How I Stopped Being a Feminist
GUEST EDITORIAL by R.K. Modena
So I sat down in my rocking chair at my laptop late one evening to skim through Twitter, with a mug of hot cocoa. I’ll usually browse what I call my ‘stupid stuff to shut my brain down’ side of the net as a precursor to going to sleep. This usually involves bouncing through stuff like cat pictures or cute baby pics or baby animals; or random link-hopping.
I know that the common wisdom these days is to not browse the net or read before bedtime, but these days it usually results in my brain just refusing to go into idle and slowly go into sleep mode till I’m utterly exhausted. (Yes, the computer terminology is entirely apt. Our brains are meaty computers far more advanced than the stuff we have in front of us, but alas, all too many people just don’t seem to use it as well as they should. Hmm. I didn’t mean to go straight for the metaphors… oh well.)
I originally wanted to just go skim for videos of foxes, but stopped by Twitter, because lazy brain mode = random ooh shiny. I saw a Tweet by Ralph from The Ralph Retort, from the various images collected from the WomenAgainstFeminism Tumblr, which consists of testimonials from women who no longer call themselves feminists.
I’m a woman who, until hours ago, identified as a feminist. I support it in other countries where women are truly oppressed based on gender. However, as far as feminism in the U.S. I’ve come to realize how heavily it has become about judging and controlling other women. It’s not a sisterhood, it’s a “You can’t sit with us” Mean Girls set up where in the process of trying to “stop men from oppressing women” women proceed to judge and oppress each other. I support and respect for all people of all genders from all walks of life and I was completely torn down by fellow feminists because of it. It’s not a movement I want to be part of.
Reading it made me remember the incident that drove me away from feminism for good. I re-tweeted the tweet and started writing in reply to my own tweet, to sort of explain where I was coming from. From there a discussion cropped up and well, here I am, writing another essay because quite honestly, while Twitter can be fun, 140 characters are limiting for a discussion, and the way the tweets end up tangling is rather confusing for me. (I still prefer the LJ threaded formats but not when it squishes all the way to the right. Yeesh.)
I’ve mentioned this experience a few times before, because discussions of destructive rabid feminism will crop up now and again. I hadn’t had any encounter with it before this incident, so it’s probably a testimonial of my own to put down.
Again, a bit of background here: I went to an all girls Catholic college that also promotes itself as a feminist college. I can also almost see the ‘how the heck does that work?!’ expression most of my readers will probably have upon reading that. I’ll get into explaining how that works later. Story time first!
As part of Women’s Studies class, we were going to attend a talk…eh, a presentation, I guess, with a group of feminists from overseas, and some of the local feminists as well. Being young, we looked forward to this; the general experience we’ve had with feminism had been positive. Our Women’s Studies teacher actually enjoyed having us debate and encouraged discussions with different points of view. You know a class was being enjoyed when the students would go “Eh, we’ll go home later, this is a good discussion,” and we’d stay a half hour longer. Certainly, I have no bad memories of the class or the teacher. The guests were supposed to talk about how feminism yielded positive results for the women in their regions; two of the invited speakers were from India. I think the others were from other parts of the Philippines, and couldn’t tell from their attire; they were wearing loose tunics with ethnic-style embroidery around the collar, sleeves and hem, and loose pants with ethnic patterns, while one of the Indian women wore the more recognizable sari and dress combo. My teacher was fond of the tunic and pants attire too because ‘they were comfortable.’ I just thought, personally, that their tendency toward having wild, uncombed looking hair was probably very hot and uncomfortable in the Philippine heat.
Fortunately the lecture hall we were going into was nice and air conditioned, so when everyone who was supposed to be there was in, the talk began.
There were some discussions from the Indian women about how microloans in India worked wonderfully for helping women set up small businesses and become financially independent, or provide for themselves and their families if their husband had passed away. There were other examples given, but I don’t remember them so well now, and the general gist was that feminism was bringing more women to be independent and self-sufficient, breaking cultural norms.
Now personally, I didn’t think those cultural norms really apply to Filipino women. Even in the provinces, it is not uncommon for a woman to set up a small store at the front of their house and sell food, or set up some other type of cottage business. The little corner sari-sari store is an ubiquitous sight in the Philippines. Some are small, barely large enough to be called stalls, some are big enough to qualify as small groceries. Then again, the Indian women were talking about their own cultural norms, since they started talking about how some women would get acid splashed on them, for a variety of offences against male pride or honor. Some of those women would die, and the ones who did not would have to live with extreme disfigurement, or blindness, and debilitating scars.
I was already familiar with such things happening, and this was the kind of inequality and abuse I stood against. For some of my classmates, they had not heard of such things, so were quite horrified.
The lecturer talked about how thanks to feminism, some of the women were able to find men who loved them and married them even though they were horribly scarred. Thanks to feminism giving such women hope they would not take their lives because of such a bleak future.
That was when the talk itself turned vicious. The words may not be exact, but I remember how horrible they were.
The lecturer began to talk about how beauty and attractiveness were signals to the patriarchy to ‘disregard the inner beauty of women,’ and that beautiful women by simply being beautiful, would never be ‘taken seriously’ for their real selves, but only ‘pandered to’ because of their beauty, ‘which is fleeting.’ Beautiful women would always be slaves to the patriarchy, no matter what they achieve in life, because a beautiful woman could never be sure if she was given that achievement because of a man wanting to gain sexual favors, as opposed to one who wasn’t beautiful who could be sure that what she had achieved was purely of merit.
Beautiful women too, cannot be sure of their keeping the love of men, because once their beauty is gone, the men in their lives will look for younger, prettier women, and cheat on them, while the younger beautiful woman would just be used because of her beauty. At least the women who have had their faces scarred by acid and found real men know they are loved for something that isn’t dependent on their ‘physical beauty.’
The lecturer was speaking in this superior, assured tone to a hall full of beautiful young college women, and her companions on stage were nodding in sage agreement at her proclamations. As the lecturer went on to talk about how pregnancy would ‘destroy’ a woman’s svelte figure and signal the end of ‘shallow sexual attraction’, my classmates started to cry. She went on to say that beautiful women were at higher risk of rape, and ugly women weren’t as high risk for rape. Beauty was a chain that would always make slaves of women to men, so beautiful women could never be true feminists. She had all but insinuated at that point that if my fellows scarred their faces, then proof of our sisterhood was assured.
I saw how those words beat on my friends, my classmates; all of them moments before having been confident women; tall, short, some thin, some not so, different shapes and sizes, but all intelligent, wonderful and kind. They believed they were worth something, worth the future they could build with their own two hands, and there they were, weeping because someone they had been assured was someone they should look up to and listen to was telling them that because they were beautiful, they would always be less than an ugly woman like the one who was looking down on them.
I saw my Women’s Studies teacher standing pale and looking back and forth between the women who were up on stage, and the women who were crying; the dean of my major saying “Wait a minute, that’s too harsh,” and the sound of her voice made something in me snap.
I jumped to my feet and shouted, “How dare you say that! How can you call yourselves feminists when you are shaming women for simply being born beautiful! How dare you say that everything we will achieve will never be real because you claim it’s because of men?!”
One of my classmates, I don’t remember who, all I remember is that she had long hair and looked scared, tried to get me to sit down again, saying I’d get in trouble, but I said “I can’t sit here and listen to that bullshit as if it’s truth, when it’s all lies designed to make you lose faith in yourselves! If we are supposed to accept physical ugliness, then physical beauty is no more and no less, but simply is! What’s important is inside, and yet they’re saying that everything a beautiful woman achieves in live, the love they get, the success they earn, is less than someone who was scarred by a man’s hate. We are strong women, whose strength comes from love and faith!”
I wasn’t afraid of getting into trouble. After all, every single time there was an important guest, I’d be brought to the hall to attend, and ask important questions. If my teachers trusted me to do that, then I felt they could trust me to speak in defence of my classmates. The ‘feminist’ guests were on their feet, furious at my defiance. One of them turned to my dean and asked her if they would let me address them like this.
My dean said “Let her speak.”
I pointed at the women and said “You’re ugly, not because of the outside, not because you’re physically fat, old and frumpy, doing nothing to make yourselves look good. No, you’re ugly because of the hatred in you, the bitter jealousy you feel because you think ‘beautiful women’ get more attention than you do. You have never been looked at with admiration because you are jealous, unpleasant and evil to everyone around you! If this is feminism, then I reject it! I cannot believe that a movement, a belief that all people are equal human beings believe in the things you just said. How dare you say because we are young and beautiful, we are less than you are! You are no different than the men who you say ‘hold us enslaved.’
“You are hypocrites! I will not listen to you! None of us should! My classmates and I deserve better than this! We are strong women, and truly strong women will rise to the heights of success with our own strengths and abilities, without tearing other people down for what we lack. Because you are tearing other people down for something that they cannot change, then you are as weak as the ‘men’ you so revile! Fuck your feminism!
“Don’t listen to them!” I told my classmates, even as the women on the stage were screaming at me to get out and I have no idea what I was talking about, how dare I pretend to know better than they?!
There was a lot of shouting, and I don’t remember if I stormed out or was urged out. All I remember was that I was standing outside the lecture hall, shaking with indescribable fury. The dean of my major came out, followed by my women’s studies teacher, who rushed to me.
“Don’t,” she pleaded. “Don’t abandon feminism because of what they said. They’re wrong, I’m sure they were just embittered by their horrible experiences.”
“Then they shouldn’t be taking it out on us!” I shouted. She flinched away from me and I apologized for shouting at her.
“Modena’s right, you know,” my dean said. “This isn’t a positive experience for the students.” She looked at me “Go home. You look so mad you look like you’re going to have a stroke. Or stab them, which really would be fun, but you’ve better things to do than be in jail.”
I managed a laugh, and my dean clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll walk you out so the guard at the door knows you’re leaving early. The talk is over.”
My women’s studies teacher thanked me for standing up to my classmates, and went back to the lecture hall.
I took a taxi home, I was so angry I didn’t trust that I’d not get run over. My mom was surprised that I got home so early, and asked if I was sick. I proceeded to horrify her with the story of what happened at school, and she was just as outraged as I was.
The text of my original series of tweets went like this:
For me this happened in the Philippines,in college,against a bitch saying pretty women were always patriarchy slaves
The lecturers were all fat,ugly,frumpy,arguing that ugly shouldn’t be seen as bad;but they were saying beauty was. They said the only good men worth having were the ones who loved ugly women because ‘it was proof of loving for inside.’ My classmates were all in tears,as the feminazi practically implied that the girls should scar their faces with acid. It was an all girls college. I was so furious I stood up and started yelling at their hypocrisy. If ugly bodies are something to accept, then beautiful bodies should be too;they are simply as birth is given;but ugly spirits are made by hate not love. I rejected their hatred,saying they were jealous,evil,wanted to tear down others for what they couldn’t have. Called them old. said they were jealous of never being seen with actual admiration for both being good inside and out. I said to my classmates,don’t listen to these fat serpents,even as the old hags were yelling at me.I said my mates deserved better I said truly strong women rise with their own strength,abilities,without tearing others down,so these old bats were weak. I don’t remember if I stormed out,but I remember my women’s studies teacher thanking me for standing up for my classmates.
This is how I stopped calling myself a feminist.
(This is part one. I’ll pick it up with part two at a later point.)