You know the story: Girl starts middle school as “mean girl.” Poetic justice intervenes, and after mean girl-related trauma in high school, girl swears off other girls for life. Because girl has mostly male friends, other girls deem girl a slut. Girl retaliates by deciding all girls suck, declares that she hates other women, makes the requisite “woman make me a sandwich!” jokes, and tells her mother, spitefully, that she is anti-feminist. (Girl clearly does not know what this means. Mom throws up hands in air.) Then: girl goes to college, meets cool women-folk, starts studying feminism, joins sorority. 3.5 years later, girl has more female than male buds, gets over-reactive to the same sexist jokes she used to make, and has been writing papers about vaginas, columning about breasts and even devoted her entire THESIS to ze wimyns.
As an American, fairly privileged girl in this day and age, admitting that you are a feminist and that you believe it’s still necessary to fight for women’s rights even among other fairly privileged girls can sometimes leave you high and dry in the popularity department. “Women’s” issues don’t really measure up to the disenfranchised. I know it, because I’ve agreed with it — after all, what’s a complaint about unequal pay and sexual harassment in the work place when pitted against sexual slavery or refugees? What’s an argument for abortion, when placed next to giving health care to sick kids? Feminism is seen in equal parts, still, as unsexy, unfeminine, butch, lesbian, man-hating Nazi (my particular favorite), “ugly angry women who can’t get a date,” outdated or just plain whiny. It’s probably why I utterly rejected the word until about the age of 18 — I thought those girls in the Women’s Issues Club at my high school (made up of 90 percent privileged white girls) had victim envy.
Obviously this is my story; but I don’t think I’m projecting when I say it’s our generation’s story. Throughout my life, all the cool girls, all the supposed “strong” women, were friends with dudes — partly because it was easier to be a bro, but equally because a “chill guys’ girl” became a desirable marker. By not being a “girly girl” you distance yourself from all those stupid ladies. All those screaming Twilight mommies, those skanks, those hos, those shallow twats, those JAPs, those cheerleaders, those sluts, those sorostitutes, those dumb bitches who seemed to wrap their whole damn existences around men. Oh man, I could fill up this entire daily with those epithets.
But how reductive is that? Why is it that the argument that “it’s women who make other women look bad,” is screamed by the same women who argue that it’s women who denigrate, demote or demoralize other women? This pathos does not belong exclusively to our ivory tower(s), or even to America. It’s everywhere. I do it all the time. You do it too.
And yet we feel forced to play the game, as the fear that’s nagged since our preteen years still whispers that somehow being intelligent or outspoken or funny or — excuse me — interesting, is just too intimidating. Too loud, too annoying, too obnoxious, too proactive, too pushy, too talkative, too assertive, too sexual, too smart, too mean, too much.
So we hate the girls who “play the game,” who self-consciously perform gender, as the academics say, in order to fit in normally into the world. And then we turn around and do it ourselves. Come on — there’s an entire subset of the book industry devoted to one maxim: You may say you hate “the game,” but you still gotta play.
Do we feel betrayed by our once bra-burning mommies who lost their feminist mojos to supermomdom? Is it the constantly nagging question: What the hell is feminism anymore, anyway? Or is it that the demands on women are too polarized to integrate without splitting at the seams?
“Sex is liberating.” “Sex is just women (re-)objectifying themselves!” “Everyone is a feminist!” “Feminist in the ‘Western World,’ is done-zo!” “You’ll only be fulfilled if you have a career!” “Clearly, it’s impossible to have a career and raise your theoretical children/Chia Pets well!” Back and forth and back and forth with so many different voices shouting different suggestions. The argument has been that if the feminist movement fell apart, it fell apart because of disunity. The broth — if you’ll forgive the metaphor — was spoiled.
Is it any wonder, then, that girls’ reactions have become so bipolar? No wonder why everyone went screaming into the most controlling arms they could find. There’s a reason why we had Buffy 10 years ago, and we have Bella today. There’s a reason why the Spice Girls cheesy ’90s Girl Power platitudes have been replaced oh-so-quickly by the Taylor Swift/Miley Cirus wholesome virginal thing, and/or the Lady Gaga/Katy Perry, half-ironic, half-perpetuation of the basest of objectification. There’s a reason why the abortion fight is losing, and that the most visible female political leader/options we’ve had are the polarizing Hillary and Palin. I’m not the omniscient barometer of American society’s feminism tolerance, but if I were to take said temperature, it would read: “tepid, at best.”
I won’t bore you with my account of all the waves of feminism we’ve had, and what really brought us to this point. But if we are in this post-feminist age, which holds the simultaneous hope of pluralistic anything-of-power-and-meaning goes, and the fear of holy-shit-what-do-we-do-now, then it means it’s time to actually own it. Look, you may be sick of all the articles about Twilight, the fight over abortion or any number of things. Feminism may not be an issue anymore, and at the end of the day — at the end of this column — you might still think that I am, in fact, overreacting to something that’s long over. But I have to ask: If feminism is unnecessary, then why are people still afraid of being called feminists?
Julie Block, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a former Sun Arts and Entertainment Editor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. WTF, Mate?! appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.