Tailgating While Feminist (Part 2)
What happens when a reluctant football fan goes tailgating while wearing a Georgia Feminist t-shirt? Check out Part One of this story here.
I stood at the top of Lumpkin Street at Five Points waiting for the walk signal, and I watched the irritated faces of every driver stuck waiting at a light that changed three times since the last car passed through the intersection. Walking is the best way to get around Athens on a gameday, faster than a car and safer than a bike because of the legions of tipsy out-of-towners who treat bike lanes like personal walking paths. The walk from my apartment to downtown is 1.8 miles, about a thirty minute trip on foot. I headed down Lumpkin and passed a sign advertising drink specials and was tempted to park myself at a restaurant and watch the game from the safety of a booth rather than face the stares and possible ridicule. “Nope, we’re doing this.” I thought and then tweeted my intention for the day.
With my sunglasses perched on top of my head in case eye contact became too unbearable, I walked with my head up and stared intently at every person I passed, mining their expressions for a spark of recognition or emotion. My chest felt heavier than normal, and I had to force myself to stand up straight every few strides. I only walked a block before I put my sunglasses on. Pair after pair of eyes lingered on my face and the upper half of my body. A few people stared so hard at me they stumbled and nearly ran into other bodies on the street. The near identical dress of everyone I passed rendered individual faces and features stark in their difference. I turned off Lumpkin Street and into Myers Quad. The stares continued, though the bigger crowd gave me a little more anonymity than I had in the street. I felt like I was crashing a party, and I started walking faster. A middle-aged woman wearing a red shift dress paused with a chicken finger halfway into her mouth and gawked at me while I rushed past. I was uncomfortable, hot, and ready to find my friend and laugh off all the stares together.
I wound my way out of the mob at Myers Quad and hustled past the stadium toward the Tate deck in search of my friend, Julie. I spotted her, waved, and hurried toward her. I was five feet away when she she said “What does your shirt say? Georgia Feminist? Oh of course you would!” and laughed. I felt a mix of pride and shame when I realized that my friend wasn’t surprised by my t-shirt. There is a self-consciousness that accompanies the realization that others notice the image we project to the world, that our identities and interests don’t happen in a vacuum and have a real impact on how we are perceived. Sweat slid down my back and a prickle of anxiety bloomed in my belly. I wanted to change clothes. I felt grateful that I could choose whether or not to wear the most divisive part of my identity on my literal sleeve. Julie offered me a hot dog and a bottle of water and I followed her to her truck. I spent the next hour standing awkwardly at the edge of Julie’s friends, and fielding accusatory glances from her boyfriend who had really liked me at the last game.
I left Julie’s tailgate and headed downtown in search of a beer, air-conditioning, and a dark bar to hide inside until halftime. While I was waiting to cross Baldwin, two obviously drunk college-aged men were standing a few feet from me, staring. One finally waved at me and shouted “Very hipster! I love it! You go girl!” I still don’t know if he was mocking me, or how the current cultural definition of hipster includes feminism, but after being silently judged all morning I took him at face value. “Thanks!” I yelled, and crossed the street. I made it all the way to the Arch without incident and headed into Walker’s for some water and a beer. After chugging a cup of water I settled on a stool and relished the relative anonymity of the dark bar. I watched the game until the third quarter and took a solitary Athens Transit ride home.
I’ve never shied away from engaging in feminist conversations with friends and acquaintances, no matter how loudly others disagree or derail or discredit my thoughts and experiences. There is a confidence that comes from being repeatedly told “you are not allowed to say that here” and finding the strength to speak anyway. However, that confidence didn’t translate as directly when it came to broadcasting my beliefs across my chest during a large sporting event for strangers to view. Moving through a large crowd with a politicised word emblazoned across my body left me at the mercy of preconceived notions about what feminism represents. I hope that publicly identifying as a feminist on a gameday inspired football fans to consider the word and it’s meaning. I also hope I pissed off a few Tennessee fans. Go Dawgs.