March 15 2017
In the popular ‘80s movie The Goonies, the character Chunk is taken prisoner by the bank-robbing Fratelli gang, who are on the lam and hiding in an abandoned seaside restaurant. When Francis Fratelli (brilliantly played by Joe Pantoliano), the more sociopathic of the two Fratelli brothers, holds Chunk’s hand over a running blender’s blades and says, “I want you tell us everything . . . everything [about the location of your friends] . . .” (who are going to find the police), Chunk relents, spilling the beans…sort of:
“Okay, Okay, I’ll talk…in third grade I cheated on my history exam. In fourth grade I stole my Uncle Max’s toupee and glued it on my face when I played Moses in my Hebrew school play. In fifth grade . . .”
This scene popped into my head when I began reading Shira Hirschman Weiss’ rather depressing blog in the Huffington Post. In her recent “My Kindergarten Teacher Almost Ruined ‘Feminism’ for Me,” blog post, Weiss comes off a little like Chunk, rambling on about how, at five, she was mistreated by a stern (and clearly not very nice) teacher and that this mistreatment caused her a lifetime of anxiety and mistrust of feminists.
Weiss’ blog starts off with the Dickensian image of her as a tiny, five-year-old cleaning the cruel teacher’s paintbrushes. Weiss writes, likely with a bit of exaggeration, that she “spent the day washing” the paintbrushes and that despite spending her entire day at the sink, she was never able to meet the teacher’s approval, adding parenthetically “(in any way)” and was “always being sent back to the sink, missing outdoor time with the other kids.”
Weiss also details the verbal abuse she suffered, writing that the teacher called her “weird” and questioned, presumably within earshot, whether Weiss suffered from “mental retardation.” She says overall, the teacher “made it clear that she felt I was hopeless.”
This is tough to read and a sad commentary on the lack of kindness, empathy, professionalism, and basic manners on the part of this teacher (that, sadly, was probably more common decades ago). There’s no arguing that this teacher was abusive and Weiss understandably has had to work through these feelings of inadequacy for years. Yet, the connection to feminism and Weiss’ later suggestion that others share her distrust of feminists for similar reasons (having one bad experience with one feminist) ignores the real problems in the feminist movement.
Weiss writes she often felt nauseous when hearing the word “feminists” because this abusive teacher was a well known feminist in the town: “In our tight-knit community, she was known for advocating rights for religious Jewish females.” She’s since moved beyond her reactionary fear, but ponders if others have a similar, misunderstood Pavlovian association with the term:
There is a sort of negative association in some people’s minds and we don’t always know the psychological roots. Perhaps their parents snickered at an “eccentric” neighbor whose intentions were ahead of her time. Or perhaps, like me, a person attached to important and good work had some glaring faults and a truly negative impact on them personally.
It’s natural to take one’s own experiences and assume others share it, but in this case, there are a lot of other reasons that many women (and men) are put off by the modern feminist movement that have nothing to do with a specific negative association or experience.
Many modern women simply don’t relate to the mainstream feminists narrative that the world (and mostly America) is overwhelmingly hostile to women. Many women don’t see men as the enemy or feel that women are at a disadvantage and must constantly battle against a patriarchal system that seeks to make them second class citizens, pay them less, ignore their contributions to society and generally make their lives a living hell. They see the vulgarity and profanity that laces events like the Women’s March and want no part of it.
In fact, according to a recent Vox poll, eighty-two percent of American women don’t identify as feminists. Perhaps these women also had vicious teachers who also happened to be feminist leaders in their communities. But something tells me the modern feminists’ message deserves more of the blame.