Imagine you are bored. You’re at home sick with flu, or at a beach somewhere splayed on a hammock, or in a lecture room listening to Accounting 101. Then your smartphone gets your attention. Facebook notifications were illuminating the screen. You looked away, bit your lip, resisted. Your eyes squinted, an excuse started bubbling in your head: What if it’s an event invite? That I NEED to RSVP to now?!
And that’s how it started.
It ended with me getting called “touchy cunt”.
Let me tell you the long story. I was reading an interesting book. 1984 in fact. When I needed a rest from reading the torture bits in Room 101. So, I checked out my newsfeed on Facebook, using my phone while lying sick in my couch. Saw some great articles about the new French president and his wife, read funny tweets and Takei’s Reddit posts when BAM! I saw it.
I usually don’t engage in public figures’ posts or comments. I thought those who do are sad… or bored. Both of which I was. So I put my opinion out there. Dared to IMHO, nicely and diplomatically oppose this renowned feminist’s views. Let’s call her Catherine. Didn’t think much about it. Typing my reply was almost a reflex reaction like when I see people trip I instinctively ask if they are ok? I continued on reading “Best of Lists” when I heard the DING of notification. Someone commented on my comment?! Who could it be? I was amused at the thought, but my smile was wiped off my face when I read the comment. It was unnecessarily patronising and snarky. I was so disappointed that the commenter’s profile pic had “atheist” on it. I am an atheist, why so mean to me? It’s as if I came to someone who tripped and they told me to fuck off. Before I can get over the comment I see that someone pressed the Like button. As in the bystander who openly sniggers or laughs because I dared to show my vulnerability by helping the person who tripped. And the bystander was Feminist Catherine! Before I can even recover from that she posted another comment calling me and others who did not agree with her: touchy cunts.
And that’s what happened.
I didn’t expect that. I really thought this feminist and I were on the same wave length. I see that she’s divisive. I get that she needed to be to drive home some point. Maybe she thought normalising the one English word most derogatory for women is an ironic twist to her flavour of feminism. Or maybe she just thinks it’s funny because if she can hurl that horrible word like it was the F-word then she must not be so affected by it. Definitely a strong woman right? No.
I immediately unfollowed her. I rang my bestie who’s apathetic to this feminist movement at best. I tried explaining to her the experience, my feelings about it and all we came up with at the end of the conversation was: Feminist Catherine is mean.
It would be days and weeks of me tinkering with my thoughts; numerous talks in person (not on Facebook) about my divorce from feminist Catherine (I’m not a fan anymore); reading about the c-word and its etymology before I finally understood the significance of what’s happened. It changed me. It forged me into a different feminist. It made me evolve – I’d like to think.
I realised I changed as I was crying while watching this movie called The Staging Post. I was sitting next to my friend who just heard the whole “touchy cunt” story. There’s a scene where a young refugee man was openly crying in front of his friends as he spoke about his mother who was forced to marry at a young age and his sisters who would never get the education he received living in Afghanistan. He was lamenting that he left them while he’s trying to seek refugee status at the staging post in Indonesia. Imagine this young 20-something man having the awareness, empathy for the women in his life with the most gentle attitude. The way he spoke about them and the women he’s met at the staging post, how happy he was that the women are able to be a little more liberal while living in Indonesia. They are able to teach, play soccer and contribute more. He doesn’t just talk about his own suffering and hardships instead he constantly thinks about his mother and sisters and respects the sacrifices they’ve done to get him where he is. At the end of the scene he exclaimed through open tears: No woman should endure what my mother and sisters endured!
I turned to my friend and told her: that’s the kind of feminist I want to be.
Yes, I’ve been vocal about unequal pay and leaning in at work. I’ve had my fair share of sexist jokes and patriarchal injustice. But just like feminist Catherine I haven’t seen nothing yet. Most of the women who are experiencing terrible suffering or making total sacrifices are too busy to call anyone the C-word on Facebook. Yes, we women in the Western world have our own reality, and our own battles with not having equal pay, very poor chid care support from the government and still poor representation in the CxO levels in companies. These are all real problems and things that we have to be vocal about. Could we somehow be that young man at the staging post and be more empathetic to those who are different from us though? Both women and men?
This whole experience made me realise that we have to cast our net wider when we are thinking of feminism. It isn’t just us here in Australia, UK, US, etc who need feminism. All women and men from poor to developing countries do too. Maybe if we spent less time being divisive, the fight won’t be such an uphill battle. This lady made perfect sense when she said the feminist far left is making more enemies than allies. Was that the goal? To fight and make more enemies? To create a wider rift between not only men and women, but other women who don’t comply? What are we really doing here? Are we just trying to make a cheap point – all the time? Or do we really want changes to take effect?
The language that I see and hear with Western feminism is angry and weary (fight like a girl, cunts, queens) – it makes me feel excluded and attacked. It smells of privilege or the demand of it. I realised that the feminism I ascribed to always said: Look at me! Look at me! For example my post about going back from maternity leave is all about me not getting my perceived privileges as a valued employee of a company. For me the law said that I get my role back, but with that I also demanded the respect that I had before I left and expected everyone to remember how good an employee I was. I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe we have to start introspecting and figure out what kind of feminism we really want to pass to our daughters and sons.
Of course my Utopia is that my grandchildren (too soon for my children now) to not have to think about feminism, gender or inequality anymore. It would either be a future where its a perfect meritocracy or a future so bleak that gender inequality is the lowest in everyone’s priority – Maszlo’s hierachy still withstanding. If we go with a more positive outlook, I imagine that being a boy or girl should not matter anymore in terms of getting education, choices in life and love, government subsidies, privileges and leadership. I imagine that as humans most of our energies and intellect would be spent on intergalactic travel, forging relationships with our alien friends, starting new colonies with Musk’s juniors… we as humans would eventually realise that it is better for all of us to be equally collaborative. That there’s strength in numbers via empathy and equality. I like that young man in the Staging Post movie because he knows that for him to be happy he needs to know that his mother and sisters are going to be ok. He does everything to have a voice in spite of his status or lack thereof, not because he’s fighting the regime or culture in Afghanistan, but because he would like to educate and open their eyes more to women’s plight.
So that would be my kind of feminism now. The one that opens eyes. The one that educates. That listens and gives time to those who don’t understand feminism. The one who’s goal is to unify via empathy. The one that proudly says: Yes, Feminist Catherine I am a touchy person.