My Word's

a weekly column by
Marylaine Block
vol. 1, #8, September, 1996


There are little reasons and big reasons why I am -- let me see, how shall I say this so that half my audience won't sneak out the door? -- a feminist.

One small, but significant reason, is shoes.

If that seems to you a dumb reason, I assure you that you are a man. Please look at your shoes, for a moment. You will note that a) they follow the shape of the human foot, and b) you have a good half-inch or more of sole between yourself and the pavement.

Now look at the shoes on the nearest available woman. Do you really think that, unlike yours, her toes come to a dainty little point midway between the big and little toes? And what do you think happens to the toes that are scrunched inside that leather frame? As Marge Piercy says, "All women are misfits...we do not fit into this world without amputations."

And examine our winter boots. They may be knee high, but we are lucky if they give us 1/32nd of an inch of sole between us and the icy streets.

Do you doubt that we might organize the world a little differently if we had the chance?

Another reason is skirts and pantyhose. Now, I do realize that a modest degree of discomfort is required of us by our employers. You guys get neckties, after all (and studies have shown that if you tie them too tightly, they restrict the flow of blood to your brains. Feel free to use this argument to your employers.). That discomfort is our reminder that in our working lives, we are all playing roles.

But employers who require women to wear skirts and pantyhose to work every day should be condemned to spend all eternity wearing a skirt on a winter day in Iowa, with snowdrifts 24 inches high, and a temperature of 30 below zero.

And then there's makeup. Originally my reasons for disliking makeup were entirely personal. I have spent my life with a totally unserious-looking face, sort of soft, without much in the way of obvious bone structure, and with an absurd, ski-jump sort of nose--in short, a face that still doesn't look entirely grown-up even though it's now capped with graying hair.

When I was a grad student, I spent half an hour every day trying to look serious. I put my hair up, sprayed it in place, and carefully applied make-up. What I got for my pains was a half-hour less sleep, limp straggling hairs falling out of my French twist, and a face that looked like this little girl had just raided her mother's make-up box. So I abandoned the effort.

And I realized that one of the few things I really envied men for was that they were not obliged to be pretty. Clean, yes. Neat, yes. Suitably attired, yes. But the faces they were born with were good enough to present in public.

If you've ever been exposed to our talk radio, or C-SPAN, you would be aware that Janet Reno, our attorney general, is despised beyond reason by male callers. Because she was responsible for Waco. Because she was clearly chosen for her job specifically because she was a woman. Because she is unmarried, and therefore presumed to be lesbian. And because she is tall and ungainly, with a strong, unadorned face.

It's hard to say which of these things infuriates male callers most, but her homeliness is right up there. Indeed, any anti-feminist's final arguments against women's rights tends to include the notion that feminists are only feminists because they are unattractive to men.

Those are my little reasons, the little, day-by-day steady itches that make life uncomfortable and sometimes make you want to scream (with ladylike restraint).

But the big reason is that any society that divvies up privileges and responsibilities unevenly is ultimately just as hard on the apparent winners as on the losers.

One of the reasons feminism has such a bad name is that men think women want all the goodies men have, but not the burdens that go along with them. Women want to have, as an option, the right to a rewarding job, for instance. Men, on the other hand, know that their kids need food to eat whether or not their jobs are rewarding, so they go out every day and fill a lot of unrewarding, backbreaking, crappy jobs to pay for it.

Women would like, as an option, the right to serve in the military; men, who have not had an option since Napoleon introduced the concept of "draft," are not that thrilled by the idea.

Well, why should they be? Why would anyone want as a full partner someone who says, "I might help you out if I feel like it, every now and again"?

Even in libraries, I see women sitting around and making nasty cracks about men, but whenever there's any dirty work or heavy lifting to be done, they yell for the nearest guy.

I also don't think it's all that good an idea to divvy up emotions by gender. A society that says the only emotion that men are allowed to express is anger, or even rage, is not all that safe a society, for other men, or for women.

Maybe feminism has too irredeemably bad a name and image. Maybe, instead of calling it feminism, we should try calling it something truly radical. Like, say, equality. Real equality.

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NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.

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