Fire: Why We Need Feminism


When you have a girl body you get used to it. Misogyny. An ever present hum that you ignore because you are too busy doing all the things that boy bodies do—sometimes better, sometimes worse, most often the same.

You learn early on, when you have the body of a girl, that people with girl bodies who dress, talk, or act a certain way—the wrong way—are “asking for it” when “it” comes.

“It” being misogyny.

And it always comes.

People with woman bodies teach people with girl bodies how to survive, how to exist with these bodies in a man’s world. Where to hit him, how to hold your keys, when to run, when to scream.

You learn what to scream too—never “no” or “help” or “ stop” but, rather, “fire,” because then, maybe, someone will hear.

You learn when not to scream as well.

Because when you have the body of a girl—or a woman, which is worse—you learn that it can be safer not to say “no.” Safer not to piss him off. Safer to be quiet.

There will be times when you will have sex “willingly” out of fear. And even if you manage not to, a woman or girl you know will.

One in six. This is misogyny, but misogyny is more than just rape statistics.

There are lessons that all people with girl bodies learn that people with boy bodies do not.

Never walk alone after dark, watch your drink, watch your friends’ drinks. Text or call the moment you get home. Think twice about wearing that dress.

We learn these lessons quietly, efficiently; we take them for granted. And we learn, too, to judge those people with bodies like our own who do not learn them well enough; because if we can find a way to blame them, then maybe it won’t be us.

This time.

We learn to be silent save for the occasional sound bite or pop song or outburst by an angry feminist. We ignore—or maybe no longer see—the more subtle forms of misogyny. Overlook being paid less. Follow the rules to avoid being raped. Believe the airbrushed lies and hate our bodies when they don’t conform. Make sure our daughters’ dresses are fingertip length.

And when a man uses a slang term for our genitalia to insult someone he feels is wrong or weak, we don’t call him on it. Because if you are a woman you’ve heard much worse and the kind of small-minded misogyny of insults like “pussy” barely registers, and only hysterical feminists complain about that kind of crap anyway. Who are you to police the speech of others, to say, “this makes me uncomfortable”?

But when a man writes a manifesto detailing his plan to round up all those bodies like your own and place them in concentration camps, setting aside a few to breed—well, you could almost ignore that too, an isolated crazy. #NotAllMen, right?

Almost ignore his rants about those women who wouldn’t put out.

Almost ignore that he wasn’t, in fact, an isolated crazy, that there is an entire subculture of men just like him.

Except this man partook in the grand American tradition of mass homicide.

And so you started talking.

And tweeting. #YesAllWomen

Not because you are simple minded and believe that misogyny alone explains Elliot Rodger’s actions. You understand that it’s complicated, that America has a gun problem, that crazy people do crazy things. No, you started that hashtag because it was just one more thing to ignore, and you couldn’t; you couldn’t be quiet anymore.

We couldn’t be quiet anymore.

The actions of a madman like Rodger are scary, sure, but that isn’t why we started talking. We started talking because his misogyny is the same misogyny we’ve lived with our entire lives. We started talking because we saw the parallels between the lesson he felt entitled to teach and the lessons we’ve already learned too well. We started talking because we’d prefer men listen to what we have to say for once rather than expect us to do what we’ve always done—teach our daughters our fear.

We are talking, we are tweeting, because this conversation does matter and we’ve waited too damn long to have it. Because we want other women to know that they are not alone. Because we want men to understand the things they cannot see until we show them. Because we want our daughters to learn agency rather than fear.

Yet anytime we talk about these experiences that have made so many of us into the women we are—silent, cautious; loud, cynical—there are voices who accuse us of being angry, myopic, too politically correct. Male and female voices which claim that we live in a post-feminist society and that nothing positive can come from us insisting on talking about these isolated experiences of hate.

Except they are not isolated. But we are when we remain silent. Our society is not post-feminist and we can’t shut up, because as Margaret Atwood observed, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Yes, ALL women.

All of us. Maybe not in the exact same ways, but in ways similar enough to make this conversation meaningful. A conversation that cuts through the noise of feminism being unnecessary and western women already being liberated and exposes the reality that we will never have a post-feminist society as long as half the population experiences a culture of intimidation, violence, shame, and fear simply because we were socialized to be girls in a society where being a girl means learning how to avoid being raped.

Did misogyny cause Elliot Rodger to kill those people? Of course not, yet he was a misogynist who came of age in a culture so misogynistic that it is taken for granted to the point where not only men ask why that hashtag exists but some women ask that question as well.

It’s time for women, all women, to understand that as long as any of us live in fear of misogynistic violence we all do.

It’s time for people, all people, to understand that unless we actively move toward a truly post-feminist society, other forms of social inequality will continue to exist as they must in any culture where half the population experiences systemic inequity and fear. To understand that the same culture of silence which makes misogyny possible makes all of those other ugly forms of discrimination possible as well.

And it’s time for men, all men, to listen so that they can participate in this conversation too. And some are, some “got it” a long time ago, yet there are others who say that we are overreacting, missing the point, that we should talk about something else.

No. We need to talk more, to broaden the discussion to include both the small misogynistic slights we encounter every day as well as the larger misogynistic horrors women in developing countries experience that women in western democracies largely avoid. We’ve used our voices too long to quietly instruct our daughters on how to get by, and it’s about time we use them to educate and to advocate until equal rights are a reality rather than some inevitability we quietly wait for while focusing on whatever other issues some men (but #NotAllMen) deem appropriate and worthy.

We need to keep talking until no woman feels the need to shout “fire” unless something is actually burning.


Originally published in the Prague Revue on 17 June 2014.
Reprinted in What the Flicka?

Comments are closed