by Alice Woods, guest blogger
Kristen, Andrew and I sat in a booth near the windows. The Stanford/Hecht dining hall hummed with the sound of many young voices peppered over the incessant buzz of industrial refrigeration. I don’t remember how the word ‘bitch’ came up in conversation; today, in any description of women, the word is often casually implanted, so its use in this case was not significant. Nonetheless ‘bitch’ triggered my newly conditioned response: to point at someone and say, half-jokingly, “Hey, we don’t say that.”
“What?” Andrew was confused at my offense. My closer friends know of my recent feminist sensitization and might jokingly apologize or make some snide comment about women’s and gender studies. I gladly accept these responses as they fit into my larger goal of subtly sharing my strong sentiments of equality while always seeming to take this “feminism thing” only half-seriously. I’m not nearly comfortable enough at this school to openly share my “controversial” point of view.
In any case, Kristen, being in on the ongoing “joke” about the field of study to which I may devote my life, said, “Alice is a feminist so she doesn’t like that word.”
Her condescending tone snapped something in me. More seriously, but still always keeping anything feminism-related very light, I slapped the table and turned to her saying, “You are a feminist!”
She laughed and looked at Andrew, who she had been casually sleeping with for about a week. “Not really,” she corrected me.
I asked the two questions I always ask when trying to force the label of feminist onto others who reject it: “Do you think women should be paid as much as men in the same work? Do you think women are culpable for their rapes?”
Kristen cut me off before I finished, “I know, I know,”—she had heard me grill others with the question many times before—“but like,” she continued, while Andrew watched, laughing, “I’m not really a feminist, I really think women should just take care of their kids.” She sped up as she always does when making a long point. “Honestly if someone told me they would pay me to just stay home and take care of my kids and clean and cook, I would love that.” She giggled at Andrew.
“Yes!” Andrew slammed his fist down on the table. “I love it.” He loved it. He adores her and she knows what to say to continue that adoration, to make him think about marrying her.
“I would too!” I chimed in, angry that this girl, who I know is studying neuroscience with the hopes of becoming a brain surgeon, felt the need to cut down my beliefs in order to impress her love interest. “But that’s just what would make us happy,” I continued. “That might not be what makes everyone happy and they shouldn’t have to do that.”
Neither Kristen nor Andrew listened. My words, as any about gender equality and any that, dare I pity myself so, are spoken by a woman, were zoned out as hysterical nonsense—in this case, hysterical and distinctly unattractive nonsense. I am used to this from men, but Kristen’s insult, and it was an insult, had me seething.
Why is this topic so laughable? Why, when I bring up feminism, this fight for equality, do men and women roll their eyes and tune me out? Why must feminism be such a dreadfully unattractive and taboo topic of conversation? Why do I feel the need to giggle self-deprecatingly when I tell people that this is my major? My foray into what I have come to think of as my “out-loud feminism” has been marked with these kinds of questions and frustrating conversations. There have been moments of shame and embarrassment associated with my point of view, but there always exists some feeling of pride during and after these incidents. I feel like I know that I am right, and if others cannot see the validity in my statements, that is their loss.
And yet I so often feel it is my loss when others cannot see through the comfortable bandage that the media and society have wound around their eyes. I am the recipient of mocking and worst of all, indifference. I am not used to my words and views being so chastised by those I share them with. I find myself grateful to the point of tears when I find a sister in my fight, or an enlightened man. Feminism binds me to those I might not otherwise find common ground with but cuts me off from many who I might otherwise open up to. In this way, I have found it to be like an unpopular religion or a cult. From this comes the absurdity of my situation: the idea that there exists a cult of equality. Don’t most people believe in equality? Apparently not, as my views and my fight for equality are laughed at, and brushed off.
And yet, even through my frustrations, I get constant reminders of the importance of this fight, and the small ways in which I can see that feminism does make a difference to keep me afloat. I am not going to stop asking people not to say “bitch” and “slut” even while my peers may not be able to understand why these words frustrate me. And after months of constant reminders, being dragged to women’s leadership events, and seeing the feminist articles and videos that I never stop posting on Facebook, my friends have indeed decreased their inadvertent slut-shaming, and use of derogatory words and comments. Most of all, I am happy to report that Kristen no longer denies being a feminist, at least not when I’m around.