THE OTHER "F" WORD
By Ilona Saari
You don't know me from Eve, but I am now and always have been a member of the feminist party. That's not to say I don't like men, some of my best friends are men, even my husband, and I don't make this pronouncement to be arrogant or "uppity." It's just who I am.
Recently, I was on the treadmill (the fitness kind, not the one we're on every day), off in my own zone, listening to Mary J. Blige through my headphones, while leafing through the latest "Bazaar," when a woman I knew jumped onto the adjoining treadmill. She's one of those women who, when asked "Hi, how are you?" actually tells you--- non-stop. As she warmed up by walking faster than I run at top speed, I recklessly opened the door for conversation by saying "Hi, how are you?" She instantly picked up her pace and started telling me.
As she ran her own private 10K, she plunged into her incredible story of survival in a corporate world of sexual harassment and gender backbiting (without the slightest strain in her breathing, thank you very much) and how she was forging headlong into the future ready to fight for her rightful place in the world.
A half-hour later she finished, and I was awestruck.
In tribute to all she had overcome and all she planned to do, I called her a true "feminist," naively assuming she would take it as the compliment I meant it to be. Instead, she nearly leaped off the treadmill as she emphatically stated, "I'M NOT A FEMINIST!"
I was so stunned by her reaction, I started to jog.
As my shock wore off and I returned to my more reasonable pace, I asked her why. Her answer was simple: "I don't want to alienate anybody." For the second time in my life, mere moments apart, I had an overwhelming urge to become a sprinter. I couldn't believe what she was saying! After all the progress she had made, all the plans she had for the future, she was ready to give it all back! I mean really, who could she possibly be afraid of alienating? The people who didn't want to hire, promote or pay her equally because she had "X" chromosomes? Not likely.
So, what was it about that word that triggered such a response --- that makes too many of us cringe when we're accused of being one, as if it were the ultimate insult? Why has "feminism" become the other "F" word? The mostly male media's years of portraying feminists (f/k/a "women's libbers") as bossy, man-hating mantises? No doubt. The growing backlash against independent women who keep moving up the corporate ranks? Probably. But, maybe… just maybe, openly feminist females, like myself, are partially to blame. Maybe, just maybe, in our enthusiasm for equality, we forgot our common sense and lost our sense of humor.
Before I married, I dated a guy I cared about, but he wasn't willing to make a commitment… or is that redundant? He insisted on the option of dating other women. Saturday nights were mine, but the rest of the week was open to interpretation. I was young and foolish, so I agreed.
After dating about six months, he inquired (I use "inquire" because he did… he was an attorney) why he always paid for our theater tickets, dinners, whatever. As a self-proclaimed "feminist," didn't I want to pay my fair share? I told him no (I was a feminist, not foolish), and explained that feminism had nothing to do with who paid for dinner. Why should I pick up a tab for someone who wanted to use the money he saved on me to wine and dine the first bimbo who said yes to Tuesday? Made sense to me. Okay, maybe she wasn't a bimbo, but you get the point.
I really couldn't blame him --- we had confused the poor guy, and ultimately alienated ourselves, with all that 50/50 rhetoric. Nothing in life is 50/50.
So maybe it's time to soften our image --- to put a new spin on things --- to put "feminine" back into feminist. No, I'm not talking crinolines and ruffles (though black lace garters have their uses)… but, if a man wants to open a door for us --- hey, why strain? And, if some swain (don't you just love that word?) wants to lay his coat over a puddle so your feet stay dry, smile first --- then step on it!
Ilona Saari says, "As a freelance film/ TV writer, I have served as Production Consultant for A CENTURY OF WOMEN, the Emmy-nominated and award-winning 6-hour documentary mini-series for TBS, about the history of American women over the last 100 years. I've also written several episodes for television sitcoms, as well as comedy-variety shows, informational and magazine shows.
For feature films, I've was commissioned to write a romantic comedy titled, BATTLE OF THE SEXISTS for producer Aaron Russo, and have two other films under option, THE JANE GANG and 44 SUNSETS.
In politics, I was a consultant and press liaison for two Democratic National Conventions, was Deputy Press Secretary for the 1980 Carter-Mondale Presidential Re-election Campaign for the State of New York, and a speech writer, specializing in the environment and women's issues for various celebrities who spoke across the country in support of the '92 and '96 Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaigns.
I can currently be seen as an on-air guest Design Consultant/Artist for HGTV and
periodically appear as a guest columnist in newspapers as diverse as the NY Daily News, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and Raivaaja, a Finnish American weekly."