I can't tell you how many times after telling a guy I'm a feminist, he'll jokingly throw his hands up in defense as if I'm gearing up to attack him. Now of course, this is tremendously stupid and annoying on a number of levels: first, it plays on the idea that feminists are scary and man-hating, but more importantly it’s meant to be mocking. (Haha, don’t hit me, little cute feminist girl!) I even had someone, after telling him that I run a feminist blog, lift up my arm and peer into my armpit jokingly—looking for hair. Yeah, hysterical.Feminists Can't Win 101: When identifying oneself as a feminist to a non-feminist, the non-feminist is likely to make a gesture or comment that is trite and uninspired. When the feminist reacts to the "joke" with the resounding dearth of laughter it deserves, the non-feminist's presumption that feminists are humorless is thusly reinforced.
If your comedy instincts include whipping out a comment about granola or leghair upon hearing the word "feminism," feminists' sense of humor isn't really the problem, k?
What’s truly kills me about the “oh so scary feminist” stereotype is that it’s generally a big joke to the people who perpetuate it. The implication is that while we’re unattractive and annoying (bitches and ballbusters, all of us), we’re not really a threat at all—just bothersome. It’s a sweet little way to make feminism seem uncool and unimportant all the same time.Very true. Or so I've heard, anyway; being perceived as nasty and/or scary has never been a particular concern of mine, ahem.
I think what's most important to remember about this stereotype—and most hackneyed bullshit involving feminism, really—is that is serves a specific, strategic purpose. Not many people want to be considered nasty and scary—especially young women.
In all seriousness, the fear of—or, perhaps more accurately, the frustration with—being seen as irrational (unintelligent) and hypersensitive (uncool) are as equally important factors for feminist women, which is why I firmly believe that every women's studies program at every university should include an introductory course called You're Dumb, Oversensitive, and Ugly, the objective of which is to explore the practical realities of being an active feminist in the world. I've seen women with a belly full of fire and a head full of steam about overt sexism at work absolutely crumple like a flan in a cupboard with one comment about how they are humorless, over-reactionary, dowdy, fat, or, simply, not fun. It's a shock to the system to collide head-on with such an entirely inappropriate comment about one's appearance or personality, to have a meritorious argument dismissed with schoolyard mockery dressed up as adult discourse. It can be highly embarrassing, too, particularly if it happens in front of other people, and all the theory in the world can't protect against that sort of paralyzing surprise. Feminists for whom the thick skin is not innate could probably benefit from a little assistance in the form of being taught what to expect. (Especially since any veteran feminist could teach the damn course; we've all experienced the same tired shit. Nothing ever seems to be new in anti-feminism…)
That shouldn't be misconstrued as an exhortation to develop a resistance to listening, learning, or legitimate criticism, but merely to find a way to avoid internalizing predictable unfair attacks—some of which will come disguised as accusations of not listening, not learning, or refusing to acknowledge as legitimate criticism some rubbish like "I don't object to what you're saying; I object to how you're saying it" (the utterers of which are, to the contrary, almost invariably masking theoretical, not semantic, objections) or "Feminism is exclusionary" (a complaint, you'll note, strangely never made by men who have included themselves). Standing one's ground in the face of repeated accusations of being unreasonably strident and unyielding is tough when the indictment has a facade vaguely resembling fairness. It's imperative that young feminists find a way to see through and deal with the bullshit that inevitably surrounds this deeply personal issue; otherwise life will seem a whole lot longer than one might like.
And then the trick is to find, as much as anyone is able, a balance between using humor whenever possible, and kicking it into hardcore high gear when necessary, without apology. Being a successful feminist in a world so largely resistant to your ideals takes, rather unfairly I'm afraid, a certain panache and charisma dependent on not caring whether anyone thinks you have panache or charisma.
That's a real kick in the pants, as they say, but The Patriarchy never told us life was fair. Quite the opposite, actually. It's no wonder we feel grumpy sometimes; there's no need to exacerbate it by feeling guilty about that, too. Tears in a bucket; motherfuckit, bitchez. When we laugh, we laugh—and when we don't, well, maybe it's because there just ain't shit to laugh about that day. I'm all right with that.