Mandy is not the real name of the individual who inspired this post. Our conversation was conducted in private, hence the change.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I am perfectly cool and open to long-time readers and lurkers friending me on Facebook. A few requests popped up. All were nice and courteous. All were friended back. A person named Mandy, however, friended me with a caveat attached: she didn’t want to be friends per se, she just wanted to clear up a few things she thought I had gotten wrong about radical feminism, but didn’t feel comfortable doing it in the commenting section of this site.
I said “shoot.”
I’m not exactly sure why I did that. Was it a slow day? Not likely. Am I a masochist who enjoys having the same pointless arguments with people, in which my selfhood is devalued and my autonomy is brought into question as a matter of course? Possibly. I think I find myself a frequent target for people like Mandy, because some people can’t pass up the chance to educate a wayward Slavic woman on the error of her ways. Women like me are commonly understood as “wanton,” “slutty,” “irresponsible,” “invested in their own subjugation,” “patriarchal-patriarchal-patriarchal-say-it-three-times-and-turn-and-look-into-the-mirror” types. And I don’t always do a good job of resisting that, because my morbid journalistic curiosity takes over at moments like that and I desperately want to see just how deep the rabbit hole really goes.
So Mandy asks me a question. She’s studied my Facebook profile and wants to know if I went to “the Duke.”
“The Duke?” I have no idea what that means. I tell her I went to a university in Durham, North Carolina, called Duke. Trinity 2006, if you want to get specific about it.
She explains that she wasn’t really sure if that was the one, “the famous Duke,” as she put it, perhaps, she thought, I had gone to another Duke.
It reminds me of this one time, when my mother was talking to some woman and she, the woman, discovered that my mother’s daughter went to a certain private school. She kept asking if it was “the Charlotte Latin School” and not, perhaps, some fake, plastic, knock-off version thereof. My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to this school, so you can imagine how my mom felt. I’m not sure as to how I should feel however, because I have no idea as to what is going on. Perhaps she wants to talk about Duke Lacrosse? Toril Moi? The nice bagels you can get at Alpine?
I tell Mandy that I am pretty sure that there is only one Duke University in the United States of America, and brace myself for her piercing insights on all things feminist.
But Mandy doesn’t want to talk about feminism. She wants to talk about Natalia. Normally, I’d be thrilled. Narcissism is my favourite Olympic event, right alongside Compulsive Coffee-Drinking. But something is off about this entire conversation already.
Mandy’s problem with me is that I am basically one of those people who’s out there on the so-called “scene”: working for GlobalComment, occasionally guesting at Feministe when the ladies there are kind enough to have me, oh and she even remembers that one time I was featured on Jezebel, hence, she believes, I now have certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities, apparently, is to “stop spreading lies about radical feminism.”
You know, I get the fact that in the Internetverse, radical feminists are marginalized enough. People hold them up to ridicule, harass them, troll their blogs and otherwise get into their faces. I can understand being on your guard, even defensive. But come on. Up until a few weeks ago, a self-proclaimed radical feminist had an entire blog that was basically dedicated to calling me a “whore” (I heard that the entire thing was deleted – trying to access it appears to confirm as much, but I don’t think anyone can blame me for being a wee bit sensitive after that protracted debacle). My trans friends are routinely picked on, if not outright attacked, both on the smaller radfem blogs and even by big important people. And don’t even get me started on how some of the sex-workers are treated.
I tell Mandy that I am in agreement with a lot of radical feminism, but I’m not going to pretend that I embrace all of it. In fact, I believe that so much of this feminist policing is exactly the thing that’s preventing many otherwise progressive women from giving a crap about feminism. I welcome critique, and think that every branch of feminism should be open to it. But sometimes, these internal debates remind me of the pro-choice, anti-choice BS. On one hand, you have people saying, “I want to be able to choose X, but obviously I don’t want you to be forced to choose X,” and on the other side it’s all “X! X! You want to do X! You’re hurting all of us by choosing X!”
Mandy informs me that she “had a Russian co-worker” once, and they went out a few times and the woman turned up looking like all boobs and all legs, and how it became so “obvious” to her that women from my part of the world, like, have their brains surgically removed and replaced with pink powder puffs, which is, of course, the “real” reason why I haven’t embraced Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys and their supporters and friends.
I lose my temper and tell Mandy that the way her Russian c0-worker dresses in her off-time is none of her business, that I’m sick of this stereotype that keeps getting resurrected and wielded with the grace of a rotting zombie, and that I hope she ends up abroad one day, getting treated like an “ugly American” whose waiters spit in her food. I also use a copious amount of naughty words.
The rabbit hole may go deeper than that, but I just don’t have the patience to go farther. I need air.
You know, I try to avoid speaking Russian with my brother when we are in a cab, because I don’t want the cabbie to figure out that I’m from a country he associates with instant sexual availability (obviously, not all Jordanian cab drivers think like this, but I’ve had enough nasty experiences to want to shield myself from the possibility). The behaviour of people like Mandy is no less hurtful. Sure, it’s couched in high-falutin’ academic rhetoric and generously sprinkled with qualifiers such as “I’m think you’re really intelligent,” but, at the end of the day, it’s the same feeling of being flattened by someone else’s giant sense of self-importance coupled with ignorance.
So, Mandy, if you’re reading this, and I am pretty sure that you are:
I am not your bitch. Do not hang your shit – or your neuroses, or your wonderful anthropological observations, or your burning need for other women to accept Sheila Jeffreys as their personal saviour – on me.
Oh, and don’t do it to anyone else either.