I was having coffee with a female friend of mine, at my local café in Newtown. We always sit right at the back of the courtyard, away from the performing arts school students playing adult and taking bum puffs of their Marlboros.
Talking about books we’d read, articles we’d shared on Facebook, annoying people at Uni. I’d mentioned Destroy the Joint and their teaming up with Get Up to try and force John Laws to apologise for implying that a 6 year old girl can be provocative. We both thought it was really important, and got talking about how today’s feminism seems to be a cyber-force rather than in-person demonstrations. I started talking about how it’s probably the way of the future, that all of our feminist action will take place on the Internet.
Then this guy, sitting at the table behind us taps my friend on the shoulder. Hey, an old friend, sure he can join us, we were just talking about Destroy the Joint.
“Oh yeah, they’re awesome. Fuck Alan Jones and all those old, white men of privilege.”
More about how he’s an oppressor, this BA student, because he’s a white guy living in a patriarchy. And that was it.
“So do you do anything about it? Are you part of a group?”
“What, like a Facebook group? Sure I’ve signed a couple of petitions. I mean geez, some feminists don’t even believe that I can be one because I’m a dude. I figure until they get their priorities sorted I’ll just focus on other things.”
Later that week I’m at Uni, having a coffee and reading near the Law Building. A group of people at the table next to me are talking about how important feminism is. The one woman of the group is pretty much sitting around agreeing with everything that the rest of the table is saying.
“Did you see that article I shared on FB about North Dakota trying to ban abortion?”
“Yeah, that was so fucked. How can people be so sexist, in this day and age?”
The woman pipes up after not being able to get a word in edgewise for the past 10 minutes.
“I was thinking about going to the Women’s Room at 1pm today, they’re having a meeting.”
Raucous laughter from the guys.
“Why would you waste your time? They don’t do shit! They’re just about man-hating.”
“Haha yeah, you’re probably right but I wanted to check it out anyway.”
“So what, you’re going to stop shaving your pits or something? You’d make a cute little feminist!”
The woman smiles and slumps in her chair, back where they want her.
The weekend has arrived, and I’m at work. I’m a barista, but the place I work at sells gourmet cupcakes. This guy comes in, he’s very polite, older, a nice harmless type. He asks me what cupcake he should buy for a ‘little girl’.
I shrug my shoulders and say “Kids generally like the chocolate ones”, but he insists, “But what about for a girl? Do you have any pink ones?”
He’s not rude at all, and I don’t want to make a scene, so I point at the strawberry. He buys it, and is happily on his way. Certainly unaware of how ill I felt at his question; and the tiny civil war in my head between calling him out on his sexism and keeping my shitty, but desperately needed, job.
What all these situations have in common is a person who defines themselves as a feminist folding and crumpling away when everyday sexism occurs. And it’s not just the subject of the story, it’s me. I was the linking factor in all these stories, and I did nothing. When it’s popular and appropriate for us to exist, we do. But when we are presented with a sexist attitude in daily life, Feminism is delegated to theory. A trendy theory we can all use to quip about the latest story about rape in India while high-fiving each other about being in such an enlightened society. We all want to like the article our friend posts online from Jezebel, and we all solemnly nod our heads when we hear about Tony Abbott’s next snide remark about women. But then what happens when push comes to shove? We sign a little internet petition, we write a little blog article (or more likely write our little less-than-50-character tweet), and we complain that politics is down the drain and come the next election we’re just going to draw a picture on the ballot.
Let’s all do something. Actually do something. Once a day, once a week, or you know, every time it happens. When your friends are moving, set up a Facebook page pleading for help from “Strong, able-bodied men”, do you say nothing because you don’t want to carry a 50 year old couch down three flights of stairs. Suck it up and say something. Not only will you be helping our society, but your friend is really going to appreciate the way you didn’t complain about the wet-dog smell their couch left all over your shirt.
When men dominate the conversation, or call me ‘darling’, I let it go because I don’t want to cause a scene. But it’s so damn annoying, since I don’t live in 19th century Kentucky. The only way to stop it is to say something. No one is asking for anger and fury, just a genuine, friendly reminder that the everyday sexist comments that occur are just another small step added to the stairs, preventing us from being able to finally get to the top of the building and see the entire city as one big homogeneous breathing living contented beautiful society.