On the plane on the way to Denver it became obvious very quickly that the young woman one row ahead of me and across the aisle was going to the same event I was. She was in her early 20s, blonde, pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way and, as it turned out, really chatty. She spent the entire trip talking with everyone around her, a circle that grew bigger as it became clear just how many of us were on the plane for the same reason. The guy she was seated next to, who was in his late forties or perhaps even his early fifties, wasn’t with us. I overheard her mention her boyfriend at least two or three times during the flight, and it’s not as if I heard their entire conversation. Later on, she told me that he’d spent some time talking about his daughters, one of whom is a recent high school graduate– meaning that she and the eldest daughter were no more than three or four years apart.
I’m betting that if I stopped talking right now, you’d all be able to predict how this ended. Because of course he either magically ended up in the same car rental shuttle pickup as her or he actually followed us, and of course he asked her out, despite her making it clear that she had a boyfriend and despite her being less than five years older than one of his own daughters.
Because, y’know, she talked to him, which is exactly the fucking same as wanting a date.
I heard a lot of presentations from furniture company reps and various executives in my own company over the last week. What got to me was the repeated and constant gender essentialism of goddamn near every single presenter we heard from. The funny thing? None of them agreed. Some of the reps refused to use any word other than she to refer to the buyer, because why would men be interested in something like furniture? Obviously only the women would make decisions like that. Others went on and on about how these features of the furniture would appeal to the girls and these more practical features would clearly appeal to the men— and it was always the more practical features– construction, say– that were for the penis-people and style or color concerns that were appropriate for the more vaginal among us.
It was constant.
Had a conversation at our table at one point about whether being married or unmarried was a detriment to being an effective salesperson. One of the salespeople– another young, unmarried woman– said that she’s figured out that if she wears her Irish wedding band on her left hand when talking to couples she’s a lot more likely to close the sale. This contention came as close as anything did during the week to actually causing an argument. On my end, for whatever it’s worth, I’ve not noticed that any particular demographic or combination of customers is more or less likely to buy from me.
That one dude who won’t stop explaining basic simple concepts about sales or about furniture to every woman at the table, and won’t accept corrections from anyone except for the men, at which point he immediately starts pretending that’s what he was saying all along. Had him too.
On the last day of the trip we’re allowed to wear streetclothes because we’re all headed to the planes after the final exam. I wear my ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA shirt, which I have legitimately packed accidentally (I have a plain shirt of a similar color) but I’ve got it with me so fuck it. The following things happen:
- While helping a friend frantically search the pool and hot tub area for the glasses that she realizes she’s lost the night before, something I am very obviously participating in, a dude in the hot tub– meaning in a bathing suit– looks at me and, out of nowhere, says “I’ll bite!” at me. It takes me a moment to even parse that the half-naked wet man is talking to me, and another moment to realize that he’s not hitting on me, and about two more to tell him that I’m fucking busy at the moment, because obviously I’m busy right now for fuck’s sake, I know what the shirt says but I’m still not talking to you right now.
- One TSA agent winks at me and tells me he likes my shirt.
- A second TSA agent, waving me out of the microwave scanner or whatever the shit the thing is, noticeably growls at me and says “You’re done, whatever your… agenda is.” I’m weirdly pleased at having annoyed him a bit.
- We hang out in a bar at the airport while we’re waiting for our first flight to board. A dude at the bar asks me to explain my agenda. He seems friendly. I smile and say “right now my only agenda is to get the fuck home, but if I can smash the patriarchy along the way I’ll take it as a win.” He laughs. I pat him on the shoulder and join my friends.
- Eventually the co-worker who is on the trip with me asks about it. I ask him how long of a conversation he wants to have and we agree to put it off for a bit since we’re both tired.
- As I’m getting on the last plane, sweaty, fat, and gross, the motherfucker in the seat next to me has his backpack in between his legs and he is honest-to-god fucking manspreading in the plane seat. As I’m putting my bag away and taking my hoodie off, nothing changes. I weigh my general urge to not be rude to strangers and my general urge to not start shit on airplanes and my current mood and in the politest way I possibly fucking can tell him that I paid for the same size seat he did and to put the arm rest down before I sit. He does, which surprises me, and I passively-aggressively shove his knee out of my legspace for half an hour before he either gives up or actually falls asleep.
For the record, and possibly for future reference via some sort of preprinted business card, this is a representative but not complete list of the items on my feminist agenda, such as it is:
- As a man, my first and foremost priority is to force other men to see a man wearing a shirt that says FEMINIST. Even if there’s not another word to be said. Men need feminism as much as women do. My son needs to know that I his daddy is a feminist as much as any (currently hypothetical) daughter I might ever have would. Men need to be aware that men 1) can be and 2) are feminists.
- I support equality between the sexes in all respects, but I am most concerned as a former teacher with equality of access to education. I believe girls in particular need to be encouraged to move into STEM, and I believe that the culture of adult STEM environments needs to change to welcome those women when they get there. Training little girls to do science experiments won’t do any good if the culture of programming classes in college is impossible.
- I believe access to free, reliable and high-quality birth control should be an essential part of any ethical insurance program, and support Planned Parenthood completely. I believe in the right to an abortion as well.
- I believe intersectionality is critical to any successful feminism, and believe that women of color and trans women and gay or bisexual or asexual women face challenges that straight white women do not. I also believe that white feminism frequently privileges the first word over the second.
- I believe that feminism is about choice, and that a woman should be able to willingly choose to wear hijab or a bikini or anything in between if she wishes. Her reasons for doing so are none of my business either way. I do not believe that clothing in and of itself can be feminist or antifeminist, but the attitude of the law to clothing certainly can be.
- I want rape culture ground into the dust and consigned to history. I believe that “boys will be boys” is a cheap excuse and not a truism. I believe the way that you stop rape is by teaching boys not to rape, not by teaching girls to avoid it.
- I believe that publicly declaring myself as a feminist male does not mean that I deserve cookies, and do not expect to be offered any. I am also aware that as a feminist male my position in any feminist movement, such as it is, is mostly to shut up and listen, with a side dish of doing what I’m told to help out. I believe that I can and will and probably frequently do get shit wrong, and I need to recognize that someone telling me that one of those things is happening probably deserves to be heard out.
- The following is true despite the fact that I’ve literally just written 1500 words about what I think feminism is.
- So deal.
I could probably write more, but it’s 10:30 and I have to sleep sometime tonight. This will pop tomorrow morning; be aware that I likely won’t be able to respond to any comments until I get home from work.