Wearing the Feminist Badge: Final Words From Our Outgoing Editor in Chief

Last fall, my sister sent me a link to a posting on a website called Imgur (pronounced Im-ih-ger). I don’t remember what the post she sent me was about, but I do remember how I felt I had found a sort of window into the internet. With a swipe to the left or to the right, I could explore all the “most-viral” images on the internet for that day, often accompanied by stories or shared experiences from various Imgur users themselves. Feeding off of the popular, user-generated website Reddit, Imgur focuses on community, with users voting through “upvotes” or “downvotes” what material makes it to the front page of the site.

What one will most commonly find on Imgur is pictures or videos of adorable animals, a funny (or not so funny) meme, a tutorial for how to make the best pepperoni calzones. One can browse the site without ever making a profile or username, and this is what I did for some time, visiting the website through its phone app when I had a spare moment in a waiting room or in line at a store.

I was in bed checking the site when I came across a post that has given me a sizeable amount of unease for the past several months. In it, a group of young women hold up hand-written signs declaring why they don’t need feminism. Their reasons range from, “because I believe in equality and not in entitlements and supremacy,” to “I respect men. I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems,” to “I am an adult who is capable of taking responsibility for my own actions.”  One can see why I immediately created a username and began commenting on this post like my life depended on it.

What I most wanted to point out was that none of these young women seemed to have any idea of what feminism actually is. Somehow, the idea of equality for women has become tied up with these misconstrued notions about the domination of men, the rejection of personal responsibility, and a culture of victimhood. I can’t say how this transformation took place (it seems to have something to do with tumblr, which is another content-sharing, online community, but I can’t dive into that hole right now), but the fact that there are women out there who outright reject the title of feminist is appalling to me, especially when these women so clearly are feminists themselves.

Equality is the bottom line of feminism. You can respect men without also demonizing them (I do it all the time!). Of course you are a capable adult; you can thank the generations of women who fought against the infantilization of our sex for being able to publically declare such a thing. These young women, who took to a public forum to proclaim their independence, personal responsibility, and strength, are utter and complete products of the waves of feminism that have been crashing against American culture for the past 200 years.

The issue is, however, these women don’t know that. And, they shy away from the “feminist” or “feminism” terms. These words have become tarnished, covered in the muck of misandry and fanatical, misinformed rebuttals. I spoke about this in my last blog piece, where I mentioned how I had to combat these misconceptions amongst my own family members, but the problem with the young women on Imgur is even stranger to me, mostly because they are feminists. Reluctant as they may be to wear that badge proudly, it is still tacked onto their bodies somewhere, albeit under layers of ignorance and/or confusion.

This rejection of the feminist identity leads to an even more problematic aspect of this trend: the self-centeredness of it all. I can only conclude that each of these young women has led a life free of sexual harassment or of judgment based on how they look or on their sexual habits. That each of these young women has never had to worry about accessing an education or a driver’s license. That each of these women has never had her reproductive rights challenged or been trapped in an abusive relationship. How blessed these young women are, and how infuriating that they cannot see past their own life experiences into those of others who may not have been so lucky.

Beyond the problem of being unwilling to accept the feminist title, these young women are spreading the dangerous idea that women have reached equality in the US and in the wider world. What they are saying, by rejecting the mantle of feminism, is that there is no more work to be done. They are turning away from the gang rapes that happen with stunning frequency in India and elsewhere. They are looking past the millions of women who are unable, for any number of reasons, to make choices about their bodies and when or if they have a child (or how many). They are saying, “okay” to the overwhelming number of rape kits that escape DNA analysis. They are saying: If you are not me, or like me, you do not matter.

What is most important for these women to understand is that it doesn’t matter what you call yourself (though wearing the feminist badge like a crown would be a welcome fashion statement). What does matter is that, if they see the rights of other women (of other people!)  being challenged, though theirs may not be, it is important for them to say something, to do something, to recognize the wrong where there is wrong and confront it.

There’s a fear that goes along with defining oneself as part of a certain cause with perceived expectations. We prefer to live as sketches, erasing and redrawing the lines of ourselves when we feel threatened or uncomfortable. But, I would argue that the young women on Imgur would have to do very little revising to find that they fit into a feminist way of life. And that’s all I wanted to say to them, and to our readers: Like it or not, you’re a feminist. Now, go out there and own it.


Michele K. Johnson graduated from George Mason University with her MFA in poetry in 2014. While pursuing her degree, she taught Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition at the university, and served as Editor in Chief of So to Speak. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in the Ampersand Review, the Ucity Review, OVS Magazine, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.


So to Speak is Open for Submissions to the Fall 2014 Issue!

January 8, 2014 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, Contests, Post By: Michele J 

Despite the arctic temperatures and after-holidays depression, So to Speak is open for submissions to our Fall 2014 issue! The Fall 2014 issue will feature the work of our fiction contest winner, as well as the usual heaping helping of fresh poetry and intriguing nonfiction.

Submissions to all genres will be accepted from January 1 to March 15 through our Submission Manager.

We’re very excited to announce that our fiction contest judge for this issue is Charles Blackstone, managing editor of Bookslut and author of recent novel Vintage Attraction. His novel about a downtrodden academic falling in love with a world-renowned sommelier has been called “egregiously charming,” and he has been praised for his “craftsmanship” and “inimitable personality.” He is also the co-editor of the literary anthology The Art of Friction (University of Texas Press, 2008) and the author of The Week you Weren’t Here (Dzanc Books and Low Fidelity Press, 2005) a novel.

Winners of the Fiction Contest will recieve prize money and publication in the magazine; other finalists will be published. The contest entry fee of &15 includes a free copy of the Fall 2014 issue for all entrants. Full submission guidelines are available on our Contests page.

Please send us your best and brightest work–we look forward to reading it!


StS Editor-in-Chief, Michele Johnson, on Feminism, Family, and Making a Sandwich for her Boyfriend

While away on vacation this past week with twenty-some family members, we spent time catching up. I answered all of the usual questions: how are things with my boyfriend (as in, when are we getting married), what sort of job do I have for the summer, what will my last year in grad school be like. When I told my aunts and uncles that I was the new Editor-in-Chief of a feminist literary journal, an achievement of which I’m extremely proud, they looked at me funny, as if to say, “Really?”

I was surprised that they reacted in such a shocked way. Coming from a bustling family of liberals who work as teachers, doctors, scientists, and social workers, I didn’t expect that the focus of So to Speak would be something to even comment on. Instead of receiving the congratulatory pat on the back that I had expected, I found myself trying to explain what it means to be a feminist in today’s world. It was more difficult than I thought it would be.

Navigating through the various comments about bra-burning and leg-shaving, I struggled for solid ground in my explanation. I eventually landed on a point that pleased my uncles enough, and didn’t feel too conciliatory, when I said, “If you believe that women who work your job should make the same amount of money as you do, then you’re a feminist.” They all nodded and agreed that this was fair, but they still had questions, most of which I had never considered before. One, in particular, got under my skin: So, if you’re a feminist, does that mean that you think that men should be subservient to women and only used for reproductive purposes?  I balked, reminded my uncle that we weren’t living in a sci-fi movie, and then surged backward into an explanation of third-wave feminism and what that meant to the movement, but I lost my audience to a gooey s’more being proffered by my cousin before I felt I had made any real impact.

I ran into this wall of prejudices and presumptions again and again throughout the week. One of my cousins, who will be entering college this fall, made a comment about how young women who attend concerts should just expect to be felt up, and even dropped the almost irreproachable phrase, “asking for it.” I wanted to rip his sports drink out of his hands and dump it over his head (once being a felt-up girl at a concert myself), but I had to remind myself that he was a spoiled kid from a very privileged and narrow world, and that it had probably not occurred to anyone else in his life up until now to set him straight. I, of course, did, though as nicely as I could. He apologized, and I could tell he felt bad for offending me, but my experience with my cousin helped me to understand that even among well-educated, upper-middle-class people, feminists still have their work cut out for them.

What was most strange about discussing feminism on my trip was that I thought I already had all of these familial bases covered. I assumed that these people, all of whom had had a hand in shaping who I am, would be just as interested in and moved by the plight of women and would understand how much work there still is to do. Instead, they looked at me like some decrepit crusader leading the charge in a battle that had been won decades ago. I merely needed to point them toward some of the things they themselves had said in order to prove feminism’s relevance, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. It was always “stuff that just happened” or “no big deal.”

The complacency evidenced by my family seems, to me, to be a symptom of our society’s relationship to civil rights and human issues. It is not until a very large issue comes to the forefront, like the recent abortion bill in Texas, that people are spurred into action. Happy to remain uninformed about local bills or dwindling funds for women’s health clinics, many individuals are reluctant to step into the debate on issues that aren’t receiving national attention. In my opinion, this reluctance stems from this idea that sexism is something we’ve banished, along with slavery and indentured servitude.

Sexism still exists in small ways that we don’t expect. While on our trip, not a single man or boy helped with the dishes, or even offered to. My father was the only male who cooked a meal. At the slightest murmur from either her son or her husband, my aunt would leap up to accommodate their request. It was believed that no females in attendance could properly start a campfire, but my aunt built one that burned for hours while her husband lounged, drinking his third beer. I’m not trying to come off as some sort of self-righteous, chore-completing woman-warrior, I’m just pointing out the not-so-obvious moments of sexism in our everyday lives. It is my belief that feminists today, while fighting the good fight on issues that exist in the public arena, must also continue to stage little victories in more private arenas as well. Journals like So to Speak provide outlets for women (and men) to explore all areas of sexism, whether it be the quiet kind that creeps around the dinner table every night or the loud kind that explodes in public debate and protests.

Beyond my frustration with the complacency shown by my family members, I was also frustrated by how my explanations and defense of feminism seemed to make me a “certain kind of woman” in their eyes. You know—the kind of woman who wears boots perfect for stomping on the egos of men, and thinks that being domestic in any way is practically a death sentence. It’s not that I disapprove of these women and their lifestyle choices, I’m merely curious to know when this caricature became the collected perception of “the feminist woman” in today’s society.  I’m curious to know when a love of baking while wearing a flower-print apron became a sign of weakness, whereas a love of the outdoors and beer makes one “too mannish.” In all reality, it seems as though women can’t win. Whether we are trying to play the role created by a DIY and wedding-obsessed culture (another blog post entirely), or working in direct opposition to those expectations, we are cast into particular molds and told to stick to them, whether they chafe or not.

This is an aspect of life that I’m still wrestling with on a daily basis. Does my love of rap music make me a hypocrite? Does the fact that I really do love preparing a sandwich for my boyfriend every once and a while mean that I’m less of a feminist? Even the fact that I worry which actions validate or invalidate who I am as a feminist is troubling to me.

I think that being a feminist today means more than simply putting on the boots or casting aside the apron. It means taking the males in your life aside and telling them it’s not ever okay to use the phrase “asking for it” and taking the females in your life aside and telling them the same thing. It means taking small opportunities to shatter gender hierarchy wherever possible in your everyday life, as well as swinging the wrecking ball that eradicates and defeats legislation which limits the rights of women.  More than anything, it means listening to the people around you and being aware; it means being more than complacent.

Dangers of the Anti-Choice “Help” Center

When a woman decides to take a trip to a “pregnancy help center” to learn more about her options for an unplanned pregnancy, the last thing she is expected to return with is a horror story. I mean, the word “help” is in the name of the place, right? However, these “help” centers are almost never what they appear to be from their advertising and can often do more harm than good on the psyches of young, pregnant women.

Following the conclusion of this post, there will be a list of reputable help centers. And if you know of more resources that support women, please contact us sts@gmu.edu or reply to this post as a comment.

While a student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a small liberal arts school located at the southern tip of the state, I heard about a young woman who visited our local Care Net center, where she had hoped to learn about abortion. The large billboard out front reading, “Pregnant? Need help?” with the mournful face of a young girl (we’ve all seen that before, I know) pasted across the background seemed like an invitation for kind and considerate care, and when facing something so monumentally life-changing as an unwanted pregnancy at a young age, who wouldn’t find the idea of “help” comforting? Instead of help, however, the young woman received a lecture about her decision to have sex, which the workers there viewed as immoral. Those that she was hoping to receive help from threatened not to let her leave until she promised she was no longer considering abortion as an option. One woman even chased her into the parking lot, using rather unkind language, trying to get her to accept God’s forgiveness for her actions.

Unfortunately, this sort of bullying happens all the time at supposed help centers for young, pregnant women. Centers that advertise comfort and guidance often hide their religious agenda at the forefront, and then attempt to sway the minds and hearts of the women they meet, which means that many confused, or not-so-confused, women don’t get the kind of treatment they’re looking for at these places. Offering only ultra-sounds and pregnancy tests, the medical procedures available within these help centers are severely limited, and no methods of birth control are on hand to give out. Instead of the pill, visitors get penitence; instead of options, they get a stern talking-to about the provider’s perception of the only option.

When looking at George Mason’s own “Pregnant? Need help?” fliers, put up by the Pregnancy Lifeline Centers of Fairfax and Alexandria, there is no indication that the group is affiliated with Christianity on the piece of paper with phone numbers available to be torn off at the bottom. Once one explores the website, however, the Christian point of view becomes apparent, slowly but surely. While I am not against Christian organizations reaching out to young women about their sexuality, I am against the spreading of misinformation, intolerance, and guilt. When comparing the Pregnancy Lifeline Center’s website directly with Planned Parenthood’s, a number of examples of misinformation, intolerance, and guilt can be found. One of the most upsetting differences between these help organizations is the continuing assertion that a condition called Post-Abortion Stress (PAS) exists, even though it has been discredited by research. Read more

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