“What’s your name darling?”
If you haven’t watched Marvel’s fabulous new woman led series “Agent Carter,” a spin-off of the Captain America films starring Peggy Carter, secret agent, soldier, spy, and kick-ass extraordinaire, then you won’t recognize those lines. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I have a bone to pick.
You know what I’m tired of hearing about?
These so-called “fake” feminist issues.
Honestly, what the hell?
Not to mention that in the past few weeks I’ve read articles that blame the rise in campus sexual assault on “too many women being in college” and a cardinal blaming the lack of priests in the Catholic Church on the presence of female altar servers. I was an altar server, Cardinal Burke, and I sure as heck don’t appreciate you saying that. Find something else to do.
Let me tell you something, folks. You want to talk about “fake” feminist issues?
Let’s talk about how women STILL don’t have equal pay to men. It’s about 77 cents on the dollar. And that’s white women. Women of color make even less. Let’s also talk about how when President Obama said it was 2015 and about time women had equal pay during his most recent state of the union address, some the audience clapped and stood up, but the Republicans REMAINED IN THEIR SEATS. They don’t care about you, ladies. They just don’t. I’m not really sure WHO they care about, but that’s another rant.
You want to talk about “FAKE” FEMINIST ISSUES?
The United States is one of FOUR nations that doesn’t have a paid maternity leave law. So basically if you don’t have kids, you’re selfish, if you want birth control you’re a slut, and if you actually are pregnant, well too damn bad, you better keep working, use your sick leave, or work without pay. How dare you be pregnant when we’re always telling you that you should be pregnant?
Did you know that only five women in the history of ever have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar? And that Ava DuVernay, the amazing director of Selma, would have been the VERY first black woman nominated had she not been snubbed?
Don’t even get me started on sexual assault statistics and rape culture and domestic abuse or I’ll start throwing crap around my room before I can get this post written.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the “manspreading” phenomenon lately, basically the idea that in public spaces, especially on transit, men spread out their stances while sitting, taking up space and squishing women in their seats or not leaving room at all. I’ve seen it decried as ridiculous, unimportant, or downright fake. It’s not a big deal, I hear, because I dunno, ISIS exists.
(I feel like that’s always the thing. Oh no, we can’t talk about anything else because there are terrorists. Like?? Why does that happen? People did that to try and derail the Black Lives Matter movement too.)
Excuse me a moment, oh male authors who wrote the articles to which I am referring, but are you a woman? Are you?
(Actually some of you are, which is a whole other level of stuff that makes me sad. Hello there, internalized misogyny. Damn the patriarchy to the seventh circle of hell.)
Are you of the subset of the American populace that has not even possessed the right to vote for a full century?
(For black women, this right didn’t truly come until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, no matter what the technical legalities were. That is in our PARENTS’ LIFE TIMES, Millenials.)
Then sit down, sit up, and be quiet for two damn seconds. Stop telling me your balls need so much space on a subway seat that you have to squish the woman beside you into the window of the train. If you thought for more than a few moments before raising your arms up in fury and crying out about how men’s rights are being violated and that those pesky femi-nazis (say this word to my face and I swear you will regret it, I do not take kindly to being compared to Hitler for wanting equal rights and treatment for my gender) are causing trouble and making stuff up again, you’d know that this is about more than that. This is about the fact that women are literally, physically being forced to make themselves smaller. I’ve spent my life weaving through crowds trying to make sure I didn’t hit anyone or take up too much room.
Don’t believe me?
Well first of all, I don’t really care. If you don’t believe me and aren’t even willing to hear me out before interrupting me and the countless women who try to make you listen, then you aren’t worth my time, and you aren’t worth the frustrated tears I’ve cried more recently than I care to admit. Second of all, ask any woman in DC who takes the Metro or the ladies in NYC who take the subway. Are all of them lying, too? When I asked my friend Barbara about this very topic, wondering how often it happened to her, she said:
“Every day of the week.”
Real talk: Women complaining about manspreading isn’t some vendetta against men. Not all men who do this are assholes. It’s more about women feeling as if they’re intruding if they ask the man to move over or about the fact that the man doesn’t think twice about taking up more than his share of space. Oh, I’ll just take up less room, the woman thinks, while the man never considers that at all, even if he’s the nicest guy in the world, because he’s never had to do so.
But you don’t want to hear that, do you? You just want to scream that women are man-haters. Which is pretty much the most ridiculous accusation I’ve ever heard. Feminists don’t hate men, feminists want the same equal rights men have and would like to be treated as if they are, you know, human beings. Because from where I’m standing, we’re treated as women first, human beings second. Not okay. We aren’t mysterious creatures who you need to puzzle over. Ask. You’ll find out a lot more that way.
But would you like to know why you don’t want to hear about this? You know why you kick and scream and shout that feminism is destroying America and the world and the family and the price of a pound of bananas at the grocery store? Because if women are heard, it means that you’ll maybe have to be quiet for a moment, that maybe your every thought won’t be catered and listened to at the exact moment you wish. You should want to hear what we have to say, you should want to hear what all types of marginalized people want to say, but you don’t. Because it’s hard. You might have to examine your own biases and change your behavior.
The other day, I was thinking about how as a teenager first dabbling in makeup, I was told never to wear red lipstick. It was never my mother who told me this, she encouraged my makeup use and bought me nice stuff at the Lancome counter that I surely couldn’t afford now, but it was other young girls. “Red lipstick is for sluts” was not uncommon to hear. Or “red lipstick is for prostitutes” or “red lipstick is for older women in the bedroom.” So basically red lipstick was for… men? Or otherwise for “unsavory” women? Wear pink, they said. Be pliable and pretty. Fade into the background and don’t you dare be bold.
In other words, be quiet. Don’t take up space or make people look at you. Well, too bad. I’m wearing my red lipstick anyway, every day of the week, if I want.
Which brings me back to Peggy Carter.
If you aren’t watching Marvel’s new series “Agent Carter.” then you should be. If you don’t know who Agent Peggy Carter is, then go watch “Captain America: The First Avenger” and then go watch “Agent Carter.”
“Agent Carter” is Marvel studio’s first female-led solo project and though it’s only about three episodes in, it is incredible so far. Why? Because not only does it explore post WWII issues, not only does it explore women’s issues in that same time frame, but it explores women’s issues PERIOD. It might take place in 1946, but so many of those same issues ring true now. This show has so much going for it, things that you’d think are common in entertainment but actually aren’t. I’ll just name a few.
Point the first: the quote at the start of the post references a scene in which Peggy walks in, and all the men smile, condescending in an instant, asking for her name, obviously assuming she’s a secretary. But she merely responds with “agent” because that’s damn well exactly what she is, and she demands they respect it.
Peggy isn’t afraid to be feminine. She has incredible clothes, paints her nails, and wears bombshell red lipstick. Also her eyeliner is so on point. And you know what? She still kicks serious ass. She doesn’t fall into that trope where because she kicks ass she therefore can’t wear or do traditionally feminine things. Girl takes people out with staplers and briefcases. It’s the best.
Peggy makes friends with other women! And she defends them when it’s needed. (In one scene, she holds up a fork to a male patron who slapped her friend Angie on the butt after being exceedingly rude and questioning her intelligence, threatening to cut his brachial artery). And guess what? They talk about stuff other than men, hurrah! The show passes the Bechdel Test.
Peggy uses her male co-workers sexism to get the information she needs. At one point she uses the excuse of her period to get out early so she can go on a secret mission and it is literally just everything. She stands up to them when they call her “Captain America’s liason” or say that she “must have had a lot of men during the war.” They think she’s stupid, but she knows better, and she outwits them. Even when one of the kind male co-workers (who I so hope becomes her ally) stands up for her, she thanks him but asks him please to not do so in the future. She can do it herself. When one of her co-workers asks her to do the filing because she’s “just better at that stuff” she asks him if she can teach him how to alphabetize things. “We’ll start with A,” she says. You go, Peggy.
Peggy is human. She strong, but she also cries when she needs to. And when she tries to take on everything by herself and be stoic and be a constant pillar of strength because she’s afraid she’s always endangering or getting people she loves killed, she takes advice from a friend to let others help her instead of soldiering on and being alone in the depths of her struggle. Character development! She doesn’t sit around trying to isolate herself like say, oh I, dunno, Batman.
Peggy loved Steve Rogers very much, and his apparent “death” clearly affects her, but she is also very much her own person apart from that. Steve was a big part of her life and still is even if he’s gone, but he does not define her. He wouldn’t want it that way, anyhow. He’d be pretty pleased to watch her beat people up with office appliances and would no doubt hate the awful Captain America radio show as much as she does.
Honestly I could go on forever about Peggy Carter, but let’s be straight here: when the announcement for this show was made last year, girls on my tumblr were actually crying, I was crying, and not just because it was another Marvel project. Women were crying and shouting for joy because oh my gosh, a mainstream show starring a well-rounded female character that has female showrunners and female writers and it was actually a show for us. Hayley Atwell tweeted out the brand of lipstick Peggy wears and let me tell you what, I bought it in an instant, and it makes me feel empowered. Representation is important, but quality representation is even better.
(If you want another show with quality female characters, go watch Sleepy Hollow, which features not one, not two, but three ladies! Two of who are women of color. Abbie Mills for the win, seriously.)
Before we leave Peggy, I’d like to talk about one more scene. Long story short, in one scene Peggy botches an interrogation in order to save her partner in crime, Jarvis (the real human form of the A.I. from the Iron Man movies) and is harshly reprimanded by her boss.
“You got dumped in my lap!” he shouts at her, and even though she botched the interrogation on purpose, there are still tears in her eyes she’s trying really hard to not let fall.
He calls her stupid. He tells her just how much better her male co-worker is. The whole scene made me feel like I’d been punched in the stomach, and every other friend I talked to felt the same. Because even if we don’t necessarily get shouted at by male bosses (though I’m sure some do) we’re still told every day, all the time simply by the way our society is structured that men are more important than us. That they’re better and smarter and more worthy. It’s not always blatant, but the undercurrent makes it all the more sinister because people try and make us prove it’s happening at all. And so we begin to doubt ourselves. We have to worry about upsetting the men, who already have the privilege we don’t.
How many times have women censored themselves in the face of man’s sharp indignance?
“Oh, so you’re a feminist. So you hate men?” men ask.
“No,” the woman says, backing up physically and with her words. “No that’s not it at all.”
We shouldn’t have to say that every damn time. We shouldn’t have to explain it. The truth is, feminism benefits men and women, but if you took one cursory look on the internet, you’d know that. And even if feminism only benefitted women, would that be so bad? Could we have something, maybe, that belonged to us other than marriage, children, and the kitchen society deems we are appropriate for? Don’t fool yourself into believing everything is different for women now. Sure, lots of things are, there’s been progress in large strides. But there’s more to be done, and we didn’t get here because society granted us an easy pass and benevolently knighted us like the kings of old and said “oh yes, now you may be a human being.” No. The women behind us fought for that. We shoved our way in by force. Society didn’t change on it’s own. Women made it change.
What’s the matter? Men ask. You couldn’t vote in America until the 20th century. What’s the matter? You have to fight tooth and nail to get access to birth control and proper women’s healthcare as female mortality rates are on the rise in America even as Viagra is handed out like candy. What’s the matter? You don’t get paid as well for doing the same job. What’s the matter? You have to walk home at night with your keys ready like a weapon, thinking about taking self-defense classes and taking your headphones out and looking behind you every few seconds and then hear that if you got raped, you were asking for it by wearing a short skirt or hey, even sweatpants. You were asking for it by existing as a woman. And don’t worry, if that rapist was a football player he’ll be back on the team as soon as his lawyers can manage it. What’s the matter? You’re a slut if you do and a bitch if you don’t. What’s the matter? Oh, that career isn’t FOR a woman. What’s the matter? Women have to fight their way into the arts, the sciences, the battlefield. What’s the matter? Transgender women are one of the highest risk groups for murder. What’s the matter? Lesbians are hooted and hollered at, their sexuality apparently only existing so heterosexual men can get off to it.
This is just the tip of fucking iceberg.
So let’s be clear here: I’m not going to be quiet. Call me a silly girl, if you want. Invalidate me, if you want. Ask me for “the facts” and then try and refute them even if I have ten stacks of papers to prove my point. Tell me I’m “too emotional” because I’d rather be compassionate than a cold-hearted ass. Comment on my appearance without being asked. Go ahead, because I’m making a promise to stop letting it bother me, because it’s so not worth it.
But so help me God, do not interrupt me, because as the great Taylor Swift might say, darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream. You will let me finish what I’m saying.
It’s hard sometimes, to stand up in the face of all of this when you’re made to feel crazy for it. When article after article decries feminism and the god-forsaken “menimist” trend is on the rise. But it’s important. It’s important for men and women alike to defend feminism and stand their ground. We’ve made progress, but both the subtleties and the obvious instances prove that we still have a long way to go. But we can do it. Of that I’m sure.
So in the end, the question remains: Am I going to be like Peggy Carter? Or am I just going to wear her lipstick?