Today is Galentine’s Day.
You’ve never heard of it?
I’ll let Leslie Knope, my favorite character from one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation explain.
After all, she created it.
It’s about “ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair minus the angst, plus frittatas.”
So let’s start by celebrating Leslie, who is my hero even though she is a fictional character.
I love her because she’s smart, funny, ambitious, opinionated, tenacious and yes, just a little bit annoying in her idealism. But perhaps most importantly, I love her because she doesn’t apologize for being any of those things.
She’s a great role model for women and girls, and hell, everyone.
She’s also a proud feminist and so am I.
The fact that I identify as a “feminist” shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve said it probably hundreds of times before and one of my blog’s categories is literally “All the Cool Kids are Feminists”. It has been a category for years.
So this isn’t a new thing for me, what is new is this feeling I’ve had lately (that I am by no means proud of) that I shouldn’t say I’m a feminist.
That I shouldn’t say it because it might offend someone, because they might not understand.
People are not liking the word “feminist” lately.
When I hear the “F word” I think of someone who advocates for the equality of all people. (With that in mind, here’s a link to a old, but good article that explains intersectional feminism far better than I ever could.)
When other people hear the word “feminist” they seem to hear “man-haters” or “whiners” or “Trump haters” or for some reason I really don’t understand “ugly, women who don’t shave their armpits.”
I’ll talk a little about these definitions.
But first I want to be clear about where I’m coming from when I say I’m a feminist.
I think a big part of why, as a society, we seem to have a hard time relating to each other lately is that we’re not even working with the same definitions of words.
We assume we know what someone means whey they say they’re a feminist or a Republican or a Christian or a supporter of Black Lives Matter.
We see a label and ascribe a definition to it – based on what we think it means, not based on what the person we’re talking to thinks it means. We make assumptions. (And we all know what they say about assumptions.)
Basically, we’ve become big fans of oversimplification lately. (Or maybe we have always been big fans of it but I just didn’t notice until now.)
But oversimplification doesn’t work because if there is one thing people are not — it’s simple.
People are confusing. They’re complicated. They are sometimes contradictory and frequently frustrating.
And though, on the surface that may seem like a negative thing, if you look a little deeper you can see it’s actually a good thing. Because people are complicated – that means their views are complicated too. That means things aren’t always black and white. That means there is usually more agreement and overlap in ideas than we give ourselves credit for.
Lately, it seems like if you say you’re a supporter of one thing, people automatically assume you’re against something else.
For example, if I say I’m a feminist (aka pro-women in this example) that must mean I’m against men. If I say I’m a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, that must mean I hate cops. If I say I’m not a fan of Trump that must mean I’m a whiny Hillary supporter who is just complaining because my candidate lost.
Sorry, it’s just not that simple. Life’s not that simple. People are not that simple.
Because, the thing is, I can be a feminist and love men and women. I can support Black Lives Matter while still believing that our law enforcement professionals are an incredibly important part of our society and we should value their work more. I can be a critic of Trump and Hillary.
People are complicated so we have to try harder to understand where they’re coming from and we have to try harder to communicate where we’re coming from too.
So here’s what I’m trying to say when I say I’m a feminist:
I’m saying that I believe traditional gender roles are limiting for everyone and there’s still more work to be done in terms of achieving full equality.
Emma Watson (aka Hermione) explained the problem with traditional gender roles much more eloquently than I ever could in her speech to the United Nations in 2014. (It’s an old video and a long video, but it has an important message which I also wrote about at the time.)
She starts the speech by talking about what I’m going to talk about now – that “feminism” is not “man-hating.”
I don’t understand this misconception. If anything, I think feminism does a better job of honoring men than sexism does.
In a sexist world – things are pretty simple, by design. Men and women fit into very rigid gender roles that tell us what it is acceptable for each gender to do and be. (Also, it goes without saying, this is a very hetero-normative worldview.)
We all know these rules. We’re taught them from an early age. Men are to be smart, strong, ambitious, career-minded, brave and aggressive. Women are to be gentle, friendly, sweet, selfless, moral and focused on caring for others.
These roles or rules give both genders a raw deal. Because we’re all capable of being all of these things and we should all be free to be these things without judgement.
As a feminist, I believe that men and women are equally capable of making good decisions and treating others with kindness. That is the opposite of man-hating.
If anything, sexism hates men, or if not hates them, definitely thinks they’re dumb or less capable of basic decency than women.
Sexism operates under the idea that men’s bad behavior is something that can be explained away wholly by their gender. That’s why sayings like “Boys will be boys” are so popular. That’s why when men talk about sexual assaulting women we hear people talk about it as “locker room talk” that every man does.
Sexism teaches us that this behavior is a normal and it should be expected and tolerated because that’s just the way men are. It teaches us that men aren’t capable of being decent human beings and it’s up to women to preserve the moral integrity of society. That’s why women have to have stricter dress codes because you know how men are, always thinking with their penises.
Ummm no. Men are smarter than that. They’re better than that.
Not all men view women as solely sexual objects. Not all men sexually harass women. Not all men talk about harassing women in locker rooms. Some men just change in locker rooms and talk about normal stuff like people do, because some men are nice.
The average man is good and decent and that’s the way feminism views him.
I don’t think I’m more capable of making good choices than my male counterparts simply because I’m a woman – I think we’re equal.
That’s sort of the point.
Okay, now we’ve reached another point where I’ve seen a lot of disagreement lately particularly among women.
Please let me explain where I’m coming from.
When I say I’m a feminist, I’m not saying that I don’t think men and women are equally capable. As I’ve explained, I do.
I am not saying men and women don’t have equal opportunities. In many ways, we do. We’ve come a long way.
Yes, we have the right to vote. Yes we have the right to pursue the careers of our choosing. Yes, we even have the right to be president.
But you don’t have to stop believing in something just because you’ve achieved some of your goals.
Life is more complicated than that. Equality is more complicated than that.
And we’re not equal yet.
Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women are not equally represented in politics, business or entertainment.
These three groups shape our country’s laws and provide us with the products and media that are a large part of our daily lives.
And, just math-wise, it’s clear there’s not equality here.
- It’s 2017, our country is roughly 240 years old and we’ve never had a female president. (This isn’t a pro-Hillary thing. I’m just saying it’d be nice of we had a lady in the White House at some point.)
- There are only 20 women in the Senate out of 100 senators.
- Since 1917, when representative Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to serve in Congress, 325 women have served as U.S. representatives, delegates or senators. (That may seem like a lot until you remember that Congress has 535 members and it’s been 100 years since 1917).
- Roughly 20 Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. Yeah, just 20.
- Women made up 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic movies in 2016.
There’s still work to be done.
And that touches on another complaint I’ve seen about feminism – that women who call themselves feminists want to be handed things. That they’re lazy. That they’re whiners.
Maybe that’s what some of them are saying, but I don’t think that’s what most of them are saying and that’s certainly not the brand of feminism I support.
And, it’s not the kind Leslie Knope would support either. I don’t know Leslie, because yeah, she’s not real, but I’d imagine she’d be behind the “let’s get to work” brand of feminism.
So what does that mean?
To me, it means supporting other women (particularly politicians, if I agree with their policies). It means supporting the work of female directors and other women who make good entertainment about smart, strong, female characters. It means working with young girls to let them now that they are capable of being anything they want to be.
And it means, not tearing other women down.
Which is one of the saddest things I’ve seen come out of the recent debate about feminism.
I’ve seen women who don’t identify with the feminist ideology saying that feminists have attacked them, saying feminists have called them a disgrace to women or something similar.
That’s not what feminism is about and if people calling themselves feminists did that to you or made you feel that way, I’m sincerely sorry. But please know these people don’t represent feminism as a whole and they don’t represent me.
But then I’ve seen people on the other side, people who don’t identify themselves as feminists, imply that feminists are lazy, or whiners or ugly girls who are just sad they can’t get a date.
This is equally sad and it needs to stop.
The name-calling needs to stop.
Because if Mean Girls taught us anything, it’s that this type of behavior is the freaking worst.
It’s “girl on girl crime” and it doesn’t help any of us. Here’s a video of Tina Fey, I mean, Ms. Norbury, talking about it. And yeah, the video’s long but it has a good point.
We’re all better off when we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down and Galentine’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate that.
P.S. You can also celebrate but giving to some neat organizations for woman and girls.
P.P.S. I know it’s annoying that I keep plugging charities, but I don’t care because sometimes a little annoying is good for us. Leslie taught me that.