First, a story.
So, my first semester of my freshman year of college, I took this Intro to Women’s Studies class. The class met for five hours a week, one two hour session and one three hour session, and the breakdown of students was what I eventually discovered to be the typical sampling in any Women’s Studies class with no pre-recs at my mid-sized, southern Ohio state school. There were a number of girls who would become, or were already part of, the feminist advocacy groups on campus; there were a number of girls who would prove themselves to be opposed to feminism in both concept and practice, one of whom I distinctly recall giving a presentation on the merits of the “Mrs. Degree,” while my professor’s eye twitched in muted horror; there were a handful of girls and at least one guy I’d come to know later through assorted campus queer groups; and there were, of course, the three to six dudebros, self-admittedly there to “meet chicks,” all but one or two of whom would drop the class after the first midterm. At eighteen, I was myself a feminist in name but not in practice—I believed in the idea behind feminism (which is, for the record, that people should be on equal footing regardless of gender, not that we should CRUSH ALL MEN BENEATH THE VICIOUS HEELS OF OUR DOC MARTENS GLORY HALLELUJAH), but I didn’t actually know anything about it. I could not identify the waves of feminism. Intersectionality and how the movement is crap at it were not things of which I was aware. Never had I ever encountered the writings of bell hooks. In a lucky break, you do not need to know about the waves of feminism, or know what intersectionality is, or have read bell hooks to read this essay! (But you should read bell hooks. Everyone should read bell hooks. bell hooks is FUCKING AWESOME.)
The first couple of weeks of this class were about what you’d expect. The professor was fun and engaging, but she was not exactly pulling out the eye-opening stops on our wide-eyed freshman asses. There were handouts. There were selections of the textbook for reading. There was a very depressing class about domestic violence, abuse, and rape that was the typical rattling off of terms and horrific statistics that everyone winced at, but that nobody really internalized. The dudebros snickered in the back corner, grouped together like they would be infested by cooties if they spread out, occasionally chiming in with helpful comments like, “Dude, the lady on the back of this book is smoking,” and getting turned down by each girl in the class, on whom they were hitting in what I can only assume was a pre-determined descending order of hotness. The queer kids, myself included, huddled in the other corner making pithy comments. The up-and-coming active feminists glared at the bros, who leered back, and the Mrs. Degree-friendly crowd mostly texted under their desks and made it very clear that they were only there for humanities credit. Again, it was a fairly typical southern Ohio state school class full of fairly typical southern Ohio state school freshmen. Nobody was super engaged, is what I am saying here. Nobody, myself included, was really eating it up with a spoon.
And then one day, my professor opened the class with, “So, who here has seen Beauty and the Beast?”