Thursday, February 17, 2011

A brief rant about the "F" word...

More to come on my French philosopher friend later (and no, the aforementioned "F" word is not French)! But I'm irked by several recent postings on Facebook.  One of my former students noted that her current professor called her the "F" word yesterday--feminist--and one of her male Facebook friends jokingly noted "we can't be friends anymore."  

A wave of frustration hit me: why has "feminist" become such a dirty word? I had this same conversation with my dad, for whom the word conjures angry, hypocritical female extremists.  I'd say it's Rush Limbaugh's fault, but it would be complete a cop-out to blame it on conservatives.  We've all complacently let the words feminist & femi-nazi merge together.  When our generation hears the word "feminist" it conjures images of buzz-cuts (and buzz saws!), man-hating angry females looking to spread their venom to innocent younger women.  And we buy into this as women because the entire world has taught us that being feminine and attractive are among our top priories--hence we now have fourteen-year-olds running around with "Juicy" and "You Wish" scrawled across their asses: if boys want them, they win, as the hottest girl is the best girl.  Or as Liz Lemon notes on 30 Rock, when Jack brags about dating the beautiful news anchor, Avery, Liz exclaims: "I know her! I saw her on Maxim's 'I'd Rape that 100!'"  

But back to the issue at hand.  Last semester I was teaching my unit on gender for my EN 101 (freshman comp) class and one of my most dedicated and driven male cadets said, "I'm sorry, but my wife needs to understand that she's in charge of keeping the house clean, making the meals, and taking care of the kids."  Always the devil's advocate, I noted that I was currently working 50 hours a week and writing a dissertation while my husband was focusing on his three classes.  Who did he think bought the groceries and ran the vacuum?  When someone countered by asking if my husband was "whipped," I told her that she was welcome to ask the grizzly veteran herself.  After what I felt was a productive discussion another male student, who didn't speak up much in class, meekly walked into my office and asked, "Ma'am, you're not a feminist, are you?" He whispered the word like it was a profanity, as if he was asking if I was secretly a communist or perhaps a KKK member.  We had a productive chat about the term, but I'm still baffled that in 2011 we've let that word be turned into something profane.

So please remember, if someone who stands up against racism is an 'anti-racist activist,' a person who stands up against blatant sexism is a 'feminist'.  Her goal isn't to make all women burn their bras, break off their heels, and bite the heads of men, but rather resonant of the goals of the 'anti-racial activist': to be treated fairly, paid the same, and recognized for her talents not her cup size. 

Ladies, if you can’t stand your ground every time a disapproving man (or woman!) throws the “F” word at you, I suggest you get on board with Cartman’s views on gender: “If a woman told me what to do, I’d tell her to get back into the kitchen and make me some pie!”

Now back to my French philosopher friend... Must remember to focus on empire, not gender studies..


  1. See this was fun to read. I like this much better, still no zombies but it was fun to read.

  2. Some terms get co-opted over time ('liberal', 'progressive'), while others, using Computer Science terminology, get 'overloaded' -- able to mean different things in different contexts. A simple example is the word 'love', which can mean many different things. Unless there is the opportunity and willingness to clarify which among several possible meanings is intended, then a "person who stands up against blatant sexism" might be most usefully described as an anti-sexist activist, not a feminist. It's too bad some of the most common associations for the term 'feminist' have been defined by organizations who have strayed from their roots, but the same thing has happened to anti-racist and other groups over time.

    A similar issue arises with the term 'fairly'. Unless criteria are offered to codify what is meant by fair, it's pretty useless because there are so many different views of what fair would mean (and many middle-aged men who might be suspected of having pseudo-neanderthal attitudes about women probably would be outraged at the prospect of having a daughter of theirs treaty 'unfairly' :-) ). In a mostly free country, there is nothing unfair about a man (woman) who only wants to marry a woman (man) who wants to be a homemaker, or a woman (man) who only wants to marry a man (woman) who is likely to provide a certain level of income, or a woman who doesn't want to date a man who is a lot shorter than she is, or a man who doesn't want to date a woman he is not attracted to.

    In summary, clarity, transparency, precision, accuracy, and toleration of individual preference would seem to be generally 'good things'.

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  4. Oh, and then then Zombie-Susan B. Anthony stopped by to tell me how much she admired my blog!

  5. Yet, nothing to do with your dissertation...get to work!