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.