Monday, July 19, 2010
All the Single Ladies...and Gentlemen
I was recently on a tour at the Apollo Theater, which was a really enjoyable and informative experience. The tour guide was Billy Mitchell, aka Mr. Apollo, who started out as an errand boy at the Apollo Theater and now practically runs the place. While he told us about the Apollo’s history, he also discussed the black rights movement. As a feminist, I support equal rights for black people too - I mean, how hypocritical would it be if I only wanted rights for women and not other groups? Mr. Mitchell obviously agreed that people of every race, color, religion, and sex deserve equal rights. At one point in his speech to us he even bashed people who use the n word and b word in casual conversation, and said that the media has wrongly inundated people with the idea that such words are acceptable.
While I commend him for feeling so strongly about using inappropriate words, he needed to practice what he preached a little bit more. He obviously did not use either the n or b word in conversation; however, he was still using sexist language. “The talented men and ladies who performed here…” “The men and ladies on the street…” “All the men and ladies who built this theater…” “Men and ladies…” “Men and ladies…” “Men and ladies…” I really wanted to jump up and yell, “Make up your mind already! Say men and WOMEN or GENTLEMEN and ladies!”
When a person uses the term lady when they wouldn’t use the term gentleman, or says men and ladies, it’s extremely sexist. Describing a woman as a lady but a male counterpart as a man is putting the woman on a pedestal. This is totally defeating the entire purpose of the women’s movement. We feminists don’t want to be put on a pedestal. We feminists don’t want to be put on a footstool. We feminists want EQUALITY. We want equal pay for equal work, not more pay, or less pay, for equal work. We don’t want to be patronized. We want to be given our EQUAL rights.
Obviously, there are more important things than wording when it comes to feminism. While its significance shouldn’t be underestimated, I would put get woman in the White House and get harsher punishments for rapists, among dozens of other things, way higher up on my priority list. When asked about the International Rabbinic Fellowship’s resolution expanding women’s roles in Jewish leadership, Rachel Kohl Finegold, the ritual director at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, said, “[I] like the fact that they focused on function rather than title…I don’t think it’s the most important question right now. The more important question is, are there jobs available, are there settings where women can use their talents.” It’s important to focus on whether a woman calls herself rabbi, rabba, rosh kehila, ritual director, or anything else, but more important is what said rabbi/rabba/rosh kehila/ritual director does. It’s the same with secular feminism: it’s important what you call us, but not as important as the rights that we gain. However, the next time you’re about to say lady when you wouldn’t use the word gentleman, use woman instead!