I’d like to thank Rep. Ted Yoho (FL), whose recent display of boorishness reminded me of why every school year I proudly proclaim my feminist status to my students. As a male and former football coach, I typically receive many surprised and sidelong looks but also a few appreciative smirks. Regardless of your politics, Yoho’s cowardly name-calling of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) should be a wake up call that reminds us of how chauvinism remains rooted in America, most perniciously among too many male power brokers. Originally, I considered titling this post “Be a Man. Stand up for Women.” However, “Stand up for Women” sounds like a nod to an old fashioned, condescending form of chivalry. It implies some sort of male superiority, not female equality or empowerment. Women, especially AOC, are capable of standing up for themselves as she so gracefully illustrated on the floor of the House in response to Yoho’s non-apology.
I can trace the genesis of my own feminism to an incident when one of my sons suffered some minor scrape, and as he cried, I reflexively ordered him not to be “such a girl.” Thankfully, my wise wife overheard my wrongheaded admonition and correctly shamed me by reminding me that she, my son’s mother, is a girl. Prior to this incident, having grown up in a house with five brothers and spent the majority of my life in locker rooms as a player or coach, I regularly heard and used feminine identifiers as pejoratives without considering the implications of such usage. Since being corrected by my wife, I have not made that mistake again. Similarly, I know of several men who became feminists, even if only tacitly, upon the arrival of daughters and the sudden realization of the uneven playing fields faced by their girls. I think this is great; however, it should not require such an event for men to acknowledge the equal value of women or to acknowledge and fight for women’s rights. After all, without a woman, those fathers of daughters wouldn’t be here at all, and without another one, they wouldn’t have a daughter.
As verified by a witness, Yoho cravenly referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a “fucking bitch,” albeit beneath his breath and while he walked away from her. (I’ll let you judge what kind of person/leader/role model/man that makes him.) It makes me think of the notion that one’s true character is revealed when he/she thinks no one is looking or, in this case, listening. I like to ask my students to identify a term that is the male equivalent of the “b-word.” They search their vocabularies but invariably fail to conjure a term that possesses similarly noxious connotations. I do this thought experiment to make clear the manner in which inequality and misogyny remain inherent in our language and culture.
In all domains that traditional male hegemony has asserted its self-serving dominance, including literature and literary criticism, there exists a need to make up for centuries of denying women equal opportunities and agency. Therefore, in my syllabuses, I integrate numerous texts by feminist writers and many with feminist themes. Warning: Do not equate “feminist writers” with female. There are a large number of canonical male authors who laced their texts with forward-thinking feminist notions, including Chaucer and Shakespeare. Also, as novelist, I am vigilant in trying to create independent, powerful female characters and avoiding the damsel in distress trope.
Although I’m sure some will snicker over my feminist-rantings, call me hysterical (a word of Greek origin meaning “of the womb” and with misogynistic roots), and even question my manliness, I don’t care. I’m of an age when I’d rather be right than be cool. In the end, being a feminist simply means being respectful of others, applying the Golden Rule, insisting on fair play, and doing the right thing. That seems the least I can do.