day, will my verbalization affect him doing it in the future? Likely not.
Is it harassment? Oh yeah. Has he spoken to me “non-consensually”? Yeah, but so does the guy asking me for money, the woman asking me for the time when I’m not in the mood, or the tourist stopping me to ask a question like I’m their tour guide. Do I yell at them to stop expecting me to be their bank, their clock or their tour guide? To stop speaking non-consensually to me?
This is where I start being challenged. Some could say that because I am a woman, that is why people expect me to help – because a woman is supposed to be helpful and submissive. In the area I work, it is safer asking the short woman than it is asking the drugged out man. It isn’t necessarily an expectation that I am to be more accommodating as a women – it is a safety issue. I know – I do the same thing for the same reasons.
I have had guys on transit tell me to smile, then follow it up with “your work day is over – you got to leave the bad there.” I’ve had guys leer at me on the train like I am a piece of meat. Do I treat them both the same way? Nope. Do I fail as a feminist because of it? Nope.
See, for me, being a good feminist is to influence those men I directly interact with on a frequent basis by challenging their thinking. I can guarantee you, over the past almost 18 years of being in IT, I have worked with mostly men. And some of them have been pigs in terms of how they treated women. I can tell you, they thought twice about it after working with me. Why? Because I called them on their shit. I knew by doing so, I could influence change. I had one guy who I can guarantee you will never, EVER make a comment about a pregnant woman’s size after he made that mistake with me. And a few engineers over the years that used to try to push back at an IT issue through me because “I was the girl” – learned quickly that it wouldn’t work. Most respected the hell out of me afterward.
I work on teaching my kids how to be people in the world. I teach them that the fact they are girls are not a reason for them to limit themselves or let others limit their thinking. I teach them to use their voice – and have a sense of worth – and their words have value.
The fact I am not challenging people on the street – the fact some days I don’t care while others I do – does not mean I am doing it wrong. It does not mean I am contributing to “rape culture” by not taking action. It means I choose not to fight that batter with an unknown enemy.
That all being said – if I am with someone who hates it enough to say something, I’ll stand by them. I will support them. I will respect their decision on taking that stand. Just like I hope they respect my wishes and stand next to me as I roll my eyes and choose not to engage.
We all fight this battle, if you will, in different ways.
Just because I don’t fight it their way does not make me any less of a feminist or make me part of the problem. Quite the opposite, really – because I may be fighting a battle you don’t fight. In order for women to push further for evolved change in thinking – we have to acknowledge and realize this is a fight on many fronts. There are various tactics for success. To not understand and respect that breeds the cat fights I’m seeing online now. And will cause us all to stand in our own ways to getting further.
PS: I know my use of cat-fight is very poor of me given it perpetuates the stereotype that women fight like cats with their nails and loudly. But, in this case, that is totally the visual being perpetuated. Excuse me as I slowly clap for the the women perpetuating that stereotype!
2 Comments Add yours
As a somewhat contrarian liberal, I find t can be exhausting trying to be a better human being. Zealots at both extremes telling you that you’re not good enough or you’re too good at the wrong things. I try to comfort myself that there are far more people who think that perfection isn’t the goal as much as incremental changes to awareness.
Emmy, I don’t frequent your blog enough to know everything about what you do, but in knowing people, I applaud your actions. The biggest challenge is in working with the person, and not the stereotype. Humans have always had a knack for doing what you least expect them to do, and for feminists, this is no exception. Some are going to be the rabid “get them all, let someone else sort them out” types. Some are going to be much more lax, and wait for the issues to actually affect them before they make a stand. Most will fall in between these two extremes. Yet in my saying this, haven’t I just created yet another stereotype myself? An enigma, to be sure!
My hope is that as long as you are comfortable in your beliefs and actions, then you can be satisfied with how you are modeling yourself and your actions for your girls.
As St Francis of Assisi once stated: “Preach Christ always. When necessary, use words.”
Granted, you might not need the Christian sentiment, but just substitute your own belief, and you get the idea. Be your own feminist in your own way. When you need to, make it known. Others will get the hint eventually.