A proud feminist, despite wife's view

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Recently, one of my students at Chatham University asked if I would participate in a photo project that required that I hold a sign stating why I was a feminist.

"You are a feminist, aren't you?" she asked. I assured her that I was. The first-year student was relieved. Her experience had already taught her there are plenty of people, even at a women's college, who would say "no" to that question.

I've never understood why anyone living in the modern world, especially a woman, would answer my student's question with anything other than an unqualified yes. But when it comes to feminism, it is fascinating watching the caveats fly. This isn't to say that I have all of the right boxes checked when it comes to issues of identity politics important to many women. I'm sure I don't because, as my wife reminds me, I haven't given serious thought to a more equitable distribution of household chores, much less to women's equality.

So, maybe if they were feeling especially generous, my female friends and colleagues would categorize me as a feminist with a small "f." Again, my wife would burst into hysterical laughing fits at the very notion that anyone would consider me a feminist of any sort. But in my heart, I know I am.

When it comes to issues like the debasement of women in popular culture, I have very little tolerance for most of it, though some might say that my admiration for Lena Dunham's HBO series, "Girls," is a glaring contradiction. At the very least, they would say that it calls my feminism into question, because of the ritual humiliation that the show's 20-something "girls" undergo from their boyfriends every week.

They're wrong. Ms. Dunham's series is not a glorification of what passes for hip and sexually degenerate at the expense of women, as much as it is a (half) serious-minded inquiry into our assumptions and fears about sex and young people as we slouch through the second decade of the 21st century.

There is a healthy amount of generational self-parody in "Girls" that is often difficult to process because it comes wrapped in the actions and misjudgments of such unlikable characters. The last 10 minutes of season two's finale made it one of the most cringe-inducing broadcasts on cable television, ever.

For two seasons "Girls" has made viewers consistently uncomfortable by operating without a net. I prefer to spend time with art that aggravates. It can be completely contrary to my politics as long as it gives viewers some glimpse into a previously unspoken truth.

So, Lena Dunham gets an automatic pass that I don't extend to rapper Rick Ross. The Miami-based corrections officer-turned-rap mogul earned the wrath of black feminists and other sentient beings recently with a lyric he inserted on the recording "U.O.E.N.O,":"Put molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it / I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain't even know it."

For the uninitiated, a molly is another name for Rohypnol, a date rape drug that low-key rapists used to call a "roofie." Mr. Ross is essentially bragging about having nonconsensual sex with an unconscious woman who accepts his offer of champagne.

With the sordid details of the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial still resonating, it is the worst possible time for a corporate-owned rapper to show the depths of his company-sanctioned misogyny. It is difficult not to feel a visceral rage toward him for using the lyric without any concern about being perceived as advocating date rape. In fact, being thought of as a sexual predator, even if it is an empty boast, only enhances his street cred.

Mr. Ross' entire oeuvre revolves around the wholesale debasement of human beings, so it is somewhat ridiculous to fixate on one lyric out of thousands he's recorded over the years. I bring it up only because an old corporate hack has managed to capture attention with an exceptionally callous lyric, even by his low-brow standards. There's nothing playful, artful or ironic about it. It is a boast about raping women.

Yes, Eminem was nominated for a Grammy for "Shake That," a song that celebrated slipping ecstasy into a girl's champagne and taking advantage of her. Though it was another milestone for what some call "rape culture," the iconic white rapper never suffered for it, thanks to protection from a racial double standard. Many white suburban women love Eminem and have never felt threatened by him.

Maybe my feminism is lame, but I'd like to think I'm moving in the right direction.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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