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Feminism and Negative Energy

May 22, 2012

I’m probably not the best person to be writing this as if you know anything about me, my realism can sometimes come off as pessimism. Alas, I’m out to prove to you and myself that I’m a pretty happy human being. This is why while watching Marissa Mayer’s interview on the amazing Makers initiative website (which if you haven’t checked out yet, go now!), I was a little disheartened. To see the full video, click on the provided link but here’s a transcript I’ve typed out for your reading enjoyment of this segment of her interview.

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist, I think that, you know, I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable if not more so in a lot of different dimensions. But I don’t I think have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad but I do think feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy.

Marissa Mayer, First female engineer at Google

Militant. Chip on the shoulder. Negative Energy. I feel like I’ve taken a beating. And from such an inspiring person who I myself look up to.

I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that feminists get a bad rap from just about everyone. A lot of the criticisms can be fruitful ones that can make the movement and the individuals who identify as feminist better. But calling us all militant? Feels a bit like a low blow. So instead of trying to write a piece convincing people that this isn’t what feminists are, I’m going to take this space and tell people why it’s a good thing that feminists are like this. Because maybe Mayer is right and if she is, I’ve got to acknowledge it and try and run with it in the best possible way. So here we go.

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By militant, I’m assuming (a dangerous game, I know) that Mayer means that feminists live and breath feminism. Well, yes. We do. But I think she might be glossing over a lot of the intersectionality that many feminists attempt to actively deal with. Because a good feminist knows that feminism isn’t just about women and to say that it is would mean erasing a lot of people and identities. So militant, yes (and sometimes to the detriment of my social life, believe me). But one-minded? Hopefully not.

Chip on the Shoulder
This is a hard one. In a lot of ways, I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder, and I expect other feminists out there might feel like they do as well. I’ve posted previously about how it’s quite difficult to ignore this chip (even when you want to). But I think it’s one I’m okay with holding on to. It might be annoying and I might feel resentful sometimes but I think that’s all part of the process of living in a world that  isn’t as good as you know it could be.

When I was younger, my mom could yell at me all she wanted and I wouldn’t mind too much. But when my dad came into the room and calmly told me “Sarah, I’m disappointed in you” I wished I could melt into the floor and never come back. That’s how I feel about the world a bit. Some feminists might take this chip on their shoulder and yell and holler (which I think is still important and has a place in the movement) but my goal is to use it to sit the world down every chance I get and tell it that I’m disappointed and that I’d like to help make everything better. For the record, I’m not trying to demonize or valorize any of these ways over another but I do think that one of the more difficult part of being a feminist is learning how to forge through everything and still be positive and optimistic even with the chip on the shoulder. So to Mayer I would say that we might all have a chip on our shoulders but don’t think that makes us all pessimists who aren’t any fun to be around (leading me to our final label)…

Negative Energy
In her last statement, Mayer sets up a dichotomy of the “equality focused non-feminist”= positive energy and the “militant chip on the shoulder feminist”= negative energy. This one probably hurt me the most and for that reason I’m not going to try to own it like I have the other two. I refuse to believe that feminists all bring a negative energy to the table. I think that we point out things that people don’t like seeing or hearing about. I think that we make people uncomfortable when we bring up all of the ways the world creates inequalities. I think it’s not all that fun for us and other people to talk about sad things like that. But we’re trying to be positive and I think if you look at a lot of vocal feminists these days, there’s a big focus on what change we can make to support and promote young women and help people achieve their goals. At times it might feel like a negative game we play but it’s hard to change the world if you don’t even know what’s wrong.

Ultimately I can understand why people don’t identify as activists. It’s definitely not for everybody and part of the reason activists exist is so the rest of the world can live whatever life they see fit in peace. So if you don’t want to be an activist that is A-okay with me. I get it. I have my days and so do a lot of good friends I know where it doesn’t seem do-able anymore either. But Mayer seems to be equating feminist with activist here which is part of why she doesn’t seem to want to identify even though she believes in the tenants of the movement.

Does feminist have to equal activist? Should it? I’m not quite sure. But I do hope that those who believe in the feminist cause but don’t want to identify will someday stop denigrating those who do identify. Feminism might not be your cup of tea, but there’s no reason to tear us all down as crazy bra-burning screaming women. And sometimes we could all do with a good scream, moment of crazy, or frustrated bra-burning (because let’s face it, they’re still pretty uncomfortable).

And a final shout-out thank you to Mayer and to Makers for the amazing work they’re doing. Makers is an amazing initiative and for someone who’s interested in women and technology, Mayer is a wonderful role-model and you should definitely go watch the rest of her Makers interview!!

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