Rare On-Topic Post

by naomiparker

I am a 5’2’’ tuba player.  I am a woman studying math and physics.  I am a lesbian with a boyfriend.  It’s safe to say I’m not overly concerned with “fitting in”.

Except with the feminists.

I’m terrified of the feminists.

I know that the vast majority of feminists are reasonable people who support the ultimately docile goal of human equality.  The feminists I know are generally intelligent, thoughtful, and cautious.  Some are even men.  These people are not the unfortunately popular image of the man-hating, bra-burning feminazi.  I have no reason to feel uncomfortable around them, let alone terrified.

I was hesitant to enroll in our university’s introductory level Women and Gender Studies course.  I much prefer my neutrinos and dynamical systems, but being the least unattractive of the diversity requirements, the WGS course was a necessary boredom.  I was surprisingly comfortable there, interested even.  My classmates were reasonably insightful, and I generally had no protests against the ideas presented in class.

Eventually the day came when I had something to say.  Not the kind of something to say where you answer a question or contribute some small insight to reassure the professor that you deserve those ten “class participation” points.  I came to class that day with a carefully constructed rebuttal to one of the assigned readings that I found offensive and frustrating.  I just had to come to class and say it.  Easy enough.

As one of my classmates gave a summary of the reading, I realized, to my horror, that she was completely fair and neutral.  I realize that this is good summarizing technique, but I was honestly expecting at least a little outrage.  I tried to read people’s faces, to see if they agreed with the clearly biased and misguided points the girl was so calmly repeating.  Nothing.

It dawned on me that no one was talking.  She had opened the discussion up to the class.  My hand should have been in the air, but it wasn’t, and I couldn’t explain why not.  No one made a sound for what seemed like hours.  Worse, the professor, an older Second Wave feminist with a very noticeable presence, was silent, waiting to either enforce or tear down the argument no one was making.

Finally, the girl leading the discussion caved with a hesitant “I mean…I…didn’t agree with everything she [the author] said, but…you know…”

That was what I needed.  I needed assurance that the class of thirty young, enthusiastic feminists (and one old one) wasn’t going to rip me to bits for questioning the author, and if they did, at least this girl would be hesitant about it.  I made my point before I had time to doubt myself again, and most of my classmates were vocal in their support of my rebuttal.

I realized then to what extent the misinformed stereotype of the harsh and judgmental feminist was ingrained into my consciousness.  It had made a decision for me.  I’m positive that it keeps others (particularly men) from expressing their views as well.  Those repressed opinions generally aren’t even questioning the ideals of feminism as much as they are contrary to the assumed ideals of the stereotypical feminists.  At first I thought the debate over the connotation of “feminist” and the movement to abolish the stereotype were minor concerns.  Now I believe they are the biggest obstacles we face while expanding the feminist movement.