“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” or "nolite te bastardes carborundorum” becomes a battle cry for Offred in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a phrase that is regaining momentum with the release the new TV show under the same title now available on Hulu. I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of the first episode the night before the show was released. Margaret Atwood was among the audience members, and it overwhelmed me to think that she was sitting there thirty years after the release of her novel, watching it and witnessing the relevance it plays on so many of our lives today. Now, I’ve heard a lot of fans of the book exclaim that they don’t want to watch the show because they are such fans of the written version and don’t want to taint it with something else. To those, I say, get over it. I’m a fan of the book as well. I had "nolite te bastardes carborundorum” glued on my graduation cap from college because those words struck such a cord in me. This TV show is something that reflects a great deal of what’s happening in today’s society. And it’s scary as shit.
At the end of the first episode, the credits roll with a remixed version of “You Don’t Own Me” by Grace. Instantly (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I was reminded of the film First Wives Club, where Goldie, Bette, and Diane traipse around in their beautiful white outfits singing this song. It was their battle cry in the 90’s, and yes, it still resonates with us today. And yes, that movie was also based on a book.
We have these iconic moments that stick with us. These phrases and songs that dig their nails deep into our souls and remind us we want to break free from all the bullshit that is keeping us down. We want to smash the patriarchy, (and now for the big question) do we have any idea of want we want to rebuild in its place?
Patriarchy has been this looming thing over us, representing those bastards telling women what to do, how to think, and what we should do with our lives. As feminism has struggled with its own identity over the years, and looking at where it stands today, I wonder have we actually become that which we are fighting against. Jessa Crispin mentions this in her book Why I Am Not a Feminist: “In order to succeed in a patriarchal world, we took on the role of patriarchs ourselves. In order to win in this world, we had to exhibit the characteristics the patriarchal world values and discard what it does not.” As you may tell (if you read my previous blog Feminism for Sale), I have serious love/hate relationship with Crispin’s book. Reading it is making me question a lot about how I identify as a feminist. But I like the questions it’s making me ask myself.
I love using the phrase “smash the patriarchy” or “topple the patriarchy”. Either of those are known to be my battle cry. But do I actually know what I’m saying with it? Do I have any intention of bringing change to the world after we topple it? The answer I’m learning, is no, I don’t. I know I strive for equality, but what does that mean? For me, as a white cis feminist, that means something totally different to me than to you. And it’s so easy for us all to blame that which we don’t understand. It’s easy to jump on the feminist bandwagon and shout some cheers, screaming out against the man, but what else are we doing? We saw this with the Women’s March. There were SO MANY people who showed up for that, but how many people are continuing to keep the work going? How many joined just to be a part of something cool? If the feminist movement wants to stand strong, we have to keep these people engaged and actually know what we’re wanting to achieve.
We say it’s equality, but haven’t we as women been building ourselves up to be equal to men? What have we been doing to help men be equal to us? Feminism has left out a lot of people and turned a blind eye to race and gender fluidity. Maybe it’s getting better though. Maybe the Women’s March in January was the start of something great. In my heart, I think it was. But I also think a lot of people wanted to shout out their battle cries against the bastards and the patriarchy (I mean, yeah, it makes me feel empowered as hell when I do that too!). The empowerment is good. We should feel strong with who we are, but we need to be careful that we don’t actually become the bastards we’re accusing of grinding us down.
"If we understand that the problem feminists have with Björk has nothing to do with her actions and is only about her language and way of identifying herself, then we can recognize that this is about a feminist marketing campaign and not a philosophy. Compare her to the shiny pop stars who have discovered the market for feminist girl power and who use the word loudly while displaying regressive ideas, images, and messages. The word feminist acts as a shield from criticism, and many of these women are celebrated as heroes. If you use the proper word, then all is forgiven. You get a free pass. If you do not use the proper word, this overshadows all the good work you have done in your life." - excerpt from Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
I was reminded earlier this week that my best friend of almost ten years has never referred to herself as a feminist. It took me by surprise (as it usually does) and she looked at me and said, "Christine, you've known this." She was right. I have known this, but tend to always forget that fact because whenever I look at her, I automatically see someone whom I would identify as one. She believes in a lot of the same values as I do, but she has made the choice to live her life without labeling herself with the infamous "F" word. Me, on the other hand, I have chosen to embrace the word with all senses of the word fervor.
While discussing this subject, I thought of the words I recently read by Jessa Crispin that I included above. The idea of feminism has become a large part of marketing opportunities for people and corporations. See any of the articles listed below for more information:
Now, my friend lives her life the way she wishes. I don’t try to convince her to label herself to go buy some cool new merch with the word Feminist with a capital F embroidered on it (even though I probably did years ago). The two of us have different associations to it and understandings of what that word means. And that's okay.
I’m definitely guilty of buying into the feminist brand. But, I try my best to buy from organizations and independent companies that are donating their proceeds to Planned Parenthood or other non-profits I want to support. Do I also drink coffee from my “Male Tears” mug and sit around in my “Nasty Woman” tee shirt while reading Gloria Steinem? Yes. I buy into the label and wear it proudly because it has become so much of my identity over the years. It for real started for me back in college (probably around 2007/2008) and has morphed into this beast within me that won’t back down. I have “Feminist as F#ck” framed above my desk for Oprah’s sake (I try to avoid saying Christ’s sake and Oprah is pretty damn awesome, so we’ll go with that). I know I don’t have to wear my “Nevertheless, She Persisted” shirt for people to know what I stand for, but when I do, it does strike up a lot of conversations (mostly encouraging ones) and for that I’m incredibly happy. If wearing my beliefs on my sleeves is helping other people think about the construction of feminism, maybe it’s actually doing some good.
Because, let’s face it. There is a universal misunderstanding for what the word “feminist” means. I see it in the mainstream and question if I actually relate to some of these people who seem to know what they’re talking about. I read articles about Jessica Williams having to defend the idea of intersectional feminism a women's brunch, and I wonder why. Shouldn't we all be on the same page at this point? No. The movement behind it keeps changing, and is leaving a lot of us left behind. I truly used to think I knew what it meant back when I was studying Gender Studies in college, but now, who knows! I find myself often lost in thought thinking about it and questioning what I'm preaching. One description that stands out to me lately is from a post I saw:
Not only is that the perfect summary of patriarchy, but it's also a great way to discuss the difference between equality and equity. As a brief reminder (because I often need a refresh on this as well), equality is treating everyone the same and equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. For me, that is what being a feminist is all about: those two words. We all deserve to be treated equally (cough, cough equal pay, duh) and more often than not, women need to be given what we need to be successful (cough, cough, just treat us like people, not objects... oh, and equal pay would be great as well).
We all might have different understandings of what the "F" word means, and that's okay. Not all of us have to claim it. It's kind of like vaccines. Not all of us have to get vaccines, but they do work best when the vast majority of the population gets them. Bill Nye does a great job of explaining this (about vaccines, not feminism) in his new show Bill Bye Saves the World on Netflix He discusses at the end of Episode 6 that, “we should all take a shot in the arm for those who can’t get a shot in the arm,” and implores us to make vaccines cool again. We should wear them like a badge of pride. Sound familiar? Feminism has definitely become cool again, but are we really educating ourselves on that the word means? If we’re wearing it like a badge of honor on our sleeve, are we willing to go the extra mile and stand up for those who haven’t taken the shot yet? It’s okay if they haven’t. Maybe they will someday. But we shouldn’t let a blood-thirsty-orange-haired-Cheetoh virus attack them in the meantime.
I recently watched the 1996 film The Craft, which I was never allowed to rent as a kid due to the R rating it received. Without going into too much detail or spoiling any of the movie for you, it has to do with four high school witches learning about their powers. They receive more abilities over time and then they have the choice of giving into the dark or light side of magic. The film does an adequate job of highlighting both sides. But, while watching it, I was reminded of another (greater) storyline that has to do with the same concept.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." we learned about the Force. Or at least you did if you're a big nerd like me, who relates movies like Star Wars to her daily life. If you are unfamiliar with the franchise, the plot, or anything relating to this, I think you can still follow along. You can even relate it to Harry Potter if that's more your style. This theme of good versus evil is a well-known one and covers a lot of ground.
Before I go too far into the nerd zone, I want to share my theory with you. I believe we all have powers within ourselves, which typically run in line with what we are most passionate about. Sometimes they don't, and that's okay. But more or less, what we love to do is the power we are meant to bring into this world. And it's a choice as to whether we want to sacrifice these gifts for the dark side or let them thrive within the light.
Now, to summarize some of what's happened this month (ugh, maybe even this past week), we have: a man who has bragged about dropping the biggest non-nuclear bomb and overturning a ruling on Title X that could affect state funding for Planned Parenthood, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam's body was found in the Hudson, Neill Gorsuch was confirmed by Senate as Supreme Court Justice after so much shit went down, a school shooting occurred in San Bernardino, Chechnya detained 100 gay men in first concentration camps since the Holocaust, North Korea may be preparing its 6th nuclear test, twin bombings in Egypt, and I know there's been tons of other shit that's happened, but that's about all my brain can handle.
Amongst all the news headlines, I also read this piece from Cheryl Strayed, which I highly recommend. She says, "I know it’s a hard moment in our cultural and political life to remember the unifying power of art—many of us feel deeply divided from our fellow citizens—and yet seldom has there been a more important time that we do. High among the few things that have kept me from sinking into the deepest despair over the recent election results has been remembering how writers create that sense of me too."
It seems like it's this idea of "me too" that connects us with our gifts. It's the belief that we are all in this together and can relate to one another through our suffering and our strength. That's where the real power lies: as a united front versus alone in the darkness, hidden behind a mask. With so many negative things happening in the world, it's easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of sadness, anxiety, stress, and depression. It's easy to give into those fears and let them tear us down, making us feel small. It's easy to give into the darkness and join it instead of fighting against it. In Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, even Yoda tells Luke, "Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will." He also says, "Do... or do not. There is no try," which is one of my favorite quotes of all time.
Between re-watching the three best Star Wars movies, reading the news, and crushing on Cheryl Strayed, I've also been reading the book You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living and Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. She even talks about the Force as well! (See it all comes together.) Sincero mentions that our idea of God could be relabeled with terms such as Source Energy, the Force, The Grand Poobah, etc. It's your choice, whatever works for you. But it's about your beliefs and the powers you hold within yourself. "This isn't just about believing and being all high-vibe when the sun is out and the bunnies are hopping around, either. This is about believing, even when things are at their most uncertain or absolute crappiest, that there is a bright shiny flipside within your reach. As French author and fearless truth-seeker, André Gide, so aptly put it, "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." This is about believing that we live in a loving, kind and abundant Universe instead of one that's petty, mean, and likes other people more than it likes you. This is about your faith being greater than your fear."
This is about our lightness overpowering the dark shit that's happening in the world. It's about living up to our full potential, embracing our bad ass qualities, and letting the world see us for who we are: part of the Resistance. (Sorry, I couldn't let it go without one more Star Wars reference.) Let your nerd flag fly high and let that light superpower you hold within yourself shine bright.