I have joked to my close friends that our Mayan friends did not have the world in mind when contemplating the end of the world; rather, as a staunch Leo, they were thinking merely of me. 2012 brought with it the most tremendous losses I have experienced, short of a loved one’s demise, in my short or prolonged presence on this planet. This piece reviews the easiest loss: feminism.
The first hero I was aware of that was neither in movies nor animated for Saturday morning viewing over a bowl of Count Chocula was the tennis player Billie Jean King. I was eight years old at the time when the Battle of the Sexes – a 1973 tennis match between King and the arrogant showman Bobbie Riggs – took place. King, as history shows, pulverized Riggs 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3. I recall vividly how my home responded to the game. My mother and sister were thrilled, my father was disinterested. But beyond yells of victory and the harrumph of defeat, I sensed there was much more at play that merely a rare tennis match between a woman and a man.
My next few heroes were Gloria Steinem, Helen Reddy and, when she graduated top of her class from college, my own mother. I learned about the 1970s wave of feminism and how, to me, it made perfect sense and was so logical as to defy any criticism.
Flash forward several years to when I embarked on being a producer for improvisational and sketch comedy shows in Chicago. I was always disappointed by the female artists who auditioned for me; my ideal cast of four men and four women was never met. I would be lucky to find two women who could do the job. And then I would be hard pressed not to permit the female artists to be lumbered with the roles that comedy often bequeaths to women by default: wife, girlfriend, mother. Appendices to comedy.
As I grew from writing mere comedy to more substantial work as a playwright, I didn’t even have to make it a point to write strong female characters, but rather focused on all characters maintaining a full set of strengths, weaknesses, motives and desires. There is that moderately famous meme in which an individual allegedly asked Joss Whedon: “So, why do you write these strong female characters?”, to which Mr. Whedon replied, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” To me, this cute answer misses the mark slightly. If I myself was asked this question, my reply would be, “What other kind are there?” My dedication to feminism – which Webster’s, and I, define as a journey towards equality – remained undeterred throughout my life.
Sometime in 2012, after over a decade of being the most knowledgeable feminist I knew personally – illustrated briefly by the fact that I, alone amongst those who held feminism up as a good and right thing, seemed to know anything about women’s history, including when they finally got the right to vote in 1920 – there seemed to be a new wave of feminism coming to life and to light. I was delighted. Until I started to talking to them.
In one exchange, I was told that, no, feminism could not possibly mean to me what it meant to women. While on one hand I was momentarily baffled – again citing Webster’s and my agreement on what feminism was – and on the other I was offended that an individual – female or male – could dare to dictate to me what something meant to me. In very simplistic terms, it was like purchasing a green car and being advised by a friend that I didn’t like green. Or cars.
In another exchange, the word ‘privilege’ was brought out and lobbed at me repeatedly like a brick. “You cannot understand feminism,” I was advised, “because you are white and a male and thus speaking from privilege.” So now feminism, a mainstay of my philosophy and a key tenet of my very being since 1973, could not only mean what it meant to me but it was apparently well beyond my comprehension. When I pointed out that male privilege included not only voting but fighting in wars, working what today might be considered “double shifts” performing manual labor, providing for a family and the holiest of holies – dying at a considerably early age – these facts were discounted outright.
In yet another exchange, the topic was online dating and a very vocal female associate was writing dismissively of a potential suitor whose online preference was “straight girls.” My friend, who is bisexual, ridiculed this potential suitor for being homophobic. I thought this was a bit of a bridge too far, so I chimed in, attempting a light-hearted approach, “I personally prefer women who are about 5’0” to 5’8” – would this suggest that I am phobic to dwarves?” The response: “No, it says you don’t have the confidence to date women who are taller than you.” Now, for any man in the hell known as online dating, it is commonplace for a taller woman to write in their profiles, “I am very tall and like to wear heels. So I’d prefer to date someone [my height + 3 inches].” I have always respected that preference; at no point did I think such a woman to be phobic of men who might be their height or shorter.
Trying to hold onto the conversational thread, I tried to make a comparison between dating and dining. “What about steaks?” I asked. “I prefer medium rare. Could it be suggested that I am welldoneaphobic?” Although I was attempting to up the ante on the absurd notion that preference equals phobia, what followed was an attack on multiple fronts, citing that I was in fact comparing women to food. When I tried to point out that my intention and their interpretation were not in harmony, I was rebuffed. “No, you are comparing women to food!” came the collective cry. One individual pointed out that, “There is no comparison. Food is supposed to be judged by how it appears, how it smells and how it tastes!” I quickly excused myself from the discourse; if the new voice of womanhood is ignorant of the makeup industry, the clothing industry, pheramones and even proper hygiene, I knew I wasn’t going to make any inroads to my original point.
Other exchanges abounded throughout the year; recalling more of them would only be redundant to the point: the latest wave of feminism can discount anyone based on genitalia, even 30+ year proponents of the movement. Since this new feminism seems to put women on a pedestal, a notion that would be abhorrent to the young boy who marveled at Billie Jean King, I have regrettably had to say goodbye to the movement
In its place I have taken up the mantle of humanism. For me, it’s the same thing. But the advantages are that no one can decide for me what it means for me, no one can discount my opinion based on the color of my skin and no one can dismiss me for having a penis. That this new wave of feminism would be able – and anxious – to chuck its own allies in favor of a we-win-you-lose matrix is disheartening at best and self-defeating at worst.
I do not wish the new feminism ill or well. I simply prefer to go on my own route, working and writing for equality and individuality of all people, without the need to subjugate myself in the process.