When I was a kid, I watched a whole lot of Saved by the Bell. Have you seen it? It's like the ultimate high school caricature. Jocks are stupid. Nerds wear pocket protectors. And feminists are extremely annoying. I learned pretty quickly there's a lot more nuance to the real life high school experience. But some stereotypes from that show lingered.
Like feminists. After Saved by the Bell, feminism meant Jessie Spano – bossy, shrill, overly opinionated, scoffed at by both girls and boys, including her odd couple "sexist pig" boyfriend, A.C. Slater. A typical exchange between them:
Okay, ugh -- but at the time, it seemed like irritating Jessie deserved it. I wasn't the only one who fell for this. Jezebel blogged about "The Jessie Spano Effect" last year, which they described as "the unwillingness to call oneself a feminist for fear of being labeled an uptight, neurotic bitch." If asked, of course I'd have said girls and guys should have equal rights. But as a teen, I rejected the "feminist" label. I didn't want to be like Jessie. Nobody wants to be around a girl like that.
It took a lot of time and a lot of reading for me to finally see the light. I realized the negative associations with the feminist label are directly related to the aspects of society keeping girls down. To reproductive rights and job inequality. To slut-shaming and homophobia. To useless, one-dimensional female protagonists in books. And to characters like Jessie Spano – whom scriptwriters thought it'd be funny to make us despise.
Now, it makes me sad when I hear girls say, "Well, I'm not a feminist, but…" Girls should not fear being called feminists. Girls should not fear being strong. And boys should not fear strong girls. Sure, there are feminists out there like Jessie Spano. But there are a whole lot more like me – and you.
I am a feminist and proud of it.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? What do you think of the feminist label and the stereotypes associated with it? Are there any stereotypes from books, shows or movies that colored the way you looked at the world? What's your favorite episode of Saved by the Bell*?
*mine's the Jessie's caffeine pill episode... now that's a whole 'nother blog post.