Dear Jennifer Weiner;
When Shailene Woodley told Time last week that she’s not a feminist because she likes men, you tweeted: “Dear Young Actresses: [Hope you don’t mind my stealing the epistolary idea, btw]: Before you sound off on feminists and how you’re not one, please figure out what feminism is.” So true! We should all know our isms: feminism, absolutism, skepticism for instance.
Thing is, what happens if Shailene does her due diligence and she‘s still confused about what feminism is. I know I am, and I was hoping you, with your nine bestselling novels on women, “families and feelings” and this smart take on the gender politics of the literary scene, could help me out.
I know feminism is supposed to be about equal rights for women. I’m pretty sure that would mean that men have no right to rape their wives or threaten female bloggers, and that women who want to should have the opportunity to become astronauts or the CEO of General Motors. If that’s what it is, then I say “Yay feminism!” In fact, with that definition you could probably enlist Shailene, Pope Francis and Pinch Sulzberger to boot.
But I get the sense – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that feminists mean something more than that. Like maybe not just equality but precise, numerical equivalence: the same number of men and women CEO’s, fork operators, nannies, and systems analysts, the same number of diapers changed and dishes washed, the same pay for professional basketball players, the same number of bylines in the New York Times whether in the style section or the financial pages, the same price charged for a hair cut or a dry-cleaned shirt.
So, I’m wondering, Jen (is it ok if I call you Jen?): Can someone be a feminist and believe there are reasons other than patriarchal social conditioning for some of these gender gaps? Like, to take one example, maybe women aren’t as interested in following pro basketball as men are? I was surprised to find out recently that Sweden still has one of the most sex segregated labor markets anywhere. Women are teachers, social workers, and child care workers, men mechanics, and CEO’s! Sweden! Where teachers can’t say “Good morning, Boys and Girls” because they don’t want boys and girls to be reminded that some of them are boys and some are girls (though it’s a good guess the little rascals keep thinking about it anyway.) Mind you, I’m not saying I know these differences between the sexes are innate (is it ok to say sexes and not genders?), but the other day I read some stuff about oxytocin and testosterone and even though Gloria Steinem said that research on that kind of thing is “anti-American,” it got me to thinking that it’s possible. Isn’t it?
As for man-hating, I understand that when prominent Second Wavers Robin Morgan said “man-hating is an honourable and viable political act’ and Susan Brownmiller said “Rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” this was youthful excess at a wild and crazy time, and you shouldn’t take them literally. I get that.
But then I see #YesAllWomen, the twitter hashtag implying that a mass killer, whose murder victims included 4 men and 2 women, someone sick enough to be prescribed a powerful anti-psychotic drug, is evidence not of mental illness but that we live in a misogynistic society. Or I read that we live in a “rape culture” which I take to mean most people – men mostly – think rape is hunky dory, even though rape is illegal, decried, and at an all time low. Or that if you think working class boys and men are in a very bad way in the labor market and schools, that this will make them lousy husbands and fathers, thereby ensuring a new generation of struggling low income single mothers, you are perpetuating “a myth”. So my question is can you be bothered by male-disparaging language and the predicament of minority and working class males and still be a feminist?
Please don’t be mad – because I’ve noticed that sometimes feminists call people who ask questions like these “anti-feminists” like they’re the Ayatollah or something – but can folks like that liberal columnist who thinks that whole 77-cents-for-every-dollar-earned-by-men thing is “pay gap demagoguery” be feminists? How ’bout people who are skeptical about numbers showing there is as much rape at Yale as there is in Detroit? The other night at a dinner party, a women’s rights activist I know remarked how terrible it is that there’s never been a woman mayor of NYC. Another woman asked “Why is that evidence of discrimination? When women run for office they are just as likely as men to win. At any rate, be careful what you wish for. Remember Christine O’Donnell?” I got the impression feminists aren’t supposed to say things like that, because afterwards the activist looked really ticked.
So, Jen, I totally agree people should know what feminism is before they start trash talking the movement that brought us so many rights. And I really believe today’s feminism probably has a sound, generally agreed-upon definition that even 22 year old actresses can understand. But for now, I remain:
Confused in Brooklyn xxoos