Heidi has a reverence for books and music that most people reserve for church. She is an American living in England with her husband and three children. Everyone in her house has big feelings and strong personalities. Sometimes people pay her to write. Most of her days are spent doing yoga, cooking, walking, reading and listening to music.
The children are all mysteriously, gracefully, occupied and my husband and I are watching music videos alone, one of our favorite and oldest shared pastimes. We flip through the channels quickly, lamenting how awful things are, making too many Beavis and Butthead references and playing games of brinksmanship to see who will cry uncle first when we’re sitting through Bryan Adams, 80’s metal or Lionel Ritchie videos (Just Kidding! We LOVE Lionel Ritchie videos.)
The Enrique Iglesias gem, “Tonight, I’m Lovin You” (NSFW) comes on. We happened across the unedited, euphemism and subtlety-free version on the Internet six months ago and, at the time, we both sort of admired the brazen lack of shame in Iglesias’ lyrics.
Watching it for a second time, my husband says this:
“Look, it’s like he’s in a hot chicks store where he can buy the one he wants. ‘There’s a blonde one, I’ll have one of those. And a brown-haired one, hmm she looks nice and ooh, an acrobatic one. Yes, tonight I’ll be having you.’ Have I been hanging out with you too long, or is this incredibly awful and sexist?”
“No! It’s not just you, it is incredibly sexist.”
“You don’t really notice sexism at first, but once you see it, you realize it’s everywhere.”
. . .
I’ve claimed the feminist label for a long time now. So long that sometimes I’m surprised when people find it alienating. Feminism gives me a framework, a tool to break down the tangled relationship between religion, culture and history. But any tool that is used to understand human beings must be flexible because people are layered and complex. I see sexism everywhere, but it’s not the only thing I see.
. . .
A few days later, I tell my husband I’m writing a piece about the Enrique Iglesias conversation.
“It’s about your feminist awakening,” I say.
“It wasn’t really a feminist awakening, more of a feminist epiphany.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You’re not going to make me sound like a douche, are you?”
“Why would having a feminist epiphany make you sound like a douche?”
“I don’t know. The thing is, I’ve never ever thought that a woman isn’t as smart or as good as a man, but I don’t think I really got all the sexism you talk about. And then watching that video the other day, maybe because it was so blatant, the penny dropped. I just really saw it.”
“So, would you ever think of yourself as a feminist?”
“No! I just don’t want my little girls to grow up believing that the pinnacle of their existence would be to be hot enough to have a threesome with Enrique Iglesias.”
“Let me ask something else. Would you like your little girls to grow up to believe that the pinnacle of their existence would be to be modestly hot enough to attract a righteous priesthood holder and make babies?”
“Anything is better than Enrique Iglesias … but not really. I’d like them to grow up and make babies if they want to make babies or be artists or scientists, I want them to be whatever they want to be.”
“Hmmm, it sounds like you are a feminist.”
“I don’t think it’s OK for men to call themselves feminists and then come in and tell women what to do. Women need to own feminism.”
“A lot of women do, but being a woman doesn’t automatically make you a feminist. And both men and women are heavily rewarded for sustaining the patriarchy and keeping it going. Look at church. If you step outside the culture, things start to look weird — like women not being allowed to be in the building without a priesthood holder there to ‘protect’ them or all the times I’ve seen women in leadership positions pray about callings, receive inspiration to call a certain woman and have that inspiration ignored by a bishop who puts someone else in the calling instead. But when you are in the culture, that is just the way things are done and often the men and women who enforce these things are really nice people. You need some of those nice people, both men and women, to question the status quo.”
“It’s not that I don’t see that, but I don’t like the label. Women are feminists, men can’t be feminists. Men just need to stop being sexist.”
. . .
My husband is uneasy about the label. Who can blame him? People still think that female feminists are shrill and overly sensitive and male feminists are Birkenstocked and pretentious. Feminists don’t like laughing at Steven Segal movies on late-night TV, World of Warcraft or boobs. They don’t like fashion and sex or have a sense of humor. They can’t simply be men who care about the women in their lives and see them as whole people or women who believe equality is better for everyone, not just women.