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Something is Wrong, and It's Not Feminism

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Let me start off by saying that I am right. I am so right that I feel no need for political correctness, no need for intellectual discourse for the sake of intellectual discourse. Have you ever had one of those deep, painful pimples, the kind that reject even the most skin-tone-compatible of concealers and linger as light purple splotches for months after you've popped them?

Your wrongness is like that - hard to get rid of, ugly. It's the kind of wrong your kids, embarrassed of your simplemindedness and inability to get with the times, will attribute to being "from another generation." Like math or foreign languages, it's the kind of thing that's very hard to understand without natural ability, or a very patient tutor. Unfortunately, I am not that patient tutor. I am just very angry.

In "It's a Man's World," Lucy Sherriff argues that "annoying, in-your-face" feminists--and in her eyes, that's every feminist - should "ditch" the feminist label.

Over the course of the piece, Sherriff throws out, seemingly at random, many arguments we've heard before: she calls feminism a joke; she cites one feminist blog's lack of male readership as evidence of the entire movement's failure; she attributes the scarcity of women in government not to the problem of deeply ingrained ideas about women and our place in society, but to good old-fashioned democracy at work. She says sexual harassment should be chalked up to "immature males who don't know how to behave around women," yet insists it's the "in-your-face feminist[s]" who alienate the opposite sex. She mentions the suffragette movement and bra burning. She says the fact that, as a woman, she can publish misguided articles on The Huffington Post UK proves the women's movement has arrived - not that equal, but hey, close enough!

In response, I must first echo Inigo Montoya in his take down of the hapless Vizzini in Rob Reiner's 1987 film adaptation of The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

To be a "feminist" today is to understand that the kind of complacency Sherriff demonstrates is not OK, that eighty cents does not equal one dollar. It is not enough to simply acknowledge the gender disparity in government, business, science. It is not enough to assign a hyperbolically vague negative adjective to the way "women are treated." Women are not carpets; we do not need to be "treated" for fleas or embarrassing stains.

This kind of can't-we-all-just-get-along op-ed threatens to halt the progress that, yes, the suffragettes and the "bra burners" fought for. (1. You know it's unclear whether any bras were literally burned, right?) Sherriff offers plenty of evidence that the outrage "bra burning" represents is still very much necessary: she's both felt the need to create an entire mental category called "Unpleasant Experiences with Men" and asserted, both in her piece's title and in its first line ("interesting" rhetorical choice), that it's a man's world. Nevertheless, she doesn't think feminism is the answer to these very real problems, and she doesn't offer any alternatives, either.

I understand why Sherriff wants to believe the fight is over; the misogyny and sexism women encounter today seem ludicrous in the context of the twenty-first century. However, that Sherriff believes "politics won't, and can't, change" things is as much a problem as misogyny and sexism are.

When I half-jokingly declare on a date that I think I am both a "very good writer" and "pretty hot" and hear in response, "Girls can't say that! You need to be more modest!"; when a very successful male classmate tells me, matter-of-factly, that "women aren't as good of writers"; when, in high school, my boyfriend uses the phrase, "Other guys would have cheated on you by now" to persuade me to sleep with him; when I hear the news that members of a fraternity at my university have chanted, "No means yes, yes means anal," on central campus and do not get seriously, seriously punished, I do not think, "Oh, dear, what an unpleasant experience!" as Sherriff suggests I should. I think, "Something is really, really wrong."

Something is wrong not only because these things have happened and continue to happen, but also because people like Lucy Sherriff think it is an unavoidable fact of life that they do.

Something is wrong because people like Lucy are too afraid to attach their names to a cause that, though unequivocally right, makes people in power a little uncomfortable. Something is wrong when women like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer - women we celebrate for finally achieving a modicum of the success men have been kicking back and grabbing a beer with for centuries -cannot or will not admit that it is not just the supposed bra burners at the Miss America pageant, that they too are feminists.

Sherriff is so, so wrong throughout her article, but when she cites the lack of admitted feminists in a 200-person English literature lecture to imply her viewpoint is that of the majority, I am terrified to admit that there, she could be right. If all women acted as selfishly and cowardly as Sherriff, Mayer, and many otherwise smart, ambitious, and talented women who refuse to call themselves feminists do, it might really end up a man's world after all.