Monday, August 08, 2016

The End of Snobbery

Six years ago.

I'm working at a PAC for a liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Our offices are located at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. It's a part of town that started out nice, deteriorated over time, became a gay ghetto, and now has entirely re-gentrified. It's not far from my apartment. Depending on how I'm feeling, I've been known to walk it in one go.

Today I've been doing research on potential donors. When I'm done with that task, I'll begin the formal process of publicizing our slate of endorsed candidates this election cycle. Everything will go up live on our website. Once I'm done for the day, I walk five minutes towards downtown from the office. A feminist website has scheduled a happy hour for anyone who might want to attend.

Upon arrival at the bar, I realize I'm the only man in attendance. I'm not surprised. Part of being an male ally means that I anticipate being outnumbered from the moment I walk in the door. It would be nice to see more men in attendance, but that's a complicated issue that would take a separate post for me to even begin to explain. I'm also one of the oldest in attendance, which doesn't surprise me, either.

Several college-aged women's studies students have turned out for this event, too. They represent a cross-section of the city's many major universities. These young women are enthusiastic and full of energy in the ways only nineteen-year-olds on their own for the first time in a big city feel. Even though I stayed at home for undergrad, I haven't forgotten what it feels like to be free from parents and more or less in control of major life decisions.

What bothers me is the way the two feminist leaders, both regular written contributors to the website, respond to their adoring audience. They act as though they'd rather be anywhere but here. They do not engage with the other women they've expressly called together. Surprisingly, I have an unexpected degree of renown among the daily readership. I've gotten engaged in the cause and have been offering, for free, a wide variety of different essays and creative pieces to the Community section.

Once I introduce myself, I recognize I am not a stranger at all. Are you an editor? I'm asked this on more than one occasion by more than one student because I leave frequent comments and post on a regular basis. I can see how a person might form this conclusion, but I quickly deny it.

If offered the position of an editor, I'm not sure I'd accept. This is a website and a platform designed explicitly to raise women's voices. Men have had their say for a long time. But if achieving a fan base was my intention, I've surely succeeded there. I've been at the height of my creative powers. Movie reviews, book reviews, first person essays, biographical sketches. Everything works.

Like so many writers, I'm very shy in person. I confess that I'm nervous. It's suggested that, for that reason, I order a drink, but I don't partake. In addition to interacting badly with medications, I don't drink for religious reasons. And, there's a secret reason I rarely mention. Writers are often disproportionately inclined to be alcoholics. The work we do is insular and private. It requires enormous discipline and very little face-to-face time.

I engage one of the real editors in conversation. She doesn't smile. Instead she stands next to a second editor who doesn't appear to be an especially very warm individual, either. They both possess an abrasive hipper-than-thou attitude that the college students are too busy making merry to observe. I have no such illusions. If I was an editor, I'd take care to work the room, making my way through the crowd, shaking hands, and trying to make everyone feel at home. But this is not my event and I don't get to set the terms.

Gesticulating to the huge crowd of attenders crammed into a tiny room, one editor points out the obvious. They know you, one says. This is undeniably true. It is also true that she doesn't really want to speak to me. Both of the editors act as though this obligation is beneath them. Their attitude is snobbish and standoffish. They do not engage with the young students who are desperate to know them, to grab hold of them somehow and have that success rub off on them. That ends up being my job, a task I perform because I believe their dreams should be nurtured and not summarily cast aside or ignored.

What I am seeing is not feminism as I understand it. That is a belief system based on integrity, equality, and fairness. In the hands of those who want to feather their own nest and boost their own profile, I see smug hipsters and professional skeptics. If this is someday my fate, I vow to never forget where I came from, to answer every question from every awestruck undergraduate. Midway through my conversation with one jaded editor, she rudely pushes me aside to talk to someone else she'd much rather address than me.

In time, I will discover that these two feminist leaders were miserable living in the city. Within months, both will move elsewhere and find comfort elsewhere. I will remain, finding DC life mostly to my satisfaction. Life here is not for everyone, but I closely control the people with whom I must interact. Otherwise, the dynamics and leadership of the site change with time. A new generation has control. They are much kinder people. I'm thankful for the change.

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