Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Football, Feminism, and Failure

I am watching football. 

My home team, the Ravens, took a loss today - though fortunately we lost when we have already secured our place in the playoffs. My second home team, the Redskins, are currently battling it out with the Cowboys. RG3, Morris, and Garçon are doing what they do, and I'm sitting in bed with a glass of wine and the love of my life, my husband, G. 

Concurrently, G and I have been discussing two books of essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly. We are both fans - I watched the series while it was on TV, G watched it after, and we saw the premier of Serenity, the film, together. 

At the same time, men on television form expert opinions on football, with brief interludes from female reporters on the field. 

And at the same time, a woman in India is mourned. Her death is a terrible and shining point of how things, everywhere, must change. 

Everything we do is so, so gendered. 

I have this game with television - I watch commercials and ask G to switch the genders. Car commercials? Let's have tough women and clueless men. Cleaning products? Obviously, Dad should be there with the Swiffer and paper towels. Power tools and home improvement? Let's see a hardcore mom with sweaty pits and various bits unshaven. It's my small fight with gender, the every day kind, the fight of not really having to feel the effects of gender discrimination and yes, true warfare, because I am so unbelievably privileged. 

Feminism is really, really important. And we need it to do more. 

We need to do more. 

It's really easy to call yourself a feminist when all you do is fight for your own rights. It's simple to play games with the TV. It's simple to point out inequality within semi-nuanced samples of American pop culture. I can rail against Joss Whedon until my face turns blue, and I probably will, and none of that makes a damned difference when we know - we bloody well know - that life being "gendered" means that women are raped and killed. 

Let me say that again. 

Women are being raped and killed. 

First world feminism is awesome. There are gender gaps in pay, in respect, in paid leave, in safety on the streets; there are gaps within our families, in who clears the table, in who is supposed to take care of the baby, in who cooks, in who cleans; there are gaps in how men and women are portrayed in film and literature, in who reports football, in who makes a good TV series. All of these things are so important, and none of them cover the true extent of how damned unequal life really is - not even in other places, now, but just, say, in America, where freedom is supposed to be our creed. 

It would be great to walk down the street without feeling like a potential victim. 

That's not just feminism.  That's human dignity. 

And maybe, sometimes, feminism distracts. 

There needs to be more horror, out there, because women are made victims, are made an easy and excusable target. That horror goes so far beyond the luxuries of independence that allow us to dissent. I am in no way saying that feminism in America is a lost or foolish cause, but I'm saying, in essence, that we still live in privilege.  

I know that rape is a huge problem (problem being a mercilessly paltry word) in the US - I don't need to be told that. I'm saying that perhaps unsayable thing, which is that talking about women's rights, about gender and sex politics, is a hell of a lot different than doing something about it. The fact that we can, in fact, talk about it, is the greatest gift our mostly messed up country can give us. 

Right now people are protesting to be able to discuss the fundamental rights of women. 

And I'm watching football, judging a TV show, and feeling stupid and oh, so lucky to be alive. 

The Skins seem to be doing pretty well, and I see men and women in the stands, full of delight and spit and hellfire. I still wonder what it would be like to live in a world of gender equality, where female commentators give us the scoop on stats and hormones. I still tell my husband that Joss Whedon couldn't write a female character to get him out of a paper bag. 

And women are being raped and killed. 

And that's it, that's the end, because here I am, in my lovely bed with my lovely husband, and I'm a feminist, and I'm not doing a single thing to help. 

I am a woman. I'm a feminist. I am incredibly privileged.  

And I don't know what to do. 

I know I'm not doing enough. 


  1. I've never seen Firefly, but I've always been an ardent fan of Buffy. In certain circles, at least, Whedon is lauded for writing strong, in-charge roles for women (see But I suppose he might have been off pace with Firefly. Do you have any thoughts on Buffy?

    When your mother posted a pingback on Facebook, she got two other commenters. One, another guy, reacted like I did ("Why you dissin' Joss?"); the other, a woman, agreed with you on the roles of women in Firefly.

    What's interesting--and perhaps sad--is that none of us actually responded to the core of your post. Maybe it's because it was so self-evidently true that we didn't feel the need to comment. But I think maybe it also shows the difficulty of writing persuasive prose: all it takes is one metaphor that doesn't quite sit with your audience to completely distract them and send the conversation completely off track. There's probably some Law of the Internet that describes the tendency of online discussions to stray from the Original Poster's topic (a kinder, gentler corollary to Godwin's Law).

    As for your actual point—what to do—there are too many causes to be championed, and most are beyond what any one of us can do, unless you devote your life to it. Perhaps the best we can do is to pick a couple to pay particular attention to, and for the rest, to behave as we wish the rest of the world to behave, and lead by example.

  2. The thing about being a parent, is that you really can devote your life to it. It isn't just another cause. It is our childrens' lives and futures. And not just our girls' lives. These gendered roles get in the way of men being all they can be, too. The gender lines create victims, and killers. Would you rather have a child who is a rape victim, or a rapist? Neither.

    That was a bit of a cryptic ramble because I have too much to say and can't squeeze it into a few sentences. But for your post: !!!. YES. And I'd love to get together and talk about this more sometime.