The other day I was visiting my brother-in-law's hardware store. The conversation turned to Brother-in-Law's very large Toyota Tundra. I jokingly said that it might even qualify as a compensation mobile. He simply replied that that's a pretty sexist thing for a self-proclaimed feminist to say.
If anything ever cut me to the quick, that did. After mumbling some embarrassed syllables of admission, I shuffled back to the car with my head hung low and fought back tears all the way home. Of course he was right. If he had intimated that women cursed with undesirably small . . . breasts, say, carry bigger purses so men will still want them, I might have bludgeoned him to death with my extra-large handbag. And yet I have been making the occasional joke about something equally sexist for years. I felt like the ultimate hypocrite. I sometimes get the impression that my (unusually open-minded) extended family thinks I just put on a feminist persona for appearances. This incident is excellent evidence of exactly that. How could a true feminist say something so obviously inappropriate? How could I possibly espouse complete equality if I fight the battle in only one direction? I felt rather depressed and lethargic for the rest of the day.
And several days later, I am still dwelling on my hideous faux pas. Am I just doing the "feminist thing" for show? Do I really want equality, or am I simply using feminism as a reason to feel angry and superior? If it is all a ruse, what do I do now? Start deferring to patriarchal authority again, trash my career plans, return to the temple and blithely agree to be less-than for eternity? Make comments in church about women's superior spirituality and role as gatekeepers of sexuality? Vilify working moms and stay-at-home dads?
The thought sends shivers down my spine. At this point, I realize that I'm not faking it. I actually believe in this stuff. Maybe I just make mistakes sometimes. As one of my psychology professors wisely stated, "gender roles are in the air we breathe." Even the most progressive individuals are going to slip up every now and then, because sexism is inescapable. We feminists are fighting the good fight from within and without. In a way, I am grateful that my brother-in-law opened my eyes to a hidden bit of sexism that I needed to root out (and I'm sure there are more yet to be discovered). I do wish that I could have taken on this traitorous bit privately, without the added element of public shame. Learning the hard way is never fun, but then again aren't we Mormons always talking about difficulties making us stronger?
So even die-hard feminists make the occasional sexist remark sometimes. Please forgive us, for clinging to feminism in a gender-polarized world is no mean feat. And if Brother-in-Law reads this, please accept my apology and realize that this post is, in reality, penance for my transgression. Now back to the battlefield.