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I may never be ready to stop saying "dude"

It takes real balls to be a feminist, says Caroline O'Donoghue. And even more balls to actually say it

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Okay, so, I need to get something off of my chest, because there’s something that’s making me a little uncomfortable. The elephant in the room that is becoming bigger and pinker and more irresistible the longer it stands there, shaking its sexy elephant tail at me. I’m just going to go ahead and say it, okay? 

I am not ready to stop saying “dude”. 

I am not ready to stop going “balls deep” on things. I am not ready to stop saying “c’mon, man” every time my female friend is being unreasonable. I will never be able, because I am not Lesley Knope from Parks and Recreation, to enter a room and say “hey ladies!” instead of “hey guys!”

I didn’t think this was a position that I needed to defend or clarify or even think that hard about, until Tuesday. In an article I wrote entitled “Letters I would write to my friends’ partners if I only had the balls”, a Facebook commenter took the time to criticise my use of the word “balls”. "The balls?” she wrote. “Why does this represent courage and being brave?” 

Well, why indeed. I’m guessing it has something to do with strength being an inherent characteristic of masculinity, one that is counterbalanced again and again with the perceived “weakness” of womanhood. It’s an amazing example of the many ways language controls, shapes, and condemns us: men need to have “balls” to join the army. You need “balls” to murder someone on your country’s behalf. And if you don’t have balls, what are you? A pussy.

My Facebook commenter isn’t in the minority either: in a brilliantly written piece for Mic, writer Julianne Ross attempted to go an entire day without referring to groups of people as “guys”. 

“You guys, this is getting out of hand. "Guys" has become a sort of second-nature verbal tic synonymous with "everyone." The problem is, "guys" is not everyone. It's guys.” Ross goes on to highlight exactly why male-centric language is an issue: it’s a “subtle yet constant hint that women are different, that their lives constitute a sort of subcategory of human experience dependent on feminine modifiers.”

While I can agree with this concept on a fundamental, intellectual, feminist level, on a human level, can I also choose not to… really not care that much??

And while I can agree with this concept on a fundamental, intellectual, feminist level, on a human level, can I also choose not to… really not care that much? I mean, to acknowledge that something is problematic, and keep on doing it anyway? 

Bear with me. Feminism is something I care very deeply about. But because feminism is basically an umbrella term that deals with the working realities of half of the human race, it’s very hard to care about every aspect, with equal grace and equal passion. That’s why everyone who doesn’t belong to one aspect of womanhood must fight to understand what it is like to belong to another. It is important that you work for and with women who are older than you, or a different colour to you, or a different class to you, or were born a different gender to you. 

It is not important, in my opinion, to stop saying “dude”. 

It’s not that important, in my opinion, to stop watching those terrible romantic comedies on Netflix – the ones where every man is called James and every woman is called Annie and all the Jameses and Annies are in an endless cycle of white-teeth weddings and tragic break-ups – if you enjoy watching them. 

It’s okay, to shave your armpit hair – even if you think it's questionable that this is not something men do – if you enjoy the feeling of a shaved armpit.

I think it's okay not to care about everything.

There are countless distressing quirks of living in a world that was shaped by thousands of years of male domination, and I am sorry to say that it is impossible to care about every one of them. You can try, I think, but I don’t think you would be very happy doing it, and the people who do try seem to spend half their lives beginning sentences with the word “actually”. It’s a constant battle of i-dotting and t-crossing, a never-ending mudslinging match of telling other women that they’re doing it wrong. That when a journalist jokes about getting her husband to do her invoices for her, she’s wrongly upholding the notion that men are better at maths. That when a woman salivates openly over Adam Driver holding a goat while bare-chested, she’s objectifying him in a way that is similar to the way women are sexually exploited. That when I say “balls”, what I really mean is “this is clearly the superior genitalia, the one I associate most heavily with strength” and not “balls is a funny word to put here”. 

Instead, however, you could choose a few battles to fight hard, and fight them well. You could make a list of everything that's important to you – really important to you, not just something that annoys you a little – and you can go gung ho for them. You can fight hard for reproductive rights, or pay equality, or educating people about intersectionality, or you could burn yourself out correcting people.

A good social movement should not be pre-meditated on the idea that everyone is secretly a shithead

Because here’s the thing: a good social movement should not be pre-meditated on the idea that everyone is secretly a shithead, and it is your job to lie in the grass, waiting for shithead-evidence to drop so you can call them out on it. A good social movement says: you’re in this for the same reason I am. Good feminism says: we don’t have to be the same for me to care about you. 

Because you don’t have to care about every tiny thing. You don’t have to stop watching crappy rom-coms. You just have to care about helping people.


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