Being a feminist

Friday, May 6, 2005

I was browsing on babble.ca yesterday and was served up a Google ad for Being Jane’s catalog of feminist T-shirts. Usually I just ignore the ads, but this one caught my eye, and since I use Adsense on some of my other sites, I figured that I should be drinking the Kool-Aid too, so I clicked on it. In particular, I like this shirt:

As I was browsing around in their catalog, their categories of merchandise caught my eye:

  • Accessories
  • Biker Accessories
  • Games & Cards
  • Headwear
  • Motorcycle Shirts
  • Feminist Shirts

Okay, so their target market is both feminists and biker chicks? Or feminist biker chicks? Or are they just making an assumption that all feminists are leather-wearing, ass-kicking, Harley-riding motorcycle mamas?

What bothers me are the assumptions that are made about women who use the word “feminist”. The Being Jane example is a classic one, loosely derived from the original derogatory “all feminists are butch” line. Another one, surprisingly, came from the recent documentary “I Was a Teenage Feminist“. Brilliant film, definitely catch it when it comes to a TV network or theatre near you. It was originally aired two months ago on W Network in Canada (which used to be called the Women’s Network until somebody got squeamish), and now is making a few screenings in the U.S. There’s a scene right at the beginning of the film where the filmmaker/narrator is standing in front of a Victoria’s Secret billboard, and the gist of her message is that Victoria’s Secret is A Bad Thing for feminists. Later in the film, she has some interviews with young women about why they won’t call themselves feminists, and many of them state that it’s because feminists aren’t “feminine”.

We have Being Jane equating feminists and biker chicks, and a feminist documentary dissing Victoria’s Secret: is it any wonder that young women are making the assumption that you can’t be both a feminist and feminine?

In the 70’s, when I was a teenager, being a feminist was a badge of honour since we were still in the 2nd wave of feminism and there were some very visible battles to be fought. I was the first girl to attend “shop” classes (actually, electronics and mechanical drafting) in my high school in 1975, I was one of only a few women in engineering at the University of Waterloo when I went there at the end of that decade, and I was definitely the first woman doing electrical design and making trips underground at a northern Ontario mine that I worked at a few years later. It was not always a lot of fun (how many ways can guys say “we think that you’re fucking your way to the top” when you out-perform them at school or work?), but I like to think that I made the way a bit easier for the next woman on the same path, and I’m proud to call myself a feminist. However, I’m not a biker chick and I do wear Victoria’s Secret, so I hope that I still qualify.

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