Did Your Parents' Pop Culture Turn You Into A Feminist?

Illustration for article titled Did Your Parents' Pop Culture Turn You Into A Feminist?

It's come to my attention over the past several days that I am perceived as a "bad feminist." Some readers seem to think I am some sort of woman-hater who only values the opinions of dudes. (Those readers are not dudes.) Um, this is really really not the case. But the realization prompted some soul-searching, because I remember a time just over 20 years ago when I felt outlandishly offended by sexism, mostly because of my immersion in the schlock pop culture of my parents' generation. There was, for starters, the lyrics of the Beach Boys song "California Girls," and further, that such a musical act would receive the endorsement of such a distinguished entertainment property as Full House.


"They keep their boyfriends warm at night??" I remember whining at my dad (who did something like roll his eyes and say, "Maureen, no one took the Beach Boys seriously until 'Pet Sounds'," as if that was something I should have known.)

But anyway, in the spirit of nostalgia and slow news days, I started trying to remember other things that used to get me, like, RAGING mad on behalf of womanity. The Good Earth. (Meanwhile, the Good Earth movie, which was full of white actors, was offensive on numerous other levels pertaining to civil rights, but that's another story.) The year our monsignor fired all the female altar servers. My mom ranting about how she never should have taken my dad's fucked up surname. Oh my god, and all old movies. Below, a clip from a 1961 movie musical that STILL TOTALLY STILL MAKES ME WANT TO KILL MYSELF, even as it is also almost hard to look away and years later I ended up using this movie to appease girls I babysat. In Rodgers' & Hammerstein's defense, Nancy Kwan is, at least, legitimately Asian:



I remain really glad my parents didn't encourage me to look at movie musicals via a feminist light. I love old movie musicals. The dancing.. the dancing! Oh, you just never see such dancing anymore...

I don't know. I grew up listening to the Beatles and to Mozart, playing the piano and playing baseball, covering my sister in makeup and cutting my hair boy-short. No one in my family ever tried to impress a notion of maleness or femaleness, and their respective values, on me. I came, quite naturally, into loving makeup in my early teens. I rejected pink after wearing nothing but it for a year straight when I was six (I rejected it at 7 and have never looked back; to be honest, I don't think it really flatters my skin unless in blush form). I was a devoted gymnast until a serious injury, then a swimmer and a diver; I dreamed of being the first girl baseball player but gave up when I realized I was a terrible batter.

Which is all to say that I've never, at least consciously, taken in the messages of what women "should" be that have trickled down through pop culture (like "California Girls"? Only occurred to me as potentially misogynistic RIGHT NOW AFTER READING THIS. For the love of music, it's a song about hormonal teenage boys lusting after girls WRITTEN BY hormonal teenage boys lusting after girls!).

I genuinely don't understand these weird judgments about women who are pro- or anti-feminist. Why can't I just be a girl who likes what I like? Why this endless justification?