We don’t care about feminism until it affects us personally

artist Christina Angelina

There are a few big “feminist” conversations right now, and best I can tell most of them are regarding the public sphere — “feminism at work,” with “tech” being the current scapegoat and things like “work life balance” still being a major topic, and “intersectional” feminism, which is about sexuality and race and class and, well, everything else. Kitchen sink feminism.

I lose favor with people each time I say this, but: these aren’t my conversations.

I’ve always felt it was a bit ironic, me being swept into these conversations and expected to make them mine on basis of gender — like isn’t shit like that a fundamental part of the sexism fight? Quit dragging me into this and making assumptions and demands.

I cared about feminism with regard to one thing: my own agency. My own actions. Regardless of setbacks. My freedom of movement, inequalities aside. The focus was always me, my responsibility and my actions, not others and their oppression.

It’s one thing to shrug off sexism in the workplace.

I used to be a software product manager — first in Chicago, then San Francisco — so I’m well aware of the tech scene and it’s “sexism.” And frankly, I’m not sure why tech gets the bad rep.

I’ve worked in tons of different industries and roles, and sexism isn’t a tech problem; it’s a people problem. And if you want to talk sexism on a spectrum, middle-aged corporate men — who openly commented on my body, my age, or the way I dress — are far worse. And bartending, as you might imagine, even worse than that.

So I can tolerate — even embrace — the brogrammers, because a.) most of them do mean well. And b.) more importantly, they put out good work for me. And I value that more highly than how we interact on personal levels.

Which makes sense, of course.

“Many white women perpetuate the patriarchy because it is the quickest way for them to achieve their own success.”

But I knew that. I stared it straight on and wanted the success more, regardless, than I wanted to pick up the sexism torch. Winning against sexism mattered less, and still does.

But romantic partnerships are a different animal

You can pretend work is only about your product, but love is fundamentally about your person. And

“Oppression at the hands of your beloved is worse than oppression at the hands of strangers.” — Emma Lindsay

It hurts far more because love and care was their primary, not secondary, purpose in your life. And you are far more vulnerable.

I thought I was more or less* an equal

*I mean, let’s not get grabby here

None of my boyfriends ever said anything about my lack of make-up, my motorcycle, my sailor’s mouth, my perpetually-ponytailed hair. They didn’t call me “baby” after I said I didn’t like it, and they never made me feel I couldn’t accomplish whatever the hell I wanted.

They just told me I was “not like most women.” And addressed me as “Beautiful.”

Benevolent sexism

They moved me into their places and took me on their trips. And I was like “I guess this is livin the dream, then.”

But it’s not.

He’ll have a preoccupation with you being “pleasant.” He’ll counter your differing opinion with “can’t we just have a good time?” He’ll get more up in arms about your table manners than when his buddy across the table comments on your tits. He’ll expect you to fit into his life rather than offer to fit into yours, and scrutinize your every move for signs of displeasure (because god forbid.)

He’ll have a thing for women who are racial minorities. Or wear heels. Or do arts and fucking crafts and aerial yoga. Or anything that’s characteristically specific to only one gender.

And that, my darlings, is benevolent sexism. And if it sounds like it’s everyone, everywhere, it’s because it is.

Hostile sexism

He’ll express an odd disdain for Lena Dunham. A few slip-ups where he’ll use “bitch” as synonymous with “woman,” and then get defensive when you ask that he not. He’ll make generalizations — good or bad — about “women.”

“It’s fine,” I always thought. “He doesn’t mean me.”

Darling. My god, of course he does. He does very much so also mean you. He’s just smart enough to say the right things to your face when it comes up, or do it just infrequently enough that you let it go.

But look harder.

The best place to hide sexism in the private sphere is in the most private place: the bedroom.

One got off on calling me “little girl” and pretending to physically hurt me in bed. A few have liked criticizing my body. Some of them “couldn’t” (wouldn’t) fuck me at all. One whined, “I can’t do it when we’re fighting.” And, in his mind, we were always fighting. Because he was a codependent. And sex was just another arena for control and manipulation.

And “holy shit,” you suddenly realize. “Shit ain’t right.”

Sexism and emotional abuse

Kay Leigh Hagan’s autobiographical essay “A Good Man Is Hard to Bash,” includes the story of her dating an emotionally-abusive man. She asks a friend for advice about “how much abuse she should endure.”

The friend looks her directly in her eyes and tells her:

Kay, in a loving relationship, abuse in unacceptable. You should not have to tolerate any abuse to be loved.

And sure, it makes sense when we only accept things like name-calling and gaslighting as abuse. But if we recognize that emotional abuse is any time when:

“The essential ideas, feelings, perception, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled… [It is] the ongoing effort to demean and control, that constitutes emotional abuse.”

Then, between hostile and benevolent sexism, how is that not just about everything?

Where do we go from here?

I feel like Gigi from He’s Just Not That Into You:

Gigi: So what now I’m just supposed to run from every guy who doesn’t like me?
Alex: Uh. Yeah!
Gigi: There’s not gonna be anybody left.

Like, how do I go about reconciling shit like:

“Men are visual creatures, and beauty is always first.” Isn’t accepting this fundamentally demeaning? Like, where do I draw the line? Most women yearn to still be regarded as beautiful as they age. I don’t. I don’t want to be regarded primarily as beautiful at all, and have to process the fact that most people still feel compelled to tell me I am. Who’s right here? Who gets final say in the exchanges I have regarding my own person? Where do I compromise?

How do you have sex without submission, subjugation, or sentimental love-making? Like, seriously, how do you? I “broke” sex for myself after my last break up, because I didn’t know how to do it enthusiastically without one of these three things.

How much to give in relationships? Some days I feel like I broke this for myself, too.

My own sexism regarding men, and how to love properly as well. To have good love, you have to first love yourself. And part of that requires that you do not lean on men to “fill in” the weak points for you, but rather develop them for yourself. And it also means seeing men as human beings, not a set of characteristics.

Marriage. Y tho? And who? I hear that “women need to marry the right husband to progress in their careers,” but frankly I’ve never really understood what this meant. Is it choosing someone who would provide professional footholds, or someone who would stay at home with the kids? They say “the patriarchy ain’t so bad if you marry it” but I’ve had my taste of that “privilege” and it’s not my cup of tea.

Having and raising a child. If I can’t answer these questions for myself, how do I answer them for others?

How do I even?? Seems to me, some days, that

“Being single, being less respected in the world, having less money, even (if it comes to it) never having kids — all these things are better than having a life partnership where I am oppressed by my partner.” — Emma Lindsay

Love despite it all

Apparently I’m still not fully broken, because I’m still at it. As far as I can figure, best any of us can do is give it our best, focus on our own efforts — caring for ourselves and caring for others — and trust that others will do the same.

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