Monday, May 23, 2016

Angry Feminist

It seems to me that the problem some men have with feminism is that they think it’s about Us v. Them. They hear Feminism and they think War. Instead of “equal opportunities for women” and “a more just and balanced world that values both male and female qualities and perspectives,” they hear, “women who hate men and are trying to take our place in the world.” They assume that we would approach it as they might: as a competition, survival of the fittest, every man for himself. What these men fundamentally don’t understand is that women on the whole don’t operate like that. We want everybody to get along, we want the world to be a better place for everyone living in it. A world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until these guys realize that, feminism will continue to feel like a threat.

Often when I bring up the F word on, say, a first date, a glaze will pass over my date’s face. He is no longer looking at me the individual, but instead seeing me as one face in an amorphous swarm of angry bitches. Every time I meet a man and tell him I’m a feminist, I watch him closely. His reaction tells me a lot about whether it’s going to work out between us on a fundamental level. I have yet to meet the man who says, “Fuck yes, me too!” That guy I will marry.

I'm on a date with a guy I met on Tinder two years ago whom I just randomly came across on the Internet and decided to Facebook message. We had never met up in person, but texted for awhile, and the fact that he appeared in a random Google search made me feel serendipitously like we should meet. We agree on a bar in his neighborhood because he doesn't have a car, so I drive from Silverlake to Culver City on a Friday evening to meet him. I arrive, we hug, and he hands me the happy hour menu. We're both filmmakers and film buffs, so we nerd out about cinematography and directors and within minutes we're arguing about which movies were the best of last year. He mentions Tangerine, a film about two African American trans women prostitutes shot in LA on an iPhone 6.
“I hate gimmicky movies like that,” he says. “It was a piece of garbage that people only thought was good because it was about trans people and was shot on an iPhone.” I bristle.
“I feel like you can’t call telling a story that hasn’t been told before a gimmick,” I say.
“The filmmaker only made that movie to capitalize on all the trans stuff in the media,” he says.
My warning flags start going ballistic. As an avid support of trans rights and the president of Jill Soloway’s fan club, I'm not the person to sympathize with someone calling a story about trans women a “gimmick.” I decide not to write him off just yet, though I'm starting to get the sense I probably won't ever see this guy again, and I'm only on my first drink.

He starts telling me his entire life story, complete with the fact that he was medicated as a child for bipolar disorder, got kicked out of school for beating up other kids, and had a substance abuse problem as a teenager. I just stare at him as he monologues at me, wondering what I've said or done to inspire such an aggressive confessional. He tells me in detail about his father, his uncle, his family history, his family recipes. Finally, he takes a breath and says, “Sorry, I talk a lot, tell me your story.” I start to tell him about where I grew up, but he's reminded of an anecdote about his own life and interrupts me to talk about it. I decide to stop trying to insert things into the conversation. He tells me he usually dates lawyers and doctors and architects, women in different fields, because he's really interested in other people’s lives that are different from his own. He seems very proud of this fact about himself and I wonder if those women were able to get a word in edgewise. Who raised him to believe it was okay for him to talk for so long without stopping? I wonder something I often do on first dates with men, how it is he can be so un-self-aware.

We walk to another bar down the street and this is where he turns to me and says, “You’re hard to read.” I consider informing him that it's easier to read someone when you ask them a question about themselves rather than just constantly talking about yourself.
“You don’t seem to care what I think of you,” he says.
“Why should I?” I ask.
He says he's hoping to get a second date with me.
“Why do you think I’m buying you so many drinks?” He chortles.
He mentions several times throughout the night this girl he was dating in the Midwestern city where he lived before moving to LA.
“She showed me I could actually really like someone,” he says. He’s never been in love, but the amount he talks about this girl makes me think there's still something there.
“Maybe you should give it another shot with this girl,” I say. “You seem to still really like her.”
“Nah. It would never work. She wants too much from me.” Apparently, she wants kids and stability, while he isn't ready for any of that. “I’m not looking for a fuck buddy, but like not a big commitment either.”
He asks what I'm looking for and I say probably more than he is. I'm not interested in having casual sex anymore. Then he insinuates that he doesn't want me to get too attached to him if he can't give me what I want.
“You’re worrying about me getting too attached?” I laugh into my beer.
“I think women have certain expectations.”
“There is something biological that happens to us because we literally let men inside our bodies,” I say.
He tells me he wishes he hadn’t said anything about looking for something casual, because he's open to seeing where this goes. I say again that we're probably looking for different things.

Somehow we start talking about rape culture and the accusations brought against Bill Cosby
“It’s scary as hell for a guy to think about being accused of that,” he says.
“It’s scary for a guy!” I practically shout. He laughs, conceding that this came off wrong. The fact that straight white cisgendered men are somehow capable of twisting the narrative so that they become the victim in the rape scenario never ceases to amaze me.
Then he says, “I just don’t understand how someone could get off on rape. Like, how do you even get hard when someone isn’t wet?” Ick.

Because I know I don't want to see this guy again, I decide to try an experiment. 
“Just so you know, I’m a raging feminist," I declare, watching his reaction.
He looks at me sideways and asks warily, “What does that mean?”
“I consider myself a social activist for empowering women’s voices. I’m really passionate about it and believe that women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
“I mean, yeah, but is that even feminism? It should just be called humanism.” He says this as though it's a totally innovative new idea he's just come up with. Then he proceeds to explain feminism to me. I laugh out loud.
“You are mansplaining feminism to me right now!” I say.
“I hate that word,” he says with a disgusted look on his face. Of course you do, I think, it was invented precisely for guys like you.
“Everyday there’s another article written about this stuff,” he says, by way of arguing that we don't need feminism anymore.
“Yeah, because nothing’s changed yet. Once there’s real change there won’t be the need for so many articles.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says. I wonder how long we have to wait, how many more years of male justification of the insidiously sexist way things are will we have to live through before there is quantifiable change. How many levels of entitled white men defending the status quo are there left to battle?
I ask if, as a director, he hires female crews.
“Have you ever hired a female gaffer?” I ask.
“There aren’t really any,” he says.
“What about DPs?”
“They’re never recommended to me. How am I going to hire someone who isn’t recommended to me?” He raises his voice, getting frustrated. “I don’t think about gender when I’m hiring, I think about the best person for the job.”
“That’s really fortunate for you that you don’t have to think about gender, because as a privileged white male you’ve never had to.” Full disclosure, I may have said something about him having a penis between his legs.
“My makeup artists are women and gay men. I don’t care that they’re gay.”
“Wow. Good for you,” I say.

He then tries to convince me that women don’t make less money than men. He says he knows a lot of female directors who are successful. I ask if he’s ever honestly asked them how it is for them as women directors. He hesitates.
“Yeah, I mean, they said it was hard to get where they are but now that they’re there, it’s fine.”
“So you think we should just shut up and stop complaining.” 
“You’re putting words in my mouth.” 
Maybe this is true, maybe I am putting words in his mouth, but the point I'm trying to get at that he doesn't seem to understand is that he is fundamentally resistant to even acknowledging that things aren't equal. The fact that he insists on defending the way things are and refuses to recognize the problem seems to me the most insidious thing about the sexism in this town. The fact that if men continue to refuse to acknowledge the need for change, they will never change themselves. This is why we need feminism, and I tell him as much.
“The old guys are dying anyway,” he says by means of consolation.
“But here you are a 29 year old man and you don’t hire women. Where’s the progress there?”
He ramps up for another session of mansplaining and I decide to get real with him.
“You know what,” I say. “I know a lot about you and you know very little about me. You have been talking at me and interrupting me all night. And I know you talk a lot and that’s okay, I do too, but it might behoove you to listen to someone every now and again.” I may not have been this eloquent. I am a little tipsy and very angry.
He just stares at me. Then he says, “You started telling me about yourself and then just stopped.”
“Because you interrupted me,” I say. I start talking again and he interrupts me again.
“I am trying to tell you about how you interrupt me and you’re interrupting me,” I point out.
“So interrupt me back,” he says.
“I really don’t have any interest in doing that.”
“Well then don’t go to New York because that’s the way it is there,” he says, grinning. I had told him earlier in the night that I was thinking of moving to New York. I decide this is it. I'm tired of listening to this idiot. I stand up.
“Okay, it was nice to--“
“Yeah, you’re welcome for all the drinks,” he interrupts.

I march out of the bar and LOL all the way home, exhilarated to have walked out on a first date, to have spoken my mind rather than quietly stewing over the ubiquitous misogyny that women are constantly swallowing. The days of swallowing it are over for me at least. If that means I’ll be single for life, so be it. I know this guy probably didn’t hear a word I said, but it doesn't matter. I said my piece and he was right, I don't give a fuck about what he thinks of me.

I think about the me of just six months ago. She would have smiled and nodded through the mansplaining, had a couple more drinks, gone home with this guy for some mediocre one-sided sex. The new me simply can't stomach it anymore. I don't want to let another misogynist inside my body. I don't even want to let in another culturally-blind, privileged white male. That's a harder bar to clear, and I think it's understandably difficult for some of these men to see past their own privilege and sense of birthright entitlement. Regardless, I've decided to start having higher rather than lower expectations for the men I have sex with. I will hold men to a higher standard and believe that they can be better than so many before them. This I feel is the true essence of feminism—that men and women don't need to be in opposition, a world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until I find a guy who sees that, I will stop letting these lesser males inside my body. Perhaps that means I won't be having sex for awhile. If that's the case, so be it. Any guy who tells me to stop complaining, that I should be satisfied with the status quo, can literally go fuck himself, cuz he ain’t fucking me.