the reluctant feminist

I have never really been a feminist, and I don’t think I ever will be one as it is commonly defined. I believe in women’s rights: I am pro-choice, I believe in equality in the workforce, and I think rape is a real thing. But I do not loudly fight for these rights, as I prefer a peaceful life for myself. All the other feminists probably scoff at me, and I don’t blame them. I do not educate myself on the challenges women face in life, and I choose not to get angry at potential injustices that even I face on a daily basis.

It could be that I just have a bad perception of feminism. I see so many feminists loudly rail against perceived injustices,* which I don’t see as a big issue. For example, I don’t think it’s a big deal in swing dance when teachers use the terms “guys” and “girls” for leads and follows. In fact, I absolutely love leading, and I often take a class as a female lead – but I have no need for the teachers to change how they speak. When they say, “Guys, rock step on your left foot,” I know they’re including me, and that’s fine.

I don’t want to be a loud, abrasive, ball-breaking feminist. I don’t want to have to fight for my rights in the working world. I don’t want to fight over wage inequality, because in reality, we all make more than we need anyway. I don’t want to have to become ruthless, argumentative, or easily offended for my gender to get forward in the working world. In all honesty, I would love being a part-time housewife.** But I do understand why other women get angry. And this week, I have been tempted to change my ways and begin railing against the injustices of sexist discrimination in the workplace.

I’ll keep the story short. An male acquaintance of mine has terrible work ethic, is too lazy to network, and refuses to job hunt as long as he is able to scrape along and pay his bills; however, he has been handed two – not one, but two – jobs without any effort. He did not network, he did not apply for the jobs, and he did not even have to interview. He is now paid more working part time for twenty hours a week than I make working full time.

On the other hand, I have been struggling as a temp while actively job hunting for two years, both in low-skill jobs at a basic wage, and in moderately-well-paying, entry-level jobs for which I am actually qualified through my major in college. Even my goal in graduate school is to advance my degree to a place where I am more than qualified for the environmental science jobs to which I will apply, so that I will actually get the job and not be poor all my life. Only recently have I had a modicum of success, but only for a seasonal position (which is actually convenient, but that’s not the point), and only through some incredible family networking. My job search has been the opposite of his, and the only moderately satisfying explanation I can find is sexism.

I’m honestly happy for my acquaintance, who is excited about the new job he is working. But I am upset that I have had such a difficult time finding work, while he has been handed two jobs. His work ethic includes a lot of Facebook and TV on Hulu, and I honestly think that his terrible work ethic is looked over at least in part due to his gender. At the same time, he has been handed jobs with no effort on his part – and again, the only thing I can see is gender. It is true that I probably don’t know the whole situation – but it stands that gender has likely played a role in both his and my job hunt.

Here’s the bottom line: believing that men have such an advantage in the work place makes me upset. I don’t want to depend in a sexist explanation, because it takes away my personal culpability and capability in my job search, and I believe both of those facets are important for success, both inside and outside the working world.

In the realm of culpability, I know that sometimes, I slack off – I go through phases where I don’t submit as many applications, and I haven’t tried to advance my environmental resume since I graduated. I avoid serious networking because I am an introvert, and it makes me uncomfortable. In those areas, I could improve, and blaming a lack of personal competency on men’s advantage through gender is avoiding the acknowledgement of my own very real flaws.

As for capability, blaming workplace inequalities on discrimination against women takes away my ability to rise above those inequalities by the simple reality of hard work, extreme competency, and good work relationships. I am qualified, and I generally believe I can get the job if I try hard enough (where legitimate networking will always give someone else the leg up, regardless of qualifications). But to assume that a man will get the position before me nine times out of ten is to give up my dreams of getting the job before submitting my application. This becomes a defeatist, self-fulfilling prophecy which I can forever blame on men, despite a lack of faith that I can even be equal in the eyes of my interviewer.

Strangely, the most upsetting part of this story is the reaction I received when I idiotically posted my feelings on Facebook. I posted a brief and vague feminist status expressing my frustration, along the lines of “I have never believed in being a raging feminist against perceived injustices, but today I am considering changing my mind.” The reactions I received ranged from those who were angrier than I felt to those who were dismissive of the possible discrimination I have seen in my personal job hunt. I was shocked: both reactions were so extreme that I felt uncomfortable expressing my moderate feminist feelings. I was told that I was either underreacting or overreacting, and that’s absurd – I feel how I feel, and that should be the end of the discussion.

So here’s the conclusion: I don’t think that sexism in the workplace is okay. But I do have faith that this person will one day get his ass handed to him when he has a boss that sees straight, and that will be a good day for the rest of the world. I also have to believe that I will one day succeed in the working world, no matter my age, gender, or beliefs – because I don’t want to live in a world where working hard and being awesome isn’t enough. I might be naive, but I am only a reluctant feminist.


*“Perceived injustices”: I believe that many loud feminists rail against acts which can potentially be explained as coincidence or misinterpretation – or even a poor choice of words in the heat of the moment. I do not believe that all men are out to get us, and I believe that constantly acting like they are will only serve to hurt us in the long run.

**Part-time because I believe in productivity, and I would find a way to contribute, no matter what. Anyways, a housewife has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and I’d be awesome at it. My mom was a part-time housewife, and my brother and I have always appreciated the love and effort and support she put into our lives.


7 thoughts on “the reluctant feminist

  1. “It could be that I just have a bad perception of feminism.”

    I suspect this. I have also similarly spent a long time trying to suggest that I wasn’t one of ‘those’ feminists – but you know what? I am. It just took being better informed. That doesn’t mean I’m as combative as some – but that doesn’t make me any less feminist.

    The ONLY rule to feminism, is believing in gender equality. That’s all. If you believe in that, then you are feminist. The only reason why it has ‘fem-‘ as the root of the word is because it’s the female side which is the one that needs bringing up to a level footing – not because we want females to have it any better than males.

    As for your acquaintance, I believe you’re probably right that there’s some element of sexism in there, but some of these factors can be mitigated. How do your resumes compare? Could he be acting ‘typical male’ by ‘bigging himself up’ and pushing for more, and are you ‘typical female’ by being modest and more likely to take what you’re given (not saying you are, but if either of you lean towards the stereotypes, it may be a factor)? Many interviewers don’t recognise this difference between the sexes and take what applicants say completely at face value – meaning what a typical man says about himself will sound more impressive than that a typical woman says even if they are the same in all other ways. It ends up being our job to be more bolshy and forthright to compete.

    I won’t even begin to suggest what being a woman ‘of child bearing age’ might do for employment possibilities. It’s all so incredibly frustrating and tends to set me off in a rant about parental leave.

    • I agree with Sara. Feminism as a philosophy has been heavily vilified by a largely patriarchal social order. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. Women have been bamboozled into believing that fighting for equal rights is something to be ashamed of. That being said, as with any group, there are a few members of the vocal minority that create most of the bad buzz that ends up defining the entire group.

      • Just realised how bloody sexist my own post was, too! Sorry about that. It’s so heavily ingrained – out, damn spot!

        Tola yes totally. We are led to believe there’s nothing to get riled up about and that feminists are bad. Boo.

  2. The term Feminist that you are referring to has been largely defined by those who aren’t, as well as media that makes controversy out of anything they can. I believe most true Feminists are like you: believing in equality without needing vitriol from either sex. Common courtesy, such as opening doors for someone, should not be scorned. Neither should someone who politely declines assistance when it’s not needed.
    Most societal attitudes don’t change quickly, in my experience. But with persistence, they do change. Now we have to be diligent that we keep what we’ve gained and don’t slide backwards as well as keep pushing ahead.

    • I think that’s where feminists get most angry – perceived backward-sliding. The hard-won baby steps forward that are dismissed with the wave of a hand.

  3. Pingback: raising the bar: gendered roles in dance | The Lindy Affair

  4. Pingback: The Unfortunate Existence of Sexism amongst Friends – one thousand adventures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s