[“Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” – Eurythmics feat. Aretha Franklin]
Can we talk for a second about the spectacular power of Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox on one stage? Chills.
My darling dears, I wish you the happiest and most empowering International Women’s Day you can imagine. I’d also call out that International Men’s Day is November 19, mark your calendars for that as well.
Anyway, I am here today to discuss adulting and feminism. Buckle up and enjoy. At the ripe old age of 28 I have decided that I need to be better informed so, during the 2+ hour commute I have every day I have been listening to NPR in an active attempt to be an adult and understand some of the acronyms bandied about on the regular, not to mention be in the ever more depressed “know” about the latest global strife (seriously, can’t we just get along?). These listening sessions have run the gambit from inspiring irrational anger to thoughtful introspection and everywhere in between.
A hot topic of late, outside of gun rights and steel tariffs? Women (yass queen).
I have had the privilege of being reared and surrounded by amazing women and men throughout the course of my life. My dad taught my mom to cook and my mom taught me how to throw a spiral (obviously a simplified anecdote to reflect a complex issue but you get my point). I think this empowerment is something I took for granted for much of my life. I had an ideal situation where I was, thankfully, taught to believe I could do ANYTHING. For my 18th birthday I received a tool kit and a string of pearls (those of you who know me know which gift gets more use but both are special to me).
I think, because this empowerment was normal for me, I initially had a skewed view of what the term “feminist” means. That identifier was one I did not apply to myself until freshman year of college when I sat in my history elective, women’s studies, and was asked by the real-life blonde equivalent of Edna Mode from the Incredibles (I swear, I am not exaggerating) whether or not I considered myself to be a feminist. Now, in my idealized notion of the world and my know-it-all early adulthood, I (albeit almost imperceptibly) shook my head no. This barely there movement caused her to zero in and legitimately swoop toward my desk, sit on the edge, and, never breaking eye contact, ask why I would say no – especially when I was taking such a class. Well, to me, a feminist was a cartoonish image of a woman, yelling at men who hold doors and whipping off a bra at every opportunity to throw it into some fire (seriously, bras are EXPENSIVE, I don’t have the income for that)…
So, horrified at being singled out in one of my first classes as a college undergraduate and cowed by the sheer intensity of her gaze, I tried to ignore my flaming cheeks as I stammered out some version of the comical vision I had of women who took on that moniker.
Thankfully, that terrifyingly inspiring woman did not seek to mortify me further, but used my ignorance as a teaching moment. As it turns out, I understood the concept but not the term, life could have definitely been worse. I spent the rest of that semester voraciously consuming content about powerful women through the ages and the strife they overcame to ultimately achieve their successes. I spent the semester realizing how fortunate I was to have the supportive atmosphere I grew up in, the no-nonsense women who helped make it possible, and the men who accepted them as equals.
Feminism is the belief in equal treatment of men and women.
It’s not the vilification of men.
It’s not privilege granted to women now that inequality is being more broadly recognized.
As simple and as complicated as that. And with the good and bad that comes with it.
That class changed my life. I left with a more thorough understanding of the world and my place in it.
Women are people. Funny thing about that…
Flames… On the Side of my Face
Why is it hard to understand? I just don’t follow the disconnect that happens when a group says they want equal access and society responds by creating something new instead.
“Oh, you are a woman who works out? Ok, we will make shoes using the same materials we use for men but we will dye them with pastels to reflect your femininity.”
NO. THAT’S NOT WHAT I ASKED FOR.
“Oh, neon then? That’s what you want right?”
NOPE. (This is an actual conversation I had internally when I was recently shopping for running shoes)…
Regardless, and I hope you’ll pardon me for being flippant, but “separate but equal” in any approximation has already proven itself a poor approach to personhood. Taking a thing made “for men” and turning it pink does not make it “for women” … it makes it pink.
Don’t get me wrong, pink has it’s place. In my case, that place is preferably as far away from me as possible but unfortunately, as a woman, it’s never as far as I would like.
Overall though, right now, there is a proliferation of “for women” products that don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Why exactly do we have to engender objects? Does it work for you? Use it! Otherwise, try something else.
The one that really gets me recently is the Johnny Walker re-brand to market to women: Jane Walker. Stephen Colbert put it perfectly, in my mind: “They changed the name to Jane Walker with a lady version of the mascot. Female drinkers everywhere will say, ‘Finally, a brand that’s condescending to me.’” I don’t often drink scotch because I usually prefer a beverage that does not taste like I am drinking a bonfire. That being said, I am still a brown liquor girl (because “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets” -Ron Swanson). My brother and I joke that we are a Jim Beam family. If they changed the name tomorrow to “Cheap-but-not-the-worst Beam” I would have more respect for them than a ridiculous “Jane Walker” style move. Why not just lean into the condescension and call it “Janey Walker?” What’s next? Consuela Cuervo? She will make me feel much better about the bad decisions I make when drinking tequila. Whaddup chica?
Having a svelte cartoon woman and a stereotypical name is not an incentive for me to consume something, just like having a man on the label is not a deterrent. The rationale of the brand, according to the vice president, is that they were seeking to make the product “less intimidating” for women. Seriously? Any person intimidated by liquor has an Airplane-esq drinking problem they need to get over and likely has issues outside of scotch drinking they should address first.
I am here to tell the world, inanimate objects and consumables do not hold power over you (ironic, I suppose, since I am letting them get under my skin). In all fairness, the company is donating a certain amount of the proceeds to women’s causes/organizations which is spectacular. Really though, they could have donated the money they spent in implementing this idea and likely ended in about the same place, support wise.
I’ll say it again, women are people… and I’ll expand on it to note: Women are not a brand.
You Be You…
Much of what I am trying to say, at the end of the day, is that my fellow women should feel empowered to be nothing more or less than inherently themselves.
I want the women, hell, the PEOPLE, around me to understand how amazing they are. And I want everyone to know that “feminist” is not a dirty word, nor is it gender specific.
We are all traversing a hard road together and we won’t reach our destination if we are divided. It’s only together that we will have an equal future. Effort must be made on all sides for the sake of progress. I am excited to live in a #metoo and #timesup world because of what it means for the future, not because of what it meant in the past. Travesties have come to light that no one should have had to go through. Power has been abused and people have suffered. But more even than a means for individuals to finally answer for their actions, these movements are important in ensuring these same instances won’t happen again. I look forward to that future and at the same time I appreciate the reality I live in. I get to be part of a new day. Not a perfect day, but still one that does not look like yesterday. I believe in a future that can begin and then continue to encourage a dialogue that did not exist before.
We know that spectacular feats are inspired by strife, and I hope one day a naive first-year college student reads about us and it changes her life.
Photo: E. Campbell (2017)
Philadelphia Women’s March