We are republishing the editorial written by Jaya Padmanabhan in March of 2015. This piece won First Prize for editorial writing in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s annual awards luncheon held on October 1st, 2016. Congratulations, Jaya!
Late one snowy evening, three girls and three boys were sitting in a New York dorm room casually conversing over insomnia cookies. All was cozy till the boys, in a burst of camaraderie, began to share what parts of the female anatomy they preferred. One of the girls warned that the conversation had begun to make her uncomfortable. To which, one of the boys turned to her and asked, “Oh, are you one of those?”
On discussing the incident later with the girls, two of whom are my daughters, I gathered their indignation at the boys’ remarks. They felt that the boys had trampled over gender boundaries by fetishizing women’s bodies and then compounded their miscalculations by slapping a “pseudo-alienating” label on them.
The youth have their own dialog and often their casual speak is an interpretation of the punch lines they encounter along hallways that they traverse most frequently. It is more than likely that the boys did not mean what they said maliciously, but merely to provoke a reaction. What is surprising is that they had not expected the reaction they received.
This situation gave rise to many questions in my mind. How do young men and women experience gender? How much has changed since the advent of women’s rights? How should we navigate the complex currents of other, them and those, words of distance and disregard?
It is disconcerting to believe that the views of the young men in the situation cannot be modified. Or that outrage, while warranted, is the only reaction possible for women.
The New York interaction concluded that evening when one of the girls remarked: “Shouldn’t everyone be one of those?” Nicely put!
Just as actress Patricia Arquette did in her Oscar 2015 speech, it’s critical to seize our moments. It does not matter if those moments are in front of the world or facing three young men who are still negotiating ideas of equality and inclusion.
In order to turn the corner on eliminating the label of feminism, it seems to me that we must make the argument of feminism as inviting, engaging and available as patriarchy.
Let’s say it now and say it again, without the noise of anger: Yes, we are one of those.
Originally published on March 2, 2015