I care about women, but lately I feel like expressing and acting like I care about women is tantamount to a criminal offense. I don’t know how many times I have been in the middle of a friendly conversation at a party or a bar, only to have to have it come to a complete halt. The otherwise agreeable person I’m speaking to will completely turn on me as soon as I utter the word feminist. It’s as if I’ve suddenly sprouted a third, viciously annoying head that needs to be put in its place. Every word I say from that moment forward is being searched for some kind of chink in my feminist armor, some way to trip me up and expose me as the man-hater I am.
I’ve found that when I use a word like patriarchy, it seems to conjure up this image of a bunch of men sitting around at a He-Man Woman Haters Club meeting discussing how to more effectively keep women down. But hello? That’s not what I mean, and this isn’t “The Little Rascals.” That’s not what anyone means when they use a word that encompasses all of the different ways in which women are made to be second-class citizens in this society. It’s a word that helps to explain why it seems like every industry, from politics to filmmaking to cooking, is traditionally male-dominated. It’s also a word that, no matter the context, makes it OK for people to ignore what you’re saying and write your words off as yet another bitter rant. I get this reaction with certain trigger words from all kinds of people, and I’ve decided to address it with a chart.
I think these are all words that most people want to immediately dissociate from, because it absolves them from a number of things: being seen as too passionate, caring too much, being the one who never stops bringing up women…the list goes on. Ultimately I think the negative connotations surrounding these words create a comfortable distance that keeps people from having to examine their own actions — and perhaps their own participation in patriarchy/sexist acts — because only crazy, hyper-emotional women use those kinds of words. This, in turn, only stagnates progress.
I know that before I identified as a feminist, I shied away from using the so-called F-word because I didn’t want people to think of me as a shrieking harpy who never shuts up about women’s rights. I was still in the mindset that things like feminism and patriarchy were for angry, academic women (my age) or hippies (my mom’s age). Here’s the well-kept secret, though: feminism is for everyone. Thanks to the misperception of a few words, we’re all missing out on something powerful here. These words are for those of us who always felt prisoner being thrust into the mold of passive female, and it’s for the bros who secretly wish they could show more emotion with their friends. This language opens up to the ideas that we should be treated equally regardless of gender, that our bodies are our own and that men are just as hurt by patriarchy as women are.
Have you seen that Jimmy Kimmel video where he asks people on the street about their thoughts on Obamacare vs. The Affordable Care Act? More than it being hilarious and an exploitation of just how ignorant Americans can be about their own nation’s affairs, I think the video is a great example of how powerful words can be. I think it’s easy to write off “the power of words” as some hippie phrase, but it’s true: All some people need to hear is Obamacare, and they know they hate it. They don’t need an explanation. If they had searched for one, they wouldn’t have ended up in this video:
So, how do we change the conversation? How do we keep people from falling off the conversation as soon as feminism comes up? Share your ideas in the comments below.