The high-profile internet blowup du jour began with an ill-considered tweet from new T Magazine editor Deborah Needleman, advertising an appearance by known professional thorn-in-the-side of feminists Katie Roiphe.
“Sorry Feminists,” Needleman tweeted in parentheticals, “this woman is sexy”. The implication of her statement being that feminists can’t abide a sexy woman, or a sexy woman who disagrees with them, because feminists apparently hate sexiness.
New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum fired back with a concise dressing-down: “Did you wrote that tweet from 1963? Impressive.”
@debbieneedles Did you wrote that tweet from 1963? Impressive. emilynussbaum (@emilynussbaum) October 8, 2012
This seemingly momentary dustup between (and about) women media figures didn’t simmer down after Nussbaum’s dig, though, because almost instantaneously a new Twitter hashtag and trend was born: #sorryfeminists. Hours later the hashtag was still flooding Twitter and had spawned its own new Tumblr.
Tired of being told by ideological opponents that advocating for gender equality comes with a set of prescribed rules for behavior (“Wanted: feminists. Must hate men, disavow motherhood, and eschew all trappings of femininity”) feminist bloggers, writers, activists and more began tweeting, with irony, things that they actually did that might break such nonexistent rules. Known feminists confessed to enjoying things like nail polish, pilates, cooking and cute children.
A few samplings:
I’ll lobotomize the patriarchy as soon as my nails dry #sorryfeminists Anne Jamison (@prof_anne) October 8, 2012
Wearing a bra. #sorryfeminists Lauren Kelley (@lauren_kelley) October 8, 2012
Thinking of baking an apple pie and doing some laundry this afternoon. #sorryfeminists #dayoff Bryce Covert (@brycecovert) October 8, 2012
I chimed in with a true anecdote about my morning, noting that I’d needed my husband’s help to close a window in the cold weather:
Just got my spouse to shut the window because I couldn’t reach :( #sorryfeminists Sarah Marian Seltzer (@sarahmseltzer) October 8, 2012
But my favorite tweets went beyond confessing these everyday “transgressions” against a made-up feminist ideal to a new level of absurdity:
Baby’s gotten too big to fit in my attaché case. #sorryfeminists Andi Zeisler (@andizeisler) October 8, 2012
The message behind this outpouring and eruption on social media, and the reason it snowballed so quickly, is that feminists are exhausted with being told we’re rigid thinkers who are not human beings.
Nobody, not even the most ardent political advocate, is a machine resisting the patriarchy with every fiber of his or her being. Instead, we all choose our own personal sites of resistance and focus on the bigger picture: the sad lack of equality that pervades our society at large. And that’s a-okay. The irony of “Sorry, feminists” is that there are no feminists to apologize to. The strict gatekeeper of appropriate feminist activity is an anti-feminist myth, a straw-woman invented to provide cover for those who know that gender inequality exists but don’t want to fight it. “The false idea that raising one’s voice against sexism suddenly means you’re in a realm where high heels are forbidden is an excuse for disengagement with injustice.”