Gasp! A Feminist At The Bar! Or, the Question of Feminist Visibility
This photo has been making the rounds on tumblr in the past few days. Posted by Kenzi on her Tumblr situpsandfruitcups, the post reads:
"I wore this shirt to the bar last night. I received noticeably more distasteful looks from women than I did from men. One woman went as far as to make eye contact with me and shake her head disapprovingly. And for a brief moment I sat on my bar stool and felt embarrassed, like I had made a mistake by announcing I’m just as good or bad as any man here. I had broken the unspoken rule and people were noticing. While drinking my scotch and feeling mildly insecure, it hit me in the heart. I was embarrassed for walking into a room wearing a shirt that establishes ‘I believe women* deserve equality and I fight for them’. There is NOTHING in this statement to be ashamed of. Upon this affirmation, I suffocated my self-doubt and my evening was reborn. I complimented the head shaking woman on my way out of the bar and a look of genuine flattery with a hint of guilt washed over her face. Spread love, compassion and the concept of ‘no lesser person’ to all. And fight the fucking patriarchy every chance given."
I'm glad Kenzi shared this story. It's focused, obviously, on her own feelings about wearing the shirt, and her perceptions of how she's perceived wearing the shirt. We can't really know if the women who gave her "distasteful looks" were actually doing so because of her "Feminist" t-shirt or not, but ultimately, Kenzi's post is about becoming comfortable in her own skin, learning to be proud enough and bold enough to proclaim her feminist identity regardless of what other people might think.
I'm a feminist, but I've never really worn anything that identifies me as such, publicly (aside from a pair of woman symbol earrings I had in high school. Some kid called me a lesbian for wearing them and that was too much for my 15-year-old self to take, so I stopped wearing them). I watched with interest over the past few weeks in Texas, where people that opposed the restrictive HB 2 bill wore orange and supporters of the bill wore blue. In just a few weeks, Texans had developed their own visual language, an easy way to identify fellow activists, or enemies, as it may have been. If I lived in Texas, I feel sure I'd have been in Austin proudly wearing orange in protest of the bill, but that doesn't mean I'm likely to wear a shirt that says "Pro-Choice" or "Feminist" in my own every day life.
But I wonder, why is that? I'm not ashamed of my views and I'm certainly not afraid to talk about them, even in mixed company. So why haven't I, like Kenzi, ever worn a "Feminist" t-shirt to my local bar? I don't have a good answer, but I don't think I necessarily have to, either. While I'm not a proponent of choice feminism, I do think that we're all entitled to be feminist in our own individual ways. That looks different, and means something different, for every woman. And it's subject to change and evolution as well, as we saw in Kenzi's own anecdote. However you embody your own feminist identity, I do think there's something to be said for being a little bit in-their-faces every once in a while, whether that means wearing a t-shirt, marching at a protest, or increasing visibility for feminist issues (or even just for the word feminist!) in some other way in your community.