Thursday, October 08, 2009

Am I a Bad Feminist?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm a bad feminist.

Don't get me wrong: if you claim that women's value can be reduced to fertility and/or boobs, then I'll be all over your ass like a bad tattoo. Moreover, if you tell me that my anger will subside along with my PMS and/or the procurement of a pretty hat, you are dead to me.

If you use the word "feminazi" in my presence, you will writhe in pain and wonder where your fingernails went. If you dismiss feminism as 'man-hating' you will only earn my pity. Personally, I love men.

Most feature articles about women drive me nuts. Most often, they're about well-off women who gave up high-flying careers to raise babies, and then this small and posh minority are presented as an amazingly relevant social trend. What about the women who can't stay home, or the men who'd like to?

I cringe every time I read about unmarried women in their 30s, who can't seem to settle down and squirt out babies. Of course, that hits a little close to home. But the real pain is the drumbeat of "urban career girl won't live up to her responsibilities," while men are let completely off the hook. Where's the accompanying article about the men who won't settle down? Why is it just women who get the mass media guilt trip?

I find it extremely annoying when women describe themselves only in context to other people. "I'm a wife and mother and daughter and sister." When was the last time you got an answer like that from a man? A man would probably answer, "I'm a sales representative and I like tacos."

Sex and the City? Don't even get me started. Boycrazy bubbleheaded materialistic nonsense presented as neo-feminism.

But I can't sing along to every battle cry. For example, I don't feel the need to be any sort of trailblazer with my career. I'm a secretary, and I was raised by a stay-at-home mom. Throw in a teacher and a nurse, and we'd probably assemble into Traditional Feminine Careers Voltron.

I don't want to be a CEO or a scientist, but admire women who are willing to put in the work that it takes to be a leader.

I don't care that brides being given away at weddings is a patriarchal tradition that reduces women to chattel, because it makes the dads really happy.

I don't want to know how to change the oil in a car, repair a stove, or operate power tools.

I believe in a woman's right to choose, but would never consider abortion an option for me.

I think most women fall somewhere in the mushy middle. All we want are choices for ourselves, a fair shake, and the opportunity to speak our minds. Isn't that what feminism is about?

Are you a feminist? How do you define feminism?


J said...

We don't get it to the same extent, but men do get a little of the "unmarried slander" sometimes. I've heard many a girl seriously say if a guy is over thirty and not married, it's because there is something (severely) wrong with him.

I don't think you are a bad feminist. I think the bad feminists are the one who give feminism a bad name. The ones who are insanely... well, one (professional) feminist I went out with disliked me for not supporting Hillary Clinton. That was a dealbreaker for her. But she also couldn't debate rationally with me that there could be reasons beyond sexism as to why women might earn less in the workplace, or what the proposed solutions might entail. She was stuck in her orthodoxy.

Some have no sense of humor about it, either. I've known plenty of feminists who could laugh at a funny joke about women. Some of them can't, though...

It's kind of like vegetarians. Most of them are fine, but PETA is crazy.

I think I've sounded a bit anti-feminist/feminism lately, but I still stand by my claim to be pretty good at that sort of thing. I do believe in equal rights and treatment for women, and will speak up when I see sexism. Plus, professional feminists are pretty hot.

Anonymous said...

I define feminism as not being apologetic for one's choices as a woman and as understanding that women have choices and have the right to make them.

Brando said...

What J said. Feminism is supposed to be about one thing--female empowerment. That means having the right to any choices, stay at home or otherwise, to have any political leanings, religious or not, "girly" or "tomboyish"--so long as the individual has a right to carve her path. Can a feminist be pro-life, or even--gasp!--Republican? Sure. Can a feminist be against a woman's right to vote, work in any profession for which she's qualified? Er, not so much, I'd think--though I'd be interested in hearing such arguments from a "feminist" point of view. A woman can choose to wear a burqua, if that's her thing--but a feminist wouldn't like her being forced to by her husband or government.

What often irks me is the "if you don't agree with me on x, y, and z then you're antifeminist" attitude that is displayed by some "professional feminists" I know. Didn't think Hillary was a great candidate? Woman-hater! Thought that lady who went nuts and drowned her kids should be in jail? Insensitive misogynist! If the word "feminist" has been given a bad name, it's due to extremists who have turned the word from "favoring gender equality and freedoms" to "agreeing with a narrow party line on a host of issues--and of course forgiving Bill Clinton's transgressions because he's a Democrat". Such people shouldn't have control of the term.

Dagny Taggart said...

I think feminism is a relative concept - for some women, feminist thought begins and ends with their desire to work outside the house. For others, it means wanting to get paid equally for that work. And for still others, it means getting to berate men who have the temerity to open doors for them.

I don't think of anyone as a bad feminist. I think of some as *different* feminists.

And then, I ask the nearest available man to squish a bug for me.

Shannon said...

J - I was happy when Hillary Clinton ran, though I didn't support her candidacy. What I found weird was how the media and people in general were so comfortable referring to her by her first name - you never heard Obama referred to as Barack.

Fiery - I like that definition!

Brando - Good points, all. One thing I don't like about certain feminist views is the way they let women off the hook - yeah, we've got generations of sexism to dig out from, but that doesn't mean we can throw our hands up and surrender all personal responsibility.

Dagny - I figure as long as I'm making 77 cents to a man's dollar, he can squish my bugs and open my doors.

Lemmonex said...

Of course I am a feminist. A porn loving, leg shaving, beer swilling, baby adoring feminist. I think women are equal to yes, I am a feminist.

meghansdiscontent said...

I think we've all been led to believe an incorrect definition of feminism. Lemmonex has the right idea: "I think women are equal to men . . . so yes, I am a feminist."

Me, too!!

Rachel said...

I'm with Fiery Nuggets. I want nothing more in my life then to quit working for a while to have babies. But the fact that I get that choice and have the ability to make it is about being a feminist.

Anonymous said...

Definitely. I think it's about empowering women to make their own choices - and along with that, to be paid equally for equal work, and to be respected as individuals with rational opinions. I'm as independent as they come - I pay my own bills, and I can hold my own in a conversation. It doesn't mean that you don't appreciate when a PERSON (male or female) holds a door open for you, or that you hate men. For most of us, I would say far from it.

It makes me sad how many brilliant, hard-working women are afraid of taking on the label.

Shannon said...

Lem - The first time, I read that as, "baby swilling," which confused me quite a lot.

Meghan - I hear you!

Rachel - In the end, it's choices, isn't it?

vie - The equal pay for equal work issue is interesting. As it turns out, women are often paid less because they don't negotiate salaries, and they don't ask for raises. Sure, there's a cultural reason - women are raised to be 'good girls' and go with the flow - but no one is going to pay us what we deserve until we ask for it.

FoggyDew said...

Shouldn't you girls be in the kitchen making turkey pot pies for dinner or changing diapers or something else useful instead of here on the Interwebs expressing opinions? You know you'll never catch a man that way, right?

Next thing you know you're gonna wanna choose who you marry.

Oh, wait a minute, was that out loud?

All I ask is that is that I not be critized for picking up a check or holding a door or any of the many other things my housewife and mom mother taught me are polite. The same things my older sisters later reinforced in me and my brothers...with their fists. Oh yeah, a sense of humor is important too.

Kelsey said...

I'll be making my own response post, but for now:

Great post! I really agree with you here, especially wherein women who don't settle down and have kids are seen as irresponsible and a social problem, whereas terminal bachelors are borderline celebrated. As a woman who has no intent of having children, and is unlikely to be a career woman in the traditional sense, I don't really fit into anybody's box, and it annoys the hell out of me that most folks seem unable to think outside of *any* box.

bh said...

I think Fiery Nuggets and Lem summed it up nicely, so I have little to add on that point.

Personally, I "want" to be a woman's "Man". I like to open doors and pick up checks when my finances will allow and be a bit traditional in that sense. So Foggy summed that up that up well.

As a divorcee, I get irritated by the supposition that men must be the ultimate reason for the end of the marriage. Given divorce's history with Henry VIII, it's easy to understand the link between bad husbands and divorce. But sometimes marriages end because of wives behaving badly. Or it was just mutual.

City Girl DC said...

I love this post! I think about these issues all the time and it amazes me how behind the media is when it comes to how real women live in this country. You've inspired me to post my own thoughts on the subject.

Kamal S. said...

"But the real pain is the drumbeat of "urban career girl won't live up to her responsibilities," while men are let completely off the hook. Where's the accompanying article about the men who won't settle down? Why is it just women who get the mass media guilt trip?"

Good god, could we be any more myopic. Things hitting close to home, producing pain, tend to be true. The pain tells us something we need to hear.
Men are not all let off the hook, and also get media guilt trips. Though typical of the media things oscillate between male shaming and female shaming. Some men are let off the hook, as some women are: the majority of men in our culture are depicted as immature, boorish, irresponsible buffoons.

Is it hard to understand the majority esteem child bearing and judge one ill who chooses childlessness?

Not long ago perpetual bachelors were condemned by society. In some quarters they still are. Society is larger than our experiences and who we are exposed to.

Your lack of empathy and self-absorption may cause you to miss the ways in which the media and society demean certain men.
Narcissism is not a virtue.

I make no male pity party - frankly, both women and men have devolved. But if many women won't settle down because they can't find worthy men, has it dawned on you that many men also refuse to settle down with women who aren't worth their time or sacrifice?

It cuts both ways.
Few women would I consider settling down with. Many are vacuous, self absorbed, superficial, and self-important. Those who aren't, are often quite older by the time they become worth considering real commitment with.

So too there exists many men who are vacuous self absorbed idiots. Perpetual boys, on videogames. Thus many women are loathe to commit to them.
It works both ways.

Our culture encourages in women and men misunderstanding preventing us from understanding each other. There are profound scientific innate differences between us transcending cultural conditioning. Many men DO NOT understand women or what they have to go through. Many women DO NOT understand men, or what they have to go through. Period.

We must get beyond our self perceived special snowflake uniqueness.
I have an email from an attractive and highly intelligent boy who bemoans the fact that he wants more than anything a serious commitment, but none of the women around him even want this. HE IS WILLING, THEY ARE NOT. And most of them are incredibly shallow anyway. I know him, he does have a problem with idealism and intellectualism. But he has a LOT to offer. Many women around him choose guys who really are utter dicks, in spite of claiming they would love a man like him.

He doesn’t understand femininity, and many women complaining about not being able to find good men do not understand masculinity. Men tend to look at women to react as if they were men, women tend to look at men to react as if they were women.

On both sides superficial wanton reveling in ignorance leading to real unhappiness.

I could say that both tend to deserve each other.

Kamal S. said...

As for me, I do find women who I find intelligent, interesting, and worth hanging around. They tend to become my friends or partners. Increasingly I run into them. Perhaps because I take the time to try to understand myself and what I truly want, and to try to see and understand women as they are, not as I would like them to be.

Have you honestly taken the time to try to truly understand what you want, and taken the time to try to see and understand men as we are, not as you would like us to be?

I contend that very few have the honesty, or intelligence, to really look at themselves. For years I would not and played games of self deceit, all through my 20s. When I entered my 30s I found I could not afford the cost to my happiness to continue games of pity and self deception.

I HAD TO realize my faults and immaturity, to realize what was causing my partners unhappiness. Just as I focused on what THEY were doing that made ME unhappy, I had to come to realize that I really wasn't the man I ought to be..

So how could I fault women around me for not being the women they ought to be?

You should do the same, not in a superficial cultivating your butterfly wonderfulness, no the real nitty gritty task of self development, examining your very real faults, very real imperfections, and not lying to yourself like most women in our culture typically do.

Like so many men in our culture typically do.

I've labored my adult life to cultivate myself because I know I am a flawed product. I have made horrible mistakes in my relationships with some very fine women. And have been with some women who have made horrible mistakes in their relating to me.

My expecting women in general to conform to my youthful ideals was folly. This was me projecting my bullshit onto the reality of women. But I do expect them to be good humans. So too the good women I meet, the intelligent, creative, ones with inner strength expect men they meet to be good human beings – but typically don’t expect men to be other than men.

None of us are precious little butterflies. We are complex and competing impulses, feelings, and thoughts, often blindly expressed, yearning for some things, recoiling from other things.

I contend that moth males and females in our generation have been raised with a degree of self absorbed myopia , much of it I blame on media conditioning, that results in tragic incompatibilities in their dating lives.

The more you cultivate self-honesty and an openness to seeing people as they really are, and not projecting your agenda on them, and looking at your own faults, and your own deficits, the more you become someone who can realize her true strengths as opposed from socially conditioned bullshit, and the more you continue to evolve as someone who is a worthy person.

The majority of women and men alike are adverse to any sort of real self development and remain irresponsible, immature.

And you Kelsey, if you truly didn’t fit in anyone’s box then would you actually care about what society thinks of your choices? Everyone wants to make their own mold but then want others to approve of it. Where is the courage in blazing your own trail if you are deep down inside anxious over the fact that others reject your choices. Of course they will.

Your annoyance at people’s inability to think outside the box is hollow. The vast majority of people always have, and always will, followed a certain social consensus script. With a few deviances. One who chooses to radically deviate from that script is disingenuous and a bit foolish if they expect others to understand their choices. Some people fit in the box, other people fit outside the box, and to varying degrees. A society full of “rebels” is a society full of conformists all the same.

Kelsey said...

And you Kelsey, if you truly didn’t fit in anyone’s box then would you actually care about what society thinks of your choices? Everyone wants to make their own mold but then want others to approve of it. Where is the courage in blazing your own trail if you are deep down inside anxious over the fact that others reject your choices. Of course they will.

What I was trying to say is that the predominant perceptions of women are that they are either mothers, or if they aren't mothers, they're career-driven, and often bitches. It seems that people have a very difficult time understanding women who do not fit into either of those two categories.

I'm not trying to "blaze my own trail", I'm simply trying to live my life the way I enjoy it, and while I don't ask that others accept or understand my choices, I do ask that they at least have some modicum of politeness and not be rude to my face about them.

To be clear: I don't do things the way I do in order to "rebel" or "be different". I do them because I was raised by parents who genuinely encouraged me to live my life the way I enjoy, and damn everyone who tries to stop me. Now, this approach does have some disadvantages - I was almost expelled from college for being "difficult", I have had difficulty finding work because I have been stubborn in only pursuing work that fulfills me, etc. However, I am extremely happy in my life, and I wouldn't change it if given the choice. All I have to do is look around at the misery my friends all seem to be living in and I know that I have done the right thing.

Shannon said...

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments.

I'd debated whether to respond to Kamal. I'd like to address a few etiquette issues, that, thankfully, my regular posters are quite familiar with. If a comment is longer than the original post, please write a response on your own blog and feel free to link.

Also, and this is in the FAQ, you are NOT permitted to attack other commenters. Posters may disagree, respectfully, but any further attack posts will be deleted. Attacks include deriding another poster as 'hollow,' diving into personal insults, and using heated language. This is my house, you are my guests - know how to act. If you wouldn't say it at my dinner table, don't say it at my blog.

Clearly, I've struck a nerve. And that's interesting. Kamal is calling me myopic and self-absorbed, then he's made up his mind about me, even though he's never met me, AND he's assuming that everyone should be just like him. Sigh. Good god, could he be any more myopic? And, no, I do not feel a need to justify myself to such a person.

But under all that self-righteous venom there are some interesting points. So, gang:
1. Do men get a mass media guilt trip? If so, what about?
2. Are men portrayed as buffoons in the mass media? I do agree with that point - one thing that makes me cringe about advertising is how dependent it is on notions like men being utterly unable to do laundry.
3. Did Kamal swallow a thesaurus for breakfast? (I kid.)

Brando said...

The need for good etiquette can't be stressed enough. It detracts from intelligent discussion when a comment is laced with vitriol. As for the questions:

1) Men do have their guilt trips, and perhaps that's worthy of discussion on another day. But this post was about feminism and the pressures women put on one another. It'd be like talking about the problems black people face in America and someeone saying "well, you should see what we're doing to the environment."
2) Men are portrayed as buffoons. Unfair, true, but they should also be concerned with not acting like buffoons in real life.
3) Kamal definitely swallowed something that didn't agree with him!

Brett said...

Wow, Kamal. Get a grip. Or your own blog.