The F Word

I was feeling pretty uninspired this week and so I ended writing a column about how much I love “30 Rock” even when it occasionally annoys me.

Elsewhere, I wrote about being a 40-year-old feminist. At first this was a really tough essay to write. I hadn’t thought about what it meant for me to be a feminist for quite a while. It’s not that any of my convictions had changed or that I thought, perhaps, the equality had finally shifted to the center and that we didn’t need to think about it anymore–it just wasn’t, at this point in my life, an all-consuming issue.

But then when I heard that one of our contributors who, if you connected the dots of her ideology is most certainly a feminist, claimed she didn’t identify with the movement, didn’t want to be called that F word. That got me thinking about my own beliefs and how they formed.

My feminist beliefs were, most certainly, formed first and foremost by my mother although, to be honest, I don’t know if she’d use the F word to describe herself that way either. My mom is a mix of old-school ladylike and modern toughness which meant that even as she advised me not to bite my nails so that my hands would “feel nice as you hold a boy’s hand” she also pushed me to think beyond any society-imposed gender boundaries when it came to thinking about a career.

I wasn’t allowed to call boys but I also wasn’t allowed to take shit from boys.

I couldn’t dress provocatively or wear too much make-up but she thought the school was absolutely ridiculous for sending me home for wearing knee-length shorts.

I could watch “Charlies Angels” but she subtly encouraged me to  like the Kate Jackson character best of all because she was smart and resourceful.

I’d better not sleep around but if I did I had options, I had choice.

I don’t know if I ever heard her use the word “feminist” and I know she never participated in a single protest, rally or group but, to this day, she is insanely independent, smart and resourceful and I admire her and aspire to live my life as such.

So, maybe it’s not a big deal that young women don’t want to use the F word – maybe it’s outdated, maybe its connotations don’t resonate, maybe there’s another word that better defines what it is we are and what we do.

That’s not to say I won’t still call myself a feminist — I am one, I always will be one, even when I don’t think about it all the time.  That said, I won’t get freaked out when some woman 20 years (or younger) my junior speak a different cultural language of change (maybe it’s similar to how I cringe at the word “lady” or “ma’am” in certain contexts) at least not as long as she’s actually out there living the life.

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5 thoughts on “The F Word

  1. …I didn’t dislike the F word, but never really used it, preferring the term “equalist.” My own brand of feminism was to tell all and sundry, when I was twelve, that I would never marry. I was going to be independent and live my life as an artist, blah, blah, blah. It was less about living under a man’s dominance and more about being free to create, for me; I felt men and women should just be free of each other. (This was possibly based on my very real desire for my parents to just divorce already and quit making ALL of us miserable. But alas, they stuck it out. And are still together. Shows what I know.) And all the older ladies — whom I saw as complete losers who had bought the box — said, “Well, dear, that will change when you’re sixteen.”

    I was smugly self-righteous when it did NOT.
    I was shaken at twenty-one, when it did.

    So, then followed the years of not liking the word “wife.” Not using it. Cringing when other people — like D! — used it to refer to me. Like “Christian,” the word has some serious baggage, and just now am I acclimatizing myself to it. It has taken YEARS.

    All this is to say, I am feeling my younger sisters in the movement (hah) who don’t like the word, don’t like the baggage, don’t like the frowsy-haired image of bra-burning femifascists with which some men have labeled the movement, and which some women have accepted as fact. I understand. The thing is, you have to make peace with history… with what was. And come up with a new version that has the strength to work for you.

    Still working on that with “wife.” But it’s coming. Being married to Mr. Awesome makes it a lot easier. 😉

  2. Feminism … well, to me, to claim it is to claim a huge category of different possible stances. It’s like saying that you like perfume. There’s a whole range there, from “men are evil incarnate” to “we ought to be treated fairly” to “we ought to be accommodated differently in the workplace because men are schmucks who measure their worth with their paycheck, so demand more money, while we just expect you to be decent and not overpay the whiners.”

    I just prefer to say that I’m not prejudiced.

    I know that I am on a subconscious level – I’ve taken the test at Project Implicit that says that I think girls aren’t as good at math (and also the one which said that I’m not a racist, as if I didn’t know already). Consciously, though, nope, not one bit: I have a conscience, thanks.

    To claim to be a feminist, though, leaves an incomplete diad: what the heck’s a masculinist? There must be one, and you can’t say that all men are included. Further, to claim to support the females to the exclusion of supporting the males is to state that you’re not interested in the males of the species’ needs … and that’s like saying you don’t like jews: pretty damned wrong, despite the fact that you didn’t get into medical school.

    Just an odd thing about living across the pond: unless you’re a close friend, the term is “partner.” Once you get to know the person, they might refer to them as boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife … but until then, you’re SOL for even knowing whether they’re gay or straight!

  3. Tanita I completely identify with your experience – mine was a little different but echoed the same basic ideals. When I was 11 my friend and I formed a “feminist army” — we really had no clue about feminism at that point and I’m not really sure where I’d even heard the word but there we were, armed with umbrellas (our weapons?) and making home-made T-shirts. As a freshman I declared I’d never get married or have children – something that horrified many of my friends. At the same time, however, I *did* become boy-crazy and it took me a long time to reconcile that side of my personality with my ideals. Long story short I did get married (the Mr. Awesome part does help!) but I don’t have kids but, you know, even that might change. Maybe.
    I’m OK with the word “wife” but there are similar things that get my hackles up. To this day my biological mother insists on calling me by what she assumes is my married name – never mind that it can’t be my married name as I never actually adopted it….but she’s 60, I try to cut her slack. It’s more unnerving to me when my 20-year-old niece does it — I want to shake her and say, “in the 10 years we’ve been married have you ever ONCE seen or heard me use his last name as my own? Pay attention!”

  4. Thanks for saying that…

    I was pretty adamant about “no kids,” either, and …well. Eventually all of your theories come up for grabs. But not the married name thing for me, either. I try not to get “shirty” as they say here, with the workmen who come in singing out “Mrs. Mack –” because okay, it makes them feel more secure to think that The Lady of the House has the same last name — the same SCOTTISH last name — as the gentleman of said, but it really still chaps my hide that even my side of the family does it (my grandmother asked me seriously, “well, what kind of a marriage is that, then?” when I corrected her; I no longer bother). I remember when I was teaching school – my niece was a third grader and I was subbing for her music class — and one of her friends tried calling me Mrs. Davis, and I had to introduce she and twenty-five other little wigglers to the concept of Ms. I told her that I had gotten married but decided not to change my name to D’s name.

    “You can do that?” she said with wonder in her eyes.

    That was my finest moment in feminism.

  5. Tanita – I love that story! That’s another element I forgot to mention – trying to convince my students that I’m a Ms and not a Mrs…it’s cute if they’re grade-schoolers…in college students? Not so much …

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