“What’s the point in feminism these days?” asks every person in my life who feels like annoying me. We’ve got female CEOs, lady business heads, women in political power…so we’re equal, right?
If it was that easy to see the post-modern American world that way I would be super duper psyched. Getting all worked up over this shit is time consuming and not great for my health. But I don’t think we’re even close because the playing field isn’t equal for everybody in about a million ways. For me a major distinction is the idea that feminism exists to promote women’s issues exclusively. When I think about myself as a feminist I feel that the work is in creating a dialog, and a world, in which we value people first for being individual people. Which means, we stop saying things like OH WOMEN ARE JUST BETTER HOUSE KEEPERS AND MEN ARE BETTER PROVIDERS because it discredits bad female house keepers and good male ones. We stop assuming gender traits that can’t be scientifically proven–men don’t enjoy taking care of children. Women can’t handle high stress business transactions without crying. Men don’t cry. Women are peaceful in nature. All of these upper case letter gender assumptions endanger everyone because they continue to allow us to exist in a world where our specific individual human differences are discredited. When we start really looking at how many individual people make up the world, we start looking at a really complex place.
But, let’s talk about women. Let’s talk about the gross, pervasive sexually violent American society we still live in. “Rape culture,” like “triggering,” is one of those words that I think modern American feminists should abandon because it’s been tagged with too much baggage. But let’s talk about HOW many people think that the outcome of the Sandusky trial should be prison rape. Because it’s that pervasive culture–that we can punish people by taking away their reasonable expectation of physical safety–that informs so much of the way we treat each other. Sandusky was brought to justice. By the legal system that is designed to bring people to justice. As someone whose life has been complicated in many ways by sexual violence, the Sandusky case was too hard for me to even watch. I used to make Josh turn off the NPR coverage. I hate him. But rape is not a reasonable answer to any criminal behavior, guys, and you’re posting all over Facebook that you hope he dies in prison at the hands of a rapist. That’s bad.
Everyone in our American society deserves a basic expectation of safety. I think that women probably suffer this more than men because we live in a strange patriarchal society that teaches us we have to be beautiful but not TOO beautiful, sexy but not too provocative. I’m 29. I’m in the best shape of my life and could probably kick your ass and this is the first time in my life I’ve felt safe walking public streets by myself. I caught myself shifting into my mean mug as I walked past construction workers yesterday. I pulled my chin up, set my lips downward, pulled my eyes up off the sidewalk in front of me, took a deep breath and lengthened my stride. I used my body language to communicate what I’ve been taught to- it isn’t work your time to fuck with me. If I cannot assume that a group of men will treat me safely, then I need to go on the defensive in order to make it less likely that my safety will be threatened.
How lame is that! People might say that that is human nature, that people are violent and untrustworthy. Which, okay, cool. But I don’t think it’s fair that my first worry, walking down a leafy street in my safe neighborhood on a sunny afternoon, is that I have to puff myself up in order to lessen my chances of being harassed or raped. Why are we not teaching EVERYONE that you shouldn’t harass or rape? Where is that cultural message? You would not believe the things that have been shouted at me over the years. Why aren’t we teaching, in our American culture, that you cannot yell “LET ME SEE YOUR SHAVED PUSSY” out of a pickup truck when you walk by a woman who is headed for a twelve mile walk with her brother? I wasn’t asking for anything. I was wearing six sweaters and a coat. And even if I was wearing, like, a cat suit or something…why is that okay? HOW is that okay?
As I get older and farther removed from the learned theory of my women’s studies major, I have fewer answers for remapping these behaviors, and a lot more questions. When do we start teaching that an ideal society is one where we are all nice to each other because we’re finally aware of the fundamental truth of humanity: we don’t any of us know shit, and we’re all terrified that someone will find out how terrified we are.