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Whenever I am on vacation—or, rather, whenever I am not in school, since I also do the following when I am on academic break but working—I read. I read one book and then I start another, cover to cover, over and over, until the vacation is over and I don’t have the time or the space to read like that anymore.
I joke, sometimes, that I do this as an act of rebellion. Because if I am reading during the break from school it is not for school, and I do not need to remember all that I read or take notes or annotate, and I will not be tested on this material later, or ever. It is my nerdish way of sticking it to the academic man: Reading knowing that I can forget what I have read.
But the real reason, I think, that I read so hungrily when I can is so that I will remember what I have read when I cannot. Because books in general and fiction—that is, good fiction, whatever that means—in particular take you outside of your own head. They tell you stories that are not your own, and they consume you with lives that you will never lead. They wrap you up in the warmth of narratives to which you have no claim, from voices do not come out of your mouth, but which you can hear clearly, all the same. They make you better. And smarter. And stronger. And softer. And I think part of the pleasure of reading is that if you can make yourself full of all of that, it can live inside of you, and you can go about your days with all of it—strength and humor and insight and, above all, that ever-elusive empathy—there, ready for you if you need it (you will need it), if you manage (you will manage) to remember.
and I’m like…
This came up on my Tumblr dashboard and I “liked” it and vowed to myself that I would not blog about it. That I would just look at it and appreciate it and then move on with my life. And then it appeared on my Tumblr dashboard again, and now here we are.
I have written this on here before, but: I have my reasons for calling myself a feminist (namely, a believe in feminism, because I believe in equal opportunity regardless of sex/gender, and I believe that those who call you a feminist as an insult if/when you espouse certain values can’t effectively do so if you proudly wear the label on your own empowered initiative). I understand, however, that other people have their reasons for not calling themselves feminists. For example, some feel the label too heavy, too loaded, and would rather start fresh, or do away with labels all together. I do not agree with this sentiment, obviously, but I respect it.
A reason that I do not respect, however, is fear. That is, there are people—people whom I know and care about—who say that they do not call themselves feminists because they are afraid that guys will like them less if they do. This is a terrible reason.
Or, rather, it is an excellent reason, in that it is grounded in reality. There are absolutely guys who will like you less if you call yourself a feminist. There are guys who will be scared off by it.
But those are exactly the guys whom you should be grateful to have scared off. Conflating feminism with man hating and bra burning is intellectually lazy. Refusing to sit down and have a conversation about what feminism is and isn’t is, too. And if someone lowers his opinion of you because you believe in something that’s about dismantling a system that hurts everyone (i.e. patriarchy) and raising up and celebrating all people (i.e. women, too), then that person’s opinion ought, I think, to mean very little.
I get that people don’t want to scare people off. I get that people want to be wanted. I do, too. But more than that I want to try to be authentic, and to stand up for that in which I believe. And the more you do that, yes, the fewer people are going to like you. But the more you do that, the more you realize that you do not care what those people think. Because what you’ve gotten in exchange is worth more—so much more—than the approbation of a guy in a bar who dismisses feminism without knowing what it is, and dismisses you without knowing who you are.
Yesterday, I read Zadie Smith’s essay, “Notes on Visconti’s Bellissima.” I have never seen Visconti’s Bellissima (though I now very much intend to), which I mention because it’s possible that I will see it and have a very different interpretation of the film, and of its star, Anna Magnani. But Anna Magnani as depicted in Bellissima as depicted by Zadie Smith is a powerful articulation of the possibility of womanhood. Consider:
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