Hey, TIME Magazine, Feminists Are Here to Stay

When I was coming of age back in the '70s, Andrea Dworkin described herself as a feminist, but "not the fun kind," and I understood that I was going to represent the other side of that spectrum: I was going to be a feminist, but the really fun kind.
11/14/2014 01:07 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

I'm a feminist.

I'm just adorable at it.

And I simply assume everybody I know -- male and female -- is also a feminist.

After all, I give people the benefit of the doubt. Why should I think so poorly of you that I wouldn't include you amongst the reasonable and sane? If I'm having an actual conversation with you, you're probably able to form words and make sentences. I'll bet you're a feminist!

If you're not wearing a monocle and carrying a sword or an electric beanie with a twirling circle on it, I figure you're OK, you're a person of the world, you've read a couple of newspapers and even books, you eat with cutlery, you're probably a feminist!

It's not a tough club to join. You believe that men and women should have equal rights, equal access and equally weighted forms of authority, responsibility and influence in terms of our culture?

You're already in. (There is no dress code; casual and formal wear are both acceptable.) And now that it's become a widely-used term, some morons want to shut it down.

I don't think so.

There have always been lots of definitions of the term "feminist," of course. The best is still from Rebecca West, who dryly commented, nearly a century ago, "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

When I was coming of age back in the '70s, Andrea Dworkin described herself as a feminist, but "not the fun kind," and I understood that I was going to represent the other side of that spectrum: I was going to be a feminist, but the really fun kind.

I figured if you couldn't find the humor in the absurdities of life women were assigned to live, well, then, you just weren't looking hard enough for the funny bits.

I've spent more than 20 years working on women's humor and, trust me, all women's humor is feminist humor. Any time a woman holds the attention of the crowd by keeping her clothes on? That's a feminist gesture. Frankly, this is not a tough argument to make: it's just that every time a woman opens her mouth with the intent to send those around her into gales of laughter, she's committing a political act because she is putting herself at the center of the attention to be listened to and not simply looked at.

The moment of feminist awareness occurs when women realize we are not like decorative vases; beautifully wrought, gorgeously curved and yet entirely empty vessels waiting to be filled to be by somebody who decides when and how best to use them. Vases are nice and everything, but they aren't exactly the most significant piece of furniture or even most interesting accessory in the house.

To be, at best, a delicately, intricately work of beauty admired by others who will then ignore and forget it is not, shall we say, the best role. You got to get the genie out of the bottle for something interesting to happen.

The genie you really want to find is the woman quick-witted, brave and willing to be funny in public. She's the one you want to talk to about feminist. She's not too hard to spot, either: she might as well be wearing a sign around her neck, written in rhinestones, saying: "I am a Bad Girl and I am Not Going To Calm Down." She is NOT Barbara Eden, but her daughter.

I loved I Dream of Jeannie and all those magical shows about women who were doing things. I watch them to try to figure out what I should do.

Girls then- - and now -- were instructed by screens, large and small, to smile rather than laugh, to be docile and enigmatic instead of being smart and honest. We were told that we'd be appreciated, sought-after and beloved if we played dumb, kept quiet and didn't make a spectacle of ourselves. Then we started to learn the real lesson behind that script: playing dumb, keeping quiet and not calling attention to ourselves meant we'd be waiting around for the honor of some man's choosing us -- rather than our choosing a man - -even while we were losing, in time and effort, any chance of success in the business world.

We learned that the traits supposedly reserved for guys, such as intelligence, ambition, economic acumen and a sense of humor, were in fact all the factors that added up to winning in the workplace.

We learned that the ones folks had referred to as the "bad girls" -- women who spoke up and didn't hesitate to say what was on their minds -- were the ones who embodied values that were in fact rewarded by the public world of commerce, education, politics and the arts.

An ability for quick and creative thinking, a perceptive sense of timing, a healthy disrespect for the system, a sense of personal authority and an ability to take responsibility are all traits which would eventually lead to the willingness to take positions of power within and thereby alter the dominant system -- and make it better: When I see somebody doing that, I think "THAT's a feminist."

It makes me very proud. What is feminism? Simply the belief that women lives are acceptable material for public consumption. Once, our funny stories had to be kept as secret as our Kotex pads, stuffed away into pretty cases to disguise them and discussed only in all-female groups. But once humor, like our periods, appeared distinctively female, routine, and inevitable, everybody lightened up a bit. Think, then, of feminism as just another form of feminine protection: it's routinely available, not a big deal unless you're suddenly in a moment when you're desperate without it -- and then they'll always be another women nearby who can offer help because, after all, she's part of the same tribe.

Honey, that's feminism. Not in a nutshell, but in a handbag.