After being out of university for a year, a place where my sociology degree allowed me to be surrounded by like-minded, critically thinking individuals, I’ve missed not having to explain why I’m a feminist. In our lectures it was more a question of what kind of feminism you identified with, rather than whether you believed in gender equality at all.
In fact, if someone stated they didn’t agree with feminism, they were given the same horrified look by the rest of the class that you get from strangers in the gym when you haven’t felt the need to remove your underarm hair that day. Obviously this never happens to me…I’m a lady.
Since then I’ve been in a couple of jobs, and not to sound cynical but the ‘real world of work’ – it sucks. Working in a clothing shop I quickly realized it was a sin to consider your employee’s health and happiness more important than whether all the hangers were facing right way. We had a sign in our staff-room dictating that we should not come to work with ‘pasty legs’ and uncoordinated make up. Needless to say, this job was not for me.
Now, I’m a barmaid in a little pub in the middle of nowhere. It’s a pleasant place, however, I have to brace myself for the daily comments from the elderly regulars who ask me when I’m going to be sporting a short skirt, if they can have a massage when I ask if they’d like ‘anything else?’, and my favorite; “Hey love, don’t suppose you fancy old men?” For the record: I do not.
In both the retail and bar environments, I consider myself a feminist. I’ve experienced several different types of reactions to my feminist identity. The least common is one of approval, understanding and a nod to say, “yeah, me too!”
In fact, outside of my friendship circle, with the exception of a few of my Facebook friends, I rarely get this reaction at all. It makes me sad.
The second reaction I get I find most common from other women. They look horrified. As if I’m some kind of crazed animal who is going to force them to burn their bras while sacrificing their soul to a man-hating anti-Christ.
The reaction that makes me the most angry? Laughter. I had a conversation with my Dad. I told him I’d be writing a few pieces for an online magazine. “Oh right” he said, “that’s good”.
“Yeah it’s a feminist magazine.” He burst out into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. So much so, he had to shout his friend from the next room “Dave, Dave, have you heard this?!”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Pops. I’m not saying he’s some kind of chauvinistic pig. This conversation is actually a pretty well-exemplified of the shit I hear everyday. Very often when I use the word feminism I’m confronted with laughter. A horrible, belittling snicker, which despite every part of you knowing that the concept of gender equality is completely logical, makes you want to curl up and die… rather than be spoken down to by someone who is basing their opinion upon the belief that all feminists are just angry lesbians who need some ‘real’ sex.
Retaliation in the form of laughter is more damaging than any outright objection. You can’t form an eloquent argument against laughter. Even if you do, what happens then? Well, you’re taking yourself too seriously of course! Bloody women!
To me, laughter is more than just an absence of taking yourself seriously; it’s a display of power. It’s a way of saying “that’s cute little girl, now get back to kitchen. I’ve got big boy problems to deal with over here.”
In a world where we can disregard women’s opinions by painting them as emotional and irrational beings, laughing off what they have to say is just another form of control. And I find in so much of my life I just let these little things happen, because I’m at work or because it’s ‘a different generation’ or sometimes because you just don’t want that heated debate with that person who has no intention of trying to understand your point anyway.
It’s a dangerous cycle, though. The more we let it go, the more we ‘take a joke’, the more the cycle continues. I’ve made the decision to accept being viewed as uptight when I don’t laugh at sexism. Feminism isn’t funny. If you think it is, you should evaluate your compassion and your shit sense of humor.