Oct 15, 2018

Doing It Our Way

It's an interesting time to be a woman. As I frequently tell my students, it has been barely a century since women were considered legitimate enough as human beings to be allowed to vote. As the old Virginia Slims ads pointed out, we've come a long way, baby. (As an aside, what an exciting time it must have been for manufacturers and advertisers when they realized that women spent money. Just make it skinny and/or pink! It's a goddamned gold mine!) We've come a long way, yes, and we still have a long way to go, but, baby, we are definitely making strides. Long ones. In heels even.

Having never had a penis, I don't know if men feel the same sense of communion with other men that I feel with other women. The sense of pride in another woman's accomplishments, in her triumphs and successes, even though they have nothing at all to do with me. Does the same force that synchronizes our periods draw us together in the desire to protect each other? Is it somehow biological? Or is it more social? Does every marginalized group feel this way towards its fellow members? 

I am going to go off on a tangent momentarily in a brief defense of men. For literally thousands of years, men have not thought of women as equals. They have not had to. They have traded us as commodities, controlled our bodies, gazed at and lusted after us, victimized us, belittled and infantilized us (see "baby" above). And we women have, slowly but steadily, been challenging this treatment and forcing change. 

As a woman, I understand the frustration and indignation that have led to the current volatile social climate. But I can also see how, from a male perspective, the seemingly sudden outrage could be overwhelming. Here's where I get a little controversial: excluding obviously predatory behaviour like drugging and raping women, I think men who have behaved in the past in a manner we are now calling out as abusive should get a pass. 

Every man who called a woman "sweetie" or patted her ass as she walked by or catcalled her from a car window or kissed her without her consent should be forgiven his trespasses. How does someone know his behaviour is wrong when everything else in society not only condones it, but actively encourages it? I honestly believe that you didn't know any better because you never had to think about it, so I am willing to give you a pass.  

But think about it now. All those seemingly innocent actions and attitudes, compounded, along with the more blatantly oppressive, have led to this female revolution. We have put up with it in the past because it was simpler, easier, less likely to cause trouble for us. We have been afraid, because you are bigger and stronger than we are, and you have wielded more power. We have been silent. We are silent no longer. We are strong, and together we are powerful. So I am willing to give you a pass. But just one. Now you know better. 

Okay, now that that's done I can get to the original point of this blog, which is that, when I was growing up in the 1980s, there were some rather remarkable strides being made in the feminist revolution that I have only recently recognized, and that is in the popular culture medium known as television.

I haven't thought of these shows in years, but looking back, I can see how important they were, both to me personally and to the populace in general. Here were single women pursuing careers while raising cool daughters (Kate & Allie, One Day at a Time). Here were women working hard for the money and fighting against the patriarchal boss man (Alice - kiss my grits!). Here was an inversion of expectations with a woman as the brains and a man as the pretty face (Remington Steele).  Here was a detective smarter than the men around her (Murder, She Wrote). Here were women doing it their way (Laverne and Shirley). Here were a bunch of old ladies forcing us to challenge our perceptions of what it means to be an old lady (The Golden Girls). Every one of these characters (and the actresses who portrayed them) was a woman facing, and overcoming, some kind of adversity. They were independent, strong, funny, smart, brave, empathetic, and supportive of each other. Watching them certainly made this particular young girl smarter and stronger than she would have been if she'd only watched The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team.     

As we continue to fight for true equality, it's important to remember these shows and to appreciate the work of the women who have come before us. Cultural change does not happen overnight, but it does happen. So riot on, ladies. Let's fucking do this. xo