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Feminism Makes Me HOT!

Feminism Makes Me HOT!

Writer and lesbian culture guru Diana Cage weighs in on the "F" word. Not fuck, that' fine, but feminism is a dirty word to many women -- lesbian, queer, gay, straight or labelless. A celebration at Atlanta's feminist bookstore Charis, at which Guy-Sheftall and Gloria Steinhem spoke, inspired Diana to do something outrageous and to talk about the "F" word.

Here in Atlanta there's a bookstore called Charis Books. It's the oldest, largest, feminist bookstore in the Southeast and one of only 14 independent feminist bookstores left in the U.S. A sad fact but true, and I know this because last night I donned my take-me-seriously cat-eye scary feminist glasses, a chartreuse sweater dress that in retrospect may have been a poor choice, and marched my sensibly shod feet to the opening of Charis' 35th anniversary celebration: "Feminism, Books, & Beyond: Celebrating 35 Years of Charis Community."

The talk "Founding the Future: A Conversation with Beverly Guy-Sheftall & Gloria Steinem," was a brutal wake-up--like the irritating buzz of the neighbors alarm, the one that never shuts off because the guy's a junkie or a DJ and sleeps till two. You know that asshat; you hate him too.

I'm a sucker for revolution. No, not a sucker. I'm a disciple. I want it. I want to tear down the goddamn master's house. I live to bring down the patriarchy, to knock down the man and pry the boot off the neck of women toiling away, ignoring their own oppression in order to survive from day to day. Sure, sure, sometimes I sound a little like Valerie Solanas on meth. Sometimes I'm fervent, foaming at the mouth, screaming, crying and talking about a revolution in a world that's mostly decided all that work is a bunch of bullshit. I bet I even seem irrelevant, angry, man-hating and retro to a whole generation of girls younger than me.

Funny, though. I might be a pissed-off feminist but I make my living writing and talking about sex. I like to think I put the femme in feminist. I've written books with titles so post-post feminist you'd think they were penned by a frat boy, (Box Lunch anyone? Yes, I really wrote that book.) And I can't for the life of me figure out why every woman on this planet doesn't feel the same way I do. Let's let go of those outdated stereotypes. Be whoever the fuck you are, and run your mouth about your rights even while you're teetering on vertiginous stilettos. That's what I do, and fuck anyone who cares.

Guy-Sheftall, scholar, writer, badass and editor of many brilliant books including the groundbreaking anthology Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, said the very words last night that make me cringe. Her students, she said, think racism is over because we have a black president. They say feminism is irrelevant, and everything is just fine now. "Young women don't give a shit," she said. She believes she's not seen as a part of the woman's movement because she's an African American woman, and the women's movement is still seen as a straight white women-only club. The rest of us queers and minorities are something else. We're othered by too many qualifiers: Women of color feminists, lesbian feminists, disabled feminists, transgendered feminists. Fuck a lot of that. I'm a woman before I am anything else. Or maybe I should say I'm a woman and a whole lot of other things. Gloria Steinem nixed that bullshit the best when she said to Sheftall, "Tell me who says you aren't a leader in the women's movement and I'll break their kneecaps." Badass.

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35 years is a pretty long time for a small, independent bookstore to still be kicking, especially when it's so easy to order everything you need on monoliths like Amazon. But Charis survives because women in the Atlanta community and across the country value it enough to keep it alive. I live down the street from Charis and since I've been here I've made it a point to buy all my books there. If they don't have something I want in stock, I ask them to order it and I wait the three or four days for them to get it. Buying from an independent bookstore means I'm paying full retail price, a tough thing to do when you can get such deep discounts online. But I've made a commitment and I'm sticking to it. I justify the couple of extra dollars that I spend on every book with the knowledge that I'm supporting something I need, love, and want to be around forever. It's worth it. I know that I'm doing my part to keep a valuable, underappreciated institution alive.

More than just a bookstore, Charis created Charis Circle, a nonprofit organization that functions as a forum for free thought. They offer programs, readings courses, workshops and work to foster sustainable feminist communities; providing empowerment and respect to a diverse population all over the country. Last night Steinem said she wished there was a type of AA program for feminism. Not to cure you of your addiction, but to make sure that anywhere you went in the world you could find a local community of people with the same cause as you. Community, she said, is what will keep us progressing. Sharing ideas and our desire for revolution will make sure we don't become complacent. Guy-Sheftall said the only way to create change is to tear everything down and rebuild it the way it should have been built in the first place. The packed auditorium screamed and clapped for her, standing up and acknowledging her words. We all felt the same, but it took a badass to say it.

Steinem implored the audience to do one outrageous thing every day. Starting tomorrow at 9 a.m. she said, "Do something outrageous and by Saturday the world will be a better place." I can't tell you what to do, but I think she's on to something.

There's another talk tonight, this one featuring Alice Walker and Pearl Cleage. And I'm going to put the serious glasses back on and maybe some heels this time, and then I'm going to sit in that audience and get all riled up and tomorrow morning, as soon as I figure out what it is, I'll start doing something outrageous.


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Diana Cage