I was listening to a familiar public radio show–the kind that only airs on the weekends and you happen to catch it because you are running errands in the middle of the day. As the autumn sun lulls me, I lean lazily in the passenger seat, his hand holding mine. I settled in with nothing to do—I can just be. I tune in-and-out of snappy punch lines followed by the cadence of audience laughter.
The host, a famous and beloved man, announces Gloria Steinem as the guest of the week. She joins by phone to play a game with a clever name with a clever premise that I simply can’t remember. But I love Gloria, so sitting up a bit, I sip my coffee. Is this the first time I will have heard her voice?
Apparently, there’s a woman living in the smallest town in the United States who is both the mayor and the only bartender. Sorry, that was the answer to the question Gloria was asked. It was posed as a multiple-choice question with at least two other options–was this woman the mayor and the mail-woman? The mayor and the school principal? Or maybe the set up was the other way around–the smallest town in America has only one bartender who also holds what other job in the town?
Who knows. I ruined the set up anyway. What’s important here is what happens next, after the big reveal.
This male host never passes up an opportunity for the snappy one-liner following the answer; this time is no different. He winds up and issues this zinger:
This woman has the feminist dream–she does ALL the jobs.
He says this to Gloria Fucking Steinem. I bolt up, no longer relaxed against a warm car seat. I am reacting, and words are flying out of my mouth with no filter and pure emotion:
THAT IS NOT WHAT FEMINISM IS ABOUT, YOU ASSHOLE.
As the radio ditty plays the segment out, I imagine Gloria (who my phone has twice auto-corrected to “Glorious”) Steinem hanging up the phone while shaking her head, rolling her eyes, and saying quite loudly to herself:
I am too old for this shit.
America, we frankly should all be too old for this shit. Feminism isn’t about women being superhuman, women having to “do it all” and “have it all” and perform it all perfectly for all to admire and shake their heads and wonder, “Just how does she do it ALL?!”
We should be too old for the tropes old men politicians play when they claim that their wife is their “better half” with that patronizing gaze that somehow is supposed to make us swoon because *chivalry.* Women are not parts of a whole. They are whole themselves, autonomous and powerful and fully individual. Besides, if a woman is your better half, why is she not our candidate? Why is she not, at the very least, speaking publicly at your engagements? Why is she not given credit for your most popular ideas?
We should be too old for the unstated expectations that women will bake elaborate dishes for work pot lucks while men show up with the soda liter they picked up on the gas station on the way in. We shouldn’t be silent when men take credit for women’s ideas in meetings and then jokingly say in the hallway that their female assistant “is the real boss.” Give her credit, promote her, and stop joking about not having power when everyone knows you hold it all.
And when women have babies, we shouldn’t scuttle them into closets to nurse or guilt them for overnight trips or punish them with lack of promotions or pay raises when they decide to set boundaries on their time so that they can be a present parent.
Women shouldn’t be expected to bake cookies to improve their likability, as was suggested to one of my dearest friends as an option for winning over colleagues who were treating her terribly. Men shouldn’t get cookies and applause for the work that women do silently, consistently, and as a response to unstated expectations.
I’ve not listened to that radio show since. Less as an active protest and more as an indifference (or lack of errands). But the protest to this warped understanding of feminism continues…clearly. And I can’t help but feel a secret kinship with Gloria now. One that spans generations of this fight. Someday, Gloria, we’ll outgrow this shit.