Every day across the lands women write valiantly and cool-headedly about feminist issues with facts, impassioned arguments, research, and insight. They chronicle the daily abuses and setbacks, the advancements and breakthroughs. Then, on some days, they
rest get really fucking pissed. And it is glorious.
Yesterday was one of those days, when Rebecca Traister rounded up a sobering state of the union on the status of women in America right now for a brilliant piece at the New Republic called "I Don't Care if You Like It." She began with an anecdote about arguing with a male writer she respects over that horrid Tom Junod shitshow in Esquire. She wished her peer had been more accurate in his support of Junod's piece as a "mostly laudable" sign of progress:
The truth is, had Chait been correct about it being a thoughtful piece laying into the entrenched short-sightedness and sexist cruelty of male-controlled media, I might have hated it more. Then I would have felt obligated to feel grateful for it, grateful in the same way I'm supposed to feel grateful toward, say, Marvel Comics for making Thor a woman, or toward Harry Reid for challenging Mitch McConnell on some typically boorish and inane statement how women have achieved workforce equality. In its actual form, I didn't have to consider thinking Yay, thanks for some crumbs of enlightened thinking, for some slightly nuanced improvements in the daily, punishing business of publicly evaluating and then reevaluating women's worth.
You know this feeling right? That sigh of gratitude when, after a steady diet of bleak atrocities, you read about some tiny shred of somebody sticking up for women somewhere? Someone somewhere has just supported women all on their own, without anyone having to trudge through an argument, show them statistics, counsel them on the facts, forward a barrage of links to curry a nod of approval!
Instead, it all reminded Traister of the widely lauded anecdote from Tina Fey's Bossypants, where she recounts a tale of she and Amy Poehler being crass at SNL one day, and Jimmy Fallon joking that it wasn't cute, and he "didn't like it."
In Fey's retelling, Poehler "went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him," forcefully informing him: "I don't fucking care if you like it."
What Traister wishes for is that we could all do that once even. And then, in a pitch-perfect, golden pace of laying it bare, Traister drops one example after the next of women writers speaking truth to power, of not fucking caring if you like it. Seriously.
She cites a piece in The Guardian from Megan Carpentier on the endless assault on Hillary Clinton's looks inadvertently doing more to endear her, that waxes:
On some level, that's probably what makes her so relatable to so many women right now. It's clearer than ever that we're all "doing it wrong", as far either some man – or judgmental woman – is concerned: you're doing motherhood wrong, singlehood wrong, marriage wrong, divorce wrong, our jobs wrong, our friendships wrong, staying at home wrong; you're too fat, too thin, too emotional, too cold, too smart, too dumb, too ambitious, too invested in earning your Mrs degree and definitely too self-critical.
Maybe 2014 doesn't have to be the year of the strong female politician. Maybe it can just be the year of the strong female politician who doesn't give a fuck if you think she's pretty. Who are you, anyway?
Oh how it warms the cockles of my heart when women take zero shit. Maybe, just maybe, 2014 can also be the year of IDGAF Feminism. Where the answer to yet another criticism about how women are conducting their lives all wrong is IDGAF what you think. I don't care if you like it. And that refrain from Carpentier's piece is staying with me: Who are you, anyway? Or as a colleague put it, Well who the fuck gave you the authority to say what a woman should be?
Oh, only someone who's been granted that authority from day one, told indirectly or otherwise that their opinion is what every sliver of media deigns to attract the attention of.
But what all these issues, no matter how gigantically separated an Esquire puff piece and a Tennessee mother's jailing for meth may seem, reflect back at us: How, in this country, every barometer by which female worth is measured—from the superficial to the life-altering, the appreciative to the punitive—has long been calibrated to "dude," whether or not those measurements are actually being taken by dudes. Men still run, or at bare minimum have shaped and codified the attitudes of, the churches, the courts, the universities, the police departments, the corporations that so freely determine women's worth. As Beyoncé observed last year, "Money gives men power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."
Could we just, in an everyday way, begin to take back that authority a little more forcefully? It's happening more and more all the time. Oh cool, you finally think I'm fuckable at 42? IDGAF. You don't like looking at women with hairy legs? We don't fucking care. Your club has a "no whales or hippos" rule for women only? DGAF. DGAF. DGAF.
Women cannot win either way — so fuck it. To be clear, this is not to suggest anyone ought to give up the fight. Feminism is, no doubt, about really fucking caring, about what happens to our bodies and our livelihoods, about action, about daily, tireless resistance. But what Traister longed for and what I am suggesting is an attitude and a spirit that can help ease the pressure and everyday hazard of sexism fatigue. That can help lead the way when it comes to asking yourself if your choices will be scrutinized and what will they think. The answer is: They will be scrutinized, and someone somewhere definitely thinks you are a travesty. So now what? Gotta do you. Waiting around for anyone else's approval — male or female — is a fruitless farce. IDGAF.
And yes, to be clear, such judgments also come from other women, in part because we have gotten so good at internalizing these judgments ourselves. As Traister notes:
The problem isn't so simple as a man-versus-woman frame. Examples of this evaluative pattern are rarely as easy to parse as when a men's magazine writer treats some women as steaks who've gotten tastier with age, Pilates, and feminism. After all, women ran the disciplinary committee that was so quick to dismiss rape charges at Hobart & William Smith. On Tuesday, Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn and other female anti-choice activists testified against the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill that would ban onerous restrictions on abortion rights and that was sponsored by senators Tammy Baldwin and Richard Blumenthal, a man. Meanwhile, a bill to reverse the Hobby Lobby decision was co-sponsored by senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall, another man. Many of the sharpest take-downs of Junod's piece came from men, and I want to note that my Twitter-sparrer Jonathan Chait yesterday wrote one of the finest and most astute pieces about the injustice of Harrell's arrest.
Traister also acknowledges something really critical — the very women most affected by the inequities described here are least free to not give a fuck, they lack the status or power or wealth to disregard the rules or snub them so openly, even as the very rules they can't afford to break don't help them in the first place.
But what I take from Traister's piece, and the many women who feel thrilled by it, is the attitude it inspires. It's not nice, it's not deferential, it's not pleading, it's not trying to use the least offensive tone to make sure the most people in power are not threatened or offended. It's not negotiating the perfect blend of deference and smarts to win over someone who is already against you anyway and will do no work to come around on their own. It's punk rock. It says to stop catering to what anyone else thinks, or deems acceptable, in this bullshit pass/fail system we use to evaluate women and women alone.
Even when I posted Traister's piece on my FB page, one of the most immediate comments was from some dude who said:
While I agree that we as a culture have a long way to go on the issue of female worth, I disagree that this sort an all-or-nothing, you're for us or fuck you approach, as described in the early paragraphs of this article, is helpful in bringing about progress. Why alienate those you could educate and hopefully bring around to your POV?
Um, dude. IDGAF what you think. So when someone tells you how they think you look, or ought to look, ought to live, ought to feel, or expects you to be grateful that they finally came around to accepting you as a person, or complains that you aren't taking the time to hold their hand through the complex labyrinth that is civil rights, you can just say, you know what? IDGAF what you think, and I don't fucking care if you like it. Try it. Report back.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.