This is a long post with lots of words and no pictures. It's very important to me so I hope you'll read it anyway.
There’s something important everyone should know about D.C.: Despite it being a town built by, for, and around politics, its inhabitants don’t like to talk about politics. There are exceptions to this, of course, perhaps if you are a devout employee of the Hill or K Street, but even then, for those who have their working hours consumed by partisan maneuvering, many want to think about anything else during their remaining hours.
Several weeks ago, Karey and I were on the metro going back in to the city after watching the UNC v. Villanova game at a bar in Alexandria with some friends. Three men, probably a few years younger than us, boarded and began loudly discussing taxes.
Another important thing everyone should know about D.C.: We don’t talk on the metro. If you’re talking to a friend at a respectful decibel level that’s fine, but we don’t engage strangers in conversation. There’s no need. We all spend a scary amount of our lives commuting on this thing and prefer to use this time to read, sleep, respond to email, or just sit.
As these three men loudly discussed politics on the metro, Karey and I had our own quiet conversation. Until the Cutie turned to us for our opinion. (For the purposes of this retelling, I will name them Ugly Teeth, Angry One, and Cutie because he had a cute face but also because he was petite.) He was trying to seem polite and reluctant with his “so sorry to interrupt your evening” and “if you don’t mind at all” when of course he was interrupting our evening, of course we minded, and of course he knew this.
He asked us for our thoughts on tax brackets. We both told him and the others our opinions and I added that it was kind of pointless to talk to me about this because I’m “borderline Socialist,” thinking this would deter them. But of course it didn’t.
Ugly Teeth moved closer to us and began asking us about politics in general, including who we voted for in the last election. Which you should never ask in D.C. or anywhere. I was just not in the mood and threw Karey under the bus a little when I told them what her political persuasion used to be, thinking they would engage her more than me. Which they did.
Then they had the audacity to ask us why we believe what we believe, why we vote the way we vote. Here’s the thing: I’m not in politics but I love politics and under the right circumstances I will gladly discuss and debate them with you. The right circumstances are not likely to be found at 10 on a Friday night on the D.C. metro with three strange men who clearly aren’t from here and clearly are a little drunk. (Full disclosure: I’d had two glasses of wine so while I wasn’t drunk, I was definitely at a point where my mouth acts faster than my brain.)
It becomes glaringly obvious to me early in political discussions if it’s a discussion for the purposes of edification or a discussion for the purposes of changing someone’s mind. Since I’ve always believed what I believe and always voted the way I vote, I have no interest or patience in engaging those with such divergent views out to change yours. It was clear to me that the instigators fell in this category.
As Karey began explaining how being a woman has informed her current political choices, and they questioned this, I jumped in. Gender equality and believing in, supporting, and advancing Feminism is probably my most passionate belief. So perhaps you’ll understand why this next statement, from Ugly Teeth, caused to me begin yelling and nearly leap from my seat: “Feminism hasn’t been relevant since 1993.”
In just the past month we’ve seen a slew of state legislation aiming to shutter abortion clinics. We’ve seen a high-profile rape trial that victimized the perpetrators and attacked the victim. We’ve seen various institutions try to restrict access to birth control. We’ve seen politicians believe in the existence of “legitimate rape.” We’ve seen updated statistics that women are still paid only 77 cents for every $1 a man earns. But Feminism hasn’t been relevant in 20 years? Feminism is more relevant, and needs to be even more relevant, now more than ever.
In far less eloquent words than I feel I’ve captured above, I said this to the metro instigators. It was the pay statistic that they latched on to. Ugly Teeth said that wasn’t true. Angry One stood by the door, violently shaking his head and declaring, “That’s not true. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong.” Never providing a reason as to why I was wrong, however.
When Ugly Teeth questioned my source – Sheryl Sandburg’s new book – because “you can’t believe a book” and then sneered that I “probably got it from Wikipedia,” I was done. I yelled that they were not respecting me or listening to me and that they could leave now. We were done. Ugly Teeth backed away, not believing how quickly it got out of hand, and began conferring with Angry One. Cutie tried to apologize. Karey had her arm out ready to block me if I tried to jump at them. I just stewed and tried to shoot daggers out of my eyes.
They exited at the next metro stop, leaving us and our metro car to breathe a sigh of relief. (I was too occupied by the verbal battle to notice, but Karey said everyone in our car was listening and the women seemed particularly engaged.)
I was angry then and I’m angry now. But I’m also proud that I defended my beliefs and stood up for Feminism, even if I didn’t do it as eloquently as I wanted. (That would be the wine in me making my mouth work faster than my brain.)
Now too, of course, I really do have to laugh a little. I mean, these guys were probably just trying to hit on us (or so a few friends of mine think) and they happened upon two well-educated, politically-minded, pro-equality women who love speaking their minds. I nearly feel sorry for them.
What this incident has showed me is that these people really do exist, out in the world, on the metro. I’m not naïve, I know they’re out there, I see them on TV, I hear stories from friends, I’ve just never run in to any this serious before. And it makes me angry. How dare men try to tell women that what they believe about being a woman is wrong? How dare they exclaim that Feminism is no longer relevant, i.e., that it’s no longer necessary?
We’ve not seen a woman president. We’ve not seen more than a handful of women at a time in the House or Senate. We’ve only just seen women admitted into Augusta. We’ve only just seen women become more educated than men.
We, women, just have so much still to do. And we’re going to do it. Because you can attack our beliefs, you can ignore our arguments, you can disrespect our stances, but we aren’t going anywhere. Good luck out there, metro instigators, your kind can’t last forever.