My Surprising Run-In With Feminism
by Cathryn Salamone (Actor/Musician)
I was having coffee with a friend last weekend at Caffe Bene, a mammoth freelancer's mecca settled just north of Times Square. We sat in the window seats next to the entrance, serving as a prime people watching spot while catching up. All of a sudden, a scraggly middle aged man in aviators appeared in front of me in the window, staring at us for too long of a time. Annoyed, I motioned with my hand for him to move on, and mouthed the words, "Go." He moved on, and I continued my conversation, until he was behind me. In the café.
I got to my feet and stood to meet him. He launched on a tirade that went something along the lines of "Why the fuck did you tell me to move? Who the fuck do you think you are?" He went on for what seemed to be like an eternity, but probably amounted to only 15 or so seconds. During his rant, I was very aware of two things: I was weaker than this man, and that I was afraid of him. Finally, he said, "I can do whatever the fuck I want. You're in New York, baby." He turned to leave, and my friend muttered, "Yeah, and we're New Yorkers too, asshole."
I quickly snapped under my breath, "Shut up."
My friend was standing up to this man, defending us, and I told her to shut up. It was completely instinctual, but I was relieved that he didn't turn around. He left, and we sat back down. On our table were two books on feminism, and before the run-in with the man, I was just telling my friend about finding feminism.
Before, though I'm embarrassed to say it now, I had associated feminism with the stereotypical image of anti-makeup, bra-burning man-haters, who barked at guys for holding the door open or allowing them to go inside first. In addition, I thought that the ideology of feminism was obsolete. Don't we have the right to vote? Aren't women allowed to work? What more progress was there to make?
My interest was sparked when Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti was on display at the mid-manhattan library. It's a revealing, practical account of the importance of feminism still today, and I devoured it.
Taken from the first chapter:1
"What's the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don't hold back, now. You're probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank. Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I've even heard the term "mangina". Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult."
After doing some searching online, I then stumbled upon TYCI, a collective for women based in Glasgow, Scotland. Their incredibly entertaining radio shows and podcasts completely shattered the stereotypes I had previously. Feminists are every type of person, and I knew from that moment in the café that I would call myself one, too.
Being a feminist means believing that women should be paid the same amount as men for the same job position. Being a feminist means being disgusted by street harassment. Being a feminist means being incensed by rape and domestic violence. These and others are simple convictions, but for whatever reason, they have not been resolved even today.
My roommate laughed when I told him about my newfound excitement about feminism. "You're like, a decade late on that." True, it's a little uncanny that I've never thought to take a women's studies course in college and have truly never had any direct exposure to it, but I'm glad I stumbled into it now. This all might be old news for some readers, but to those of you who never really gave feminism a thought, check out some of these great resources I've come across and read for yourself. I'm sure it's not anything like you thought it was.
- Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio and Betty Dodson
- Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti
- Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards
- HollaBack! - an international organization fighting to end street harassment. http://www.ihollaback.org/
- The Feminist's Guide to NYC - offering feminist-friendly locales and women's history sites all around New York. http://thefeministguide.com/
- TYCI - a woman's collective based in Glasgow featuring a blog, radio show, podcasts and a zine. http://www.tyci.org.uk
(1)Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2007. Print.
CATHRYN SALAMONE is an actor and singer-songwriter based in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Pace University's BFA Musical Theatre program and co-vocalist of the pop duo Panhandle Poets. www.cathrynsalamone.com
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