Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why Feminism? (Part 9)

Bitch, with Honors

I graduated from high school and found myself at a small, very liberal, all-women’s college all the way across the country - for reasons that had a lot more to do with not fitting in throughout high school than anything else.

I came home that Christmas and was shocked to find that familiar routines and places no longer were. I came home with a semester’s worth of classes chock full feminist theory as only a women’s college can do it. I came home with a semester’s worth of female bonding and self-discovery.

I came home with my guns cocked and ready.

I don’t know how it started and I don’t remember much of what any of us said, but I remember a lot of yelling. I remember shouting louder than I ever had before. I shouted loud enough that my yelling alone shocked him. (Although I think the tears helped.) My voice was screaming all the “No!” s that had been hiding inside me for so very long and it was almost as if he could hear them in the loudness of my voice alone. I remember that it was never mentioned, but also I remember that what he did was sitting there in front of everything I was saying like a barrier or filter it had to find a way around or through first.

He was mad because all the girls were always doing better in school, all the teachers always thought all the boys were capable of bad things they never even suspected the girls of doing, and he was mad because despite all this, all everyone talked about was how to help girls.

I was mad because I had spent my entire high school years making myself invisible and he was part of the reason why. I was mad because all the “good” things girls were expected to be were never rewarded outside of high school – and all the things he complained about boys getting punished for, girls were punished worse for. I was mad because all this trust our high school teachers supposedly had in us never translated into any actual real power – in high school or out.

I was mad because the senior issue of the newspaper, the year I was on the staff, was turned into a bunch of rude descriptions of certain girls in school, and no one cared. Except the adults, who mostly seemed to care that sex was mentioned. I was mad because I was already starting to catch on, because of crap like this, to the idea that society only defines women’s sexuality by what (certain) men want it to be. Why else could use “you just don’t like having fun” as a defense against complaints from fellow students?

I was mad because one of my high school teachers had managed to convince me I was bad at math, and I still wasn’t sure how she did it, but now I knew she was wrong. I had the A+ in college calculus to prove it.

But most of all I was mad because he dared to compare having obscenities routinely yelled at you as you walked down the street to our high school having fewer junior ushers than daisy chain members. It wasn’t just that he was oblivious to the whole concept that maybe, just maybe, when one group is expected to be perfect in every way in order to stay safe from harm, it’s only logical that that particular group will have more straight A students. Mostly it was that if he still understood so little of what it felt like to always be judged by the size of your breasts, and to never feel safe simply because you have them, then he still didn’t really understand what he did to me. And that meant that he still wasn’t sorry, and that maybe he didn’t really care at all and never would again.

That was the first and last debate between us that I won, completely and unequivocally. Which was good, because I don’t think we could have been friends after that if I hadn’t. We began another uneasy peace the next morning, but this time it lasted.

I also started to trust my parents again, because that night my mom finally told my brother that he needed to shut the hell up and listen to me for once.

It was that night that I started to understand why this was all such a big deal in the first place, and that maybe I wasn’t crazy – or overly sensitive – after all.

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