I Don’t Want to Be a Feminist

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5821817420_a4090a3095_zWhen Sally Ride became the first female astronaut and Geraldine Ferraro the first woman vice presidential candidate for one of the Big Two parties, I was pretty sure I was living in the world that the 1960s’ feminists had fought so hard to achieve: The post-feminist world.

The Equal Rights Amendment had failed to pass, but it didn’t matter; we were on equal footing as men. Sure, salaries hadn’t caught up quite yet, but that would take time. You couldn’t, overnight, put a bunch of women in top-salary positions. By the time I reached the workforce, all this would be behind us.

Except, it wasn’t.

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with other women, about rape culture and harassment; about the pay gap; about why “feminist” isn’t a four-letter word (and it’s not just because it’s eight letters, either). One story keeps coming back to me as emblematic of all this: The Time I Didn’t Get the Same Vacation Allotment as the Dude Hired After Me.

Women often are blamed for being paid less. We don’t ask, we’re told. We don’t “lean in.” We don’t celebrate our accomplishments enough.

I was blamed for this in the aforementioned case, in fact, despite the fact that it simply wasn’t true.

I was done at The Miami Herald. After years of leaning in, and pushing my own accomplishments and being an overall pain in the ass, I’d reached a point where the politics of the situation were untenable. I do blame myself for some of this, because I hadn’t learned to pick my battles. I constantly battled. That gets annoying. So whatever. I was moving on. I got a job at The East Valley Tribune, outside of Phoenix – a smaller, scrappier paper, up against the 400 pound gorilla of The Arizona Republic.

I’d always had three weeks’ vacation and asked for the same at my new paper (before I accepted the job offer, mind you). I was told that no exceptions were made to the rule that you needed to be with the newspaper company (different from the Herald’s parent company) for a certain number of years to be eligible. I was still young, I really liked the newsroom attitude and was willing to make the sacrifice. After all, if this was the rule, and there were no exceptions, then everyone was in the same boat. Fine.

Except, that wasn’t true. A couple months after I joined the paper, another reporter my age was hired. We had about the same amount of experience, more or less. The paper he came from also had a different parent company. But, as it turns out, he asked for and was given — with no argument — three weeks’ vacation. I found this out in conversation with him several months later. I should have asked for three weeks, he told me.

Uh, I did. Now, mind you, this was not his fault. He asked for three weeks and was given it. What was he supposed to do? Ask if women hired around the same time as him had been given the same consideration? Of course not.

So I marched my fanny into the managing editor’s office and confronted him with this information.

I should have asked for three weeks, he told me.

Uh, I did. I then looked him in the eyes and suggested that I found it odd that a man hired right about the same time as me was given the vacation time with no argument, while I was told there were no exceptions and wouldn’t get it. Not to mention that I’d been put on the weekend shift while he had not (same thing happened after we were both made editors – despite my being made editor before him).

Needless to say, I was given the extra week of vacation on the spot.

But you know what? The entire situation sucked.

I don’t even think any of this was done purposefully. That kind of makes it worse.

It shows an innate bias toward men that isn’t even thought about. Or, at least, an innate bias against women. Either way, ugh.

I don’t want to be a feminist. I want to live in that post-feminist world I was promised.

But I don’t live in that world.

And I am a feminist. And damned proud to be.

Photo by cathredfern via Flickr Creative Commons.

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33 comments
AdamPalmMe
AdamPalmMe

Good for you. I will say this though, a true feminist will be quiet in the post feminist world. The movement is equality and once we hit equality it just shows your fight was in vein if you keep standing strong for something that is no longer a problem. Then you look like Jesse Jackson who still believes every white person is a racist, even though we voted in Obama. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I can't stop thinking about this post so I had to come back for more.  Can I ask a question that may appear to be rude but is sincere?  Did you read Lean In?  MANY of my friends have written posts disagreeing with Sandberg, especially if you are a lower income woman who doesn't get to Lean In to anything but an hourly job. I get that, BUT, I am reading the book and she DOES NOT say that there isn't a structure of chauvinism set up against women in business.  She is only asking us to push back.  

I think I'm where you are Amy - I'm tired of being quiet (not that anyone who knows me thinks I've ever been that), but I have often held my tongue not wanting to be 'that woman.'  I won't do it anymore, and not simply because of this book.   I met and lost a friend in the last year who was an 80 year old feminist; she taught me to speak up without being emotional and angry, and it is POWERFUL.   Just this morning, and I know this seems trite, I was on a call with ATT and the man on the phone kept calling me Mrs. Tobin (I'm divorced).  I stopped him after the 3rd time and told him: I'm Amy Tobin, I'm not Mrs Tobin. When he apologized I thanked him and told him that I am also a feminist, and I wanted him to know that being called Mrs.  Anybody was not kosher with most women today.  It was pleasant, we even chuckled.  Those little moments - they make me feel like I'm fixing something.  

Anyway, I really appreciate your post.

RababKhan
RababKhan

You're right, I want the post-feminist world too. It gets tiring to go on battling at different fronts all because of the gender I was born with. It's unfair. For men, their gender is a privilege they didn't even have to work for. 

The innate bias towards women thing is what needs to be dealt with. I tend to think more towards how we can make things better for coming generations. Every parent needs to take that responsibility by making sure we do not embed this bias into our children. It's tough with all the stuff around us that goes against us, but if even one boy-child grows up respectful, understanding and unbiased about women, I'd die in peace. :)

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Ok, I'm only half way through Lean In...but she isn't blaming it on us. She tells story after story of discrimination she herself suffered. She is simply illustrated the fact that we need to PUSH for what we want to. That's my take ... I too, am SICK of the gender discrimination....but I fear that we are putting words in Sandberg's mouth that she didn't intend. I KNOW..believe me, that even though I asked...ALWAYS .. I was discriminated against. But I know lots of women who never asked.

karimacatherine
karimacatherine

Love, Love, Love that you addressed an issue that seems so hot right now but that no one wants to really tackle. Growing up, I too, never thought I would have lived to hear and participate in conversations around women representation. I really was convinced this would have been an non issue. That's why I am even more worried for my children's generation. 


I am going to join @hessiej in her reference to being a woman of colour. The boys club is alive and kicking in most organizations. What is more appalling is when people pretend it does not exist and that you are making it up. Walk in my shoes for a day and then we can have a conversation about being part of the (in) visible minority in the business world.


LisaThorell
LisaThorell

I wonder - is there a woman's advocacy organization, principally accountants and CPAs, who do (or might do) random site audits into corporations, where the salaries and bonuses of  male and female employees of equivalent job skill/seniority rank (I know tough- but can be done obviously per the continuing polls on this) are compared? Such an organization could rate companies for fairness, publishing and reward and honor the compliant. Does anyone know of such an organization?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Can I just say men suck? And when women do some the world I ask you take no pith and spare no quarter on my kind?

It is why I always have had more lady friends. I decided long ago I want to be on the winning team 8)

maggielmcg
maggielmcg

Ok, seriously--I have had that same experience EVERY time I apply for a job, and EVERY time I'm told what you were--that it's non-negotiable. If I ever found out that a man--or anyone, for that matter, had gotten more time, I'd have been PISSED! Shows how naive I am, I guess...

I love this post and honestly--you need to write the new version of Lean In...because Sheryl's version is not really cutting it for me so far.

hessiej
hessiej

Hey Amy! I never considered myself a feminist, but as a woman of colour I found I had to work "doubly" hard to even get my work recognized. The boys' club was and continues to be blatantly apparent in the banking world, which is one of the reasons I left. Despite the strides women made, pushing and shoving my way to even get a glimmer of visibility was not my style. 

I think your piece needs to be called out because it's an important one. We don't force feminism on women. Unfortunately, it ends up being the result of not being fairly recognized. I could go on forever. Yours puts it succinctly:)

AGBeat
AGBeat

AMEN, AMY! I find myself being asked more frequently to speak on this topic, and you know what? I'm often turned down because I think feminism is bullshit because the movement is seen by others as insane hippies burning bras - the movement has been painted as irrational, like a woman with PMS. 

I love this piece, Amy. I need to continue thinking about it, because I'm finding that many women are feminists (you and I), but buck the idea that bias is something you can just change by being a badass. 

Tinu
Tinu

Yeah, I want to live in that world too. Since college, I've been what Alice Walker defines as a womanist. Long story but while I'm still in solidarity with my feminist sisters I insist on that distinction. And it's because of that same issue you're writing about here. I don't just lean in, I *punch* in. And before I went out on my own, I was still often denied access anyway. But I was raised with a certain type of awareness by both my parents, and recognize that privileged upbringing. Our family had more money, I had more opportunities, I have had better self-education and public education, as my parents had the luxury to be deliberate about those aspects of my upbringing.

And I hate that women are being blamed for not being assertive enough, not being permitted to own our own sexuality without society's judgement, and that the choice to embrace more traditional roles is often rejected as a non-feminist act. We should all be free to be the women we want to be, as should men.

Our struggle for equal consideration uplifts EVERYONE because we're not looking for preferential treatment, but equal and fair consideration where none existed before.

Amen to this Amy. Amen.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@AmyMccTobin Hi Amy - I haven't read Lean In, and I don't completely disagree with her (see my previous post). That's why I included that in a long litany of what women are told. The problem with the statement "She is only asking us to push back" is still saying that we're not. My point is that many, many women HAVE pushed back, and pushed back for a long time. 

What's happened is that a lot of people are just taking "Lean In" at the phrase itself and are taking the opportunity to, basically, blame women for this. "Oh, if only you asked." I've read articles about studies that women just need to ask. 

Oh, if only we'd ask for things, then the nice men would give them to us!

And good for you with the AT&T guy. I never took my husband's last name. We get the opposite, where people sometimes call him Mr. Vernon. He just laughs.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@RababKhan Hi! Sorry I never saw this - never got the notification that you commented! My fault. 

Anyway, I have two boys and you can believe they are learning that there are no gender rules. My little boy will chose to be Princess Peach when we play Mario Kart as often as he'll chose to be Luigi. That's fine. He told me once that pink was a girl's color and I told him it wasn't, that Mommy didn't even like the color pink.

I see little things that creep in sometimes where they say, "Such and such is for boys." or "Such and such is for girls." And you can believe I'm on that like white on rice and letting them know there's no such thing. 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@AmyMccTobin Hey Amy - don't know why I never got a notification that you commented here.  I finished commenting above. :)

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@karimacatherine @hessiej 

The one thing that I have to say for Sandberg is that I appreciate that she HAS opened the conversation and I do see more people talking about it in terms that don't include threats of rape or decapitation. So there's that.

But, YES. And you have very stylish shoes, indeed.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@HowieG No wonder you're always sucking up to @GiniDietrich


AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@maggielmcg Oh, man, you have no idea how ticked off I was. Well, you probably do. :) It didn't even really occur to me until much later that the days I worked were not equitable, though, and I shouldn't have been on weekends when he was not. Because it was supposedly relating to the coverage he oversaw. Except I oversaw education coverage. And schools aren't in session on weekends, hmm?

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I thought you were beige; that is not a Color.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@hessiej Thank you! I find that every time I talk about these things, I find more and more women who feel as I do. We feel as if we shouldn't need to be feminists, so there's something wrong with being one. But it's time to take back the word.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@AGBeat Thanks, Lani! I know how you feel about the word and "movement" and it's frustrating to be pigeonholed. But I've decided I'm just not going to be quiet anymore. I need to say what I need to say and try to continue to change things and make it a better world for our children & grandchildren.

AGBeat
AGBeat

(not sure why livefyre says i'm AGBeat right now, but this is Lani in case there is any mystery) :) 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@Tinu Drives me crazy when we're told that we don't get because we don't ask. TOTALLY BATTY.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@AmyVernon @AmyMccTobin I completely hear you, and I'm sure the phrase is being co-opted in all sorts of ways, but in the book Sandberg makes it clear with many stories that it isn't our fault - we just need to understand that the pushing is necessary.  

And, it saddens me that so many women are rejecting Sandberg - most of the criticism is coming from women - and many of these people haven't read the book.  

Taking the last name was one of the greatest mistakes of my life.  I want to get my maiden name back but there's the professional thing.


npizzitola
npizzitola

too true @AmyVernon @Tinu - there are numerous studies that show the subtle, subconscious bias women deal with in hiring and work. The real work is showing people the fallibility of their judgement and putting into place practices to counter it.  I love your vision of a post-feminist world. Until then, it's important that we continue the conversation - in every corner.

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