Oh My Gosh… I’m A Feminist

Like a lot of dudes my age, I’ve always been a bit annoyed by feminists.  It can feel so empty, watching the discussions going back and forth.  The buzzwords that have been so overused that they’ve lost meaning (as important as they may be), like “rape culture”, “patriarchy”, and all that.

Then I watched a 90’s show…

It was a classic 90’s sitcom, one of my favorites when I was younger.  It had a beautiful premise, an amazing cast, and a clearly inspired group of writers.

I hadn’t seen it in ages, so I was excited to finally find it online, and I couldn’t wait to get cracking and watch it again.

And as I rewatched it, I couldn’t help but fall back in love.  It was even more genius than I remembered.  It was funny but it made you think.

It was also delightfully 90’s.  The laugh track.  The embrace of silliness.  The theatricality.  This was before mockumentaries became all the rage.  Before we became so cynical we couldn’t embrace true absurdity in our humor.  Before being crude became a competition to see who could go further.

And so, at first, it was an absolute pleasure to be transported back to my high school days, back to a time when things seemed simpler, more ordered, and better.

And for a few episodes that’s how it went.  Back to high school.  Back to simplicity.  Back to normalcy.  Nostalgia for the win.

But then, slowly, I started to notice a few things that made me think to myself, “Well… that was weird.”

It started with the male protagonist grabbing a woman who was resisting his advances and planting a kiss on her.  She resisted and resisted, and suddenly… she fell into his embrace.  His forcing himself upon her, despite her repeated insistance that she was not interested, had essentially caused her to fall for him.

I was shocked.  I hadn’t seen a TV show or a movie blatantly pull this move in ages.  In fact, I had forgotten that it was actually a normal trope in entertainment until only recently.

Suddenly, the word “rape culture” made a whole lot of sense to me.  That a nationally syndicated TV show could show a man force himself on a woman and perpetuate the myth that this was a manly act… wow… no way could that happen today without mass protests.

And as much as I loved the protagonist in the show, and as much as he was clearly a “good guy”, he continued to treat this woman protagonist in a way that would shock audiences today.  He cheated on her.  He slapped her butt in public.  More times afterwards, he forced kisses upon her that again melted her.

But the most interesting part of it all was the way she reacted to all these misogynistic (there’s another buzz word!) practices.  She always came back to him.  She always treated him well.  She always forgave him.  And even after a brief breakup where she acknowledged some of these wrongs… she came back to him… because she was drunk.

Now, the fascinating part of all this is that because I have not given you the name of the TV show, I doubt you will be able to single out the show I’m talking about. All of these themes were just too common in the 90’s (and earlier).

And suddenly, I suppose in the same way people look at the 50’s, I realized that perhaps the age I had grown up in wasn’t as idyllic as I recalled.  Perhaps rape culture was real.  Perhaps misogyny was common.

Perhaps… perhaps, the feminists were right all along.

This was a big revelation for a male millennial who’s gotten sick of all the Jezebel articles hyping their brand of vacuous feministing, of the buzzwords, of the anger unleashed at everyone that doesn’t perfectly fall into line behind the “agenda”.

It was a reminder.  A reminder that just because things are perhaps a bit extreme now in some circles, that just because things are “better” today, does not mean that there is not an incredible value to this movement.  That our society has not improved astronomically even over the last 20 years.

In truth, I think many millennials think things perfected in the 90’s and then went downhill from there.  We forget just how messed up some messages were in the media.  Before the internet had fully developed the multiplicity of views we see today.  Before there was even such a thing as a feminist buzzword.

All these revelations have, slowly but surely, made me grateful for the feminist movement.  It’s reminded me that for all our hand-wringing our country has gone in a positive direction in this context.  It’s reminded me not to give up hope.

Ironically, I also learned one positive thing from this show: the 90’s really were much less cynical than the world today.  There was a certain positivity, a certain hopefulness that we simply see much less of today.

And so I was able to take that aspect from the show as well and see that much of the backlash against feminism today comes from that very positivity we’ve lost.  We have become, as a society, very focused on the negative aspects of the tribes we disagree with.  One of the positive effects of the internet has been our fragmentation, the ability for everyone with a voice and an opinion to find those they agree with.  But that’s also contributed to this cynicality: the forgotten ideal that we are all in this together.  As much as mainstream media brainwashed us, it also created a feeling of unity.

Perhaps, at some point, we’ll be able to marry the positive of the past with the positive of the present: to see that we’re all in this together, that there is a positive we all contribute, and that by uniting in our fragmentation, we’ll be able to reach even higher levels.

  • Nat J

    I think with every movement there are some truths. But the feminist movement wasnt just about gaining more respect for women to be treated as people, not objects. It has become something so much bigger where they are fiercely fighting for their to be no acknowledged differences between male and female. Where if a woman chooses to nurture her children and be a housewife who stays at home, she is ridiculed and labeled as someone who needs to be liberated. So in that sense, I’m not thankful for the feminist movement.

    • Rebecca K.

      Could not agree more.

    • Gonna copy and paste what I wrote to a commenter on Facebook:

      My point here is more about focus. Are we obsessing over every negative aspect of a community, or are we working to find the positives, connect with the folks in the community on the positive spectrum, and learning what we can from those folks.

      I think that’s what this post is about. My complaint is more about the negative focus against the communities we disagree with. There was much value brought out by feminism, but to define them all by the fanatics (even if there are a bunch), would be falling into the same trap people fall into when attacking Jews… and just about everyone else.

      • Nat J

        I agree with that. Thanks for your post!

  • Interesting. From your post about turning thirty it seems that I’m only a year older than you, but my experience of the nineties and its pop culture was radically different. I found very little in mainstream pop culture to interest me and was mostly interested in geeky TV (before that became fashionable) and repeats of old programmes from the sixties and seventies. So I didn’t find that positivity or that unity at all; I remember being bullied mercilessly at school for being a massive Doctor Who fan (before that became fashionable again). The nineties for me was all about being on the receiving end of cynicism and insult, doubly so once I got to my late teens and some of the people around me started getting involved in quite radical politics and anti-religious views: idealistic on paper, but they often seemed very cynical and abusive in their attitude to mainstream politicians and parties and the Judaism we were taught in school.

    Or perhaps it was just me and the kids I was at school with!

    • Rebecca K.

      I’m older than both you gents, but I was also a nerd who watched original Dr. Who and foreign movies and listened to swing music before it was hip, etc. I got teased a lot, too.

      I was a TV junky before I married in 2000. My husband and I decided to keep no TV in our home. The only things we watch are Nova episodes online and a little PBS (usually Masterpiece Theater) or Twilight Zone we can get online if I’m home sick.

      So, I don’t know what today’s TV is like. TV in the 1990s was terrible. At the beginning of the decade, “Married with Children” was still on.

      Not that I think it was worse or better. I just think TV is one of the worst things for women in the U.S. today, and has been since it started. Once, we were packing up to leave a hotel room, and we decided to watch a little “I love Lucy” while we didn’t (we hadn’t turned on the TV over the previous two days in the hotel, mind you).

      Oh, the horror. At one point, Ricky bends Lucy over his lap and spanks her repeatedly to “punish her” for her usual antics. With a laugh track. Ugh.

      And there are less direct effects: think of all those ads targeted to make women feel bad if they don’t have XYZ new product, the constant barrage of “perfect” looking women in “perfect” looking homes whose problems wrap up conveniently before the end of each episode?

      But, I totally have to agree with Elad’s assertion: we’ve forgotten we’re all in this together. I think that’s the real reason for anti-feminist backlash: what they/we are critiquing is indeed a problem, but the negative, fracturing way they go about “fixing” it often just creates new problems.

  • I don’t consider myself a feminist. Mind you, I agree with your article, and I firmly believe in equal pay for equal work and that the objectification of women must cease. However (and I’ll acknowledge that this may not be the case everywhere) there are some teachers of feminist theory, dogma really, that fill up the minds of impressionable students with such ‘shtus’ – e.g., all men cheat on their wives, all men think only about sex all the time, all men beat their wives, all men this, all men that, this is a phallic symbol, that is a phallic symbol, yadda yadda yadda. I was married to a woman who earnestly believed in this stuff and I, who would never dream about cheating and would never hurt a fly, became the pincushion for all this false dogma. Eventually we got divorced, and one of the irritants that led to the demise of our marriage was the fact that she essentially turned me into her personal villain, the Oppressive Male Figure, just by dint of my Y chromosome, and I could not live like that.

  • Joseph Biener

    I was in a discussion recently on the subject of our “rape culture.” I made what I thought was a fairly innocuous comment. Namely, that while I would never under any circumstances condone rape, we have to realize that in some cases there might be a grey area. To say I was castigated for this would be an understatement. I was told in no uncertain terms that there is NEVER a grey area. Consent must be absolute. There is no chance of misunderstanding. Anything less is rape, and if I had ever had sex without getting a full, unambiguous statement of consent, then I was a rapist. I have always assumed that a woman tearing my clothes off me would be considered consent, but I don’t know if even that would stand up to their scrutiny.

    It is with that in mind that I respond to your post. I think to understand what is going on with the Feminist movement in particular and in more broader terms, our society in general, we need to look at the life-cycle of a movement. All movements start as a small cadre of true believers who are at odds with the majority. They work diligently making their arguments over and over, and they begin to make inroads. After a period of time, movements expand to include people with a broad spectrum of beliefs related to aims of the movement.

    As the movement grows, society evolves. Laws change. Attitudes change. Progress is made. Once it gets to a certain point, people see that they have achieved X, Y and Z and they move away from movement and go on with the rest of their lives. More and more people leave until the movement is only a shadow of its former glory. Those who are left generally fall into two groups. One is the TRUE BELIEVERS. These are the people who may have been there at the beginning, but they are almost always the ones who have staked out the most extreme positions. The other group are the professional activists. While they may not be TRUE BELIEVERS in the strictest sense, they are the people who have invested their lives in the movement and really have nothing left to fall back on if it the movement goes away.

    As more and more of the goals of the movement are achieved these two groups find themselves staking out ever more extreme positions just to stay relevant. This means demanding increasingly more stringent solutions or simple denying that progress has been made. Movements run on outrage, and once people become satisfied with the gains they’ve made, they lose their outrage and fall out of the movement. Those who remain in the movement end up attacking even their own allies over the slightest hint of apostasy.

    As a country, we went through an extremely active time in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and much of our society was transformed because of it. More was achieved than most thought possible. The problem is that we are left with the vestiges of these movements, and the people who worked so hard to unite us, are now trying to divide us. Unfortunately, they still have the machinery of their movements so they have a disproportionate voice in the public sphere. It is incumbent on us not to let ourselves get dragged back into disputes that, as far as we are concerned, are already settled.

    One last thing. My wife went to a baby shower a few years ago for the daughter of one of my bandmates. This girl and her friends were all twenty-somethings. To them, the women’s movement was history, It wasn’t relevant to their lives. To my wife, it was her reality.

    The world moves on, and we must move with it.