The fall of my junior year, I was supposed to write a secondary on feminism for The Statement. I eventually backed out from the secondary, opting instead to start this column, but while initially preparing to write it, I decided to create a survey that attempted to (super informally) measure attitudes toward the need for feminism on campus.

Katie Steen

I shared the survey on Facebook and checked it a couple hours later, and was pleased to find I had already received lots of responses. I know the results were automatically skewed since they were responses from Facebook friends of a feminist (uh, me), but I remember reading one particularly disheartening response.

The responder wasn’t only indifferent to feminism on campus — they were actively against it. I remember their response to the question “How do you define feminism?” was “Whining and victimization.” This was just one response in a digital collection of many other intelligent and overall inspiring responses, but it freaked me out a little to think that I was “friends” with someone who thought of something so central to who I am as “Whining and victimization.”

“Whining.” “Bitching.” “Nagging.” These are typically gendered words used to take away credibility from the complaints of women. But here’s the deal: I’m going to keep “whining” about feminism. I’m going to keep writing about it, talking about it, blogging about it. Some days I will keep feminism hidden beneath my long hair, tucked into the back pocket of hip-hugging jeans. Other days I will wear it in the red of my lips, breathe it out in the hard exhales of my afternoon runs. Some days, I will share it with others in the form of projecting the writing of a reserved, polite female student in class who deserves to feel proud of herself. Other days I’ll share it in the form of “Get the fuck out of our house.” You can call that whining if you want. You’d be wrong, and it wouldn’t change a thing. Feminism will always be a part of me, and it will never go away.

It will never go away, and neither will this sense of “victimization,” because statistically, women are victims. One in every five women in the United States is a survivor of rape or attempted rape. One in every four women in the United States will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in every six women in the United States has been a victim of stalking.

Rape, physical and verbal abuse, stalking — these are extreme yet disturbingly prevalent examples of why we still need feminism — of why, yes, we feel victimized. But I want to focus on more than statistics that we’ve heard time and time again.

Wednesday, I went to a staff meeting at a local high school. I learned that one teacher had asked her class something like, “How many of you have witnessed or experienced hateful language specifically targeted toward the appearance of a female online?” Apparently, everyone in her class raised their hand. She asked the same question, but replaced “female” with “male.” Unsurprisingly, fewer hands.

This is something women grow up with. From the time I began processing the world around me and consuming media in the form of sugary Disney princess movies, I’ve always known that women achieve power through beauty — that we will always be judged by the way we look. If women’s beauty begins to fade, or doesn’t live up to the arbitrary standards of the men who surround them, we’re put on the chopping block. And I don’t just mean our looks are bashed — our very being starts to lose credibility, influence, respect.

It’s easy to think about this in terms of numbers and theoretical women and girls and think, Yeah, we need feminism. But something hit me when I heard that teacher talking about this subject. I began to imagine my own female students, and realized it was entirely possible that these students could be the subject of hateful comments and nasty tweets. Hell, I could be the subject — but it’s one thing when I’m the one being attacked. It’s another thing when it’s one of my students.

Even in one of the most ideal settings to be a female — Ann Arbor in the 21st century — there really still is no escaping the shit we put up with on a daily basis — the shit that has been woven into our country’s foundation so deep that we’ve planted flowers and built houses and monuments over it celebrating the end of sexism and misogyny.

I had a high school teacher who used to say something like, “Women in the United States have more rights than ever before. This is the best time to be an American woman.” That used to piss me off and I never really knew why — now I do. It’s not OK to look at the progress we’ve made in feminism, pat ourselves on the back and call it a day.

Ask anyone who knows me — one of my favorite characters and top role models — feminist or otherwise — is the yellow-jumpsuited super-killer Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill. In the movie, she repeats the phrase, “You and I have unfinished business.” I’m not going to kill anyone. But I have a similar message to feminists on campus, in the United States and in the rest of world: We all have unfinished business.

Katie Steen can be reached at katheliz@umich.edu.

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