It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.
I have spent the better part of my life being a feminist. I am not entirely sure when I started to identify as such, but by my first communion in the second grade I was getting into arguments with the parish priest over the injustice of not allowing female priests to take over church, and arguing with my grandmother over why she allowed my uncle to sit and watch television on Saturday mornings while my Mother had to clean the house with her (something my Mother took every opportunity to point out when I was bitching about my own responsibilities). By the time I was in grade 4 – what’s that? Age 10 or so? – I was reading about Take Back the Night, and researching new rligions, as Catholic was definitely not for me. I went through Judaism, Jainism, Islam, Buddhism and a few others before finding Wicca (something that terrified my Mother, my teachers and probably everyone else who didn’t know much about it). I read all the books and got onto the slow computer at school and researched everything I could. And I loved what I found – it was a female-based religion in many ways, taking a naturalistic approach to spirituality and placing women at the forefront of it. That was the mid to late 90s, and into the early 2000s before I became the atheist I am today. Wicca still is the only religion I could ever tolerate if I ever chose to go back to a more spiritual existence, and I would go back for the comunity rather than the dogma.
I read the books in the Herstory series, and watched movies like Strike! and The Babysitter’s Club, eating up the wealth of female protagonists that made sense to me. I lapped up romance novels and horror movies – the two genres that had female protagonists in a world fuelled by an addiction to the apha male, beta male and omega male – with women as props, decoration or plot development points. I participated in track, soccer, and basketball until everyone else grew taller than me and it was no longer fun to be benched all the time. I guess I might have been considered a tomboy of sorts, but I was also not – I liked pretty dresses alright, and I wanted to look like my beautiful mother, with her mass of dark hair and green eyes (I have thin curly hair and brown eyes, so that was always doomed). And in my youth, I thought it was all or nothing in that respect – either you wanted the bedazzler and the easy bake oven or you wanted the moon boots and battery powered jeep. There was no real outlet for my complexity in that sense.
By high school, I was definitely already a feminist. Defined as such, by me, to anyone who asked, and sometimes those who didn’t. Fourteen, so sure of the world, and so convinced I was on the right side of history. I was up on my suffragist history and could list the defining moments of western women’s history as it pertained to voting, political power, legislation, reproductive rights and female activists. I knew about rape – not the details of sex necessarily, but rape – I think most girls do. It is something to grow up with that cautionary voice in your head: “Don’t stand out too much – some boy might take advantage!” “Don’t go anywhere alone with a boy – he might attack you!” “Be careful what you say to boys, they will use it against you!”, etc. etc. The fact that I grew up with healthy male relationships stands in direct opposition to everything I was taught – by family, friends, school administrators, and shows that weren’t Degrassi. I distinctly remember a religion class in highschool – as I went to a Catholic high school – where our teacher taught us the following:
“Your virginity, girls, is like a gift – to your future husband. It’s like a scarf. A unique, beautiful scarf. And say you’re dating Harry now. And you give that scarf to Harry because you think you love him, because you want him to be happy. And then later in life, after you and Harry break up and you meet Mike – are you going to go back and take that scarf back from Harry to give to Mike? No, I don’t think you can.”
Right. That happened. I know because I wrote it down at the time. I wrote it down at the time, not because I believed it, but because I got a “detention assignment” after this exchange (after the teacher pursed her lips after seeing my hand raised at the back of the class and asked me if I had a question):
“Does this basically reduce my entire value as a woman and potential future wife to whether or not I have a hymen? Like, does nothing else matter – not my brain or the education I am getting, or my spirit or my charming personality?”
There were giggles from my classmates, and the girl who sat next to me – who had sat next to me for 3 of the 4 years of religion classes since she was a last name “O” and I was a last name “P”, added her own criticism and soon enough, there was anarchy in room 213. And yes, it’s sad that I remember which room it was. I got a detention assignment … which didn’t go over well since I was told to write out what the church teaches about virginity and instead rewrote the exchange from class and continued on about how wrong and counterinutitive it was to teach girls to give up their own agency, fear the world and define themselves by the existence of a flap of skin that may or may not have been born with in their nether regions. I am not sure my teacher ever read it, to be honest. I handed it in the next day, and it was never mentioned again. The following week we begun on “marriage prep” or, the 12 step program the Catholic Church has in place to ensure you won’t ask for an annulment in 2 years. As we were an all girl school, our “partners” were … girls. Which I pointed out to the same teacher meant we were all in play-lesbian engagements … and worse, mine was a play-lesbian-polygamous engagement since we were an odd-numbered group and my group was Me, N and T. I did not get a detention assignment for that one, but did get a tired look from Mrs. H and an annoyed “Please grow up,” muttered under her breath. Ah, high school.
Needless to say, by this exchange – in the twelfth grade – I was already an angry feminist. I think a combination of going to an all girl school – a Catholic one particularly – and still dating, watching television, and participating in the wider world, made me hyper aware of the stupidity of the sexist discourse all around me. There I was, in a school full of smart (and smart mouthed) girls from all sorts of backgrounds and with all kinds of futures, very different and yet mostly friendly and inspiring – and we were being squished into forms we didn’t fit, from the moment we woke up to after we fell asleep. We were virgins or whores – and that dichotomy, I found out, very rarely actually included sex, nevermind getting paid for it (which I would often point out, was the actual definition of a whore); Smart or stupid (which may or may not have been the same as the virgin and whore, depending on which book you were reading); we were Tomboys or sirens, studious or scandalous. There was just no room for a complex range of emotions for girls. Despite the fact that we actually were pretty complex.
And this was compounded by literature – we had to read the usual suspects, of course. We had Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby (as an aside, I think I am the only Daisy fan on the planet), Catcher and the Rye, selected tragedies in Shakespeare’s canon (with, of course, Romeo and Juliet), etc. You could count the number of female authors in the curriculum on a finger (Actually you couldn’t – there weren’t any), and so we missed real discussions on books by Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, The Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen, and the wealth of other female authors with all the complexities of their characters. Seriously – what I wouldn’t have given to have a class discussion on the character of Grace from Alias Grace, or the enduring and haunting presence of a child dead in Beloved. It wasn’t like there weren’t plenty to choose from. I brought this up in the eleventh grade in an impassioned speech brought on by having to read another male-oriented book, Heart of Darkness. I just couldn’t anymore. And my English teacher at the time agreed, and had our class pick a book by a female author and write a book report on that – which didn’t endear me to my classmates, but was a good start for me. I chose The Bell Jar – heavy stuff with a heavier ending, but for the first time in English class, I felt like a female character was so much more than a plot device or a fantasy.
And then I wen to University. I enrolled in an intro to Women and Gender studies class – and while I wouldn’t recommend that exact class (the professor was very new to being a professor and sometimes let the classes run amock … also there was this one guy who took the class whose sole motivation seemed to be to wait until near the end and raise his hand and begin a diatrade on what would now be labelled as MRA speech), I would recommend the study. Being in that class opened up my eyes to previously hidden things – race, class, sex, ideologies and current struggles all intersected in theory and practice and came alive. As a teenager I lamented the fact that there were no more Take Back the Night marches I could find in Toronto (I didn’t have much access to internet, mind), and thought it was over – little did I know. The resources I was given at these classes just fueled my fire, pushing me to embrace feminism in a way that I never had before, and I begun to really reach out and take part in the discourse.
And this is the part where I tell you how I got angry.
Not that I wasn’t before. I was. I was angry whenever I heard a rape joke from a male friend. I was angry when a girl told me she didn’t have any girl friends because “drama”. I was angry when old predominantly white male priests told me about virginity and seemed to suggest I wasn’t good unless I was a virgin. I was angry when I realized that parents were blocking sexual education at school for their children because, religion. I was angry that all the movies coming out seemed to be about “One Man” who was going to save the world, and all the television shows were about boys – even the shows directly targetting girls, were really about boys. I was angry that a guy friend of mine scoffed at the idea of a “Women and Gender Studies” discipline. I was angry that “femnazi” was the dismissive name anyone would call me when they disagreed with me. I was angry that my older relatives asked me if I was ever planning to marry my long-time boyfriend (and current partner) because, babies. And I was angry that I saw so many girls falter in their own dreams because people thought it was their right to “warn” “educate” and otherwise bud-in to these girls’ lives and tell them that they couldn’t or shouldn’t reach for the stars.
Worse, I was angry that I was letting it get to me.
I think my anger hit a tipping point when my life partner and curmudgeonly companion, The Boy, added his two cents to a conversation I was having with his mother on women and the role of feminism in current life, that feminism isn’t needed anymore, rather, humanism is. To his credit, I think that statement, from him, is the only thing that could have struck me speechless. I am not much for the being struck speechless. As it was, I stared at him, disbelieving, in my mind fireworks exploding as my thoughts cried out “WHO IS THIS MAN!?”. My Man is a person who takes stats as proof, as opposed to feelings, essays or op-eds (unless written by Conrad Black who is hilarious). So after being struck dumb for a minute, then exploding into a “What the hell – who are you?” frenzy that ended with him and I having an ideological face-off that still is brought up today, I went to the internet and found statistics. And I keep adding to them. I keep compiling stories and having debates with him and proving how much feminism is needed.
So here it is, why I am angry:
I am angry that rape culture is very much a thing. I am angry that even though false rape allegations are super low – people automatically think there’s at least a 50/50 chance the woman is lying, and that allows them to defend the alleged rapist to their heart’s content. I am angry that this type of treatment keeps happening – that these aren’t isolated cases of police mistreating rape victims, but rather indicative of a trend. I am angry that even when mulitple women come forward, men are protected (at the cost of their female victims) – especially when those men are powerful, usually white, rich or America’s father figure – and the women are thrown to the wolves – a practice that is not only unfair and wrong, but also damaging as it stops other women who have been attacked from coming forward. I am angry that even with all the evidence – video evidence – of a rape, rape is not prosecuted more effectively and that reporters focus on the ruined futures of the young boy rapists as opposed to what a terrible thing they did and that they deserve consequences. I am sick and tired and hella angry at the imaginary distinction between “rape” and “rape rape”. No really, there is no such thing – it’s all rape.
I am angry that MRAs believe what they believe. I am angry that they think there is some legitimacy in saying that they’re rights are being trampled when all evidence proves the contrary. I am angry that they seem to keep getting traction by manipulating young men into becoming angry of perceived slights that range from “girls only dates assholes” and “these bitches need to be taught lessons in the hierarchy” – that lead to catcalling, domestic abuse, violence against women in general and men coming onto news programs and mansplaining that how the way a woman feels about this is wrong. I am angry that mansplaining is a thing. I am angry that I have been mansplained to – by people I trust and like, but can no longer look at without wondering what they’re on.
I am angry that female sexuality has been put in a box of shame. I am angry that girls are taught that they sexuality is to be protected, but not celebrated. I am angry that sexual promiscuity in boys is alright, but in girls it’s demonized. I am angry that girls are being sexualized younger and younger, by our society, and then punished for it. I am angry that women and girls in many parts of the world are given factually incorrect lessons on sex and their own bodies. I am angry that we are taught to hate our bodies – even if they fit into the mold the commercials on tv tell us is ideal. I am angry that aging for women is considered a political statement as opposed to being natural. I am angry that the private photos of celebrity women were taken from them and publicized against their wishes, and people keep sharing them and saying it’s okay. I am angry that people demanded apologies from the women who were targeted. I am angry that whenever a woman takes a stand in public, some jerk on the internet threatens to hack into her accounts and publicize her personal property. Or her real name. Or her home address. I am angry that this is not treated as the theft and violation of privacy it is. I am angry that I still have friends that believe that sex has made them dirty – that they can’t even orgasm because the totality of their sexuality has made them so fearful and ashamed that they cannot feel anything past that.
I am angry that women in video games get death threats for pointing out problems with video games. I am angry that they get rape threats and mass-murder promises that are orchestrated to keep them silent. I am angry that being black and female and in the public eye is an apparent license to be the target of a slave rape fantasy of some white dude, and that people will still try and justify it under “free speech”. I am angry that people on my FB feed have told me to “lighten up” about the treatment of women like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu and others.
I am angry about pay gaps. I am angry about lack of education and economic opportunities. I am angry that female CEOs and politicians are still the exception not the norm. I am angry that Hilary Clinton gets questions on cookies and how being a grandmother will affect her job, but none of her male opponents do. I am angry that the Supreme Court of this country (with a few exceptions, looking at you Notorious RBG) seems to think women are not actual human beings with full rights, but that a half formed cluster of cells is. I am angry that religious fanatics are taking up bookshelf space and tv space and radio space with their misogyny and their hate, trying to drag us back to a time before women had any rights, and there is every day a new story of some female somewhere who dies for being female. I am so very angry.
For all that and so much more, I am very angry.
But I am also hopeful. There are so many activists out there now – the internet with all its horrible trolls also has a lot of feminists that reach out to each other and support one another. There are great strides in the celebrity world – Beyonce, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Zooey Deschanel , almost all British women (there seems to be a trend there) and even Taylor Swift all identify as “feminists” and my hope is that young girls will be empowered by these strong women to push forward, too. There are so many books out there I could recommend – from How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, to anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. There is a wide world and I have to be hopeful that change will happen eventually – even if it still seems a far off goal every time I tune into the news.
So I will stay angry – angry drives me. And when the next person (there is always a next person) asks me why I am such an angry feminist, I’ll just play this video: