My descent into feminism actually began with my current girlfriend. She’s a self described feminist but I would call her more of a humanist as she is equally fervent about racial rights and practically anything that even remotely smacks of inequality. Thanks to this wonderful woman I’ve learned that feminists were more than what I had thought for years; man hating females who wanted to do away with all men in the world. A very limited view I understand now, but that’s about as much thought as I attributed to feminism in my past.
In any case, because I was dating a woman very vocal about all rights, I also became interested in them. In the beginning it was purely selfish, I just wanted to be on the same page as her so I could carry on a conversation not look like I was ignorant of all social issues (I was). Yet little by little I started to nod my head while reading the articles she linked me to and the videos she showed me…
A few months ago if someone had asked me if I was a feminist I would have been hard pressed to immediately answer yes. I still had that image in my mind of what a feminist is, and my fear of being perceived as such sadly existed. I began a training program that placed me alongside several other sailors. Some of them had just graduated from ‘A’ school, some were fleetees like me. In that very first week I had a ‘feminism incident’.
Class hadn’t begun yet and the room was loud with people talking back and forth.
“Be a man about it and say it to my face!” I heard a male voice call out over the din.
I had no idea what he was mad about, who had said what, but I sat there absolutely quivering with all my new feminism indignation. Here it was! A ‘moment’! I can fix something that was sexist!
“I can’t be a man about it because I have a vagina, so what should I do now?” I yelled out to him.
He ignored me and kept repeating “Be a man about it and say it to my face!” to whoever had upset him, blowing me off. Now in this situation I am higher ranking than the gentlemen in question. He was ignoring me completely and continuing his behavior as I was trying to correct it. This is a No-No in the military, as we’re supposed to follow all lawful orders and I started to become indignant. I attempted to get his attention but he got louder and we both quickly devolved into a short shouting match. Thankfully, that was interrupted when an Officer came into the room. He did not notice our altercation and called everyone to take seats.
While the officer spoke to us I sat there fuming. I started considering which actions to take. Since he refused to listen to me I could go up the chain of the command and have him say what he said to our LPO (a female of no-nonsense temperament). While that would satisfy my desire for revenge I realized in the end the correct path (which they beat into our heads over and over again) was to handle it at the lowest level possible.
When the officer left I went to stand in front of the group.
“We need to handle things on the lowest level possible. This is me doing that. Let me tell you why ‘being a man about it’ is sexist. When you say ‘be a man about it’ you are insinuating that a woman’s stance on whatever you are upset about is less than a man’s. I’d like to point out to you there are only four females here, and all of them have been serving much longer than you. We have all been on ships, and we’ve all worked hard. Most of the rest of you have just joined, and you haven’t done shit. So don’t tell me to ‘be a man about it’. I won’t stand for any sexist, racist, or discrimination in general while I am here, and that goes for everyone”.
I became so inflamed during my speech that after I had finished and sat down I realized I was shaking. If the sailor had just shut up or apologized after I first called him out this would all be water under the bridge, but he disrespected my rank and wish for him to not say something I found offensive. Obviously whatever I said wasn’t important enough for him to even give attention to.
The adrenaline wore off and I began to think about what had happened. I had taken care of it on the lowest level possible, nobody was in trouble. I felt good! I probably hadn’t changed his mind about anything, but I let it be known that I would not stand for bullshit like that. Put my foot down, y’know?
Fast forward a month. It’s a godawful time in the morning we’re all together to do group PT. Our leading Petty Officers have prepared for us some documentation listing a series of exercises we will be doing. I glance down the list and I see one that I don’t recognize.
“What’s a ‘Hello Dolly’?” I ask aloud.
“Oh I know that one!” responds a fellow female fleetee. “It’s when you lie on your back, raise your legs straight up, spread ’em, close ’em again, and repeat.”
“Are you kidding me?” I say agape
She’s equally confused now, wondering why I am so perturbed.
“That’s sexist as fuck!” I exclaim
“You think everything is sexist!” snaps a voice from my peripheral. It’s one of the male fleetees in the program who has just recently been frocked, eyeballing me.
“Dude I never ever talk to you, how the hell can you think I consider everything to be sexist?”
“I don’t need to talk to you, just listen” he says in a dismissive manner, and walks off before I can respond. I shake my head and turn back to the female fleetee.
I explain to her why I thought it was sexist: You lay on your back, spread your legs open “Helloooooo Dolly!” Pretty cut and dry I thought.
Tell my girlfriend about it later and she disagrees and says it’s more sexualized than sexist. I stop and think about it and consider that I’m more upset about the fact that the male believes I think everything is sexist from saying that, when I practically never bring up anything about feminism near my classmates. Then my memory kicks in and I realize he was talking about the previous incident a month ago.
I thought everything was sexist from two incidents a month apart.
And understanding slams into me as I recognize that he percieves me the same way I used to percieve feminists. From two incidences I have been painted with the dirty feminist brush.
As I move forward into feminism, become more vocal, call people out on things that aren’t right…. That paint is going to be slathered all over me. I will be branded a Radical Bull Dyke Feminist Nazi Man-Hating Bitch. Men and women will talk about me behind my back, and sometimes probably right to my face.
And you know what? That doesn’t scare me anymore. It can’t scare me anymore. The more I learn the more I see that my previous fear of being seen as such is such a subtle way to keep the patriarchy strong. If you instill in everyone, especially young ladies (just like myself) that being a feminist is a dirty thing to be, then we’ll shy away from it.
In her book “A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word” Julie Zeilinger touches on this, amazed that women who believed in the same ideals as her about feminism would not actually call themselves feminists.
This is such a subtle way to keep females under oppression that my mind is still reeling from it months later. Well that’s it. I am just going to have to become more vocal about all things. Draw attention to myself at work place that yes, I am a feminist. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll inspire someone else to shed that perceived image of feminism and learn more about it for themselves.