Monday, March 9, 2009

Feminism: A Dirty Word?

I'm sure you've all heard of Ms. magazine's "This is what a Feminist looks like" campaign. They nicely photoshopped Obama into one of their tshirts for their winter 2009 cover. Their publisher, Eleanor Smeal, explains the rationale (in - I believe - a very loose way) here at Huffington Post.

Anyway, my roommate brought this Obama covered issue of Ms. home a few days ago and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Sometimes I look like a feminist. Sometimes I don't.

I guess most of the time I look pretty feminist. Let's be honest: I have short hair. I wear men's clothing and menswear inspired women's clothing. I buy little boy's tshirts. And I prefer to open the door for someone (anyone) than have them do the same for me.

So what's the problem? What is the big drawback of looking like a feminist?

I don't think I'm a feminist.

Not any more, at least. I grew up a very conservative person. Everything around me was conservative and I was all in. The church I grew up in taught me that "liberal" meant bad and "conservative" meant right. At the time, I believed it.

In college, I was presented with options. Options regarding everything. Religion. Politics. Philosophy. Sexuality. Ideology. Clothing. Gender. With all of those options swirling around me, I wrote my first feminist theory paper on Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. From that point on, I guess I just figured that educated, open-minded people (especially women, duh) were feminists. So I wore that badge (with pride?).


I'm tired of it. I'm not tired of caring about women; that's just silly. I believe in women's rights and women's voices and women's choices and all that important stuff, but I'm tired of being a "feminist." I'm tired of being offended and defensive and continually put upon. I'm tired of having my paper topics chosen for me. I'm tired of arguing that women should get this or that better. I'm tired of having to justify The Bachelor: it's a show that demonstrates the ridiculous stupidity of the participants of both sexes.

And perhaps the biggest annoyance for me right now is the feminist approach to literature. Sure women could be treated better in literature, but so could men! There! I said it! So what if the author is clearly praising men and overlooking women?! Why should I take it personally when the only character to die is a woman? It happens! Why can't I write a paper about male achievement?

Why does feminism allow me to prioritize women to the point of demonizing men? I don't think that it should. I want to be a humanist. So, no, I'm not a feminist. I once was a feminist. In the future, I might be one again. But right now I'm over it.



The Empress said...

This reminds me so much of Dr. Rosenberg's class at CNU where she would ask the class to raise their hands if they were feminists. Like two people would, and then she would rattle off all these "feminist" ideals like daycare and equal pay and basically shame everyone into raising their hands by the end of her list. I guess she wanted people to know you didn't have to be a man hater to be a feminist, but it was still just like...ugh, please. We get it.

Speaking as someone who wants nothing more in life than to be a stay at home mom someday, I wholeheartedly agree that the "feminist issue" is a little bit overbearing at times.

Yes, it's important that we continue to appreciate the choices we have as a result of the hardworking women who fought so diligently that we might someday be treated as equals to men. And yes, I think it's sad that a woman who holds the same job title as a man in her same company may be paid less for no perceivable reason (let's just assume it's cause of her genitalia). It's almost criminal, actually.

Still, I don't think it's necessary to beat a dead horse. And I also think we need to remember that women and men are just different and there's nothing wrong with that, or with saying that. Yes, people push the boundaries and that's fine, but at the end of the day we are biologically, emotionally, and mentally different beings. By trying to pretend there are no differences we do everyone a grave disservice.

This is something I've encountered a lot in joining a church where women cannot hold the priesthood. Many people interpret this negatively, saying the church is sexist. It is a requirement that you be a priesthood holder in order to rise through the ranks and be a church leader. But women have the ability to be mothers and men don't, can't, and just never will. Still, many people have a very hard time equating priesthood with motherhood because they see motherhood as another way that "the man" is bringing us down. They can't see it as a blessing, that we have this innate potential to do something really cool. Potential of course being the key word - I just mean you have the ability to if you want to, or would if everything worked right, etc. And there are still tons of ways you can serve the church that don't involve doing "womanly" things like baking or cooking, or whatever. In my experience, men are called to bring food or prepare it for functions just as much as the women are.

I feel incredibly blessed to live in a time where I can be encouraged to pursue the highest level of education possible. I also feel blessed that now I have my Masters I have the choice do literally do nothing with it and be a stay at home, susie sunshine homemaker. I think it's wonderful that a lot of people fought hard to give me the opportunity to make that choice rather than be trapped into it because there were no other options for me.

Most importantly, I feel like we don't need to sit around and talk about the fact that we have choices. Talking is never enough. I feel like we should be out there making choices and using those rights. As we learn so much throughout life, if you don't use it, you lose it.

And you're so right about the way men are treated in literature. That used to make me nuts that we could never talk about that in class. Wait...a male author...abusing men? Gee, no way! Only a feminist, man-hater would ever abuse her male characters...

Come now, let's all roll our eyes together.

Evan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Empress said...

Ugh, and Evan brings another point. Men feel like they can't comment on this issue that so clearly still impacts them. Because isn't feminism in many ways still defining womanhood based on a woman's relation to a man? Isn't that just as crippling?

Let's just get over it.

A. Fiercehair said...

Empress: I remember that feminist call to action. It goes back to that whole altar call process that the Baptist tried to use against me. Mob mentality really set in at church camp when we could count on one hand the people who didn't make "decisions" - like they can call them that.

As far as feminism inside religion, when I cared about my religion and I thought I believed in what it told me, I was very upset by the things that women were and were not allowed to do. Now that I am outside the church, I can see that there are a lot of things that one must sign on for when joining any church. The position of women is just one of those things.

Evan: This definitely came up through my Duddy paper which is, incidentally, an investigation of male achievement as illustrated through the body and disability. As the previous sentence suggests, the paper is a disaster. As are my conclusions. But I'm not done yet and I'll pull something together by Wednesday.

Oh, and I'm trying to let on that I think there is nothing wrong with the praise of male achievement. Again, disaster.

Finally, I think I'm trying to move towards your battle choosing stance. I mercilessly used that phrase against my last roommate (right, Kira?) and I would very much like to apply it to ideologies as well. I spent so much time at one end of the spectrum that I think I only knew how to cope by flinging myself to the another extreme. I like to think that I'm a practical, level person and I want to be more deliberate about that.

Evan said...

First thought: I hate Blogger for deleting my long-ass comments.

Second thought: I wonder if your realization emerged from a certain paper on The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Third thought: As a man (or someone toward the male end of the gender continuum), I’m not sure what ground I have to stand upon. I do know, though, that taking a rigorous intellectual approach like feminism and applying to one’s life—both academic and not—can be extremely tiring. That exhaustion is only compounded by the fact that prejudice—sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.—is literally everywhere. If one prescribes wholeheartedly to, say, feminism, it becomes difficult to see American culture as anything but an overwhelming failure. I know I try to avoid issues of race, gender, sexuality, etc. in my academic work, as fascinating as they are. The old cliché about picking one’s battles is actually true in this case.

Fourth thought: I would like to address something brilliant commenter The Empress said about gender difference. First of all, though, I absolutely agree that it’s important to recognize the achievements of feminists and feminist theory, as well as their effect on the very real gender discrimination not only in the workplace but in the home and in American culture. Here’s to you, feminists!

That said, I have a problem with the argument for biological essentialism that leads to the sentiment that “at the end of the day we are biologically, emotionally, and mentally different beings.” Personally, I prescribe to the theory of gender performativity—put forth by Judith Butler and honed by numerous other theorists—which holds that the conception of distinct natural genders is an illusion created by repeated gender acts and reified by social institutions, like, for instance, the exclusion of females from the priesthood. In Gender Trouble, Butler argues “that gender should be overthrown … precisely because it is always a sign of subordination for women.” In this view, the essential “difference” between “man” and “woman” is socially constructed; for instance, the concept of the priesthood as a realm of mystical significance inaccessible to women, as well as the concept of motherhood as a woman’s right, only serve to reinforce the patriarchal assumption that men have access to different realms of society than women do. Butler tears into the idea of motherhood as an essential female trait (as embodied in another feminist theorist, Julia Kristeva), saying that Kristeva “fails to consider the way in which that very law [of patriarchy] may well be the cause of the very desire [to mother] it is said to repress.”

Of course, there are always problems with this kind of view. Most saliently for me, there’s the fact that this theory doesn’t really do anything or get us anywhere. It does, however, provide ground for the subversion of gendered norms: drag, androgyny, homosexuality, etc. And it opens up the possibility that maybe, just maybe, pretending that there are universal differences in gender is doing “everyone a grave disservice.”

Fifth thought: I bet you never thought, A, that such a brief post would inspire such long comments! I guess the fact that I don’t address these things in my academic work means that I had a lot of pent up gendergy (gender + energy = it’s my word now, bitches).

Sixth thought: Ahhh!!! The comments section is exploding! Oh well, I’m not going to revise anything, lest Blogger decide to smite me again.

Seventh thought: I take that back. I would like to say that I just feel the need to qualify everything I say. I do it with everything. With feminism, that’s a lot easier, since the hesitation is built right into the system.

Evan said...

Wait, you mean the battles choosing thing can apply to something other than ideologies?

A. Fiercehair said...

Evan: When I constantly told my roommate to choose her battles, I was trying to talk her down from calling the police on our skateboarding drum-line neighbors. She liked to fight every battle. I would prefer to fight very rarely. I guess we could still lump that into ideology, but when drumming sk8rs are involved, I just don't think of it that way. :)

Also, I was very much hoping for this kind of response. I've been thinking about this idea of feminism for a while now and I'm enjoying the discussion. I'm reading a very interesting book right now and I think my blog(ging) will reflect it.

And pre-comp bonus points to you for the Butler usage. I give you a high pass.

Evan said...

Now let's just hope the powers that be agree with you...

Evan said...

Oh, and what book? I'm curious now.

A. Fiercehair said...

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

We'd need a "real" feminist to tell us how this book relates to feminism or gender. This book does, however, not a metric butt ton about blogging.

coffeefiend said...

Ohh man, I wanted to comment on this but theres all these other great comments that are a great discoure on the subject.

that being said, I would totally consider myself a feminist. i keep it simple. like kate was mentioning about dr. rosenberg's shaming method- feminism to me means having women being seen on equal footing with men. In my opinion, everything else kind of takes away from the main point. Women are still getting paid less to the dollar than men so for me, that makes it still relevant and important to be a feminist. I mean, i know there's a lot of different aspects to it, but for me thats what it means. im pro porn and pro bikini's in beauty pageants (how could anyone not be?!)

Truthfully, I've never subscribed to the feminist theory/critism side of things which seems to me to be primarily about power which is just draining.

and Evan you're totally rad. i'm also a fan of judith butler's stuff.

A. Fiercehair said...

coffeefiend: I think I have a blogcrush on you. Does that scare you?