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HAS MY MOTHER’S GENERATION TAUGHT US NOTHING: In Which I Justify Feminist Coming-Out Day

So, I have a TRUE BAD FEMINIST CONFESSION for you all: There were some really awesome rallies this last Saturday for Planned Parenthood and the right to, um, basic genital-related medical procedures, and I did not go to a single one. I planned to! My gentleman caller and I made some extremely funny and inappropriate signs, about how you could save the children by making sure the two of us did not have any! And yet, we were in the cab, we were on the way down, and at some point, we realized: We’re still too far away. We’re not going to make it on time. And thus, the people of New York had to content themselves with the thousands of people that were there, and also Kathleen Hanna. I know, I know! It was not enough! Kathleen Hanna called me, to tell me you were dissatisfied! And I am sorry.

BUT MY MOM WAS IN TOWN. When my Mom is in town, here is what I like to do: I like to spend as much time as possible with my Mom. She is lovely. And we discuss the ladies’ issues, so it’s kind of like actually doing something. Allow me to provide you with an example! She asked me, over some very delicious food, how my work was going. And I told her, “I got invited to speak at the Feminist Coming Out Day panel at Harvard.”

And my Mom gasped. I was ready to be praised. I was ready for my Mother to be impressed! “Clearly, you are doing something good with your life,” is what I wanted my mother to say. Here is what she said instead:

“There has to be a Feminist Coming Out Day???”

“Well, yeah,” I said, thinking she needed a primer on the concept. “It’s really awkward to say you’re a feminist, or to embrace the label, and a lot of people are too scared to do it, because they think dudes will start treating you weird or making fun of you, and  you have to like work hard to prove that you’re a Good Feminist, and not whatever scary stereotypical feminist they want to see you as, and it’s so like people can be comfortable knowing that they can call themselves feminists and still…”

At this point, my mother was shaking her head. EXTREME DISAPPOINTMENT, was what my mother was expressing. I do not like to see this happen.

“In 2011,” she said. “I can’t believe you girls still need that. Did my generation accomplish nothing?”


And then I found myself, once more, called to account for The Young Women Today, and how they compared to MY MOTHER’S GENERATION, what with the marching and the protesting and the Roe v. Wade and the not getting hired because they might have babies and the Betty Draper and of course MY MOTHER’S GENERATION knew men would be upset, that is why MY MOTHER’S GENERATION did the Feminism, HAVE THEY FAILED, AT LONG LAST HAS MY MOTHER’S GENERATION FAILED UTTERLY, have their college-aged daughters no recourse from the sexism even today???? HAVE THEY NONE?????

And, you know, The Young Women Today do a lot of the marching and the protesting and the activism to keep Roe v. Wade in place (“STILL????? Are we STILL fighting these battles????” – My Mother) although I didn’t because I was justifying my generation’s feminism to my mother, and we do a lot of other feminist-related stuff, too. We are not all, as my mother might suppose, hiding beneath a pile of Taylor Swift albums, shaking with fear at the thought that young men might call us names or deem us unmarriageable harpies. But it’s true: We do, in fact, still need a Feminist Coming Out Day. Because, even with all the lovely freedoms we enjoy today, the loveliest freedom of all is the freedom to get through your day without dudes giving you side-eye.

Which is the freedom at risk when you let it be known that you’re a feminist. The “coming out” phrasing is, yes, weird — less so when you realize that the event was created by a queer student alliance — but it does work, in its own way. If you’re a feminist, as most women naturally are, it’s not necessarily something you can change. I can be fed up with the feminist movement, with other feminists, with the feminist work that’s being done by others (particularly when it comes from anyone whose name rhymes with Phlaomi Schwolf), or with doing feminist work myself. But I can’t go back and revisit that whole “I’m a person and logic would suggest I am not the only female human being who has this quality” premise, or change my mind. And, insofar as I believe that I — and other female humans! Most female humans! ALL of them, even! — deserve rights as a person, I’m going to be a feminist. The only choice I have is to tell people about it, or not. And that’s the most basic choice anyone has to make, and the most important. If you can’t tell people that you think you deserve rights quietly, over a beer, there’s no shitting way that you’re going to do it in front of city hall, at top volume.

Which is relevant. For I am meant to be, you see, on the “Blogging and Activism” panel, at the Feminist Coming Out Day festivities. And the thing is, activism is exciting. It’s nice to be in a group of people who more or less agree with you; it’s nice to demand things and believe that you reasonably might get them. If nothing else, it’s nice to believe that you’re really, really, REALLY annoying people. But activism isn’t just the protests and the rallies and the shouting. It’s not just the Twitter hashtag. It’s something you can do, even if you don’t make it to the protest. In fact, sometimes even stepping into that crowd can take some of the pressure off you. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of crowds and shouting. (Sometimes I pretend that I’m the mob in Frankenstein! And the monster is John Boehner. Or sexism, I guess.) But sometimes, the bravest and most activist thing you do — and the most annoying, if you’re into that sort of thing — is to just step out there and be as feminist as you please, all on your own.

26 Comments

  1. rebekah wrote:

    thanks so much for this sady! Thank you thank you thank you

    Monday, March 7, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Katie wrote:

    Oh Sady, you are the best. But your mother may possibly be even better.

    Monday, March 7, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
  3. emjaybee wrote:

    A. Your mom sounds awesome
    B. Remind your mom that sexism had a several-thousand-year head start. Women have not had the vote for 100 years even yet. We’ve done pretty well as a gender, considering! In the West. Most of the time.
    C. Lots (most) women of her generation (like my mom) really believed that feminists were hairy armpitted manhating monsters, even while those same women (like my mom) went out and worked and faced off sexist bosses and fought for self-respect without ever knowing they were doing feminist things.

    Consciousness raising is still part of our gig, as feminists.

    Monday, March 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  4. firefly wrote:

    Ah ha ha, the Frankenstein comparison cracked me up.

    Er, I’m not sure how far I stand on the what-kind-of-feminist-will-I-consider-myself-and-how-to-express-it thing. I’m just getting angry over the internet and real life and trying(sometimes real quietly, in my head) to tell (or annoy) people about it.

    But I do wish I was bolder, if only so I wouldn’t be afraid to speak out.

    Monday, March 7, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Scott wrote:

    If you’re a feminist, as most women naturally are

    I’m not sure this is true, sadly. The majority of my female friends still look at me funny when I bring up stuff about feminism. I think a fair majority of _today’s_ women stil believe it’s a hairy-armpit thing.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 1:51 am | Permalink
  6. Jessica wrote:

    @Scott: I think this is more about the fact that a woman, being a woman, isn’t going to think that she’s less smart, less able, and less of a human than a man is, and that gives her a perspective into the hypocrisy, even if she doesn’t acknowledge it. We are ‘natural’ feminists because women are the group we’re a part of.

    Also: Thank you for this. I have spent too many years sitting back quietly and holding my tongue because I was worried that arguing would make me seem like a harpy. I didn’t want to be typecast as a dreaded feminist. I’ve been trying to change that, my own views and the way others view me. It’s time to be loud!

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 2:20 am | Permalink
  7. Lilly wrote:

    @Scott I think you can perform feminist acts without identifying as a feminist. Much of activism is making it known that feminism isn’t actually primarily about body hair, but about opportunity and equality. Most women want equality and do at least some work towards that, which I would term natural feminism.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink
  8. Dena wrote:

    Can we drop the “I don’t have hairy armpits” line of defense? Leaves some of us feminists out and makes us feel like the enemy. Somehow. Because we’re hairy.

    Strange.

    But yeah – my mom has a stock face configuration when I talk about feminism. It conveys, “Well, sure, we’re people, but aren’t we going to get in trouble if we talk about it?”

    It’s similar to the face she gets when I talk about being queer, though in that one, she’s worried about me but not herself.

    But she has always done what needed to be done, misogyny be damned, even when she did it while ducking the blow she expected. And while repudiating the dangerous stance that she’s feminist.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink
  9. Andrea wrote:

    I think the point is that the amount of hair on our armpits shouldn’t be what defines us, but our ideas.
    And unfortunately, some women do think that they’re less smart, less able and less human than men.

    So I really agree with the need for that day, especially after reading this post and noticing how scared I was sometimes of “coming out” to many people I care about.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  10. b-girl apostle wrote:

    you are the best and i adore you.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  11. Jackie wrote:

    Your Mom sounds awesome. But she underestimates the depth and breadth of misogyny. We continue to fight — and when we have won to re-fight — our battles because we are constantly under siege. Sometimes we forget that, being old and all, and sometimes we just get tired of it. I know you can relate to that. So it’s good to have things like Feminist Coming Out Day to remind us and reinvigorate us and bring us together…. Because “A good woman is like bread, and will rise” — even when repeatedly punched down.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  12. carovee wrote:

    @andrea

    And unfortunately, some women do think that they’re less smart, less able and less human than men.

    I wonder how often, though, women who actively oppose feminism think that way about OTHER women but don’t really hold that view of themselves.

    Think of the women, for instance, who leave their kids and husbands to go on tours promoting their book on how you should stay home with your kids and husband. I’m just sayin’ the high profile anti-feminist crowd at least has some serious issues with hypocrisy.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Jenn wrote:

    Sady, you rock! Thanks for the reminder that sometimes just being who we are is activism!

    I also feel like I have to add a disclaimer when I claim my feminist identity not b/c i’m afraid of being labled man-hating etc etc, but b/c that 2nd wave idea of feminism carries with it so much racism, classism, trans-phobia, etc.

    I get told I’m letting down the previous generation b/c i believe in trans-inclusive spaces and that not all sex-workers are victims of false-consciousness complicit in their own opression.

    To me that’s why Feminist Coming Out Day is so important – it gives us a chance to recognize all the hard work the women before us did that allows us to take the movement in new directions, that while perhaps different from their original vision, are no less worthwhile.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  14. a.b. wrote:

    As feminist as I please! I think I might have to get that tattooed on me somewheres. I don’t do enough activisty stuff, but I certainly do my part with speaking up when shit goes down. I don’t always do it well, but I try pretty damn hard.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  15. Leashya wrote:

    Thank you! After the day I’ve had, this was much needed.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink
  16. David Jacaré wrote:

    I love you.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  17. Bel wrote:

    “…the loveliest freedom of all is the freedom to get through your day without dudes giving you side-eye.”

    I agree this would be a lovely freedom, and it is one I strive for, but to say there are no lovelier freedoms (if ‘freedoms’ can even be compared and ranked?) seems at best hyperbolic and at worst coming from a privileged place. To me, just as it seems inappropriate and counterproductive to compare the severity of differing forms of oppression people suffer under, so it must be with the flip side when discussing different freedoms and their comparative worth. It’s a sure way to create divisiveness within communities who would be best rewarded by working together to fight all forms of oppression.

    Just something to keep in mind? Sorry to go on about one sentence in a post I agree with the general point of. Thanks.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  18. Emma wrote:

    @Dena

    I totally agree with you there. I’m an angry, hairy feminist and proud of it. I don’t see how this makes my views any less valid. When someone drags up the hairy-armpit stereotype it creates a false dichotomy between hairy (evil) and hairless (nice) – which makes no sense to me. Isn’t feminism supposed to strive for equality which allows women to embody whatever identity they wish, and still have their points valued?

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  19. Emma wrote:

    That being said, thank you for this article and your mum sounds great :)

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  20. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    I think part of the issue is how difficult it is to come up with any definition that most people would accept for “feminist”—or indeed many vaguely similar (at least quasi-) political and socio-political labels, like “libertarian” or “liberal” or “conservative”. Such labels cover a wide range of issues. Even among people who would use that sort of label for themselves, there is some disagreement on particular issues. Now if I (or anyone) agree with self-described [pick-a-label]s 51% of the time, am I one? Or 75%? Or 95%? I’m not sure I’ve found any individual person with whom I agree 95% of the time, much less any label that I’d care to associate with that often. Am I unusual in that regard?

    @EmJayBee, @Scott—I think this is kind of what you’re getting at, maybe?

    So you might find that many people would agree with what you’d consider “feminist” positions most, maybe even the big majority, of the time, but would not call themselves feminists because they have substantial disagreements and don’t want to take on a label with which they don’t completely agree, and/or don’t want to risk the wrath of the Guardians of the Label by using it for themselves and then disagreeing with the orthodox position. (Which is not to say that lots of people avoid labeling themselves primarily because they want to get along with everyone more than they want to stand for anything. I’m not prepared to make a blanket statement that such an approach to life is wrong, as long as one stands up for what one believes is right when push really comes to shove.)

    @Carovee: point well taken about the “serious issues with hypocrisy”. But at the risk of drawing a fair amount of ire, I’d submit that many of the loudest / most strident voices of any label have substantial issues with hypocrisy. People who don’t have substantial hypocrisy issues tend to be more modest in their claims about what is true, what is right, what others should do, how the world works—they are more ready to accept that others have had different experiences, seen different evidence, etc. Hard line-positions loudly taken tend to admit no exception or nuance. Which is not all bad: sometimes those strident voices with whom you have serious issues get hoisted on their own petards. Just last week a local minister who got media attention for very strident protests at an annual gay event got arrested for masturbating while watching kids at a local park.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  21. scrumby wrote:

    Well John Boehner is kind of a Frankenstein’s monster of sexism.

    unwitting pentagon scientist: “Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?”
    minion of right wing powers: “Dewy someone.”
    unwitting pentagon scientist: “Dewy someone. Dewy who?”
    minion: “Dewy… Schue.”

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  22. emjaybee wrote:

    Did not mean to confuse things w/ the hairy armpits line: I was referring to the stereotype, not proclaiming that I care one way or another on armpits, hirsuteness of. My mother did indeed care about such things, but she also took tremendous pride in her work; like many people, she had lots of internal contradictions. She was not afraid of what feminists thought, but what the people at her church/workplace thought, and they thought feminists were Satan handmaidens.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  23. Casie wrote:

    i’m pretty much out about my feminism on a constant basis, but the one thing that scares the poop outta me is coming out to people i work for or anyone i have to be “professional” around. I literally fear i will be fired, not promoted, not accepted into grad school, etc…if anyone finds out the scary feminist truth about me. if i come out as a “i’m for equal rights for people of color” everyone’s like, “yeah, of course” and pats you on the back, but feminist? “oh gawd! you’re incompetent AND insane!” maybe i’m overly paranoid?

    Friday, March 11, 2011 at 1:37 am | Permalink
  24. addy wrote:

    Yay hairy armpits!

    Also, @casie, I was worried about the same thing when applying to grad schools, but a professor pointed out that I wouldn’t want to be in a program where I couldn’t be out about my feminism. So my cv and essays were chock-full of the F-word, and now I’m in an awesome program with professors who write articles and books from a feminist perspective. Might not be applicable to your field, but worth keeping in mind.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  25. Laurie wrote:

    I helped organize my city’s Walk For Choice march (South Louisiana, represent! All…two dozen of us?), and we had the privilege of marching with a woman who marched pre-Roe v. Wade.

    Well, privilege and shame, because as she marched next to her daughter she carried a sign that said: “I Shouldn’t Have To Be Here, Again.”

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  26. Laurie wrote:

    Sorry, that post had the word “march” in it entirely too many times, but I can’t edit it. In my defense it’s 6am and I haven’t slept yet.

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink