Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question, which we discuss amongst ourselves, and we then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
On calling yourself a feminist in everyday life:
BeckySharper: I admit to taking some fiendish delight in throwing it out there and seeing what kind of response I get, especially with the mens. If I refer to myself as a feminist and I get a double-take or discomfort, well, that tells me something I should know about that person. Because if you feel threatened by feminism, you definitely won’t be comfortable being around a successful opinionated woman like me (or my family).
Pilgrim Soul: I am not reluctant to identify as a feminist per se, but you’d be shocked how often it does not really come up. I mean, contrary to popular opinion, I have yet to meet the everyday feminist who makes every social setting an opportunity to emasculate the nearest dude or “caterwaul” about patriarchy. I will on occasion smack down a dude who is, in my presence, openly displaying misogynist attitudes, but I’m not often around such men.
PhDork: Occasionally, and particularly around family members who are a bit older than me, I am reluctant. That doesn’t mean I don’t speak up, express my critique, and “out” myself, but goddamn, [the comments that tend to result] do get tiresome.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: Attending a women’s college definitely gave me the courage to be more vocal about my feminism. I tend to rant about the patriarchy and I’m sure some of my family and friends view it as extreme, but I see it as a deeply personal issue. But it’s not something I say when I meet people. I don’t hand them a business card that says, sarah.of.a.lesser.god: Feminist since 1999.
SarahMC: In general I am openly and proudly feminist, but like you said, Michelle, it’s not something I mention when I’m introduced to people; it’s something that becomes apparent as people get to know me.
I don’t recall when I revealed myself as a feminist to my boyfriend. We’ve been together for over five years, and my feminism has definitely grown stronger in that time. But I don’t think there was ever a moment when I told him, or when he asked me. He is supportive of my feminist pursuits and that’s that.
KittenFluff: Strangely, I feel like it does come up often for me in casual conversation, in part because of my deep involvement with an all-women volunteer organization and my work as a rape crisis and domestic violence counselor. I’ve never had a problem identifying myself as a feminist, in any situation.
On deflecting tiresome responses:
PhDork: I do get tired of fielding ignorant comments. Not stuff like “But I thought feminists hate men! You’re in a relationship!” or “heh heh, you on the rag?” That crap a) I rarely hear and b) is too stupid to pay attention to. The stuff that bothers me are the ignorant, anti-male comments that I think are meant to express either a degree of sympathy, when coming from women, or a degree of hapless self-deprecation, when coming from men. Comments like “well, you know men would be lost without us!” or “we can’t help ourselves; we’re pigs/dogs/monsters!”
NO. NO. NO. THIS IS NOT WHAT FEMINISM IS. THIS IS NOT WHAT FEMINISM MEANS. THIS IS NOT WHAT FEMINISM DOES.
Because such comments are not meant as adversarial, they’re harder and more tiresome to deal with it in a way that’s constructive and helpful and alliance-building. They don’t really invite conversation and discourse, when that’s exactly what’s called for.
SarahMC: PhDork, those types of comments really bug because they reveal a real misunderstanding of the problem, and of feminism and its goals. It’s not about patting women on the head and thanking them for putting up with sexism and double-standards. It’s about erasing those things.
BeckySharper: I agree it gets tiresome to have to defend against that kind of half-praise/half-dismissal or the double-edged sword of “behind every successful man is a strong woman”. Gee, thanks, but I’m not interested in being “behind” anyone’s success but my own and it’s not my job to provide some kind of civilizing influence so men don’t act like dogs/pigs/cavemen.
That kind of crap always irritates me because it shows how society has low expectations for men, too–that they’ll be upset or emasculated or diminished if they’re not the breadwinners or they don’t “wear the pants in the family.” They’re not supposed to want equal partners with equally strong wills and needs and aspirations. To that end, I think it’s important to make sure that men are aware of feminism’s goals and that it can be a cooperative effort that benefits them as well.
PilgrimSoul: I must work in a more conservative setting than all of you. I do tend to get people who, upon learning of my feminist proclivities, want to explain to me how feminism has ruined itself by being too strident, or want me to explain why anyone would prefer Hillary over Obama, or want to know why I think all sex is rape. In short, they want me to explain – nay, defend – a whole bunch of disparate strands of thought that they themselves have dismissed out of hand as the shriekings of a bunch of single-minded harpies. (Too right!)
Unfortunately for such people, I have legendarily endless patience for talking about and discussing feminism, after a minute or so of which I tend to notice the recipient’s gaze wandering over my shoulder. There’s been a lot of talk in my presence lately about how feminism needs to learn to talk to people in a “softer voice,” so to speak, but I keep wondering what the point will be if nobody’s listening anyway.
Okay, commenters. Now you!