I don’t like cynics. They’re not evil, I know. Sure, they can wilt flowers with a glance, make rainbows disappear, and spread vitamin D deficiency by blocking out the sun, but hey, they’re not bad people. With their stormy brow and clouded eyes, they can bring valuable perspectives and insights to the table, the downer after everyone’s dessert.
Normally, I can’t be bothered to argue with them. You drink your cup, and I’ll drink mine (except you’ll be the one still thirsty afterwards, sucker). Not long ago, however, a deceptively casual exchange with a friend forced me to burst out of my happy bubble, instead of brushing off the cynicism with my usual blasé quip.
“I’m interning as a writer for FEM Newsmagazine,” I said, in response to his question about my extracurriculars. If you’re a self-proclaimed feminist, you’ve probably been subjected to The Eye-Roll in one form another: a scoff, a dismissive chuckle, an indulgent smile, a raised eyebrow, maybe even an actual eye-roll. No matter the gesture, it’s a succint style of sexism: just another symptom among countless others, contributing to a prognosis for gender equality that looks—dare I say it—pessimistic.
In this particular case, my friend’s Eye-Roll consisted of pursed lips and a skeptical squint aimed my way. “What?” I said not-defensively.
“I don’t know what that is, but I can make a pretty good guess based on the name,” he said sagely. “It sounds…feminist.” Well, good for you, Clever Clover, but it’s not exactly supposed to be a secret. We’re not some shabby undergound paper circulating inflammatory prose and hoping to incite una revolución against a systematic War on Women or something. We’re a legitimate, student-run online newsmagazine circulating inflammatory prose and hoping to incite una revolución against a systematic War on Women. Gosh. Anyway, so dumbfounded was I by his unparalleled perspicacity that I was nigh speechless: “So?” I managed.
“I don’t see any point in calling yourself a feminist,” he said. “Gender equality’s never going to happen. You think society’s ever going to be genderblind? Dream on.”
Needless to say, I found this statement—spoken with such casual conviction—disturbing, not the least because my friend is a grad student in Sociology, and aren’t they supposed to be experts on this kind of thing?
It doesn’t take an expert to recognize the obstacle such attitudes in themselves pose to gender equality. Every once in a while I’ll come across the claim that gender inequality doesn’t exist, that men and women became equals long ago—at least in forward-thinking countries like the United States, where glass ceilings are nothing more than the latest trend in modern interior design. I can always pat those individuals on the head, give my own little Eye-Roll, and show them the facts, photos, laws, statistics, and politicians that say otherwise.
But to have someone say gender equality is impossible—that’s somehow worse. These people stand up and acknowledge the problem, then step down and throw it aside.
People will never be genderblind, so we should just allow sexism to happen? What kind of cynical logic is that? Even it can’t be totally eradicated like the polio virus, even if there’s no perfect vaccine for violence against women—do decreased rates of domestic abuse, genital mutilation, rape, sexual harrassment mean nothing? Just because part of the population will insist on being dickheads, we shouldn’t try to educate the ones who can change their minds?
Last time I checked, progress was still progress.
I’m not saying everyone needs to be an activist. But belittling someone else’s willingness to take action, calling them naïve, discouraging them with words like “hopeless” and “futile” and “impossible” and “don’t even bother,” is unnecessary and wrong. You’re not my teacher, don’t tell me to sit down. I’ll make all the noise I want.
Whatever. I think I’ll just take a leaf from Aerosmith’s lyricbook and dream (and write and vote and fight) until my dreams come true.