The question of feminism

Helen Mirren, as Cleopatra, at 18. Via Time, Mirrorpix / Everett.

Question: why is feminism a question?

When I was younger, I didn’t consider myself to be a feminist per se. I don’t know what I thought I was disavowing. Unshaved armpits? Whatever I was thinking, it was certainly ignorant at best.

I recently read a blog entry by a well-read, smart young woman who declared herself to not be a feminist, because feminism seemed to equate in her mind to a touchy-feely approach to teaching. I was shocked by this. But I shouldn’t have been. Because when I was young, like many young people today, I operated under the assumption that we live in a post-racial, post-gender discrimination world.

Why did I think this? Because I am white, basically. It’s always the young white kids who think like this.

Theory: white males hang on to this assumption longer than white females. Because white females who enter the workforce will learn sooner or later about things like lack of parity in compensation, or the way that appearance/age/attitude combine to cast one into a stereotypical role (ie, “ball-buster,” “ditz”) in workplace scenarios. It’s not just men who do this—women do it to each other. Just a couple months ago, a female colleague referred to me as “mod Barbie.” Yesterday, a male colleague made a remark about my “stilettos” – the shoes in question were actually a low heel, and kind of vintage chunky. Guess how relevant this stuff is to my job performance. Guess how often these sorts of ostensibly harmless observations factor into my job. Mind you, I wasn’t necessarily offended by either remark (though the Barbie thing annoyed me); what’s telling is how pervasive this stuff is.

I was at an event recently where a participant quoted Madeline Albright as saying, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

As an undergrad, I bypassed women’s studies. I’m behind in my Simone de Beauvoir and my Naomi Wolf. Regardless, I am unequivocally a feminist.

And then there is this awesomeness by Helen Mirren.


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