In high school I used to ridicule feminism. Why would we need a movement for a problem we had already solved?¹ I mean we have the vote, what more could we want?² Why not just accept that the worst parts of sexism had been mostly fixed in America? Why did women get to be so whiny just for being oppressed? Is it because we’re all on our periods?³
It wasn’t that I thought I didn’t need feminism – I knew I did. I’ve always appreciated the significance of the rise of feminism and I fully attribute to it how I’m able to live my life today. I understood that without feminism I, and most people I know, and most people around the world, would be much, much worse off.
It was just that the cool boys in my grade really hated feminists. And since they were boys, they were right. Their main reasoning behind their dismissal of one of the most important movements in the history of mankind, was that feminists got annoyed with them for making jokes about how women belong in the kitchen, or how women are meant to bear children, or jokes like this. But they never said any of it seriously. Frankly, they didn’t seem particularly sexist otherwise, especially when compared to your average (and surprisingly well-educated) frat boy.
To be fair, in a post-sexist, post-racist world, jokes about women belonging in the kitchen would be welcomed. If we were all enlightened human beings who realized that sex shouldn’t determine your career, I would gladly share a laugh about the ancient benighted humans of days gone by who used to believe women were more suited to housework than men. It would be a hoot.
And when 5 teenage boys made those ‘jokes’ 7 years ago, that is the world I pretended we lived in. I pooh-poohed the women so foolish enough to think we still needed feminism. I used to joke with them, “Oh Tim, you sound so smart and manly when you talk about video games. I’ll happily make you a sandwich. Aren’t feminists the worst?” Everyone would cackle. But it was okay because sexism didn’t exist anymore anyway, right?
The problem with this was that sexism actually still did exist, and still does. Who knew? I didn’t realize that until a few years later, when I encountered my first overt misogynist in close quarters.⁴ I had met misogynists before (hint: Tim and his friends), but I just hadn’t realized it. But it took me meeting this horrible, terrible guy for me to switch to my own side.
4. That’ll show you just how sexist I was: I didn’t believe other women who told me I should defend feminism. Instead, it wasn’t until a man showed me why I needed feminism that I climbed on board.
I hadn’t been jostled to feminism before because Tim and his crew had only ‘joked’ about women being inferior. They were only ironically sexist because they knew it didn’t matter, what with the whole feminist issue already having been resolved and everything. But my misogynist acquaintance truly believed and preached that women were not as good as men, except as sex objects. But even then we were basically equivalent to blow up dolls which were a male invention, so really we were inferior in every regard.
When I heard this ‘real’ misogynist speak, I remembered what Tim and his friends had said. I remembered that it didn’t actually sound all that different, except that Tim and his friends would laugh after they asked whether I was so moved by Othello because on my period.
I realized there wasn’t much difference between sexist jokes and actual sexism. Both resulted in women coming out worse off. The jokesters and the genuine all spoke over women, they all ignored women’s opinions, they all sexualized women, they all excluded women from their creative and professional endeavors.
When I played along with the jokesters, I thought I was becoming one of the boys. I would make a misogynistic joke and they would say “see, women can be funny.” Or I would say “feminists suck” and they would say that I was cool for a girl. But I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I mean, I was in on the joke, right? They wouldn’t like me if they actually were misogynists, right?
Looking back, I was making a fool of myself. I thought I was impressing these boys with my Women Against Feminism ideals. I thought I was infiltrating their club by contributing to their banter. But I was really just giving them a further excuse to continue believing their gender is superior to all others. I wasn’t part of the group, and they weren’t just joking.
Did anyone else have a feminist turning point? When was yours? Or have you always been on the right side?