When my family arrived in the U.S. in 1969, second-wave feminism was just revving up. It was in the news a lot and to my tween mind it made perfect sense.
Not that I had any deep understanding of the issues, or of misogyny — see this old post, for instance — but treating men and women equally? Same rights for all? Who could object to that? The 1960s had gotten a start on solving all that racism stuff, now the 1970s would fix the sexism!
Yes, I was young.
IIRC, I knew one classmate in high school besides myself who supported the Equal Rights Amendment (that’s not to say there were some who didn’t want to come out and say it). No surprise; Fort Walton Beach Fla. was a very conservative community. Frustratingly, when discussing politics I couldn’t quite put into words why the ERA was important: my gut said yes, but I couldn’t explain why.
When I returned to FWB after college, it was still right-wing as shit. The letters to the editor routinely blasted working women (destroying their children’s lives!), women who get abortion (promiscuous sluts!) and women who didn’t want to accept Men Are The Boss. There were also lots of rants about how this is a Christian nation and we should pass laws based on what (the letter writer imagines) God wants. A number of right-wing syndicate columnists (Suzanne Fields, Walter Williams, Charley Reese) echoed the same points. In hindsight it’s interesting that these were within the Overton window of acceptable discourse; anti-Semitism and racism weren’t as acceptable as misogyny (though we got occasional bits of both).
In my early twenties I felt an obligation to use my skills for good; the letters page was an outlet even an unemployed writer could use to contribute to the commonweal. I started writing letters explaining why God Wants It and Women Are Inferior, however phrased, were never logically constructed arguments.
I wrote a lot of letters. Eventually the paper imposed a one-letter-a-month rule; I think I was one of the prime reasons. I’ve had a number of people tell me how much they appreciated my writing. I also know I drove a lot of right-wingers to distraction, in which I take a small, petty satisfaction. Providing a dose of left-wing reality to a right-wing community is a good thing to do. I don’t know I ever changed any minds but at least I could provide facts to anyone like me who can’t rationalize their gut instinct.
That went on for the next 30 years. Then I went to work for the Destin Log and became a regular columnist. Slightly different venue, same themes. Plus a lot of criticism of the Bush II presidency’s militarism, national security state policies and the way local Republicans treated W as God’s anointed king (a dry run for treating Trump as the messiah).
About 11 years back I was living in Durham, writing full-time and doing political writing at various outlets. Those dried up so I’d begun posting political content on this blog (regrettably a much smaller audience). In 2011 I was struck by arguments I’d encountered that men will never accomplish anything unless women stand aside and let men be the boss. What struck me was that I’d read similar claims all the way back to the early 1970s. And so my first post on Undead Sexist Cliches — stuff that lives on, no matter how many times it’s disproven — was born.
I followed it up with a post on how women should never give away the milk and how feminists ruined television. The latter is a good example of how these cliches shamble on: the stuff I cover is a precursor to the online freakouts and troll campaigns about how SJWs are ruining comics, TV, Marvel movies, Star Wars etc. by creating protagonists who aren’t white men (since writing the article I’ve also seen complaints going as far back as the bullshit).
I thought that would be it, but more undead sexist cliches kept cropping up, so I kept writing. Several years ago, the idea of compiling them all into a short, snarky (but logical) book hit me and I began work. Trouble was, I had to provide examples of the right-wing bullshit I was writing against and there are so many … and several of the arguments required some research (evolutionary psychology stuff for instance) to refute. So it became much more detailed and footnotes, much longer. And took correspondingly long to write. It’s telling that I didn’t originally have a harassment chapter but added one after #metoo blew up big a few years ago.
And now it’s done. It hasn’t exorcised my frustration at the misogyny flowing through society (I will have many more posts on the topic I’m sure), but if it gives someone like my teenage self an understanding of why gender equality is right, then I’ve done something worth doing.
Undead Sexist Clichesis live in paperback on Amazon, with the Kindle version listed separately. It’s also available from multiple other ebook retailers.
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