Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tell a Feminist Thank You

On February 11, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville (@Shakestweetz) started the #TellAFeministThankYou hashtag on Twitter in response to harassment of feminists on Twitter. I came a bit late to the party yesterday afternoon, but participated enthusiastically. So did many people, so much so it was the top trending topic in New York City yesterday until the Rangers game and State of the Union address unseated it.

I was inspired as people mentioned their struggles, loved ones, and heroes. It was disappointing to see how many people, women as well as men, co-opted the topic to insult feminists or to rant about why feminism wasn't needed, even as they so often proved it. In particular, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin sent her flying monkeys after them. So many of my tweets became rebuttals to right-wing derailing and insults.

I know it's been months since I blogged, and I probably should write a proper blog entry soon. However, I decided to archive my own #TellAFeministThankYou tweets, and to share a few thoughts that take more than 140 characters. I noticed right away that there was a lot of crap about how feminists wanted "free birth control," as opposed to discounted birth control pills as part of the insurance benefits they paid for along with other legal drugs, and a lot of attacks on Sandra Fluke. So I started by thanking Sandra Fluke for her courage:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you, @SandraFluke, for standing up for womens' right to get all the insurance benefits they paid for.

I figured that everyone needed a reminder that a woman being a stay-at-home mother because she is required to isn't such a great deal for anyone, including her husband:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you for making it possible for me to marry for real love, not societal approval and economic support.

Of course I needed to thank relatives, although neither one, especially my father, used the "feminist" label:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you to my father, who saw no reason why I couldn't be the first (or fifth) woman to win the Daytona 500.
#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you to my great-grandmother, who left an arranged marriage for America + was one of the last US suffragettes.

There was a lot of talk about how women used to be treated as "valuable prizes", but are now devalued. One disgusting man even compared young women to "Kleenex for cum" as opposed to the "prizes" they used to be. Yeah. I'm sure he would've really valued women if it weren't for feminism. It was all too reminiscent of the nonsense I got in my Assemblies of God youth group, about how we were pure and beautiful princesses unless we touched another human being before marriage:

#TellAFeministThankYou for teaching me that I am not a prize or valuable object, but a human being with needs, wants, and ideas.

Some people said that femininity was devalued. I don't believe that for a moment, being both femme and feminist:

#TellAFeministThankYou for giving a secretary like me options and help if I get harassed.
#TellAFeministThankYou for making skirts, makeup, and cooking choices that I enjoy, not mandatory chains that I hate.

So many women, like Malkin, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and their female fans benefit hugely from feminism. They certainly wouldn't have been allowed to take an active role in politics without it. They needed a reminder:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thanks for making it possible for @MichelleMalkin to have a company, credit, + opinions of her own, b/c she won't.
#TellAFeministThankYou For all the educated, voting, free women who stand tall on your shoulders and think they despise your legacy.

"Men used to open doors for us." "I'm the only guy I know who still opens doors for women." "Women used to be ladies, but now we're told to be just like men." "Women used to be ladies, and I miss it." The word "chivalry" came up an awful lot.

I just shake my head at how history tends to be idealized. At the Renaissance Faire, everyone dresses like lords and ladies of the manor, despite how much more likely it would've been that one would be a peasant. In discussions of how feminism ruined everything for women, so many people harken back to a Victorian era that never existed, where every woman was a lady in the parlor, no woman was a scullery maid, and poor women and women of color just didn't exist somehow. (Certainly they weren't washing the lady's dishes.) Also, they forget just how easily even a wealthy white woman could have fallen from grace due to "inappropriate" relationships or behavior:

#TellAFeministThankYou because the lives in classic Western fiction are fun and instructive to read, but were awful to live.
#TellAFeministThankYou because a man's chivalry is conditional, but your own humanity is forever.
#TellAFeministThankYou because maybe 1 percent of women in the time before feminism took root were "ladies" who received chivalry, if that.

So many concepts that we now take for granted, such as "marital rape," "sexual harassment," even TV procedurals like "Law and Order SVU," are of recent vintage and would've been impossible without feminism. It annoys me when women take these developments for granted and think they want feminism rolled back or shut up. That said, even the conservative heterosexual married women who were ridiculing feminists benefit.

#TellAFeministThankYou if you've gone to the police for a rape kit or human resources to report a harasser, or told your friend to do so.
#TellAFeministThankYou if you're a woman who's not afraid to tell your husband you're too tired, too sore, or just not feelin' it tonight.

Modern life itself would be difficult without feminism. A Christian, conservative, heterosexual woman leaves work an hour early, takes her two daughters to soccer practice, then takes her SUV to the mechanic for an inspection. She hands the cashier her credit card. Then she goes to Hobby Lobby and buys materials for her latest scrapbooking project. That afternoon may as well be labeled "Sponsored by feminism!," despite Hobby Lobby's hostility toward birth control and the women who use it:

#TellAFeministThankYou if women are spending their money on your product or service, not begging a husband's permission or feeding 10 kids.

Some people were derailing the conversation by bringing up how terrible life is for many women in the Middle East, and why aren't feminists working there instead of whining in America?:

#TellAFeministThankYou if reading about the women in Islamist regimes horrifies you. Feminism is what differentiates your life from theirs.

When "#TellAFeministThankYou" became a top trend, so did "kitchen" and "sandwich" in many areas of the United States. That's because many dubious comedians, mostly men, decided to joke about how women needed to go into the kitchen and make them a sandwich. You'd see someone talk about her mother or favorite author, then "#TellAFeministThankYou for the sandwich! Hurhurhur!":

#TellAFeministThankYou because we don't have to live with any of the unfunny, unoriginal assholes making the kitchen and sandwich jokes.
#TellAFeministThankYou because I did cook a nice meal tonight, for me and my wife, and my brother did the same for his girlfriend.

The #TellAFeministThankYou hashtag exposed just what (mainly) American feminists have to deal with, but also provided much inspiration, conversation, and new knowledge. For me, it showed the real need to learn, share, and teach womens' history, lest we forget exactly how much we owe to feminism and how badly we still need it. There is still a crucial gender gap in historic and literary education, and there are two generations of adult women who think all the major battles have already been fought. There are women who benefit from presenting themselves as special snowflakes and holding other women down. Thank you, Melissa McEwan, for inadvertently providing the snapshot of American womens' lives in 2013. It shows an awful lot.

1 comment:

Acky said...

Wonderful thoughts on saying thank you to those who stepped out of their comfort zone in order to make the world a better place. SO many want to be disparaging toward feminists, but quite willingly take advantage and even for granted the gains made.

Thank you for raising this.