For a long time, I didn’t really self identify as a feminist. You could even say that I was a bit wishy-washy on the whole subject, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I thought I was lucky because sexism had never really affected me or my life.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually lucky. I was just naive.
I completely bought into the “good girl” thing that Justine was talking about in her article:
“Raising a girl to be ‘nice’,” a therapist – a woman in her sixties, married and with daughters — once remarked to me, “is like sending her out into the world with one hand tied behind her back.””
That nice girl is me. Was me, is perhaps more accurate. Sexism has affected me my entire life, sometimes in profound ways. Our society’s ideas about gender roles have played a role in shaping who I am, whether I like to admit it or not.
I don’t hate men. Actually, I really like men. Some of my very best friends have been and still are men. There have been times in my life when pretty much all my friends have been male. I have also been friends with guys who are obviously sexist. (Unfortunately, the more overtly sexist, the less likely the friendship will last, because ultimately it’s kind of hard to maintain a friendship with someone who is treating you poorly. Wish I had learned this one a lot sooner.) So I guess I’m the kind of feminist who doesn’t hate men and is only occasionally angry? Oh, and thinks being a housewife is a perfectly fine life choice, thank you very much.
I find the idea that I’d be better off finding a win-win situation in the workplace a bit shallow at best, though. I mean, it sounds great in theory, but what if I work in an industry in which I’m going to face discrimination for being a woman regardless of the company or my boss? I was talking to a female engineer the other day, and she told this story that really appalled me about her male co-workers’ behavior. When I told her that I didn’t know if I’d want to deal with that in my workplace, she responded that her company is actually pretty good to its female engineers. And I believe her; it might very well be worse elsewhere. That doesn’t mean that better is particularly great though. But she has to put up with it if she wants to continue being an engineer, and doing it with good grace is preferable for her career prospects.
As a writer dealing with sexism, it really matters what sub-field I’m in. The kidlit community seems to be made up of about 90% women. I have never experienced any noticeable sexism or inappropriate behavior in the kidlit community. Because I, as previously stated, like men, I’ve hung out with many of the men in the community, and they have always been respectful and treated me like any colleague.
The science fiction/fantasy community, on the other hand, is made up of about 40% women. On the plus side, women writers in the field also win about 40% of the major awards, which is great. Unfortunately, I am sometimes treated differently in the community because of my gender. I have heard about sexual harassment problems at conventions, and I have no trouble whatsoever believing them based on my own experiences. And because I am the “nice girl,” more often than not I let it slide. I push through my discomfort and keep right on smiling. This is the current reality of being a female speculative writer (or at least a relatively young and cute one). So should I stop writing science fiction and fantasy and find a more women-friendly environment in another genre? Or just not be part of the community? You have got to be kidding me. That’s not a win-win. It’s a big fat lose if I feel forced to leave a genre that I love.
Like it or not, sexism is a reality most women are forced to deal with (if you haven’t, I’m happy for you, but I also don’t really believe it). Some of us may not recognize that it’s happening. I often don’t recognize it’s happening. I’ve been watching movies all my life, and it’s only recently that I began to notice how gender is so often portrayed in Hollywood. Now that I’m breaking away from being “too nice” or the “good girl,” I find it valuable to try to notice. Sometimes there might be nothing I can do; sometimes I might have to stand there and smile. Sometimes someone might assume that I’m a man-hating hormonal nightmare of a woman if I use the word “feminist” or a bitch if I don’t temporize, soften my opinions, or stay quiet. But if I notice, at least I can make my own decision about how to respond and have a greater understanding of what’s going on around me and how society is encouraging me to have certain behavior patterns.
For me, feminism is not about fighting against men. It’s about fighting against stereotypes and preconceived boxes that are too small to fit who I am. It’s about being able to be taken seriously in the avocation of my choice, whether that be composer or teacher, science fiction or romance writer, engineer or housewife. It’s about taking a stand against having to fit into the definition of “good girl,” a definition I had no part in creating.
Okay, have at it. Is there anything I missed? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why or why not?