A friend was telling me about her evening at fencing class – (a rather specific detail which may have blown this nameless friend’s anonymity to smithereens, for any readers who know her, but I don’t think she’ll mind much either way) – and how the class had been divided into teams of two for competitive drills. As it happened, More-or-less-anonymous Friend and her teammate spent a lot of the evening winning. As it also happened, Friend and her teammate were the only girls in the class full of guys. Friend was most enthusiastically proud about this point. My reaction: Gloom.

            This may send some readers into shock, but I’m not much of a feminist. Yes, I know, I’m a girl. More accurately, a woman (so a girl in the informal definition 4 sense, not a definition 1 “female child”), but I tend to shy from that particular label, as I feel that “girl” comes off as less aggressive. That’s my main issue with feminism as I’ve encountered it: The aggression with which females insist that they are equal, if not superior, to males.

            When I was a definition 1 girl, the idea of “girl power” amused me. After all, to an eight-year-old female, the declarations that boys drool and reject knowledge in college in favor of getting more stupider on Jupiter are both hilarious and easily swallowed as gospel truth. (Most young boys kinda bring it on themselves.) But I outgrew that in a way that radical feminists haven’t. Naturally, I’m all for equality; I’m not complaining about my hard-won right to vote. What I strongly dislike is hearing propaganda to the tune of, “Anything men can do, women can do better! Men are Neanderthals and public enemy number one! Women could do just fine without men, thank you, Joe Schmoe, so please go sit quietly in the corner until we want you to provide the missing ingredient for the children which we can bear and you can’t and which we intend to raise in the belief that they are little goddesses or else the male servants who should consider themselves blessed for even being allowed on the same planet as said little goddesses…

            Um, whoa. No thank you.

            Fortunately, most people calling themselves feminists don’t take it to that insane extreme. Even so, there is that underlying defensiveness; that hair-trigger belligerence; that feeling that females are the underdogs with everything to prove, when… are we? Does a four-to-one male-to-female ratio in a given space put the females at any real disadvantage? Okay, in sports, possibly; the men are likely to be bigger, probably stronger, and so the girl may have to put forward a greater effort if she wishes to best the men. But why does she wish to best them? Are the men her competition because they are male, or simply because she wishes to excel? If you desire personal excellence purely for the satisfaction of doing the best you can (motivation I can get behind 100%), then it shouldn’t matter whether your competition is made up of mostly men, or mostly women, or mostly monkeys, for all I care.

            That’s where I think feminism has gone wrong: Making it a matter of boys vs. girls – an attitude we should have left behind in elementary school. So long as women insist on pitting themselves against men, they shouldn’t be surprised if the men say, “Bring it on, sweetheart!” So long as we treat things like “women firsts” as a huge deal, it will be.

            My appeal to the women: Lay down your arms. Lower your banner. Lose the “Girl power!” rallying cry. If you want to advance equality, the focus can’t be on opposing teams, but on individuals. Aim as high as you personally can, but for yourself, not for the sisterhood. Let your victories be your own, not your gender’s. Operate among the men and other women and monkeys as if it’s the most unremarkable thing in the world, and in time, it will be.

            You want a chance to lead the way, girls? This is it.