Something about this piece at Delusions of Equality really resonated with me — and I’m not entirely sure why, because it doesn’t describe my experience as a young not-yet-feminist. While I couldn’t pull off girly-girl convincingly or hide my good grades, my desperate efforts were definitely in the direction of conforming. I tried to act normal. (This was two decades prior to my diagnosis as Clinically Abnormal.) I tried to follow fashion. I hung out with guys in carefully unoffensive yet girly casual outfits and talked about having more guy friends than girlfriends because girls were too dramatic and emotional. (This wasn’t true; I treasured my female friends. It was just a Thing to Say.)
In college, I wasn’t a feminist. I believed in women’s equality, a woman’s right to choose, and birth control on demand. I objected to the gender wage gap and supported extended maternity leave. I believed in gay marriage. Without undue pressure I would acknowledge that I believed all the things feminists believe but I just wasn’t a feminist because, y’know, I wasn’t one of them. I shaved my legs and wore skirts and high heels and makeup. I wore a bra. I didn’t think men were evil. I wasn’t angry and shouty. You know, like feminists. (I don’t remember when I stopped believing that, really. This would be a great opportunity to recount some poignant conversion tale, but I don’t recall having one.)
I do understand that plenty of people have perfectly valid reasons not to call themselves feminists (not that it’s my job to validate anyone’s reasons). But mine were baloney. They were based on false premises, which were based on not knowing anyone who self-described as a feminist, which was based on my false premises that would make a feminist sound like an unpleasant person to know. And I suppose that’s what really struck home with me about the Delusions of Equality examination of internalized sexism.
‘Me??? I’m not one of THOSE girls! See, I’m almost one of you! You can take me and my opinions seriously! They are not clouded by my femaleness, they are not diluted by layers of makeup, I don’t have time for all these superficial things, I promise!
Except I, of course, did have the layers of makeup; my defense of being “almost one of you” and “you can take me and my opinions seriously” was to not express my opinions and to wear just enough makeup to come across as feminine and unthreatening.
The post also quotes Ariel Levy, of whom I’m not generally a quoter but there is this:
“Attacking femaleness, deriding ‘girly’ stuff, rolling your eyes at ‘women’s issues’, declaring yourself a ‘tomboy’ who gets along better with men because women are silly or pretty or whatever — these are expressions of internalized sexism. If that’s the way you feel about your own sex, you’ll be doomed to feel inferior no matter what you achieve in life.”
So while “I’m not one of those girls” for me referred both to girly-girls (kind of) and to hairy-legged feminists (pretty much), it still pitted me against women. And while I didn’t know it at the time, that’s what made me not a feminist, not any specific objection to the (apocryphal) burning of bras.
And not only is it disloyal: it’s dangerous also. It creates a divide between the “good” and the “bad” girls. Between those who are to be taken seriously and those whose opinions can be dismissed. Between the “rational” and the “hysteric.” And, between those who behaved prim and proper and those who “had it coming.” In times, in which the whole world discusses whether binge drinking at a party actually equals consent, in times in which it is actually necessary to stage Slut Walks and hammer it into peoples’ heads that the person responsible for a rape is… (drum roll) the rapist and not (surprise!) the victim, for wearing a short dress, for exercising her right to walk public spaces, for previously having fun, this is hazardous.
Anyway, what I’m saying is… sorry for college, I guess.