Yesterday, at dinner at my residence hall, I was wearing an adorable empire waisted dress. It's colourful and short and all round super cute. As soon as I entered the cafeteria, however, a male first year student who knows I'm a Gender Studies student and feminist approached me to say, "Sarah, that's not a very feminist dress." WTF? That was exactly what I said. The first year in question is a smart, worldly, nice and witty person. Some days, such comments like the one he made even make me laugh. I can make light of the ridiculously untrue anti-sex stereotypes associated with feminism and feminists by laughing at comments that point out how I defy such stereotypes on most days, but yesterday, I just couldn't put up the resistance. I didn't have a snappy come-back like I usually do - one that proves I'm not fazed by such mockery. One that says I'm a cool, confident chick, who doesn't care what you think about the fact that she's an out and proud feminist. Some days, however, like yesterday and today, feminism can seem like an awful lot of work.
At brunch today, fresh off the "feminist dress" incident, a fellow Canadian at my hall informed me he was confused when he first met me, because his first thought when he hears a girl is in Gender Studies is, "Is she gay?" but he was pretty sure from the start that I was straight. This guy is an enlightened guy who's smart and truly kind, but even he buys into stereotypes that all Gender Studies students are gay, and that all gay girls are butch and that all girls who wear dresses and have long hair like me are straight. Of course, all of these assumptions are wrong. Of course, and yet, I buy into them myself sometimes.
I hardly ever wear pants. I live in ballet flats. I keep my hair long. I own a lot of clothes with floral patterns. I put make-up on every morning. I've been known to see a good hollywood chick flick or two, and I love wearing bright colours. So, sometimes, it hits me that I am almost a parody of straight femininity. I look nothing like people's stereotype of the butch lesbian, who is, in turn, their stereotype of the Gender Studies student. And, on my more honest and introspective days, like today, I'll admit that this is partly on purpose. I do like wearing dresses and lip stick, it's true, but I also vigilantly police myself to make sure I do. It's easier to gain acceptance in mainstream society if you are not just a Gender Studies student, but a Gender Studies student who wears pink. I might study the gender binary, and I might insist it is a social construction and not a natural part of the world that truly must exist, and yet I definitely try my best to look traditionally feminine every single day.
Being a feminist is hard work. In my case, sometimes I think it would be easier if I were just a sociology student studying the world outside of a strong feminist identification, and not a girl whose academic work makes her so strongly affiliated with feminism. Don't get me wrong, I love feminism and everything it stands for, and I'll always defend it. It's just that, sometimes, while I'm defending it, I get sick of it and wish I didn't have to. I wish I didn't have to INSIST to my guy friends, that no, I'm not the "only feminist in the world who doesn't want to 'kill all the men.'" I just get sick of the whole damn thing. There are days when sometimes I wish I didn't have to be a feminist, because I'm simply sick of defending myself and defending feminism. And then, I remember the answer I give to all feminist critics I meet; "Feminism is the least scary ideology in the world. All it seeks is equality, choice and the maximum number of opportunities for all people, regardless of gender, race, class, religion, nationality, or physical ability. How can you disagree with that?" And it's true, feminism isn't scary. The only people who are scary are those who are against it.