Monday, November 15, 2010

Backlash-- On Reactions and Critics

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know that I am also a columnist for my college paper.  For those of you who do not, you do now.  Fantastic. 

So, just to be sure everyone is on the same page-- I am a columnist for the BG News.  I post my published articles here every Wednesday.  And I would venture to say that I am the only feminist voice, besides the occasional falcon screech- an open forum for campus complaints.

I've had this gig since last March and there've been plenty of good times.  Like the column I wrote about the mock trial on campus, educating students about the repercussions of sexual assault, complete with a "thank you" from the Student Wellness Center for my review of their event.  Or the other day, a friend told me about a student bringing my column into their Women's Studies class to quote me as a source for their group project, as though I were some sort of expert.  And the many e-mails that complimented my opinionated coverage of pop culture events, like Ines Sainz's jeans or Katy Perry's breasts

What warm, fuzzy memories.  But they can't all be postive.  I hesitate to call it backlash (except in an attention-grabbing headline) but I've noticed an increase in critical reactions to what I have to say.  Especially this past week. 

First, I got an e-mail from a professor who was offended by my column defending young girls rights to a sexuality.  And it wasn't what I'd said, but how I'd said it.  He felt "compelled" to tell me that one cannot express their sexuality through movement, clothing or song because one is singular and their is plural. 

At first I conceded, a little caught off guard.  But then I remembered that gender neutral language was purposeful and widely accepted, so I sent a second, more assertive e-mail.  He responded, half-accepted my argument, and mentioned "a think-piece by a mature, avowedly feminist woman professor interrogating the problematically slutty attire of certain students formerly known as 'coeds,'" which, after reading, seems like "I totally get that feminism stuff, but some chicks are still asking for it."

Now he could really be concerned with pronoun agreement.  And the insight of an instructor who teaches seminars about civilizations may be relevant.  But it still feels like it came from a snarky, condescending place.  I mean, why correct my grammar before you attempt to have a conversation about an issue if not to give yourself the upper-hand from the start?  

The same week, someone went so far as to write a response column to my column.  While making my case against fat hatred and discrimination, I said that fat is NOT a consequence of over-eating or punishment for being lazy.  Negative attitudes towards fat are often defended by "they did it to themselves" and while that is not always the case, even if it was, it does not give anyone a free pass to taunt another human being.

Anthony Bryson is not related to Pebo Bryson, but he does write columns for the BG News.  What's his shtick?  Health.  Apparently he took my words very literally, and out of context.  He was so horrified that I had told the world that more eating and less activity would not result in weight gain he had to write an entire column dedicated to correcting my faux pas.

But I have a second beef with Mr. Bryson and that is that he continuously referred to me as "Ms. Noftsinger" in his response.  Weird.  There is a tendency for journalism students to refer to women sources by their first name or as Ms. Whats-her-face, when both are incorrect.  All sources, once named fully, should be referred to by their last name. 

For instance-- Anthony Bryson took me too seriously.  Bryson misunderstood what I was saying.  Putting Mr. or Ms. in front of someone's last name is patronizing, as evidenced above.  And because it happens frequently to women, it's understood-- at least in the world of journalism-- as blatantly sexist.

Was this columnist truly concerned that I could single-handedly alter the eating habits and activity levels of readers everywhere?  Perhaps.  But the structure of the argument and the way he used my name felt a little more like he was jumping at the chance to prove that uber-opinionated feminist chick doesn't know as much as she thinks.

Two isolated incidents, both thought-provoking, especially when you line 'em up.  Is is anti-feminism?  Nah.  Douchebaggery?  Kinda.  But you're always going to have opponents, jerks, critics, or people who just don't get it.  And as I told another intern in the Ms. office last summer as we commiserated over the daily news-- if they didn't keep doing those things and saying that stuff, we wouldn't have anything to write about.