Since I literally didn’t begin writing this column until about an hour before it was due, it’s a good thing that I have a friend like Cynthia to help with last-minute ideas. She’s one of the cooler ladies I know, and is also a proud feminist. I spend a lot of time arguing politics and ideology with people I disagree with, so on days like today, when Cynthia and I get lunch and catch up, it’s a relief to relate with someone like-minded.
Though today we started out discussing the place of leg-shaving, and other physical modifications, in the life of a feminist, the number of topics at hand expanded rapidly. Given half a chance, Cynthia and I invariably end up talking about everything that could possibly involve feminism: body politics, LGBTQ issues, women’s sexuality, porn, racial discrimination, ableism, fat activism and the hundreds of other things making up the complicated web of intersectional problems experienced by people at all levels of the patriarchy.
Though Cynthia and I understand these issues through the prism of our own privileges – both of us are white, cisgendered, apparently heterosexual (although I identify as queer) and apparently conventionally able – we think of ourselves as proactive in equal rights at all levels. Talking together, we work to develop our perceptions of our society with the hope of helping improve it.
Even with heavy-handed ideological terminology and the very real difficulties of the marginalized, we try to see the lighter side of some things. We can, for example, find humor in the absurdities of a culture hell-bent on policing women’s bodies. It seems like sometimes the only option is sarcasm when we encounter people who believe in a beauty “ideal” that means being white, thin, young, hairless and active in capitalistic commercialism. When we are challenged because we are not skinny enough, or don’t shave, or because we’re “dykes” or “sluts” (I don’t have a problem being either one of those things, but I’ve had those words hurled at me as insults), it’s easier to laugh together rather than rage separately.
This doesn’t mean that we aren’t regularly horrified about institutionalized racism, misogyny and general hatred, examples of which we see every day. The stranglehold socially conservative politicians are exerting on women’s reproductive choice, as another example, is something we take very seriously because of its direct effect on our gender. Discussing the prison-industrial complex, or the dangers of women in the military, or the dangers that foreign women face at the hands of our military – these are things we can’t ignore.
Underneath the lightheartedness and the cynicism of our discussions, Cynthia and I recognize how serious these issues really are. We know what it’s like to be vulnerable because we’re women. We recognize and empathize with the fear of going out alone at night; of being afraid our drinks will get drugged at parties; of getting groped in crowded public areas; of being blamed, or denied help, for being sexually assaulted. Myself, I’ve only been sexually menaced a few times in my life – groped by men, followed by men, yelled at by men, called “cunt” or “bitch,” “ugly” or “dyke,” because a man feels entitled to fuck me – and I count myself lucky. Discrimination against Cynthia or myself is unacceptable, and yet we are arguably among the most privileged people (and certainly women) in the world.
Our talk strayed pretty far from whether or not shaving your legs is a political statement, but I don’t think I’m looking for solutions with Cynthia so much as a person with which to share and relate. Seeing these issues as I do, through a feminist lens, as I do, Cynthia helps me to put them in perspective.
HALEY DAVIS loves sisterhood. If you want to gripe about the patriarchy, regardless of gender, she can be reached at email@example.com.