Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Other 'F' Word

You don’t know me from Eve, but I am now and always have been a member of the feminist party… and not just because the first man in my life was a panicked intern who told my mother to cross her legs as I’m making my way down the canal, resulting in my difficult breech birth. Phew! That’s not to say I don’t like men, some of my best friends are men, even my husband, and I don’t make this pronouncement to be arrogant or “uppity.” It’s just who I am.

Recently I was on the treadmill (the fitness kind, not the one we’re on every day), off in my own zone, listening to Diana Krall through my headphones, while leafing through the latest “In Style,” when a woman I knew jumped onto the adjoining treadmill. She’s one of those women who, when asked “Hi, how are you?” actually tells you, non-stop. As she warmed up by walking faster than I run at top speed, I recklessly opened the door for conversation by saying “Hi, how are you?” And, she was off…

As she ran her own private 10K, she plunged into her incredible story of survival in a corporate world of sexual harassment and gender backbiting (without the slightest strain in her breathing, thank you very much) and how she was forging headlong into the future ready to fight for her rightful place in that world.
Twenty minutes later she finished and I was awestruck.
In tribute to all she had overcome and all she planned to do, I called her a true
“feminist” naively assuming she would take it as the compliment I meant it to be. Instead, she nearly leaped off the treadmill as she emphatically stated, “I’M NOT A FEMINIST!”

I was so stunned by her reaction, I started to jog.

As my shock wore off and I returned to my more reasonable pace, I asked her why. Her answer was simple: “I don’t want to alienate anybody.” For the second time in my life, mere moments apart, I had an overwhelming urge to become a sprinter. I couldn’t believe what she was saying! After all the progress she had made, all the gender wars she had fought, and all her plans for the future, she was ready to give it all back! I mean really, who’s to alienate? The people who didn’t want to hire, promote or pay her equally because she had “X” chromosomes? Not likely.
So what was it about that word that triggered such a response? Why does it make so many of us cringe when we’re accused of being one, as if it were the ultimate insult? Why has “feminism” become the other “F” word? Because of the mostly male media’s years of portraying feminists (f/k/a “women’s libbers”) as bossy, man hating mantises? No doubt. Because of the growing backlash against independent women who keep moving up the corporate ranks? Probably. But, maybe… just maybe, openly feminist females like myself are partially to blame (one-tenth of one percent sounds about right). Maybe, just maybe, in our empathic enthusiasm for equality, we forgot a smidgen of common sense and lost a teeny bit of our sense of humor.

Before I married, I dated a guy I cared about, but he wasn’t willing to make an emotional commitment… or is that redundant? He insisted on the option of dating other women. Saturday nights were mine, but the rest of the week was open to interpretation. I was young and foolish, so I agreed. After dating for about six months, he inquired (I use “inquire” because he did… he was an attorney) why he always paid for our theater tickets, dinners, whatever. As a self-proclaimed “feminist,” didn’t I want to pay my fair share? I told him no (I was a feminist, not foolish), and explained that feminism had nothing to do with who paid for dinner. Why should I pick up a tab for someone who wanted to use the money he saved on me to wine and dine the first bimbo who said yes to Tuesday? Made sense to me. Okay, maybe she wasn’t a bimbo, but you get the point.

I really couldn’t blame him --- we (as in card-carrying feminists) had confused the poor guy, and ultimately alienated ourselves, with all that 50/50 rhetoric. Nothing in life is 50/50.

So maybe it’s time to soften our image --- to put a new spin on things --- to put “feminine” back into feminist. No, I’m not talking crinolines and ruffles (though black lace garters have their uses)… But, if a man wants to open a door for us --- hey, why strain? And, if some swain (don’t you just love that word?) wants to lay his coat over a puddle so your feet stay dry, smile first --- then step on it!!!

1 comment:

lfromca1 said...

Excellent piece! And yes, swain is a great word. Lana