Sunday, November 27, 2005
It was just a casual conversation. You know... stuff. My attention was moving between computer, TV and what she was saying. And then she called ME a feminist.
I was momentarily stunned and then looked down at my genitals. Everything seemed to be there, although at that moment there was a reaction similar to having my lower extremities plunged into Arctic water.
I thought about it for a minute. While she was not a part of my life when it was my job to think in terms of "shoot or be shot" and "maiming is more effective than killing", she is fully aware of that past. Perhaps she had forgotten that I have a workshop fitted-out with at least one version of every power tool ever invented. I have TWO Dremel tools and accessories! Maybe she missed my hours spent under the hood of the jeep, covered in grime only to emerge with a grin and announce, "No problem! All she needs is a new engine."
When, in a ship, I had women under my command (and still do on occasion). I cannot imagine any one of them even suggesting I was a feminist. Usually it was more along the lines of "demanding asshole". And believe me, some of them quit, because I was (and am) just that. There has always been an eager line-up to get in, so I have never worried. But that certainly did not make me a feminist.
Here was a point of serious concern. How, with this title, could I face the guys at the pub? Was it obvious? Maybe she didn't really mean it.
So I asked her, "Why, would you suggest I am a feminist?" (Actually, I said, "No, I'm not!" But we eventually got around to the primary question.)
"Because you believe in the things which make ME a feminist," she said. She is married to me. I had to listen. (That does not make me a feminist).
She explained what made a feminist. Some of it I agreed with; some of it seemed a bit of a stretch. I responded by suggesting that I preferred being known as a "humanist". In short, respect for everyone, regardless of sex. She disagreed and then proceeded to illuminate some of the areas which give her the right to identify me in a way I would never have chosen.
"You don't just say you support me and my beliefs, you actually do it," she said. "At home, at work, in the world, you believe in equal treatment, equal opportunity and a level playing field."
Yes... I do. But that STILL does not make me a feminist. I am very heterosexual, y'know.
And then she gave me an example of something important. A charity. I remember when she first told me about it, how impressed I was with the concept. It was Light Up The World and it impressed me with its simplicity. What sold me on the idea was the fact that they trained only the women of the villages to supervise, operate and maintain the system once it had been installed. But, that still didn't make me a feminist. I have been all over the world and have seen the results of civil war, ethnic cleansing and senseless slaughter. It was always the women who suffered the worst, yet it was always the women who toiled to rebuild. Talking to them, I found a sense that, if they had just been empowered, they would have stopped whatever was happening to destroy their world. They always looked to the future because their present was so bleak. But they sucked it up and did it. They had the guts; the men had the guns.
Still, I had a problem with owning the title, feminist. Hell, the General might take umbrage. I might have to stop cleaning the bathroom. Maybe I'll just leave the laundry. Perhaps, I should insist on her cooking suppers no matter how busy she is. And I know none of that would work, because cleaning a toilet, running a vacuum cleaner, doing the laundry and preparing a meal are not a woman's job; they are simply jobs, no matter how Proctor & Gamble, Electrolux, Maytag or Safeway portray them.
So, to ask a very Carrie Bradshawesque question: Can a man be a feminist?
Well, I will always have doubts, but my best guess is that I cannot confer that title on myself. If I am a feminist it is because my wife, the person I respect most in this world, says I am.
So, to answer in a very Possom Lodge way: I am a man. I can change. If I have to. I guess.
It's OK boys, you can come out now. Being a "Feminist" doesn't mean you've lost your job.