Friday, August 7, 2015

too pretty to be a feminist

My last post was kind of my standard "white people/rich people/first world problems" fare. But today, I feel like I have to warn you, I'm not peddling suburban mom jokes. Shits about to get a little opinionated. I know (and appreciate) that I have some conservative readers despite being a fairly raging liberal, so I just wanted to give you a heads up. I honestly don't think any of this should be a "Left" vs. "Right" issue though, more like a human issue, so hopefully we can still be friends. Welcome, friends, to the dark wandering halls of my little mind.

A professor once told me I was "too pretty to be a feminist." I'm not even that pretty so I don't know what that says about you real feminists. Anyway, what does this even mean?? If I had to guess, I'd say she was referring to the fact that I wear heels and makeup and all the other trappings of femininity created by old white men to subjugate women and make sure we can't run fast or eat too much of their pizza for fear of busting the seams of our skinny jeans.

I resent the implication that I have to be some sort of angry, bra-burning, bushy-pitted woman to be a feminist.

Actually, I resent the implication that we aren't all feminists already. My general take on it is, "Do you believe men and women should have equal rights? If yes, you are a feminist. If no, you are an asshole." But that's a discussion for another day. In the meantime may I refer you to my boyfriend Mark Ruffalo. And my other boyfriend, Aziz Ansari.

Here's the deal. I like (trying to be) pretty. It makes me happy. It makes me feel good. I like to paint my face and dress myself in the most glorious finery that Target affords. Granted, I sometimes feel a slave to it. I envy the people who can look effortlessly chic with their hair in a messy bun, bare face, and ratty yoga pants (or, who just don't give a shit). But that is not me.
I actually own this sweatshirt. Yes, I am a terrible feminist and role model. But tell me this isn't your dream date. F*ck long walks on the beach at sunset ;)
Still (and I've talked about this before) with a daughter (and a son), I have to be careful about the message I'm sending. Otherwise, this might happen:

C: Mama you look so pwetty.
Me: Thanks baby.
C: [stage whispers] What about me?
me: Oh! Yes. You always look beautiful, love. But you know what's even more important than being pr...
Me: You're funny.
C: I am NOT funny. You're funny.
Me: Thank you! I think I'm hilarious.
C: You are NOT funny. Only boys can be funny.

I guess I should at least appreciate that she has already picked up on certain social cues like mandatory gratuitous reciprocal compliments.

Another professor once told me that I could be an effective "marketer" of women's causes because I was pleasant and attractive, and therefore didn't come off as "an angry feminist." I found this strange and somewhat disturbing (but also weirdly truthful) and was reminded of it recently when reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved this book, by the way, but I eat this kind of stuff up - critical race and gender theory, the intersectionality of oppressions, etc, etc, etc. May not be everyone's cup o' tea. Anywho, the book discusses how American Blacks cannot talk about certain things (e.g. racism) without coming across as angry/threatening/intimidating to White Americans. There's also a chapter on "the white friend who gets it," and how you should use that white friend as a resource for advancing your cause because they can say things you never could. Which is kind of like having a pretty, pleasant feminist friend. Obviously, as a privileged white girl I have no knowledge or claim on the experience and oppression of women of color. I just found it to be an interesting parallel.

Okay, I'm getting all kinds of tangential up in here, but THIS is reminding me of something else. The backlash to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. It's like whenever I give my daughter a compliment, my son gets all butt-hurt and acts like I said the equal and opposite thing to him. For example, I tell my daughter that she looks pretty. My son instantly pouts, "What, and I'm ugly or somefing?" Yes, son. When I tell your sister that she is pretty, I am implicitly saying that you are a despicable troll. I can't even bear to look at you.

Duh. No. That's not how this works. #WhiteLivesMatter too. All of the colors. The mens and the womens and the childrens. #LIVESMatter. Oh, and #LionsLivesREALLYMatter. Like, BIG TIME. (Not saying that the Cecil the Lion situation isn't FUCKED UP, just, you know, interesting in comparison to the human life thing. Also, crazy ass vigilantes need to fuckin' chill.)

The thing is, all the lives should matter the same. Young black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their white counterparts. People of color are more likely to be stopped by the police, as well as become a victim of excessive force. Excessive force in general is a concern, of course. But it's hard to deny the skew.

I'm at once grateful and ashamed to admit that this is not really something that plagues me in my daily life. My kids are the whitest half-ethnic kids you will ever meet. But I don't want my insulation to morph into ignorance, or worse yet, complicity.

The other day Jack said "Did you know that when Martin Lufer King was alive, black people couldn't go in the same stores or restaurants or dwink from the same dwinking fountains as white people? Dat's awful. If I was alive back den, I would open up a store wif a restaurant and dwinking fountains and let all the people go dare." For some reason, having this conversation with my blond-haired, blue-eyed half-Persian son with a backdrop of #BlackLivesMatter really brought home how not far removed we are from this. I have friends who are trying to raise strong, confident children of color RIGHT NOW. And sure, their kids are allowed to use the same drinking fountains. But... imagine that your child is more likely to be pulled over, arrested, or shot by law enforcement? More likely to drop out of school? To be expelled from school, which can kick off a downward spiral to the juvenile justice system, and ultimately, prison. A black male born today has a one in three chance of spending time in prison. He's more likely to be unemployed. More likely to live below the poverty line. Skipped over for an interview, an apartment, a home? Just because of the color of his skin?

And, to bring it back full circle... What if your daughter was destined to be paid 70 cents on the dollar for doing the same job as her brother? Or told she's not strong enough, fast enough, or smart enough, because she throws/runs/thinks "like a girl?" That her brain isn't equipped for math or science or engineering? That she isn't thin enough or pretty enough? Or, she's too pretty? Too pretty to be an engineer? To feel the unique gut-deep fear of walking in a dark alley alone at night? Simply because she has a vagina?

What if your son was three times as likely to experience verbal or physical harassment because of his sexual orientation? Or because he has two moms? To be four times as likely to attempt suicide?

I mean, shit. Do you know how, like, baseline hard it is to not fuck up your kids? To teach them and protect them from the big scary world, yet give them the tools to survive and thrive and grow? And then you have to go and add all this shit into the mix?

Anyone who claims that racism and sexism and homophobia "just don't exist anymore," and equality reigns supreme in the promised land of milk and honey needs to come back down to Earth. Just go read some internet comments and get back to me on that one. In the meantime, I'm going to keep doing my part as a White Ally and a Pretty Feminist and add one more voice to the mix.

It's kind of like having the sex talk with your kids - awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing and terrible and categorically imperative. Except instead of the birds and the bees its race and gender and inequality, and instead of teenagers, it's the entire country, or the world. Which might actually be easier. Or not. 

And while we're on the subject of things we don't want to think/talk about, watch this:

Thank you. And I now return you to the regularly scheduled suburban working mom jokes.

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