Tuesday, July 21, 2009

LOL you're a feminist!

A conversation with a male co-worker made me realize something: apparently me being open about my feminist inclinations is nothing more than ammunition for my co-workers, and even friends.

As a woman who frequently refers to her own feminist beliefs, I've encountered all kinds. Other feminists, and certainly womanists (especially since this term is not yet widely known, many people simply say this word doesn't exist, which is bullshit and shows that they know nothing about the nature of language) will know what I'm talking about. "Feminism" is a bad word. I've encountered men who are immediately turned off by that, writing me off as not worth the trouble--which is a good way to weed out men, as their reaction indicates to me that I'm saving myself a lot of frustration. I've also met my share of women who abhor not only the word "feminist" but the imagery it conjures up: the stereotypes of unshaven, unattractive women (I use these terms in the relative sense); the myth of angry bra-burners, cause some women to jerk away from this label, and even insult or ridicule the women that are open about their push for equality. I've encountered several that were afraid of being seen as a feminist, fearing it would deter dating prospects.

I've lost count of how many times I've had a woman laugh at me and say, "Oh, you're a feminist?"

So, I'm joking around with this co-worker, and he tells me and another male co-worker that he wants to quit his job and become a pimp, citing some made up income as reason enough to have "a couple of hoes." I laughed, and said, "Do you really want to have this conversation with a feminist?" To which he replied: "That's why I said it, because I know you're a feminist."

What's interesting to me about this exchange is actually a couple of things:

1). I am the only woman he said this "joke" to, specifically because I'm feminist, which made me realize that despite the numerous women I work with (I'd say that there's even a majority of women there) I'm the one he singled out with his obvious sexism and misogyny in the loving form of the "joke." I'm the lone woman muttering about women's rights.

2). This is another example of someone telling me something sexist and misogynist in the guise of a "joke," in a supposed illustration of their non-sexism. I could be wrong, but there are better ways to show someone you're not sexist. I know this co-worker was not being sincere, and he has indicated to me a number of times that he certainly respects women, and is not at all intimidated by successful women; so then, why make this joke?

3). My feminism is treated like an anomaly in which people prod at. It's almost like they expect me to be ashamed as they point it out and make jokes meant to incite that part of me. It's like they think it should be an insecurity that's fair game to all. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the compulsion some people have to knowingly say something offensive to purposely annoy someone. But then, I don't really understand this desire to be "edgy" either.

Apparently having the audacity to believe that women are not lesser than men warrants teasing. But then I'm feminist, and can't take a joke, right?


RMJ said...

I've lost count of how many times I've had a woman laugh at me and say, "Oh, you're a feminist?"

I certainly don't doubt your story, but I've never had this happen to me. It might just be the way I put myself forth - I'm a kind of assertive personality who wouldn't be receptive to such dismissal (not that you necessarily) - I might have just written it off or not noticed it.

which is a good way to weed out men, as their reaction indicates to me that I'm saving myself a lot of frustration.

I've had that kind of weeding-out thing, too. At one point I was "getting to know" a man who began to make racist comments (something about Kanye West, I think) - I hadn't anticipated getting into those conversations considering we weren't even officially dating and he was black. I subsequently noticed a pro-rape quote on his facebook and never spoke to him again.

One of the ways I knew my guy was great was by giving him a litmus test on our second date - he asked about my multiple last names, I said it was because I was a feminist, and he said "cool!" He and I definitely have a lot of political and philosophical differences, but he made an effort to connect with me, engaging in a discussion when I criticized his use of the word "wigger" and forfeiting use of the word, commiserating with me on how awful Bush was, etc.

Anonymous said...

I'm the lone feminist where I work too. I've encountered (from a couple of different people) the idea that feminism is bad because it means they have to work. According to these women, feminism was "started" in the '60's because some hippie women wanted to get jobs, and now they (my coworkers) are forced to work and can't be stay-at-home-moms. Because of the hippies and bra burners. The economy has nothing to do with it. Seriously.

The first time I heard this I was so gobsmacked by the ludicrousness of the idea that I could do nothing but stare speechless at the woman who had said it.

CaitieCat said...

I've encountered the very same, FG, and it makes me unhealthily glad I work alone at home. :/

Sabertooth Screaming Lemur said...

Yeah, I couldn't say a word when my mother-in-law described 'feminist' to her 9 year old daughter as, among other things, 'an extreme point of view' ('that's unattractive and not worth considering', was the subtext. along with the look of disdain on her face).

Anonymous said...

I consider myself lucky to be 'out' with my feminism at work. It's not relevant to my job, so it doens't come up much in the office 9-5. But we all like to eat lunch together & sometimes while we're eating we'll have conversations that I can add my two cents to from a feminist perspective (not necessarily "The" feminist perspective. It's just me and I have a long way to go yet...)

So far, my co workers haven't made fun of me or put me down for what I say when I talk about feminist ideas. Interruptions are kept to a minimum in general (although there's some people who tend to dominate conversations if they're present) so I acutally finish a thought.
That I am some kind of feminist slipped out at lunch by accident. I wasn't going to bring it up at all but someone said something & I blurted something back in anger. That I wasn't going to say anything at all, probably says something about the fact that, I still expect to have it not go down well.

I'm okay at this job, this work - but if I go somewhere else I may not be so fortunate. If the time comes to leave, I could find myself in a rather hostile environment, esp. if someone finds out I'm some kind of feminist.

I couldn't be so open in my opinions while I was eating lunch with students at college :/ I'm not really friends with those students anymore, but, at the time I was, and these were people who thought of feminism (and women generally...) as all the negative stereotypes and none of the good. One of the guys I ate lunch with, he was very victim-blamy but I couldn't say anything to him becuase he wouldn't let me. I tried.
Then of course other times I'd sit down at lunch alone and I didn't mean to eavesdrop but I'd hear other people around me saying negative things about women and I'm like "Hmmmmm :/"

So I guess, in general, I still expect to be confronted with "LOL ur a feminist that's so cute" or some such variation & I'm kind of surprsied when that doesn't happen.

Sungold said...

For me, feminism is part of the job description. I teach women's studies. So my job is to try to reduce the number of victim-blamey college students (male and female alike) that K mentions. That poses challenges of its own. I worry that I'm sometimes too conciliatory; too non-threatening. Other days, I see this as a stealth strategy.

I do realize I'm highly privileged in my job. I once worked for a state agency in California with a bunch of unreconstructed male chauvinist pigs (a term that wasn't quite dated at the time, in the mid-1980s) and it was excruciating, having to hear them riff on how women were less reliable employees because they were mothers. Or getting demands to do typing because my boss didn't want to deal with his secretary, who was in a pissy mood. (A male coworker who was less busy than I that day volunteered to take on the typing; our boss turn him down flat.) In that setting, there was no question of trying to speak as a feminist. You just tried to get through the days without your head exploding.