Lu: The "F" Word

by Jessica Lu | 4/21/15 6:42pm

This winter and spring, I applied to a flurry of internships, determined to find a “big girl” job in an interesting career field. I was ready to go from summer camp counselor to a woman with a real world job. In one interview for a potential internship, the interviewer asked me to elaborate on some aspect of my identity. As an Asian-American woman, I knew he probably expected me to speak about being Chinese and how my culture has shaped who I am. I never like to be predictable, however, so I talked about being a feminist, and what it has meant to me — how it has made me stronger and opened my eyes, how that label signified my transition from a girl to a woman in a way no “big girl” job ever could. Little did I know how that one word could change the conversation.

I do not know what I expected, but it certainly was not for him to put on a brittle, awkward smile the second the word “feminist” fell from my lips. The rest of the interview lost its ease. He seemed to check out, asking me idle questions about this activity or that to finish out the expected 30-minute time slot.

I left the sprawling office feeling not particularly optimistic — I was as qualified as someone my age could probably be, yet there was a heavy weight in the pit of my stomach. It probably would have gone better if I had dropped a different f-word entirely. When two weeks later I got the email telling me how competitive the applicant pool was and expressing deep regret that they could not offer me a position, my first thought betrayed my principles — was it because I had labeled myself a feminist?

The interesting thing is, it did not occur to me to wonder if it had been my race or my gender — all I could think of was his pasted-on smile and the faint distaste in his eyes when I talked about my passion for gender equality, when I used the word feminist.

Being a feminist should not be something awful — believing in the equality of the sexes should be a given. The problem is, what most people think feminism means is not what the movement actually is. We have to work to dispel the myth of feminists being crazy and irrational women who are vehemently misandrous.

The second I said “feminist,” my interviewer totally shut down. It did not matter what I said after, it did not matter that I explained what being a feminist meant to me and how I was determined to fight for equality. It did not matter, likely because he was certain of his own definition — it felt as if what feminist meant to him was a woman who hated and resented men, who wanted to take power and privileges from men. It felt as if what feminist meant to him was a woman who was irrationally angry, who hysterically blew things out of proportion and who could never work with men because she hated them.

Maybe I am blowing it out of proportion — I do not and cannot know for sure if that is why I did not get the job. What I do know, however, is that people who believe what I just described do exist, which I have experienced firsthand — and that women and men should never feel ashamed to call themselves feminists. Being a feminist should not be the sort of thing that costs you a job or an opportunity.

In January, I published a column about “meninism” entitled “Hate in a Hashag.” What I failed to mention in that piece is how disheartening and infuriating it is to encounter meninists in real life because the worst part of meninism is the fact that these people — generally men — often hold the power. Meninists are not just a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers on Twitter. They are real people with real power who are capable of closing doors — but we should not let them. We need to fight to redefine feminists, to eradicate meninism with simple fact — feminism is not an anti-man movement, it’s a pro-equality movement.

My friend owns a shirt that proclaims, “Being pro-woman doesn’t make you anti-man.” Maybe instead of a blazer and a blouse, I should’ve worn that to my interview.

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