Teen Thursday: Fearing Feminism

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.


Allison said...

Oooh. Wonderful post. I love Saved By the Bell (my sister and I have the whole thing on DVD)! I'm a lot like Jessie in other ways, so I never rejected her, but yeah, I know a lot of people who did. This is definitely good thought fodder for the day!

PS I love the caffeine pill episode- it makes me cry! IDK what my favorite episode is, but I love the prom one, where Kelly can't afford to go, and in the college years, I love the ones where Zach is bitter because Kelly is dating her prof. I kind of love Zach. <3

Cass (Words on Paper) said...

HOLY CRAP--SAVED BY THE BELL!! I haven't watched it in so long, since it doesn't air anymore, even at 5 am (I used to wake up early just to watch it!)...

Anyway, I just took Jessie for who she was. Well, I'm a feminist in that I believe in equality between the sexes; I don't try to make myself up to impress any guy. I can stand on my own without a guy next to me, and it's sad to see when a girl, intelligent in her own rights, continues to make the same mistakes by clinging onto a guy who doesn't appreciate her in her entirety.

Hehe. I don't remember crying at the caffeine pill one (is that when Jessie goes nuts and they do that gym video?)... I liked the prom episode. Saved By the Bell, looking back, was very cheesy--but oh, how good was it? Even to this day, I hold it so dear to my heart. I didn't know the whole series was out on DVD already. I thought it was just season one.

Claire Dawn said...

When I think feminist, I think person who elevates women ABOVE men.

I'm an equalist. On all fields.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

I totally adored Saved by the Bell! I think I was too young to get all those nuances out of it, though.

I do consider myself a feminist, however even I am hesitant to use "the F word" sometimes. I feel like I can embrace the word, but other people's understanding of it is so skewed that I always feel like I have to explain: "I'm a feminist, but that doesn't mean I'm a radical feminist. I believe in equal rights!"

Kate Hart said...

I think some of my younger misgivings were due to etymology. Racist = bad. Sexist = bad. Phlebotomist = bad if you fear needles. And of course activist can have dubious connotations, depending on who you're talking to. SBTB writers didn't help to dispel that any.

There's also the perception that feminism means rejecting marriage, family, domesticity, etc, rather than supporting the idea that all choices should be available and are valid.

Going along with what Claire said, I think we could build on the legacy of feminism and create a new movement. Kind of like the Rally to Restore Sanity. Only with gender it would have to be "to Establish Sanity" or something.


Tere Kirkland said...

I wasn't a cheerleader like Kelly or a fashionista like Lisa, so basically Jessie was the one I identified with the most.

Jessie was the one that I looked up to because she wasn't afraid to speak her mind, even if that made her come across as shrill and annoying.

As far as being a feminist, I think the word is too loaded with connotations of man-haters (hmm, why is there no word for that like misogynist? Misandronist?) for me to say I am definitively a feminist. One person's idea of what it means will vary radically from the next's.

I'm about equality of the sexes, and not backing down or changing yourself for someone else, opposite sex or same.

My favorite Saved by the Bell episodes were always the specials, like when they went to Hawai'i to save Kelly's grandfather's resort.

Great post!

Tess Sharpe said...

I am what is generally considered a "radical feminist"

Think Jessie, on more than just Caffeine Pills :P Super Secret Feminist Pills!

It is not a label I shy away from. It's something I'm proud of. I come from a long line of female activists, it's kind of a family tradition; my mother has dedicated her life to women's rights and my sister is a professional women's health activist for a feminist health organization.

I also recognize that some of my views will never fit into the mainstream and may make people uncomfortable

When I was in high school and college, I was always shocked when my female friends didn't identify themselves as feminists. I'd always ask: "You don't believe that women should be equal to men?" and they'd look at me rather blankly, because no one had ever put it to them that way. In their minds, feminists were annoying, mannish bra-burners who bucked against the norm.

themississippimama said...

I am not a feminist. I am a Christian woman, and there's nothing the world's feminism can do for me that being a Christian can't do 1,000 times better. I am highly valued by my Creator and by the men in my life simply *because* I am a woman. I don't need a label to give me worth.

I am also pro-life, socially and fiscally conservative, prefer being a homemaker to climing any sort of corporate ladder, etc. Feminism offers me nothing but chains and limits.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

It's been really interesting to hear your takes on this topic! A pal of mine just pointed out a related post on agent Sarah LaPolla's blog: http://bigglasscases.blogspot.com/2010/10/stregnth-weakness-why-everyone-gets.html

From Sarah:

"I call myself a feminist and I don't understand how anyone, male or female, can say they are not one. Feminism is the belief that women are equal to men, and that women have the freedom to make their own choices. That's all it is."

She's right! Feminism isn't about being better, but being equal; believing women deserve equality in everything from pay scale to the chance to become whatever they want to be -- whether that's a writer, a homemaker, or president :)

Sierra Gardner said...

I think that feminism (like many other worthwhile movements) got a bad name when people started associating it with 'extremists.' Feminism started off as a movement to make womanhood an acceptable and socially valued thing. Womanhood in all its manifestations. Instead it became equated with man hating, angry, bitter women. So, inasmuch as feminism means recognizing that ALL people are valuable and should be treated with equal respect, courtesy and opportunity, then I'm most definitely a feminist.

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

I love this post. I couldn't agree more with everything that was said. I enjoyed reading the above comments as well.

Extreme caricature-type characters almost never work out and almost always seem to be in place to prove a point. Usually a badly made point.

Yes. Feminism definitely needs to stop being put out there as some sort of crazy extremist position. Besides, I try to avoid labels. I know, heuristics and all that, but I just don't like them. Labels usually lead to judging, and judging usually leads to...inaccuracy to put it mildly.

All that being said, I was a Saved By The Bell addict also. :) I don't know which episode was my favorite, but I'm definitely a fan of the Zach Morris phone. :)

Lauren said...

Interesting post. I used to love Saved By The Bell. I couldn't stand Jessie, and now I wonder if I was being manipulated by the way her more irritating characteristics were packaged alongside her feminism.

When I was younger I was sometimes hesitant to call myself a feminist. I felt a lot like Claire Dawn does, and I think that was due to the fact that the word 'feminist' gives that impression. I'd prefer a word that emphasises the belief in gender equality (and one that men could therefore identify as too).

However, since feminist *is* the word we have, am I one? Yes. I think some people mistakenly believe that now women are free to work and vote etc (in many countries), there's no need for for feminism. I don't agree. There's still a pay gap. There's still the fact that schools teach a male-centric view of literature and history. There are still ingrained attitudes about things it's 'okay' for a man to do but shocking for a woman to do. Even if you don't feel those things affect you, they affect some women in our societies and definitely worldwide.

Amparo Ortiz said...

Brilliant post! Feminism isn't a freaking disease, people. Stop treating it like such.

Kirsten, you were actually one of my inspirations to write an open letter to YA heroines. If you want, you can check it out here: http://amparo-ortiz.blogspot.com

Thanks for speaking up about this!

Melissa Walker said...

"I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so... scared..." (okay that was for Kirsten from her fave episode, which is mine too).

I'm definitely a feminist, though I too shied away from the label in high school and college. Now I say it proudly.

Just read HALF THE SKY -- amazing book about what improving the rights of girls and women can do for the world. I highly recommend it!

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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