As someone who has strongly identified as a feminist for most of my teenage and adult life, my desire to be outspoken about my feminist values has often been at odds with my desire to maintain easy-going relationships with many of my friends and acquaintances. Coming of age in a small town, I was only too aware of how often the term ‘feminist’ is equated with the image of an angry, bra-less woman, complete with armpit hair and a disdain for all things ‘girly’. Wary of being perceived as an “angry feminist” or “femi-nazi”,
there have been many a time when I have forced myself to bite my tongue, in conversations with both casual acquaintances and relatively close friends. But as I’ve grown older and more educated in feminism (through both literary theory and great feminist websites), I’ve simultaneously grown weary of both biting my tongue, and defending myself on the occasions I don’t. Exasperated by the growing presence of rape apologists, victim-blaming, and slut-shaming in the media (or possibly just my increased awareness of it), I’ve struggled with the question of exactly when, where, and how often I should be publicly expressing my outrage at the veiled and not-so-veiled misogyny in both the media and the statements of friends or family? In short, how do I make people aware of the misogyny in their comments and actions without jeopardizing my relationships?
A prime example occurred about a month ago. Thanks to Facebook’s recent-ish changes, I am now not only privy to the statuses of all my Facebook friends, but also to any statuses of THEIR friends which they ‘like’ or comment on. It was in this way that I stumbled upon the rant of a man whom I shall call John Doe. John had committed the cardinal sin of posting a rant about being dumped on Facebook, complete with the lines “my ‘GIRL’ friend asked me to remove our relationship status from facebook so she can go play the field of dicks” and “anyways boys she’s on the market, FAIR GAME Im trying to say.” While the immaturity of the poster (and his assumption that A) he was dumped so his girlfriend could “play the field of dicks”, and B) that ANYONE needed HIS permission to date her afterwards) left me fairly disgusted, it was the first comment on the post that caused my blood pressure to rise to previously unknown levels. This commenter, who from here on shall be referred to as “Misogynistic Asshole”, or M.A. for short, wrote “no one will want her now buddy, you have her all stretched apart!” Worst of all was the fact that this comment had several ‘likes’.
So there it was, almost as if the creator of the status had consulted a checklist of things likely to piss me (or most feminists) off:
Assumption of male ownership over female body – check.
Implication that a woman’s entire worth is located in her vagina and its ability to make sex pleasurable for males – check.
Typical reference to the male’s supposedly enormous penis – check.
A list of possible actions crossed my mind. I could write out a lengthy explanation of why both the original post and the comment were extraordinarily misogynistic – this was ditched because (a) I doubted they would actually understand half of what I said, (b) I doubted they would care, and (c) I didn’t feel like commenting on the post of a complete stranger, certainly not using my real name and facebook account. My second thought was to screenshot the whole thing and post it anonymously on a message board on a feminist site, unleashing the wrath of all the internet’s feminists (in my fantasy, this wrath included the men being publicly outed as giant misogynistic assholes and losing their jobs,friends and the possibility of ever getting laid again because of it). Realizing the likelihood of my fantasy coming true was slim to none, I opted for a third, less than useful option, which was to show the post to my roommate (who, while admitting it was both immature and disgusting, did not share my dramatic sense of outrage), and then rant about it to her for 15-20 minutes, thus depriving her of valuable study time.
Looking back and realizing that my reaction did nothing to prevent this sort of misogyny in the future, educate any of the parties involved, or do anything other than push my blood pressure to dangerous levels and deprive my roommate of study time, I am faced with what I can only assume is a common problem among feminists – what reactions are appropriate when you see/hear someone make ridiculous misogynistic comments? What do you do when you stumble upon these comments being made, not by friends or acquaintances, but by strangers in a semi-private forum? And how the hell do you try and educate and inform people about their underlying misogynistic assumptions or beliefs without straining your friendship, especially with people who are less inclined to look critically at where their statements/beliefs are coming from and what they imply?