Written by guest contributor Angelica Guarino
[TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse, harrassment, self harm]
The table fell silent. For a family who never stopped talking, it was not a situation we knew how to navigate.
During a discussion about her work at a Manhattan advertising agency back in the 1960s, my great aunt revealed that she had been sexually harassed at work. Her boss kept pornography in his desk – specially stored in places he knew his female co-workers would find it. He would then approach the women in the office to “speak about what they had seen,” and rudely suggested they reenact the poses displayed in the photographs.
We were all beyond appalled. Personally, I had expected this night out with my aunt to be calm and uneventful – family dinners had become a destressor. It was clear with the timing and setting of this confession that this was not a story my aunt shared often – in fact, I later learned she had never told anyone about it before that moment.
Then came the moment for my immediate family to react to what she had said. No one could find the right words, but my father managed to find the wrong ones.
“You shouldn’t worry about that, though. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore.”
My father could have expressed disgust, or shock, or anger – but instead, he shut her down. He invalidated her experience. His claim was that her experience was unimportant because “things like that don’t happen anymore” due to the legislation of sexual harassment in the workplace. My father invalidated my aunt’s experience because of his belief in a system that has supposedly moved past that.
This is what it’s like living in the “post-feminist era.” Though my father has never used the word “post-feminism,” a substantial amount of people in this world have. Primarily people with social privileges such as being heterosexual, white, male, and/or cisgender, believe that all women are now, for the most part, equal to men; which (they believe) should be enough for the “raging feminazis” fighting to normalize breastfeeding and to truly achieve equal pay for equal work. After all, women can wear pants now, what else could they want? Though living with “post-3rd wave feminism” does not mean that the goals of feminism have been achieved. many people I’ve encountered actually believe that we live in a world with gender equality. For us intersectional feminists, we know this isn’t true.
Let’s set the record straight: the difference between 3rd wave and post 3rd wave feminism does not mean that the goals of feminism have or have not been achieved. In fact, it means that they’ve been expanded. The goals of feminism now include fighting for equality for all oppressed groups – calling the unique issues facing women of color, diverse sexualities, and transgender individuals to the forefront. The feminist movement is not over – but it has opened up and improved. I, and many other intersectional feminists, refuse to believe that we live in a society where all women are, for the most part, equal to men. We still aren’t – and we’re not letting anyone forget it.
This is what it’s really like living in the “post-feminist” world.
When I was in the ninth grade, a rumor had spread that I had given my boyfriend of the time oral sex. It’s truth is irrelevant and I lost friends over it. It didn’t matter that I had been intimidated and manipulated into doing it (“If you actually loved me, you would do it.”) and that I was driven by fear of being physically abused again after two previous altercations. What mattered was becasue it was potentially true that I had oral sex – I was then branded a slut. It also mattered that I had received a half-hearted apology for it two and a half years later. All was supposed to be forgiven.
Does this look like a post-feminist world to you? No. If so, it would have been easy to go to my high school guidance office the next year and ask to be switched out of the classes I had been assigned with my abusive ex. Instead, when I told the school that I felt very uncomfortable being around him, and brought in screenshots showing that he was continually harassing me online, I was told that I needed psychological support instead of a schedule change.
This is not a post-feminist world in that not everything went well for me when I tried to escape my abuser. It took a full two years to stop the self-harm and dangerous eating habits I had been left with after that relationship. This is a post-feminist world in the sense that as a feminist, I do not instinctively stand up for my validity and rights.
I also do not just fight for equal pay for men and women. I fight for equal pay among all people. I realize that women of color actually make between .54 and .65 cents to every dollar than white men make for doing the same job, while white women make .77 cents. I realize that while cis-women are assaulted more often than men, transgendered women are disproportionately targeted for assault due to transphobia.
As a feminist, I live my awareness of inequality every day. For instance, as an aspiring TV writer, I am fully aware that only 29 percent of TV writers are women, despite the fact that in every screenwriting class I’ve ever taken there have been many more female students than male students. As an intersectional feminist, I realize that my privilege as a white woman gives me an advantage in my aspired workplace – as only 14 percent of TV writing jobs are held by minorities.
Though I’ve spoken disproportionately about my own experiences thus far, I realize that fighting for all oppressed social groups’ equality is going to make more progress than just fighting for my own. As TV writers’ rooms become less white they will probably become less male, providing benefits for more than one oppressed group. All discrimination against socially disadvantaged groups, whether that be PoC, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, is wrong and should be fought against by all feminists.
If all feminists were intersectional feminists, maybe we could one day will live in the kind of “post-feminist” era that some people talk about, a world where social inequalities are actually wiped out. As Jessica Goldstein of thinkprogress.org said, “the more diverse writers’ rooms are, the more exciting, insightful and outstanding the shows they write can be.”
The same can be said for the rest of the world.
[image via x]