I never considered myself a feminist

I’ve blogged before about how I never really realized the depth of neglect in my childhood until I was raising a child of my own. The same is true of me and feminism. I never considered myself a feminist, but how could I not be while I’m trying to raise my daughter.

I know she’s only seven, but we’ve already talked about how the way women in tv/movies/comics dress and how it affects them/her (“It’s okay for adults to wear what they want, but I think I should wear clothes that cover all the parts of me that other people shouldn’t touch.”), how she feels that girls aren’t supposed to like science fiction, and recently we’ve talked about women’s inequality.

I never meant to have these talks with her. But I refuse to skip a chance to talk about a deeper issue just because she’s seven. Or just because I’m uncomfortable with the topic, or I don’t really have answers to give her. It didn’t escape our notice that most of the people who criticized our Dear DC blog were male, and all the people who got outright nasty were male. What surprised me was that after the Ms. Magazine blog picked up the article she asked me what a feminist was.

I explained that feminist has come to mean a lot of things, but basically it’s a person, male or female, who fights for the right of women to be equal. This confused her. When I explained that there was a time when women weren’t allowed to vote, when they couldn’t own property, they couldn’t hold most jobs and often weren’t allowed to go to school after a certain age she was stunned. She’d never considered such a thing. I have a hard time trying to explain why this is, too.

Worse, we had the misfortune of experiencing that kind of sexism this year. I’m an avid role player, hard core table top and I met my partner at a LARP. Earlier this year I was part of a D&D game that I loved. Unfortunately one of the late-addition players has a problem with women. We came to an outright confrontation when I wouldn’t spend my experience the way he demanded that I do it, and furthermore when I played my character in a way he didn’t like.  (For those in the know, my elven fighter was made commander of a moderate amount of troops and he, as the player, demanded that I turn over the troop to his character’s control and became extremely agitated and augmentative when I chose to command my own troops. Pretty much everything I did that last game was met by arguing, yelling and physical agitation by him.)

The DM decided, rather than supporting my right to play my character my way to break up the problem by kicking me out of the game. That’s right, not the person causing the fights. Me, for not giving into him, I guess. I don’t know.  They didn’t even have the balls to tell me they were kicking me out, they said the game was over and then snuck off to play somewhere else.

Then a few months later the problem player expressly invited my partner to come play in a game he was running and made sure it was clear that I was not invited. Here’s the kicker, there are two other women in the circle of friends who are tolerated to “hang out” (but aren’t allowed to role play) but they don’t talk much and they certainly never disagree with said jerk.

I admit my feelings were hurt. This was not a new set of friends. They were people who had lived with us at time after losing their homes. People I bought food for. People I supported at times with money, but mostly emotionally and with help like rides places, research, lend resources, etc. For years we got along fine.

This hasn’t escaped my daughter’s notice, especially since on these game days even she and her brother are welcome to go play with the other kids, but somehow I’m not welcome.

So she asked, and now she knows that yes, there are still people out there who think women don’t deserve to be equal. I’m not talking about the unconscious skewing of society to oh, de-criminalize domestic violence because the perception is that it’s a female crime. Or the habit of people to blame the victim when it comes to rape but not for male-on-male assault, or even, say gang violence or murder. Or the sexualization of women in media, but not men. (Or at least, certainly not to the same degree. There certainly is a fictional image of perfection present in males in media, but it’s skewed more toward strength and confidence and perfection of moral character–either toward good or evil–not sexualized.)

So now it’s hard not to see it, even for her. and once you see it it’s ridiculous for me not to tell her that just because some people fall for the B.S., just because some people outright buy into it, doesn’t mean she has to be let them make her less of a person. It doesn’t make her opinion, her voice, invalid. It’s jsut so important to me that she know that, and if that makes me a feminist, so be it.

 

6 Comments

  1. Trista says:

    Please pardon me a generalization.

    But for most of the women in our generation, the phrase “I never considered myself a feminist, but…” echoes widely.

    Examples I’ve heard…

    I never considered myself a feminist, but now that I’m no longer in my 20s and hot, I’m starting to really notice how myself and other older women are treated at the office.

    I never considered myself a feminist, but I’m encountering this glass ceiling thing, and it ain’t cool.

    I never considered myself a feminist, but why is it that I still get all these messages that somehow, I’m not in a woman’s place? That I should be at home raising kids? That having a career and being a mom is somehow Doing It Wrong? That ANYONE has the right to tell me what to do with my life and my reproductive capacity, unasked?

    I never considered myself a feminist, but why is it that true equality of pay isn’t around?

    I never considered myself a feminist, but why is it that the stories on the TV, in books, and in movies are primarily men’s stories? If they throw me a bone, why is it a family melodrama?

    I never considered myself a feminist, but why am *I* told that I’m being let go because has to support a family?

    I never considered myself a feminist, but why do we have endless debates about clothes when a woman is assaulted?

    I never considered myself a feminist, but…

    The list goes on… and on. When we grew up things were better. But they’re not perfect yet. We grew up with the spectre of angry unreasonable bra burners, and we’re conditioned to present ourselves as rational and organized… to be nonthreatening. To show we’re better, we’ve become less.

    I believe that this silence does not better us. Rather, it goes to support the theory that feminism is ‘over’, that there is no ‘problem’.

    We are feminists. Often we just don’t know it until our daughters/nieces/students/mentees come to us with questions.

    It’s not easy. For example, I wish someday I didn’t have to have the label ‘woman scientist’ in discussions about my career. After all, we don’t comment on ‘men scientists’. But to take that out would be running silent, and I can’t do that any more.

    Some posts by Athena Andreadis, a scientist whose writing and perspective I admire.
    http://www.starshipnivan.com/blog/?s=feminism

    • Michele Lee says:

      Exactly, except, I wasn’t raised to be a feminist at all. My mom abhorred them and raised me with the dreams (her dreams that is) that I’d be the charming housewife of a minister or missionary and lead a pleasant life of a godly woman. Thinking about it now I literally shudder about what that life might have been like. It’s oppression pure and simple that she never cared about my intelligence, my desires or my goals, but instead wanted me to be a servant. My father didn’t help, as his biggest compliment to me was “You’re going to make someone a great wife someday.” and he commonly was vicious verbally to the women around him behind their backs.

      I was raised to think submission, sacrifice and silence was the norm for women and it’s only as I start to learn how to stand up for myself and for my own dreams that I realize how horrid that mindset is.

      • Trista says:

        A couple links to get you thinking. Great reading here. 🙂
        http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

        Also this:

        *HUGS* Being softly damned by those expectations? Sucks. I’m so sorry.

        My Mom was great about being supportive of my intelligence and academic acheivements, but at the same time expected me to get married, expect me to do all the domestic things, and be otherwise supermom and servant to some smart preferably-rich dude. Didn’t quite work out that way. 😉

  2. Ceridwen says:

    You’re so right to talk to your daughter about these matters, Michele. I wish my parents had talked to me about these tough “adult” issues when I was younger. That would have helped me be much stronger early on.

    Some of the things you said about the way women are portrayed in media reminded me of Jean Kilbourne’s documentaries. They are such an eye-opener. They question why women are always portrayed as vulnerable, fragile, and even sick-looking (i.e. skinny girls), while men (including boys) are always portrayed as strong, brave, active, healthy. Many of her documentaries are available on the web.

    When faced with the sad bigotry against women that pervades our society, we shouldn’t feel disheartened. The little we have achieved is evidence that we can achieve much more in time. Either through activism or in our daily lives, in small gestures like teaching our daughters to think for themselves, or refusing to give in to the system, we are fighting this bigotry.

    And fighting it shouldn’t be considered a feminist thing, but a human thing. It should be common not something extraordinary and characteristic of a minority. That people still label it, ridicule it, dismiss it is a proof of how petty society still is.

    Best wishes!