A few months ago, we were mid-casual dinner party, and I was going off on one of my
feminist rants educational monologues. A feminist monologue sounds nicer than rant, no? And just because a woman has an opinion about something and feels free to express it does not mean that she’s ranting and raving. If men do that, it’s just called talking. Annnnnyway.
This scholarly monologue was to inform a male friend of mine that though he disagreed, he is, in fact, a feminist.
Because here’s the thing, peeps – if you believe that women and men are of equal worth, deserve equal pay for the work that they do, and deserve to be treated as equals in the workplace, then you are a feminist. And why women and men and the Taylor Swifts of the world continue to deny this is confusing to me. I’m going to send that sweet little country gal a dictionary for her birthday.
It was at this juncture that said male friend laughed and said, “It’s ironic that you’re telling me this right now, seeing as you’re wrapped up in a floral apron and wielding a spatula.” And indeed, I was.
I can see how this juxtaposition might be a little funny. Getting a talking-to about feminism by a woman who looks more at home in 1954 than 2014 is, at the very least, ironic. But can you blame a girl? Crostini were just about to come out of the oven. I was multi-tasking.
But then I had to ask myself – is it? Is it so strange to be merging the past and the present? The feminine and the just plain fair? I don’t think so. And I think there are a lot more of us spatula-weilding, decor loving, cupcake baking feminists than anyone realizes. And, furthermore, than even we ourselves know or allow ourselves to be.
Culture makes strong lines – if you wear aprons and bake, you’re a retro fabulous housewife type who takes her husband’s last name and becomes a stay at home mom. Bonus points if you have a cute blog. If you’re a world traveler who prioritizes her career, you must be disengaged or less invested in your relationship because of it. And if you’re a self-identified feminist, you obviously hate all men, and if you’re a conservative woman you can’t be a feminist because feminist is the most dangerous F-word of all, and it’s not cute or conservative or church-approved to use the F-word, ever.
But what it means to be human is to be a beautiful bundle of contradictions. And what it also means to be human to be more understanding of the reality of others, instead of just a branded, sanitized version of a person. Everyone is trying to create their own brand. It seems to be part of our packaged, tidy, Instagram-ready lives these days. And when people – others, ourselves – don’t fit into the reality of that box or brand, oh we got troubles right down in River City. We like to tidy things up, and tidying often means denying parts of ourselves that are legitimate because it’s not neat. If I like to wear my apron and host my parties, then it’s probably easier if I just shut my mouth and take his name and stop expressing my progressive opinions. Because being a liberal feminist man-adoring housewife who loves her career and has a cute blog just doesn’t make sense to anyone. We like things that make sense, so we pick an archetype and get in line.
And when other people don’t pick their little stereotypes, we pick one for them. The number of Christmas cards addressed to The Future Mrs. Nathan’s Last Name can surely attest to that. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have strong feelings about the name change debate. And even still, the Mrs. cards kept on a’comin’. As though everything up to now was just a front, but now that I’m actually getting married I would go ahead and start playing by the rules.
If anyone saw the play Maple & Vine in SF or on Broadway, this notion of playing by the rules is at the crux of the story. It’s all about a stressed-out modern couple who forsake their high paying jobs and life in New York for a rural “planned obsolescence community” where everyone pretends that it’s 1954, all day every day. Which sounds kinda fun, if I’m going to be honest. The fit and flare silhouette is a good one and who needs Google anyway?
But the real central question is actually this: can we be happy and love our lives, even if they’re complicated and messy and don’t fit into a box? And if not, must we revert back to all the old ways of living in order to keep things tidy and easy to understand? In other words, were we happier when things were simpler? When women and men lived by certain rules and we didn’t question anything. Scholars and reviewers had a lot to say about this, but my take was that the playwright essentially presented us with two scenarios: You can either have your modern life – and it’s accompanying modern stressors – or you can paste on a smile, shut up, and let the men take care of everything while you make mire poire in your apron.
You can go back to playing by the rules and see if you can be happy. Or don’t. But either way, shit gets real, so it’s all about how you deal with it.
So what if we did just that? What if we dealt with each other and our inherent contradictions in a real and meaningful way, instead of the surface way we do? What if we all played by our own rules and stopped tying to put each other in the stereotype? What if, instead of making assumptions about the women around us and trying to put them in a box of our own making, we stepped back and let them show us the full, unboxed versions of themselves? Whatever that looks like to them. What if we stopped deciding which stereotype we had to be, and we just lived out whichever parts of ourselves we loved the most?
To women who think you have to play by the rules – what’s up! You don’t. Just because it’s “easier” to keep quiet and keep your opinions to yourself, doesn’t mean you have to. If you want to keep your last name, you should. Because “it means a lot to him” that you change your last name, but what does it mean to you? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Either way – you’re allowed to question that.
And for those of you who, inexplicably, refuse to call yourselves feminists. That’s fine. It’s confusing (dictionaries for everyone!) but fine. Because if you love women and believe in their worth, you are one anyway, whether you claim the label or not.
Because while I love and appreciate my friend deeply, it’s my party and I can be a feminist with a spatula if I am one. ‘Cause I am. And as soon as I handed him the spatula, so was he. Whether he wanted to be or not.
You know, times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.
PS – don’t you think Julia Child was the original feminist with a spatch? Or a whisk? She was out the door every morning by 6am while Paul was still in bed! Photo via the fantastic non-profit Women Who Changed America