The pitfalls of being the ”Feminist Kill joy” around beloved relatives.
I really want to be a good feminist. I know that it is ok not to be perfect. It is OK to make mistakes. I have read Roxeane Gay’s wonderful book, Bad Feminist and have gifted it to a good friend. But, it is hard sometimes, when the people I want to share my feminist enthusiasm and knowledge with, are people who seem to be pretty happy as they are in the not knowing. Ignorance is bliss after all.
We were getting ready to go for a walk in the last bit of winter sunshine for the afternoon: my brother and my second youngest sister (at 23 years old) Libby. I was so happy to be having some sibling time. My sister lives in South Australia and rarely comes to Melbourne. My brother does live in Melbourne, but we rarely hang out. We are very different.
My brother could be in the Australian version of an Entourage style film. I use the term Film loosely. He has the good looks and swagger of fictional characters such as Vincent (from Entourage) and Archer (a cartoon character from a cartoon of the same name). I wonder sometimes if he naturally seems similar to these types of guys. Or is it that he has merely been inadvertently influenced by them. In the country high school we attended, I was often stopped by girls who wanted to enquire if I really was ‘’Adam’s sister.’’ It seemed a concept difficult to understand as I was not nearly as attractive as him, just a scrawny bird like thing with severe scoliosis, an a habit of waiting outside the library for it to open. One of my favorite high school ‘Being Adam’s sister’ moments, is as follows. I was on my way to a class when a girl from my brother’s year stopped me and told me that my brother ‘’was a real sex machine.’’
Yeah, I know; ew!
On this particular afternoon, I wanted more than anything to be a good feminist example to my sister. I wanted to show her that caring about feminist issue was easy and worth doing.
I failed though.
My brother and sister were chatting as we put on our coats and it was then that my brother made the rape joke.
It was then I thought that this was my great opportunity. I would call my brother out on his bad joke and make him see how those jokes contribute to rape culture and the low reporting rates on actual rapes and sexual violence. More than this I would show my dear sister how important it is to have the backs of women who may not have a voice. I would show her that it is ok to care and speak out about such things.
I was doing it for all the women I knew who were trying to put such terrible experiences behind them. These amazing women who were not merely statistics to me but friends and dearly loved people.
‘’You know what they say.’’ My brother said as he put on his beanie, ’’Nine out of ten girls enjoy rape.’’
My sister laughs and my blood goes cold. I fiddle with my scarf and say with a heart beating wildly. ‘’That is not fucking funny and as a person who has four sisters. You should no better.’’
‘’it’s a JOKE.’’ My brother says. My siblings roll their eyes at me.
‘’Well since 1 in 4 girls will be molested or victims of sexual violence by the time they are 16, you should probably reconsider your genre of humor.’’
‘’Do you want to go home, Jess.’’ My brother says to me. His voice is hard and it is clear he has had enough of me already.
I want to cry but I fight it. I think of some of my fav feminists. Does Clemintine Ford have a brother? What would she do? Why does having sisters matter? You should not need sisters to know that rape is not funny when the punch line of the joke is rape victims.
I remember when my brother and I were younger. I was really sick and vomiting a great deal. My brother got an empty ice cream container and wrote a sign on it that said JESS’S SICK UP BUCKET. I regreted being so controversial. Why couldn’t I just shut up and leave it alone? I am so lame. A stern reaction from my brother and all my fight disappears. Maybe I was in the wrong after all.
I found myself thinking that if I used a softer tone of voice when I confronted my brother’s bad joke. The outcome would be different. He would stop and look at me and say. ‘’Sheesh, your right. I should not joke about rape as my gender and size means I do not need to ever walk around alone with the fear of rape in the corner or forefront of my mind. Thanks for the kind sounding heads up. I will also speak up when I hear my male friends make similar jokes in future.’’
Oh why. WHY did I seem to have a standard bitch voice?
I stayed silent as we walked out of my brother’s apartment and made our way down the stairs. As we walked down bridge road my siblings chatted happily. I observed how easy they were with each other. I felt very much on the outside and I knew it was my fault. My fault for being a feminist kill joy.
My siblings and I stop at a traffic light, they are discussing how other women dressed. ‘’Sometimes I see girls wearing stuff so small and I think how did they come to think that that outfit was a good idea? Did they just have a few drinks?’’
I want to say that perhaps these girls were just comfortable in their own skin and should not be fat shamed because of it. In a society that seems hell bent of making women hate themselves and profit from such a belief, we should probably unite with fellow women and lift each other up, rather than tear each other down.
But I remained silent. I failed at being a good feminist and super strong and fierce big sister AGAIN. Would Libby listen more if I were actually taller than her? I wonder. As the eldest of Five siblings I am the smallest.
Once across the road we walk a little ways before it is noticed that I am lagging behind. ‘’Your so slow lately, not your usual quick step.’’ My sister says.
They wait for me to catch up. ‘’Its my new kidney.’’ I say with a bit of labored breathing. Walking around DFO with my sister whilst carrying a backpack full of post transplant meds has left me pretty exhausted.
‘’Aww its my new kidney.’’ My sister mimicks me and it makes me laugh.
My brother takes us into a pub were there is sports on big screen plasmas but not many people around. It is 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I order a pot of cider and my brother looks at me with his big brother expression. He is 18 months younger me. ‘’Go easy, Jess.’’
He says. ‘’You better be looking after yourself.’’
‘’I am. I don’t party much these days.’’
‘’Good.’’ He says as The bar tender serves us the drinks. ‘’don’t do anything stupid with that new kidney.’’
When my sister gets back from the toilet, she shows us the photos she took of photos that our grandparents had of us as kids. Libby had visited them before coming to Melbourne. ‘’I want that photo Nan has of me with that big egg shaped bump on my head.’’ My brother says.
‘’From the time you careened into a wall at a church function?’’ I laugh as I remember that evening. He could not have been older than five. In the photo he is looking rather sad and holding his injured head with one hand.
Later that evening my brother drives me home so I do not need to get public transport in the dark. I may be a bad feminist but it does not mean I should stop trying. Even if that means I am destined to forever being the most annoying Knight sister.