I’ll be honest. I’m tired of seeing those words in my title. I completely understand that gender inequality is rampant and that there are still major reasons that this phrase is traveling around the Internet. None of that is the issue. What I’m really tired of are the militant positions on either side, dealing in absolutes: if you have ever thought anything against gender equality, you are a bad person and you should feel bad forever, you are shunned for ever.
Hold up, Inspector Javert. Lemme tell you a story about a little girl (a little girl) that you should hear.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was visiting her grandmother with her parents. (Possibly just talking about her grandmother. I don’t remember the story as well as I should.) The particulars of the visit don’t matter much, but the adults were expressing that her grandmother was going to be in charge of some thing or another. The little girl looked surprised and said something to the equivalent of this:
“But women can’t be bosses!”
Everyone is reasonably horrified and assure the little girl that this is ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE and she should probably not say this. Particularly about her grandmother, who is a strong independent woman (who don’t need no man?) and can very well be a boss if she wants.
Fast-forward some twenty odd years. The world is hyper-focused on gender activism and equality. And the very same child who said that women can’t be bosses sits down at the computer to write a blog about how stupid they were as a kid.
Yes, the story is about me. (As if you didn’t know that yet.) Obviously I have no distinct memory of ever saying this, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t actually say it in front of my grandmother because I’m not sure she would have spoken to me after that. (That is an exaggeration.) But I’ve heard from my parents that I’d said that in regards to her, and they were absolutely astounded by the fact that I’d said anything even remotely like that.
But here’s the truth: that little girl is now a 27 year old genderfluid individual who fully believes in gender equality. Clearly something in the past 15-20 years, something changed my mind. Yes, women can be bosses. Anyone can be a boss. Gender/sex has absolutely nothing to do with it. But it’s important to see that people can change and we shouldn’t treat them like one wrong statement damns them for all time.
Are some people militantly sitting in their camps, refusing to believe that they could Ever Be Wrong Ever And You Telling Them Otherwise Is Ridiculous? Yes. Are they going to be like that for all eternity? You don’t know. And that’s the important thing. Maybe they can’t hear it now. Maybe they had some unfortunate experience with someone on your side of the issue, or with a female boss living down to all the reasons people state for why they shouldn’t be there, or anything else. Maybe they grew up in a family where they were taught that and you are the first person to suggest otherwise. You don’t know. There are so many reason why they might be feeling that way.
But we can’t allow ourselves to believe that people can’t change.
It’s the fallacy of the characters I referenced earlier, Inspector Javert from Les Miserables. His classic line near the end of the show is “Once a thief, forever a thief / What you want you always steal / You would trade your life for mine / Yes Valjean, you want a deal.” Javert is an inspector for the police who cannot fathom the fact that people can change. At this point he’s been chasing Jean Valjean around France for something like 20 years or some other ridiculous amount of time. (Okay I just looked it up. It’s probably roughly 18 years.) The man who broke his parole and ran away from the law is quite likely not the same man Javert is yelling at in this scene. Valjean has been the mayor of a town, has loved and lost a woman in about the same night, raised her child into a lovely-if-incredibly-naive young woman, decided to fight in a war he has ever reason to run away from so that he can save the Romeo-love-interest of said young woman, and is now, now, deciding to personally come up to the captured inspector instead of just letting the (reasonably) angry students do away with him.
And all Javert sees is the man who stole a loaf of bread and broke parole after 19 years in the chain gang. Once a thief, forever a thief. To Javert, I would be nothing more than a child who didn’t believe women could be bosses. Life experiences? Irrelevant. Personal experience? Nope. Once a misogynist, always a misogynist. Doesn’t matter you were born female-bodied. (Lord only knows what Javert would think of the trans* community.)
By the end of the play, Javert realizes that the tenant he has built his life on–the unchanging nature of humans–is false. His world view is shattered. By his logic, Valjean should have killed him…and yet, he’s still alive. “And my thoughts fly apart / Can this man be believed? / Shall his sins be forgiven? / Shall his crimes be reprieved? / And must I now begin to doubt / Who never doubted all these years / My heart is stone and still it trembles / The world I have know is lost in shadow.” Javert genuinely says that by Valjean sparing his life, he’s killed Javert anyway–because he can’t live in a world so broken. He jumps off a bridge and dies.
…Let’s say that again. Because he couldn’t handle people changing, he killed himself.
Let’s just say this is not the image I’d like to set for any son I might have.
There’s a lovely article/video floating around Facebook (link here, warning: it’s at Buzzfeed) at the moment where children are given the chance to react to Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation from male to female, and what their thoughts on the matter are. While the concept confused some of them, many simply noted how happy and confident Caitlyn looked. And when they were shown tweets and comments people had left berating her and generally being derogatory toward the change and refusing to change name and pronoun, the children were clear. “People are afraid of change.” It’s a paraphrase, but they say something close. They don’t understand it and they’re afraid of change. From the mouths of babes.
I grew up from a child who knew very little of the world outside her small-town American neighborhood, who had no concept of transgender individuals…into a genderfluid individual who can’t for the life of them figure out why the world is so insistent on fighting about everything. It’s not going to be a short battle, and it’s not going to be easy. But when both sides are shouting and demanding for Change Right Now…it’s not going to happen.
Let’s not be Javerts, everyone. Let’s let the process take its time, and be patient and kind, and wait for the right opportunity. …And try not to make people jump off of bridges. That’s really not conducive to anything.
One thought on “Why I Need Feminism…or something. (Am I Doing This Right?)”
Very nice, Rion, and excellent comparison to javert!