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My Feminism is Not a Novelty

My Feminism is Not a Novelty

I am a feminist. I have not yet reached the point where I have become so disillusioned with “the movement” that I disavow association with that “F” word. I believe that I deserve the same opportunities as men. I do not believe I am a lesser person, less competent, less intelligent, less worthy of respect solely based on my femaleness. What has become for some a derogatory label in recent years, I still wear with pride. Without my feminist foremothers, I could not vote, own property, practice law, effectively decide the size of my family, etc. American women owe a lot to feminism, whether they admit it or not. Nevertheless, I admit to finding myself bristling — and rolling my eyes — at much of what passes for feminism today.

My feminism is not a novelty. It is not a pink knitted pussyhat, a crudely drawn uterus, or a clever phrase on a cardboard sign. It is not being called “sister” by a woman who has never met me, yet claims to speak on my behalf. My feminism does not involve being a part of a self-affirming clique masquerading as a suffrage movement.

In addition to the silliness, a message of victimhood has replaced the message of strength, and I’m not alone in my fatigue as a feminist tired of this crop of whiny women:

The zeitgeist of feminism today is awash in junior high-level frivolity, a mandate that I must be BFFs with all other women, suffer the indignity of marching in the streets –– or the hallways of the Senate — wearing ridiculous costumes, and engage in a rah rah sisterhood that is based on nothing but common genitalia (and sometimes, not even that). These breathless, slapstick antics do nothing to help women be taken seriously, either professionally or in society in general.

Yet I still call myself a feminist, because I am underestimated and minimized based on the fact that I am female. In a room with two male attorneys, I was once instructed by opposing counsel to “take a note”, as though I were a secretary and not a professional equal. In my former position as an associate for a male attorney, before even opening my mouth to speak, I was mistaken for his paralegal, or even receptionist, on more occasions that I can remember. I dislike being condescended to based upon my gender, when I am as just as capable as- and often more so than- my male colleagues. I dislike that I must work twice as hard as a man to be seen as intelligent and competent. I resent that I am judged harshly as a mother because of my career, and because my husband does more of the housework than I do. I hate that I am still seen as a novelty “lady lawyer”, even though women now make up the majority of law students. So I still identify as feminist, because I think these things are bullshit.

Anyone who knows me would agree that I am something of a social justice warrior. I don’t mean to suggest that the work of feminism is finished, that protests are unwarranted or inherently a waste of time. I have cheered along the #metoo movement (albeit with some critique). And I would be lying if I said I don’t worry that reproductive rights are threatened. It’s for these very reasons that I cringe at the theatrics and the chicken-littleism that has dominated the modern wave: I still want these issues to be taken seriously.

The recent iteration of schoolyard feminism employs a “boys have cooties” mentality that I cannot abide. We need not push down men or demand they be less in order to bolster ourselves. My feminism includes the freedom to acknowledge the biological differences between men and women without assuming a hierarchy of worth. If one feels the need to lower the stature of men in order to elevate that of women, one is essentially agreeing that the natural state of things is that women are beneath men. I don’t. I do believe that the culture at large does an overly robust job of convincing men they are superior; I don’t believe the antidote to that is to knock them down to size by denigrating them as a lowlier sex.

One need not decry men for being men in order to be a feminist. I don’t bristle at male kindness, be it an opened door, a complimentary meal, or — dare I say it — an offer of mentorship. I am not a lesser feminist because I value strength and protectiveness in a man. And I find it to be a contradiction within feminist theory, this idea that masculinity is the problem to be solved. Feminism is founded on the correct and worthwhile premise that women are not secondary to men, and there is bias to be fought where women are mistreated, believed inferior, or thought incapable based solely on their sex. But if we seek equality, then we should not decry those with whom we claim to be equal as unworthy or “bad”. If we do, then what are we saying when we ask for equality?

It is the message of feminism that women are strong, smart, and capable, forces to be reckoned with. But it also appears to be the message of feminism that women are silly, childish creatures in need of protection, elevation, and special privilege. Both cannot be absolutely true. I choose the former.

The work of feminism is to teach society and new generations that women are not inferior because they are women, and stamp down laws and practices that assume or operate otherwise. That’s it. 1 It is not to elevate women above the other half of the population. It is to to establish an equal playing field, not an upper hand. It is about advocating for women to have opportunity and choices (and if that choice is a traditional role of wife and mother, that choice is as valid as my own.) It is not to to be a caricature of womanhood. You will not be taken seriously when you make a mockery of yourself.

I’ll probably always call myself the F word, but that doesn’t mean I must be BFFs with every woman, consider masculinity the enemy, or wear ridiculous costumes. I’ll continue to advocate for equality. I will be a champion for the dignity of women everywhere, but I’ll do so without sacrificing my own.

  1. I acknowledge the importance of intersectional feminism; when I say “that’s it”, I mean it with regard to traditional goals of feminism. []

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Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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90 thoughts on “My Feminism is Not a Novelty

  1. Wait a minute. You could still have owned property as a fem sole. However, you’re married so you would probably have been a fem covert. But that’s cool too. “Shhh… I’m a fem covert on a secret mission.”

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    • That’s straight Blackstone.
      Changes to divorce law occurred in a wave of court reform in the early 1800’s, which removed divorce from the exclusive jurisdiction of the legislature to permit courts to grant divorce.
      I came across a few things in my studies which showed how incredibly inept reliance on Barber v. Barber (1859) really is.
      Statutory law governed in most instances. Indiana was the divorce capital of the U.S. in the early 1800’s. In Illinois, a woman could sue her husband for divorce and upkeep without the benefit of a next friend.
      Also, England amended their divorce laws considerably in 1859.

      All of which shows that Feminism, writ large, is rife with factual inconsistencies and subsequent errors; and that it is rather ignorant of the largest part of them (as opposed to actual ‘resilience,’ which would imply acknowledging an error).
      There is a qualitative difference in the error written into the academic work far different from that of, say, W.E.B. DuBois’ Marxist interpretation of the Civil War. I find the latter valuable in spite of its factual errors, but playing loose with the facts tends to detract considerably from the feminist texts, IMHO.

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      • There’s all sorts of interesting things in such laws. When a natural born British woman married an American husband she was no longer a British subject, although she could restore that status upon his death. In contrast, when an natural born American woman married a British husband she retained her US citizenship. The British public generally assumed we followed the same rules they did, and so they didn’t think Winston Churchill’s mother was a US citizen, but under US law she still was.

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        • Sometimes, American laws can be fairly liberal by comparison.
          To my knowledge, England still does not have no-fault divorce.

          One of the more interesting divorce cases I’ve seen was that the subject of the Petticoat Affair, involving Tennessee going from Virginia law to federal law, Ohio to territorial law (or it may have been from territorial to state law– memory fails), as well as some changes in Mississippi law.
          I thought family law was generally dull until then.

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  2. Like most things I think that culture has taken a front seat to policy. Believing that women should have autonomy and equality under the law doesn’t require adherence to a very specific set of sensibilities and seemingly contradictory just so stories, even if it does depend on rejecting a handful of ideas (like the belief that a woman’s place is in the home).

    Why the feminist vanguard insists on an approach that seems so self-defeating is puzzling to me. But I suppose it isn’t my movement and if others want to fetishize weakness and silly jokes that’s their call. All I can say is that I hope the majority of the women I interact with professionally who, at least by their actions, seem to reject that stuff have the better of the fight.

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    • Well, I think the underlying problem in a lot of “movements” is that, unlike wars, they don’t exact a heavy toll on the participants, so the leaders can make a living by keeping the movement going forever even though the initial goals were reached quite quickly. If Union generals had gotten tenure at universities, and if sleeping in tents and carrying packs wasn’t so burdensome, they would’ve kept the Northern army in the South while arguing that [licking stamps | doing dishes | washing a car | owning a goldfish] is a form of slavery that must be fought by upping their salaries.

      To keep the followers energized, a movement’s leaders have to constantly make up new goals or conjur imagined offences. Leaders who decide that the goal has been reached quit being leaders and go do something else, leaving in charge only those who want to push even farther. Eventually this leads to crazy land, or going to war with East Asia.

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      • It’s not an unreasonable point, but the supporting example is obviously very off-base. Continued army presence in the South is exactly what did happen after the war, and for damn good reason. The problem was the generals/leaders eventually deciding, what with the KKK and other forms of collective resistance, that pushing back on the apartheid wasn’t worth the fight.

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  3. More than a few times my HS daughter has volunteered that she is not a feminist. I mansplained that what she probably meant was that she wasn’t “that kind of feminist,” because I’ve heard that phrase countless times in my life. But she wasn’t really buying it, the only people she knows that use the word are apparently obnoxious, including one of her teachers. I wouldn’t predict the demise of the term from any of this, but it is interesting that words can change over time, there is a collective process that individuals participate in, but cannot control.

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    • I remember hearing a lot of the sort of things that your daughter said about 20 years ago (when I was her age or a bit older), sometimes from peers, and definitely a lot in the media.

      There was definitely a bit of a pendulum swing away from feminism and a lot of other things associated with social liberalism and “political correctness”, but now, here we are 20 years later and the pendulum has definitely swung back the other way. I expect to be seeing backlashes and counter-backlashes and counter-counter-backlashes for the rest of my life at this point.

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      • Yeah, I think there are such thing as cycles, but to be raising teenagers is to be reminded of a certain deep well of skepticism about how adults explain the world, particularly if it isn’t rooted in their own experience. They also watch what people do and compare it with what people say. And borrowing from Atomic Geography, there are probably class issues embedded here as well. If the parents are co-parents, sharing responsibilities, and if the school is proactive on expecting students to respect each other, then it seems like there have been social changes that make feminism less germane, at least to that class.

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    • I see that from a lot of young women too, especially from those who are conservative or Republican. It is sad really, especially when they are professionals or very politically active. It is such a cognitive dissonance, and I think the silliness, victimhood mentality, and man-hating I reference is to blame for their distancing themselves from it.

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  4. It is the message of feminism that women are strong, smart, and capable, forces to be reckoned with. But it also appears to be the message of feminism that women are silly, childish creatures in need of protection, elevation, and special privilege.

    I agree, but I think that paragraph could just as easily be rewritten as

    “It is the message of [society] that [men] are strong, smart, and capable, forces to be reckoned with. But it also appears to be the message of [society] that [men] are silly, childish creatures in need of protection, elevation, and special privilege.”

    and it would be just as true. I call myself a feminist because I think “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people” really is the core of it. But people are a mixed bag when it comes to serious/silly, capable/childish, etc.

    Our culture has multiple conflicting messages about what it means to be male or female or any other category you wish to name (including straight white male). There are a lot of Americans and people in the Western World in general, so there are also a plethora of opinions and theories and ways of representing them. Including protesting in pink hats and/or silly outfits. I’ll scold other feminists for pussy hats when people on the right scold Tea Party types for their costumes, because in both cases the costume was part of the point – drawing attention through the street theatre version of protest. I’m not a marcher since I hate crowds, so that isn’t my preferred manner of protest, but I understand it’s utility and effectiveness.

    I will criticize putting men down as an entire class. There are plenty of things to criticize about how we define masculinity, but those should be approached in the same way feminists have approached the critique of traditional definitions of femininity: in terms of the harm those concepts do. And in many cases the greatest harm there is done to the men and boys pressured to conform to those standards. The ‘Iron John’ tough guy idea keeps so many from seeking help or even expressing positive emotion. The fight for maternity leave and benefits should always have been for paternal leave and benefits, and included supporting men who would rather be more domestic or be the primary caregiver for children. Girls are allowed to be smart now, but boys still get labeled nerds if they’re bookish, wimps if they’re not jocks. I am a feminist as much because I care about my son as because I care about my daughter.

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  5. bookdragon: Girls are allowed to be smart now, but boys still get labeled nerds if they’re bookish, wimps if they’re not jocks. I am a feminist as much because I care about my son as because I care about my daughter.

    That’s an excellent point!
    And thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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  6. I think the performative male bashing serves a lot of the same purposes that performative white bashing serves in similar social contexts.[1] Which isn’t to say that it’s good, but that it serves a variety of purposes, some of which may be hard to dispense with.

    In particular, it’s not so much virtue signaling from women saying it [2,3] but an invitation to men in their presence (virtual or literal) to engage in such signaling by not getting riled by it.

    [1] Apologies for linking to one of my own comments, but all my attempts at writing something longer get endlessly delayed and derailed by my pathological urge towards procrastination.

    [2] Men are another story, when they actually engage in it themselves.

    [3] Virtue signaling should be such a useful concept, but it’s been mostly coopted by annoying people to mean something that has nothing to do with signaling.

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    • I was just going to post the Jonathan Miller skit, but I’m afraid the point will be a bit too inaccessible that way. So a bit more explanation.

      I don’t at all get who, precisely, the OP is talking about, as it seems to be somewhere between caricature and a wave of the hand in a general direction, accompanied by the phrase, “those people,” so I hesitate to comment directly on it lest it slip out from beneath any criticism. So instead I’ll target this comment, which I find much clearer. I think there’s a tendency by people outside of what a couple years ago might have been called “SJW” circles, though that label is rarely used today except by the most fascist of conservatives, that people who are even moderately radical in their sociocultural views aren’t being sincere, and while I understand the cynicism, I think this is not only unfair to them, but a good way of avoiding any critique of culture and society.

      In this case, I think sorts of constructions you’re talking about are not only perfectly normal, but intentionally play on a couple aspects of language to produce the desired effect. That is, I think the semantics of constructions like “white people do…” or “men are…” or whatever, are valid and in fact fairly normal semantics, not meaning all men or all white people. However, the people who use those constructions are well aware (even if they don’t quite understand it in this way) of the pragmatics involved, which will cause people to interpret “white people are” as “all white people are,” even though semantically that’s not what they’ve said, and that tension between, the push and pull between the semantics and pragmatics, will cause many people to actually ask, “does this refer to me?” Which is the point! To get people to look at themselves. It works really well. So well, in fact, that people who are inclined to be offended by such generalizations only when they include themselves will, in fact, be offended, because the implications of the pragmatics will overwhelm the semantics.

      In short: Bertrand Russell isn’t asking if all apples are in the basket when he says “are there apples in that basket,” and that’s why both the joke works and statements like “White people are…” work.

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      • I believe this might be more relevant in other contexts, where the third-party relating of concepts takes a form more tending toward citation.

        As far as I can tell, the concern stated in the OP is not one of the form of expression, but of the content; specifically, the position of the speaker as implied by that content.
        There seems to be agreement on which enemy to fire upon, but vigorous dissent as to which hill to fire from.
        The disagreements in world-view arise from differences in self-concept, and it is the self-concept which is rejected.
        However broad or narrow the terms are which state the self-concept rejected is irrelevant.

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        • Yes, and I’m arguing that the speaker’s position is not actually addressed in the article. Rather, the hearer’s position and how it influences the hearer’s perception of not only the utterance but of the utterer, are what’s actually driving the beef at the heart of the post. When Twitter feminists, for example, say something like, “men do X,” or “men are Y,” they aren’t saying that all men do X, or that all men are Y, but that it is men (by and large, or even exclusively) who do X, or who are Y, perhaps with some implied conditions (e.g., “it is men who do X with the sorts of privilege behind it that makes X harmful”). The power of the utterance lies in the fact that its generalness will cause the those who hear it to look at themselves. Some people will see this as a perhaps angry but constructive way of speaking, while others will see it as angry and prejudiced, and lash out in response.

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          • Would it be a fair paraphrase to say that your point is, basically, that inapt semantics projects abrasiveness, perpetuation of victimhood, et al., where these are not the original position of the speaker?

            If so, I can see how that might happen incidentally; but I think there needs to be more support to justify granting such a reading for messaging over the long-term.
            Surely the speaker would have had a chance to correct for misunderstandings over a period of time.

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            • My point is fairly specific: we use utterances like “X are Y,” by which we do not mean “All X are Y,” in all sorts of contexts in which the pragmatic baggage, that is, the baggage that comes with talking about race or gender, is not present, and we have no problem with such utterances. However, when we stop talking about social categories, particularly those associated with issues of power and privilege, the baggage overwhelms the basic semantics, either momentarily, for those who quickly examine themselves, or permanently, for those who decide that the utterance is one of prejudice (e.g., the writer of the OP).

              Put simply: there are two meanings, one of which is entirely attached to the utterance by those who receive it in bad faith, and I don’t think we should fault the speaker for the listeners bad faith.

              I do think, as Pillsy notes, that there’s a “gets me clicks” element to this, but that element exists precisely because everyone knows that a bunch of people will read it in bad faith, which will create a backlash, which will get clicks.

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              • :
                there are two meanings, one of which is entirely attached to the utterance by those who receive it in bad faith, and I don’t think we should fault the speaker for the listeners bad faith.

                First, this does not coincide with the modern communications model; and secondly, this beggars direct experience.

                Six Step Communication Model:
                *SENDER* [encodes a message] and [sends a message], after which the *RECEIVER* [receives a message] and [decodes the message], within a field of [feedback] and [noise].
                Your point here is that bad faith may mar the decoding of the message into something the sender would never intend, if I am reading correctly.
                So, operating over the long-term, the sender is then tone deaf to all feedback to the effect of the relative ease of misunderstanding the message; i.e., the sender is deliberately mis-communicating.

                Objection #2 involves contentious reasoning undertaken in good faith on the part of the sender, resulting in insistence on receiving poorly formed arguments, then faulting the receiver for not accepting the faulty logic as sound.
                Examples include unstated premises of value judgments, and severe mis-readings of Lakoff (insisting that long conversations are carried on with discourse communities of which both the sender and receiver are entirely unaware or uninvolved; e.g., that no person can say “broad jump” without, at some level, communicating in Raymond Chandler-speak to invoke a negative form of a woman).
                We’ll get to that after we finish up the communications model.

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        • I don’t think the implication is that men are unworthy of equality, but it’s a common inference drawn by people who aren’t really part of the discussion. Sometimes the intent is (AFAICT) to deliberately alienate those people, while other times it is intended to provoke the kind of reflection is talking about, and still other times it’s just venting.

          It basically isn’t ever meant quite so literally.

          That doesn’t make it good; there are definitely serious downsides to that kind of discourse, not least of which is alienating a lot of people.

          But it does serve a purpose, and that purpose isn’t all harvesting viral clicks.

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          • From my studies, this is one of the basic disagreements of feminism, whether harm to men is justified, and, if so, how much and when.
            There are several different strains of thought under the umbrella of feminism.
            Some of them seem to have little in common.

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      • That is, I think the semantics of constructions like “white people do…” or “men are…” or whatever, are valid and in fact fairly normal semantics, not meaning all men or all white people. However, the people who use those constructions are well aware (even if they don’t quite understand it in this way) of the pragmatics involved, which will cause people to interpret “white people are” as “all white people are,” even though semantically that’s not what they’ve said, and that tension between, the push and pull between the semantics and pragmatics, will cause many people to actually ask, “does this refer to me?” Which is the point! To get people to look at themselves.

        White people are prone to respond to this sort of thing with all sorts of “whatabouts”, though. “Whatabout when we say ‘Black People Are’ or ‘Irish People Are’?”

        They don’t understand the difference in how the what-we-used-to-call-SJWs respond to these statements that are only identical if all you care about is the skin-deep.

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  7. I am a feminst. I understand feminism to be a set of ideas, rather than an identity. There are many who would make it an identity, and set themselves up as arbiter of the boundaries. They would like to be the bouncer at the entry to the club.

    I possess the qualities that make me the bete noir of feminism as well, since I am an old, cishet white man. I will often see comments that bash the likes of me as being antithetical to feminism. Generally, I ignore them, since it’s a no-win situation. I have a bit darker view of these comments and the interaction it inspires.

    If I were to object, it put the speaker in a bind. If they heeded me, they would become subordinate to a man. Since this is public, or at least among their friends and acquaintances, this might seem to them as a betrayal of feminism or at least weakness. So they will resist as a demonstration that they are capable of ignoring the needs of a man. This is only made stronger when women become aware of the conditioning they often receive from a very early age to put a mans needs first. My objection provides them with an opportunity to show themselves liberated from such training.

    So I generally ignore such comments, even though they do bother me. They particularly bother me when the come from the fingers of women who are highly educated and otherwise privileged. Women who really ought to know better.

    Pussy hats are the least of my worries, though I’m not likely to be wearing one soon.

    Anyway, feminism is not a club, it’s a set of ideas, a set of very worthwhile ideas. It has meant more freedom for myself, not just the women around me, as indicates.

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  8. I am a feminist as much because I care about my son as because I care about my daughter.

    There are times I worry about Bug, because he is bookish and not into team sports. I’m hoping I can convince him, as he gets older, to get active in gymnastics and/or swimming, because he loves both, and that should deflect the worst of the teasing and bullying I faced as a kid.

    Or maybe I’m worried about nothing, he’s only 6…

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    • I found the best way to avoid bullying from jocks, was to avoid jocks. Better to not compete in sports at all, than to regularly arrange to be in the company of bullies, if indeed a particular sports team or league has bullies in its ranks. I can’t imagine that regularly putting myself on the football field or in the locker room with the football goons, would have made my high school life in any way better.

      Not that participating in sports is a bad idea – all kinds of great things about sports of course, as long as the environment isn’t a toxic one.

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        • We did have mandatory phys ed until grade 10, yes. In phys ed, the jocks were at least about the same minority of the class as they were of the student body as a whole. If I’d joined a sports team, in the unlikely event that I made it past tryouts, they’d have been the majority in that setting.

          That said – I was fortunate to attend a high school without a big all-pervasive athletics culture or an especially bad bullying problem.

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          • In my high school, the jocks either had first or last hour PE, so it could be blended in with practice. Most non-jocks wouldn’t be near the gyms at the same time as the jocks. But to borrow from the Breakfast Club, it wasn’t really Andrew, the jock, that harassed Brian’s nerdy friend, it was John, the rebel.

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    • When my son was in high school, he wasn’t into any afterschool activities at all. We insisted he pick something, and he chose the cross-country team, because he knew a few people on it and they didn’t cut anyone for performance. (The way it’s scored, only the best N times for a team matter, and you’re not penalized for having any number of slower runners too.) It worked out great. It’s not a sport that lends itself to bullying, there were lots of kids that weren’t jocks, he made some very good friends, and as a bonus, during the season he was in amazing shape; each practice they would run five miles or more. He’d still complain if when we went shopping I didn’t park in the very closest spot, of course.

      Man, I do not miss having teenagers.

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      • That was the one sport I did in high school – as you say, if you didn’t do great you weren’t letting anyone down so that cut down on the tension. It was a pretty chill group of people to be around. Then I moved over into theatre, marijuana, and general minor troublemaking.

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    • Well, I’m ambivalent about sports because they foster dependence on teammates and coaches. It’s just more layers of socialization to keep boys from really excelling. So what if they succeed at it? They might get a trophy (or in exceptional cases like Tim Tebow, the ability to date several Miss Universes), but that’s about it. They’ll be taught to follow rules enforced by men in zebra stripes, and to be a good cog in a machine that’s in pursuit of a meaningless victory that will be forgotten in weeks.

      To me, this is lower a child’s ambition and potential. Instead, if I had a son I would give him role models who don’t play by the rules, and who get 130 foot tall statues, like Genghis Khan. Genghis didn’t play soccer, though he may have played polo with the bodies of his enemies. His parents taught him the life skills to cause so much crushing mayhem that his name remains a household word almost a thousand years after he took to the field. Because they taught those lessons, they got hundreds of thousands of grand children, not just the handful modern American parents are content with. Did Genghis care that there parenting affected his social development? He didn’t have to care because he made the rest of the world terrified of his lack of social development. Now that’s winning.

      You see, each precious child has the potential for slaughtering and enslaving millions in world conquest, or at least conquering China, central Asia, and most of the Middle East, so why would any parent try to limit that potential by aiming their kids lower, toward organized sports?

      And it’s not just for boys. Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent role model for girls. The lesson is to win, win at all costs, no matter how many die so your child can establish dominance, assert absolute rule, and put the population to work building giant statues of your child.

      Sure, there are some “prepper” parents out there teaching their kids how to get through the apocalypse, but a better parent would be teaching their child how to be the apocalypse that the other kids are trying to survive.

      And there are many great role models besides Genghis Khan that you can point to: Caesar, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Tamerlane, Cortez, or Stalin. Or if they’re more intellectual, have them read Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Machiavelli.

      Aim high, and give your child big dreams. It’s not toxic masculinity, it’s a single-minded will to victory. Let your child grasp that victory and lead humanity through the fires and up from the ashes and desolation left in his/her/zir wake.

      *George Turner’s lack of children is possibly proof that a benevolent god is watching over us all.

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    • I always found that sports exacerbated the situation. At the middle and high school level, the local fiends who playact as coaches are worse than anything the other students can dish out. I’ll never understand how, “listen unquestioningly to this unstable rage machine who never bothered to leave his hometown” is supposed to impart important life lessons to teenagers. Although I suppose that situation might be different if your kid isn’t growing up in rural Appalachia.

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      • That’s why I was thinking about swim team or gymnastics (or martial arts), rather than sports that attract people trying to relive their high school glory days. Also, as far as I’m concerned, it’s less about the competitive aspect, and more about staying in shape and knowing how to move ones body.

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        • Anecdotes are not data, but… My son did club gymnastics from about fourth grade. One year he sprouted and was too tall to ever be really good at it. He kept up practice because he enjoyed it (also liked helping coach the little kids) so retained most of the upper body muscle mass. He told me once that at some point in high school when the jocks were starting to pick on the skinny kids, he made a point after a PE class of peeling off his t-shirt and stretching/flexing a bit. He said the jocks didn’t care where the muscles came from but would leave you alone if you bulged in the right places.

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          • I myself evaded high school PE by lettering at golf, and any problems with jocks by purchasing a letterman’s jacket to wear that letter on (protective coloration). Went to the Lettermen’s Club initial meeting and stood in the back of the room when I was a junior (protective coloration) and came out an officer. IIRC, the new president said, “Cain’s the treasurer. This year the f*cking checkbook will balance.” As a result of that, got to shake Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s hand when he was in Omaha training to defend his world boxing title and deliver a check for his personal charity. My recollections are: (a) he wasn’t as big as I thought he would be; (b) he smiled like he really meant it; and (c) he was taking pains to be sure he didn’t accidentally mangle my hand, or remove it from my arm.

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        • I can’t speak to swimming or gymnastics, but I’ve found combat sports coaches (wrestling included) are better in that aspect. I think it has something to do with the nature of combat sports. Everyone loses, eventually. When you do, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. People who can’t get over their ego and learn from it don’t last and never become good enough to coach. Also, everyone knows exactly how good and how dangerous they are and have nothing to prove. Plus, the non-striking arts (especially BJJ) can be lifelong endeavors. The only downside is the pseudo-science regarding fitness and nutrition that pervades the culture of these sports. A bad wrestling coach will grind kids into injured nubs over the course of a season.

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        • Let me give a plug for martial arts, if you can find a school with a sensei that is good with kids.

          When my son was 6 he had already largely decided he hated team sports, but he knew I had spent a long time in martial arts and asked to try it. I was still in the mode of running from home to daycare to work to daycare to home and then back to work once kids were down for the night, so had been out of it for awhile and didn’t have a dojo. His sister was taking TKD at the Y, but they didn’t have classes for anyone under 8 so I asked around and found a club with a ‘leopard cubs’ program. The instructor was fantastic – a cross between Mr. Miyagi and Robin Williams, who really related well to the kids and emphasized not only movement skills but character (in addition to belt levels, they earned colored stripes for displaying self discipline, respect for others, and self control).

          He has thrived there and at 14 is now in the leadership program helping with the classes for the little kids.

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  9. I don’t mind if people want to be silly, if it helps them persevere in hard circumstances. I am no pussy-hat knitter (or wearer) but I get the impulse and I’m cautious of dismissing a response to Trump’s election that valorizes the very softness and femininity that he so obviously scorns and dominates. I value the traditionally feminine and I’m wary of putting it down in any context, including the knitting of silly-seeming-to-me hats as a form of protest. Burning bras was silly, but it was also incredibly moving and empowering for many women who did so, or saw other people doing it.

    And I get being angry, and saying unfair, overstated things in one’s anger, too.

    What saddens and frustrates me is the people for whom careless, toxic anger has become their whole *brand*, and the culture that elevates and obsesses over said people, either in “support” or in condemnation. (To be precise, I’m not talking about clear-eyed anger, thoughtful anger, like that expressed in most of Ijeoma Oluo’s pieces, but rather the style of anger expressed by the hashtag you cite above.)

    It seems like those people are emulating the worst of what we’re seeking to overcome by being feminists in the first place, and the short-attention-span-loudest-voice culture is rewarding them for it, and letting the idea of a feminist be warped. I wish a tenth of the attention paid to folks like that was, instead, paid to people working to stop AIDS in Africa, or people working to counter fake ideas of what being disabled means, or …. any one of 80 million more valuable things we could be paying attention to.

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    • Thank you for articulating my thoughts much better than I could! There are always loud, obnoxious people within any movement, and it would be nice if their voices didn’t distract from those that are quietly making a difference.

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  10. In high school and college, many of my daughter’s friends described their retrograde ideas about feminism as “post-feminist”, justifying their embrace of stereotypical femininity as a personal choice with no political consequences. My wife would educate them about the continued need for feminist ideas and education, and would suggest that perhaps their middle class privileges were blinding them to the harsh realities that they would undoubtedly encounter in their near futures. And that their sheltered attitudes were possible only because of the efforts and sacrifice of their older sisters and brothers.

    She not only got away with all this, but opened a few minds, at least a bit. I think the educational response is worth considering when we encounter these attitudes.

    And in the spirit of education, I think it’s worth considering the origins of the pussy hat. From the Pussyhat Project:

    Pussyhat Project comes out of my personal story. You see, I am both a designer and a person with a disability. Four years ago, I sustained a life-altering head and neck injury that changed the way I view and interact with the world. Through my continuing recovery, I learned to crochet. I discovered the incredible knitting community, a community that welcomed me. Because of my disability, I was unable to march last year. And I desperately wanted to participate. I co-created Pussyhat Project (with Krista Suh) as an accessible platform for participation because I was not able to attend a women’s march in person.

    The Pussyhat Project is about giving visibility to the invisible and voice to the voiceless. Its beauty is that anyone, anywhere can participate. There are so many reasons why someone may not be able to march: medical, financial, or scheduling to name a few. Earlier this week I was sitting and knitting with a group of women at a home for the elderly. The residents have been knitting pussyhats for the Los Angeles March because, as one woman said, “I cannot march, but I can contribute.” With this project, many women are able to create something to support the women’s movement.

    Knitting a hat is one way to contribute. Another powerful way is creating and using safe spaces for constructive dialogue, listening, and reflection. If you make a Pussyhat in a group, we encourage talking about the women’s movement with your knitting circle. If you make a Pussyhat on your own, we encourage you to include with your generous gift of a Pussyhat a note sharing a women’s rights issue important to you. I have seen notes describing incredibly personal stories about sexual assault, as well as the crucial need for intersectionality in the women’s movement. If you wear a Pussyhat, you invite conversation.

    That many who wear pussyhats may be oblivious to all this is another opportunity for conversation.

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  11. From my observations, feminism like many things suffers from the human tendency to be inconsistent rather than consistent. Based on casual observations on what I see on my Facebook feed, it seems a few woman want to have what they see as the benefits of traditional gender relations but none of the disadvantages. I’ve seen more than a few posts on Facebook how every woman deserves what can basically be described as Prince Charming. Many of these women would be livid if a man posted something similar with the genders reversed.

    Many men are the same. They want the advantages of tradition but not the responsibilities that came along with it. The entire incel/PUA world view is about wanting women to be sexually subservient and inferior to men but not willing to adopt for themselves the parts of the traditional Western gender system that burdened men in theory, being a good provider, etc.

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  12. The weird inconsistent dual measure of feminism, women are strong/women are weak, might be a clumsy attempt to deal with the fact that the ideal and the reality don’t often meet. When divorce laws started to liberalize during the late 1960s and early 1970s, many feminists were against the idea of alimony, i.e. spousal support for ex-wives, because it implied that women could not support themselves without a man. All well and good in theory but with a big problem in reality. At the time divorce laws liberalized, many women were housewives and didn’t have much experience in the work place besides a few years after high school/college. This naturally meant divorce without alimony/spousal support meant poverty for the woman and her kids.

    So most women might be strong but there are a few women who are not. Why shouldn’t they be included in the feminist movement though? There isn’t any real rational, logical, or moral reason to exclude women that might need extra-help from the women’s movement if feminism claims to speak for all women. Therefore, an accommodation is needed and you get the dual message.

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  13. I think the main problem with feminism is its grasping toward pedigree by retaining the name “feminism” for several varieties of often-conflicting philosophies.
    If we could break down feminism into four or five different things, that might be more helpful.

    Personally, I thought I disliked feminism generally, until I studied some of the black feminists and found that most of them had been saying many of the things that I had been for quite awhile.
    It was quite pleasant to find a body of thought aligned with my own which had been fleshed out more thoroughly on some points while diverging on others. Tracing those paths was very informative.
    That said, I still find there is too much that I categorically reject to ever consider referring to myself as a “feminist.” There is too great of intolerance and questionable reasoning attached to the term. To embrace such a label would offend my sense of integrity.

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  14. The zeitgeist of feminism today is awash in junior high-level frivolity, a mandate that I must be BFFs with all other women, suffer the indignity of marching in the streets –– or the hallways of the Senate — wearing ridiculous costumes, and engage in a rah rah sisterhood that is based on nothing but common genitalia (and sometimes, not even that). These breathless, slapstick antics do nothing to help women be taken seriously, either professionally or in society in general.

    This stuff gets me as well. So much about contemporary wokeness puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on the performative. What bothers me so much isn’t that the performances bother me in themselves. It’s that any movement built on performances has a shelf life. This should concern anyone hoping to build a movement that can outlive the latest set of pop culture memes.

    I guess that we’ll see where all this takes us. I don’t think that there will be any major reactionary backlashes. The arrow of time points in one direction and social progress tends to align with that arrow. As far as I’m concerned, the real problem is that lots of people are sacrificing their mental health on the alter of opposition to this or that perceived outrage. Bad sh*t happens in the world. It always has. And it always will. Driving yourself mad in opposition to whatever the latest outrage happens to be is not in any way sustainable. You’ll run out of self-possession and sanity long before the universe is done showing you injustice.

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  15. I agree with this post, but here is one thing I might have put a little differently:

    We need not push down men or demand they be less in order to bolster ourselves. My feminism includes the freedom to acknowledge the biological differences between men and women without assuming a hierarchy of worth. If one feels the need to lower the stature of men in order to elevate that of women, one is essentially agreeing that the natural state of things is that women are beneath men.

    I do think men in a male-dominated (or patriarchal) society do lose something when the props of that society are challenged or eroded. In that sense, feminism of the sort you argue for (and that’s the type of feminism I claim to mostly believe in [1]) does (and ought to) “lower the stature of men in order to elevate that of women.” Eroding the existing hierarchy by definition erodes the stature of those who benefit from that hierarchy.

    I do, however, believe that eroding that hierarchy is the right thing to do. And in addition to being the right thing to do, men (or most men) benefit tremendously from it, if only by not having to live up to a version of toxic masculinity.

    Great post, Em. Thanks for writing it.

    [1] For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call Em’s feminism “liberal feminism.” That’s the type I find it very easy to sign on to. However, I do think I have something to learn from other types of feminism, such as feminism from a Marxist perspective, or from a “radical” (whatever that means), or from “post modern” (whatever that means) perspective. I don’t call myself an adherent to those types of feminism. And I see Em’s OP largely as a critique of those types of feminism, or the excesses some of their adherents engage in. But they do have a place in the discussion.

    ETA: I added a quotation mark to close a scare quote. I hate leaving unclosed quotation marks (or unclosed parentheses).

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    • Eroding the existing hierarchy by definition erodes the stature of those who benefit from that hierarchy.

      There are a number of underlying assumptions here, which I simply do not have time to unpack.
      Let’s just say that I find it difficult to believe that Rose Kennedy would be lower on the pecking order than Joe the Plumber.

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  16. The Feminism of my youth vs. the Feminism of today is a weird comparison.

    I was raised in a household that had some weird amalgam of 1st Wave and 2nd Wave feminism. All of the 1st wave stuff? Absolutely. Completely absorbed. The BS having to deal with women not being allowed to speak from the pulpit? Complete BS. (They made my mom stand off to the side in some churches, or stand on the floor or on the stairs leading up to the pulpit… but she couldn’t stand behind it.) Women having careers? Absolutely! Promiscuity? Abortion? Nope. Forget it. Birth control? Well, you know, Griswold v. Connecticut was a very important case and we should be glad we live in a country where this sort of thing isn’t the business of the government.

    So all of the 1st Wave, some of the 2nd Wave (but definitely *NOT* the rest of it).

    We were in a place where this point of view was liberal. Some even considered it transgressive.

    Now I’m in a place where it’s seen as transgressive but because it’s reactionary.

    What wave is the pussyhat thing? Late 3rd Wave? Early 4th?

    It’ll be reactionary someday. (If I’m lucky, in my lifetime.)

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        • My optimistic take (hope) is that the Scott Alexander post on politics and fashion is what’s really in play. Pillsy above mentions the pendulum. I was young enough to only be vaguely aware of the last PC panic in the early 90s and remember it mostly from the backlash in movies like PCU, etc. (thank you Comedy Central).

          The whole thing was at a really low ebb in the late 90s/early 2000s when I was in high school and college. A lot of today’s woke hot takes would’ve been considered shallow and offensive even by very liberal people. Maybe in 10-12 years this will also be a memory and it’ll be some real dumb right wing stuff in ascendant again.

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          • FWIW, I think a lot of the social justice activist hot-take culture is, itself, informed by a backlash against the self-consciously anti-PC stuff of the early ’00s, which was more or less ascendant.

            There are only so many ways to rebel in a culture where South Park and Family Guy are really mainstream.

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            • I think you’re right but it gets into really interesting questions about who the enemy actually is or should be. Like, the anti-PC humor pushed back not only on (popular representations of) PC culture but also on polite society in general. Look at the treatment of organized religion on South Park for example. Plenty of it also was just crude/gross out without any sort of political implications. Whatever was going on it wasn’t conservative in any traditional sense which is why I find the dynamic so perplexing, if that’s really the spark.

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    • It’ll be reactionary someday. (If I’m lucky, in my lifetime.)

      Maybe it already is.

      People who are “woke” in one sense or another generally do not feel like they are on the edge of a victory over all the traditionalist and/or bigoted forces in society. They generally feel the opposite. They wholly reject the idea, common in much of the country (for reasons that I only half understand myself), that the Left, or at least social liberals, have taken over all the power and all the institutions.

      They reject that idea for a lot of reasons. One of the most important is that it’s kind of ludicrous on its face, to the extent that I think it’s more interesting to ask why so many people believe such nonsense.

      But entangled with that ludicrousness is the global rise of the populist Right, which, you know, now controls at least one branch of the US federal government, as well as getting unnervingly popular. No matter where you come down on the phenomenon of pink pussy hats, they are protesting a guy getting elected to the Presidency after bragging on tape about, well, you know.

      This feeds into the #MeToo movement, where a lot of women were tolerating horrible (and even criminal) treatment in their day to day lives and perceived that the consequences for speaking up were prohibitive.

      And a lot of this performative stuff is transmitted through social media, and being a Left-leaning (or even not-so-Left-leaning) Extremely Online person really increases the likelihood of encountering seriously grotesque reactionary alt-right sorts, who, among all of their other manifest horriblenesses are almost uniformly grotesque misogynists.

      All of this adds up. And it does not add up to “comfort”.

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      • People who are “woke” in one sense or another generally do not feel like they are on the edge of a victory over all the traditionalist and/or bigoted forces in society. They generally feel the opposite. They wholly reject the idea, common in much of the country (for reasons that I only half understand myself), that the Left, or at least social liberals, have taken over all the power and all the institutions.

        This is one of the things that I find quite vexing. No, the left hasn’t taken over all the power and all the institutions, but counting education and the media, progressives do hold a couple of the most powerful ones. Acknowledging that would be the start to a more sane conversation. Conservatives still have pretty solid control of criminal justice and the military and most of the churches, but education and media are pretty central to the life of every American.

        Likewise, the thing that I find most insane about the whole Kaepernick thing is the number of conservatives who cannot countenance the mere possibility that police could be bigoted or acting in a way that overly victimizes certain people.

        As someone who doesn’t line up with Team Red or Team Blue, the thing that is glaring is the extent to which people have started acting as if the mere suggestion that they could be wrong about something marks the person making the suggestion as an enemy. The idea that everything that I presently believe is absolutely right and that everything that people who disagree with me believe is absolutely wrong is absurd. It’s a completely untenable position. And yet the number of people whose actions suggest that they hold this position is increasing.

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        • No, the left hasn’t taken over all the power and all the institutions, but counting education and the media, progressives do hold a couple of the most powerful ones. Acknowledging that would be the start to a more sane conversation.

          Yes, I would say the Left is the predominating influence on some institutions, the Right is the predominating influence on others, and some are contested. I might put media in the contested category, but I see where people who put it in the Left’s column are coming from.[1]

          A lot of managerial and professional class types have drifted into Team Blue over the years, where they used to be apolitical or Republicans. When I went into industry from academia I expected to find Republicans everywhere, and, um, not so much. I was a bit shocked by this, and I can imagine it would hit someone who had always thought that Big Business was “on their side” even harder.

          But the Right is really competitive when it comes to holding onto government power, and that goes a long way.

          [1] The Right has built up a set of parallel institutions here, and has tried to build up parallel institutions in education as well. The parallel educational and research infrastructure seems to be pretty limited in reach, but the media are much more successful.

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          • A lot of managerial and professional class types have drifted into Team Blue over the years, where they used to be apolitical or Republicans.

            This is exactly why I worry so much about this trend of putting culture over policy.

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        • “No, the left hasn’t taken over all the power and all the institutions, but counting education and the media, progressives do hold a couple of the most powerful ones.”

          Speaking personally, as a social democrat, the idea the media is progressive is hilarious, considering the decades long support for wars of choice, the flattering stories about Randian’s like Paul Ryan while never actually pushing back on their actual views in comparison to the pushback anybody to the left of Joe Lieberman got in the Beltway until basically eighteen months ago, and the general view on labor issues in general.

          Yes, on social issues, the media is center-left (even though still addicted to acting like pro-lifers are reasonable and sane), but when it comes to anything that might affect their actual profits, the national media is firmly center-right when it comes to economic views.

          Same thing with education – are most college professors and teachers more liberal than the population? Absolutely. But, college President’s and most members of various college boards are continuing the MBAization of college, hacking at anything that doesn’t go forth with the idea of “running it like a business.”

          Yes, if all you care about is that you’re scared of gay people or whatever, the media and education is hugely left-wing. From the view on the left though, on half the issues that matter and when it comes to those with actual power in those segments of society, that’s kinda laughable.

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          • @jesse

            I didn’t say that the media was in the hands of the far left. I said that the media was dominated by progressives. The mainstream press absolutely got on the Iraq War bandwagon. That doesn’t mean that it’s not mostly left of center. Woodrow Wilson took America into WWI. FDR and Truman oversaw WWII. JFK started the buildup in Vietnam and LBJ brought America in fully. That list includes, arguably, the three most progressive presidents in U.S. history.

            And when I say the media, I don’t just mean TV news and newspapers. I mean the whole media, the whole apparatus of culture making. In a culture that is obsessed with ideas about ourselves, being the people that make the ideas is an incredibly powerful position. Hence, the whole “representation matters” meme.

            It’s very common to hear people on the left complain about the “normalization” of reactionary views, when these views are already normal. What these people mean is that they don’t want to give those views any support. Likewise, it’s common to hear people say that certain institutions don’t anyone a platform. I agree. But in making that claim, there is an implicit admission that progressives do indeed control a bunch of platforms.

            Just to be clear, none of this is meant to be an expression of sympathy for conservatives. They pull the same crap. It’s as if both sides have decided that unless they control everything, they can’t admit to controlling anything. And so here we are in the midst of ideological trench warfare.

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            • I think the very concept of there being a “center” is confusing.

              For some issues, mostly financial like budgets and taxes, its easy to posit the existence of a “center”- My extreme wants 10, the other extreme wants 5, the center is at 7.5.

              But most of our issues don’t really have such a center point.

              If Kapernick believes that police are out of control and shooting black people with impunity, Trump believes they are not, what would be a centrist position?

              Most of our disputes are about what a just world would look like, whose dignity and sacred totems should be respected, what is profane and taboo.

              Its dismissive I think, of the deeply held beliefs that somehow they are extreme and therefore unserious, while there exists some sensible position in between.

              I disagree with the anti-abortion side and even for those who I suspect really just want to control women’s sexuality, I understand that it springs from something deep and powerful, that doesn’t lend itself to a negotiated bargain that we hash out over a few beers.

              There may exist a third option somewhere, that isn’t either position, but it needs to be articulated and not just hypothesized.

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              • If Kapernick believes that police are out of control and shooting black people with impunity, Trump believes they are not, what would be a centrist position?

                The “center” is the median person on this issue. The majority of America seems to believe black people aren’t shot except for just cause or in extreme corner+rare cases so on this issue Trump is a lot closer to the center than Kapernick.

                Select for various sub-groups and the center moves, i.e. “the center/median Dem”, “the center black”, “the center cop”, etc.

                Religious issues are tough because most people claim to believe [x] but they don’t actually behave as though that were literally true, we get pretty deep into symbols there, i.e. “X” but really “Y”.

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                • Why would you consider the median to be the same as center?

                  Median is just a mathematical concept, but doesn’t have any political weight.
                  Politically, “center” implies a bell shaped curve, with extreme minorities at each pole.

                  In a sharply polarized but narrowly held environment, like the 52%/48% world we have now, we have a U curve.

                  The mathematical median flips easily and often, but never has a true center.

                  Telling us that the median voter is on the opposite side of Kapernick doesn’t describe a third, centered position, but merely that Kapernick is outnumbered.

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                  • In a sharply polarized but narrowly held environment, like the 52%/48% world we have now, we have a U curve.

                    “Center” (at least to me) is typically short for “Center of gravity”. If we’re going to assume all votes and voters are equal in weight, then “median voter” and “center” (even in a U curve) are the same thing.

                    Having said that, it’s risky for 52% of the voters to put in place something that 48% deeply oppose. Maybe the 48% comes around after they see it, more likely they don’t.

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                    • A really good exchange, you two. People aren’t numbers or positions on a graph, but it’s a very handy way of thinking about politics. The median and the mode are both good ways of depicting political realities.

                      Medians or means are good ways of thinking about centrism, if you’re looking for compromise. If you’re trying to create palatable legislation or run for governor in a state that’s friendly to both parties, this is an effective analogy. The question is whether politics is increasingly becoming modal, with clusters of beliefs that don’t follow a normal distribution. People think it is. The internet encourages that kind of thinking. At a minimum, it encourages a bimodal way of thinking. But there are reasons to believe that the red/blue thinking leaves a lot of people feeling excluded, and also that it too narrowly restricts the possible solutions to any given problem.

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  17. Em Carpenter: Maybe I am overly concerned with being taken seriously, and don’t feel I would be if I was wearing a hat with cat ears on it?

    Nothing is for everyone. So if it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it. It’s not a question of being overly concerned, just recognizing what’s authentic for you.

    It may be that the pussyhat is past its moment. Or that its having a moment now that is, on balance, counterproductive. Or it may be that its still an entryway, for some at least, to explore a braver way of being.

    I don’t know. It’s certainly a question worth considering.

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