By Erin Moyer || Opinions & Editorials Editor
This past week, I was way too proud of myself: I made it to every single one of my classes. I was on time and everything.
Should I have really been proud of myself for attending classes that my family pays for me to attend? Of course not. But I was. And that’s because so many weeks go by where I miss a class or two (sorry, Mom). I would imagine the same thing is true for a lot of my readers, as well. And maybe you guys would feel equally, disproportionately proud at actually pulling yourself out of bed, too.
This misplaced pride of mine illustrates something really important: There exists a gap between what we think is a bonus, wonderful thing we do, and what should actually be a basic, universal thing we all just do. Allow me to explain.
I once had an odd interaction at a party with a friend of mine. Here I’ll call him “Jon.” I was studying abroad in Strasbourg, France, and we had somehow wandered into a Strasbourgeois party. As we danced to a cover band’s strains of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (I am not joking), I noticed that Jon was conducting an experiment in francophonic tongues with a random partygoer, perhaps in hopes of hitting it, baby, one more time. But was this random partygoer too drunk to really consent to what was going on? Was Jon too drunk? Were either of them being sensitive to the fact they probably didn’t speak the same language? I tugged at Jon’s sleeve, and I said as much. He turned to me and indignantly retorted, “Hey, I respect girls!”
And at the time, I couldn’t precisely place why that statement so annoyed me. What was I supposed to say back to that? Infantilization of *women aside (yeah, we’re all 18 and older here, don’t call me a “girl” and group me with kids who have yet to hit puberty), it’s not as though I could really argue with him. What, should Jon not respect women? Of course he should respect women! Yes, everyone out there, this is not a trick: you should treat women, as you should treat everyone, with decency and common humanity. That is a fairly non-controversial message.
So I shrugged the conversation off and tried to see if I couldn’t track down any more wine (not for me. For a friend). Jon was eventually rejected by three different women of three different nationalities, and we all went home. It was not until I once again lived in the United States, had forgotten most of my French, and was watching a Chris Rock stand-up special, that I finally found my feelings put into words.
If you haven’t seen Rock’s 1996 comedy special, Bring the Pain, I would highly recommend that you do. He performed it nearly 20 years ago, and so much of what he discusses — especially institutionalized racism, in light of his recent selfie-documentation of getting pulled over — remains far too relevant. Anyway, what caught my attention in the stand-up special was when Rock differentiates between black people and “n****s.” He characterizes n****s as black people who ruin things for other black people. They do “ignorant sh*t,” and make it harder for everyone else to get respect. At one point, Rock talks about how the people he sees as n****s often seek praise for doing what is expected of them:
“N****s always want some credit for some sh*t they’re supposed to do. For some sh*t they’re just supposed to do. A n**** will brag about some sh*t a normal man just does. A n**** will say some sh*t like, ‘I take care of my kids.’ You’re supposed to, you dumb motherf**ka! What’re you bragging about? What kind of ignorant sh*t is that?! ‘I ain’t never been to jail.’ Whatchu want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf*cka!”
And here, right here, I had my squeamishness at Jon’s remark articulated. I finally had words put to my vague discomfort at seeing men wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Real Men are Feminists,” and even at the fact that Chris Rock, after his “wish me luck” selfie went viral, has been described by several news sources as an “outspoken advocate for racial biases.” Because these are all cases of the right thing to do being mistaken as an extra nice thing to do.
You don’t get a cookie, you don’t get my applause, for doing a basic thing that you’re supposed to do. I’m not about to thank you for “stepping up” and treating women like we are people. You’re supposed to treat us like we’re people! You’re supposed to do that for everyone. Oh man, you’re telling me you respect women? Wow, congratulations on according me a basic human right! I owe you one. Wait, you wouldn’t have sex with an extremely drunk girl? Thanks ever so much for not raping her! Where can I mail your gift certificate?
Feminism, as has oft been said and printed upon t-shirts, is the radical notion that women — and all other people — are, in fact, people. Of course my friend Jon should respect women. Of course men should be feminists. Of course women should be feminists, too. And of course Chris Rock is “outspoken” about “racial biases.” We should all respect women. We should all understand and readily describe ourselves to be feminists. We should all try to talk about racial biases. Am I wrong? Should this not be a basic thing we all just kind of do?
The truth is, not everyone does support equality. Not everyone genuinely acts like they respect women, or men, or African Americans, or LGBTQs, or Latinos, or Asian Americans, or any remote minority of which you can think. People have to keep announcing, in effect, “I’m cool, guys, I’m cool,” because lots of people aren’t being cool. And we feel like we need to keep articulating that we’re different than those people. We have to keep identifying ourselves as feminists, as allies, as “outspoken” on the subject of “racial biases,” because there is so much hate in this world and these same old issues aren’t changing fast enough.
And that’s really unfortunate. I wish we didn’t need to keep announcing our should-be-universal perspective. I want to live in a world where it can just be understood that we’re all feminists, that we’re all engaged with the world around us, that we all want equality for all of our fellow humans. To me, feminism should be a basic thing people just generally support. The fact that we all need to keep proving our own human rights credentials is a bit disheartening.
If you’d like to respond to this op-ed, I ask that you please do so courteously, and in the form of your own. Email me at email@example.com, and we’ll talk. And to quote Chris Rock once more in closing, “you can ‘boo’ if you want, you know I’m right.”