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Four Days

atmathew March 20, 2019
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I want to take this opportunity as I continue reflecting to talk about a funny memory from my time here at UVa. My first year of college I was required to take a writing class. I decided to take something interesting and out of left field, so I took the class “Violence in Fairy Tales.” What I wasn’t aware of, which I’m not exactly how anyone was aware of this but that’s a different story, was that this class was actually a Woman & Gender Studies Class. I am totally okay with that, but did not know that going in, and the first day I walked I realized that I was one of three guys in a twenty person class. The teacher was an amazingly smart woman with hair braided down to to the floor. She said, and I quote, “I will cut my hair when men and women have equal rights.” Her hair became her symbol of her resistance and her feminist courage and little first-year Andrew had no idea what he was walking into. One of the other guys in the class, Shayaan, was an international student. He did not know much English and so most of the time was pretty clueless, but was smart, sweet, and easy to get along with so he succeeded at UVa. The other guy was Eli, a transfer student who was way older than anyone I knew in college. He had soft eyes but for the most part he was a pretty tough man. He wore only clothes that were dark shades, he had a full beard, and he smelled of cigarettes.

One day the teacher was going on another one of her rants about how one of the Fairy Tales we were reading was extremely sexist. In her defense, she was right, but she always made large sweeping comments about the male population of the world. “Men will always be anti-woman. Man can never see women as more than an object for sex.” In my naivety and innocence, I decided the best tactic was to smile and nod to everything she said and hope I would never be called on to answer a question. Eli on the other hand was more of a “take things into my own hands” guy and was much more confident to speak up. He didn’t bother to raise his hand but instead interrupted her and said, well to be honest I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “In Eastern Europe culture back then, it was actually custom for the women to not be the heads of the household, so yes the culture was sexist but these two specific men writing these fairly tales might not have been sexist themselves.” Instead of acknowledging his point, our professor thought it better to bring the conversation to the contemporary setting saying, “Yes, but what about all the girls reading these stories today, they are taught that women are promiscuous and that’s just the way it is. These men should be held responsible.” Eli quickly and boldy responded, “Well I speak for both Andrew and Shayaan when I say, we do know a few promiscuous women, so they are not entirely wrong, right guys?” Eli was known to try and get under the skin of our professor, but I was not a fan of his strategy. A few girls giggled to his comment, and I know you can’t tell when Indians blush, but I know for a fact I looked like a tomato in that moment. In my head I thought *ANDREW, why did you say ANDREW, why bring me into this, oh no everyone is looking at me* basically extreme panic. Shayaan was the first to respond, he smiled and said, “Yeah I do.” Now the whole class was laughing, and Shayaan looked confused but decided to laugh with them. Turns out Shayaan did not know what the word “promiscuous” meant, because when I explained it to him after class he said “oh man” and buried his face into his hands.

And then the spotlight was on me. My teacher stared at me, Eli was smiling looking for my support, Shayaan just smiling and laughing because he had no idea what was going on, and so many of my female peers looked at me to hear if I agreed or not. I was not the bold man I am today writing this post, instead I was extremely shy and introverted. My mind was thinking 100 things, but picking one to say became a challenge. So in my jumbled mind, a couple sentences got combined and shortened. And my response was, “I….I… I like feminists.” *WHAT!?! I LIKE FEMINISTS!? Are you serious? Not, I like feminism, or I am feminist, no, I said “I like feminists.” The whole class erupted in laughter and my teacher noticing my uncomfortable nature decided to move on. Eli laughed and honestly I think felt supported even though I managed to say absolutely nothing helpful. And from then on I was known as the guy who “likes feminists”. Who knows what that means? Do I have a crush on them? Do I agree with them? The world may never know. But that was my contribution to an important conversation on sex in America today. I should make t-shirts.

Turns out the class was super interesting, I met a lot of people that became close friends, and I actually learned more from hearing extreme perspectives than I would hearing people who are too scared to offend people with their opinions. Our class never turned mean, it never turned hateful, it was just a class trying to explore what sexism looked like back then and looks like today. I am truly thrilled I took the class, even if at the end of the day I was nothing more than the “I like feminists guy” but hey, now I know what it feels like for women who feel reduced to one type of identity or being.

I like feminists,

Andrew

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