Thursday, August 30, 2012

The First of Many Posts About *cough* Feminism!

Feminism is a dirty word.

Well, it's not, but I really only came to experience the true ugliness of it's misconception more recently.  I was doin my thing on fb, perusing the news feed, and I came upon a video about feminism and the "disposable male," posted by a dude friend.  It peaked my interest, so I decided to see what it was all about.  I hit play, and on the screen  am greeted with the most scornful, sour looking woman.  She began talking, and in between scoffs, she expressed her contempt for feminists and their horrible male-hating selfish ways and all about how men don't have choices in their behaviour, so why should women demand them?  Reluctantly, and actually quite angrily, I made myself sit through the whole thing and try to understand what she was saying.  The negative energy was so great, and the scoffing so copious, that it was a very, very difficult 16 minutes.  Especially a 16 minutes speckled with bitterness from someone who a) is a woman, b) is bitter about the very movement that has fought to give her rights, c) seems to think she really does know all there is to know, d) gives of the air of an unwillingness to listen to another viewpoint besides her own.  Naturally taken back by her woman-hating bitterness, I responded.  And oh, did I respond.  And ohhhhhh did I get a response in return.  It seems that while I have been preoccupied with exploring the nature of my gender and the psychological  make-up of our patterns of behaviour, there has also been another camp.... who really think that feminism is a dirty word, and that feminists are horrible people.

So let's back up.  I had mentioned in a previous post that I have been wondering about being a girl since I have been very young. I had a close friend in 4th grade, and she was what my mom would call a wild child. She began smoking in 5th grade, and was sexually active by the 8th grade.  In high school, my closest friends developed eating disorders.  Others dated burn-outs, or guys who were clearly not good for them, or were just wildly unstable and highly emotional, even as friends. Others used their sexuality like dog treats to reward boys for good behavior.  Basically, when I was growing up, I noticed that all the girls I knew were about 68 kinds of crazy, and those were only the ones I knew.  The dudes I made friends with (many of whom remain some of my best friends, I love you guys. :) meanwhile developed into stable young adults, and rarely seemed to become even half as lost as my girlfriends.  I realize that teens in both genders span the spectrum of totally lost and out of control to stable and put-together... but there were an awful lot of girls with some pretty insane issues.... everywhere. So I began reading all about women and girls, and haven't stopped.  I'm not even sure I've really made a dent.

But the bottom line is: we are about a million kinds of effed up.

So my question, of course, is why.  And there is no good answer.  I could say it's the media's portrayal of women for my friends with eating disorders, and I could also say it's daddy issues for the girls who used sexuality to get attention, and I could say that gender roles kept some girls from coming back to the wrong guys and putting up with their crap, but what I think all of these girls hae in common is the issue of self-esteem.  The me who existed before this past year is rolling her eyes right now.
"That's so selfish.  All they want is attention, and it's ridiculous.  They just want a dude to tell them how wonderful and beautiful they are and grow up!  It's out there, ladies!  All the good dudes, all the happy feelings of self fulfillment!  Figure it out!" is probably what I would have said...
But!  Current me has realized that these girls really are suffering.   They're suffering from whatever deep, dark thing is eating at them and pulling them in to make them believe that they're not worth it.  I'm not saying that they are completely helpless, because I am not a fan of "life victims" who choose not to help themselves, but I am saying that the pain they're feeling is real.  It's not all an act.  Then I began thinking about all of the lives of my friends, what their childhoods were like.  A good deal were sexually assaulted, some were victims of divorce, estranged fathers, unstable family lives. And all this we know, it's not news.  And that's what we're left with.  And I don't know that anyone really knows where to go from there.

Since we got engaged, feminism in wife form has been at the front of my mind... all the time. As soon as planning started, little references to my new "role," have been tossed around.  One example was a reference about how I have to "take care of" future hubs as his new wifey.  This is all fine and good, but he also takes care of me, which in this scenario, seemed to be particularly underplayed.  Please don't roll your eyes at this point and say "uh, I think you're taking it a bit too far..."  because I know it was there.  Do you ever walk into a room and you know people are talking about you?  It's like that feeling.  You can't explain the exact body language and tone of voice or the silence, but you know it's there. I just feel like I've entered this world where two people dating is modern enough and works, but the word wife still carries gender stereotypes hidden in it's cupboards. Part of my research has been through APW, which I brought up in my first post and has been totally awesome.  There is a whole section called reclaiming wife, which addresses this very issue, and they are amazing.

All that being said, feminism never ceases to perplex me.  I think I have been really wrapped up in finding a common ground with EVERY woman, which is probably never going to happen.  I think secretly I've been pining for a universal group therapy session in which we ALL (women) sit down and say to ourselves, "Okay, so let's figure this thing out.  How are we going to represent ourselves in a way that makes sense?  We have been at this whole equality thing for a little while now, and I think it's high time we decide who does what so that no one is unintentionally being degraded or not demanding their rights while remaining respectful and loving to the other half... No nonsense."  And then we would all sort it out and really understand each other.  Once I discovered this secret wish to understand everyone in my gender, I did understand that this would never happen.  Not every man understands every other man, so why should that be any different for women?  Such is life.  I suppose the only thing really left to do is to continue having this conversation about what is expected, what is realistic, and what needs to change. And also, to keep reading.


  1. I’d feel weird using the phrase “sour looking woman” in the opening of a post about feminism, which is not a passive-aggressive criticism as much as it’s, I hope, me noting the sort of nuance that embitters the not-particularly-motivated about this sort of discussion. I don’t know how much resentment towards feminist discussions (if not feminism) is the result of anxiety about wanting to be (or appear to be) cool with feminism without spending a lot of time thinking about it.

    Yesterday, while I mocked the RNC on Facebook, I paused to examine what I considered to be the ethical bounds of my criticism. I decided not to tease amateurs and crowd-members for being nervous while speaking, not to make cynical denunciations of anyone’s earnest appeals to creating a better America whose voting record didn’t directly contradict their statements, and (more pertinently) not to criticize the way the women speakers looked (except for one comment about a turquoise jacket that was awful). Contrasting that, were the dozen jokes I made about Mike Huckabee being a great big fat person (which were funnier in context). Some part of me feels it’s patronizing to have different rules for mocking men and women, but another recognizes that a common trope in denouncing women in public roles is to disparage their attractiveness, and unwittingly appealing to that while invoking gender-blindness is not something I feel comfortable doing.

    I think there are people who are unwilling to accept this sort of nuance (not that it’s a particularly complex example) and, as such, will advocate for their chosen interpretation, and given that the internet is a huge place, it’s likely that this externalized conflict will seem less reasonable in comment sections, allowing for the no “right” answer, which is the sort of thing that infuriates some people (especially internet people).

    As for the video, I couldn’t sit through it, but what I gleaned from the excited murmurings I’ve overheard, it seems to focus on countering the idea of the male as having complete agency in all things, which resonates with dudes who only experience feminism in buzzwords and cliches (“guys are studs; women are sluts” which we imagine is true of mythical frat-guys and high-school football players, but doesn’t reflect the way we’ve approached relationships or even discussions about relationships, which are less likely to occur in a locker-room than a Starbucks).

    I could be adding nuance which is not intended by the author (again, I lost interest halfway through), but I can’t imagine people who are excited about this “disposable male” legitimately believe all men are enslaved by the system and denied even the illusion of agency. It’s weird that they cite “women and children first” and “the draft” as evidence, in that our society is surprisingly lacking in either a draft and sinking boats (which isn’t to say there’s not some legitimacy to ideas of masculinity being tied to a willingness to face danger, though how that’s the fault of feminists, I’m not sure).


    As to why you women are a million kinds of fucked up, I want to note that it’s not unlikely that your dude friends are similarly fucked up, as well as less aware of/open about their being a million sorts of fucked. Statistics are unclear because self-harming behavior tends to manifest differently, so that males are more likely to be injured by placing themselves in dangerous situations (playing contact sports and punching shit), and, even among those who self-harm in more traditional ways, males are less likely to seek counseling or self-identify due to the stigma of having a disorder perceived as feminine (the same is true of eating disorders).

    That said, you being in a place where you’re more able to empathize and capable of insight while acknowledging the seeming impossibility of fixing anything sounds like progress. There are a lot of people who just settle for “they just want attention.”

  2. Also, though it didn’t seem to fit anywhere else, “sexuality as reward for good behavior” is a tough issue for me to get a handle on. I get that it’s weird to say “you were nice to me about my new haircut, so here’s a hand-job”, but for some reason, it’s not absurd to say “you are polite, respectful, and kind to me, so I’m going to invest emotions into our relationship” (which would, actually, be a weird thing to say, but still). Worse yet is the cynicism of disenfranchising men’s romantic capability by asserting that receiving sex is the sole motivation for their behavior.


    On the patronizing connotations of the word “wife” (which is by no means something you’ve overblown), I blame religious people. If “marriage” is the sole providence of religion (and can’t be stolen by those meddling gays), then “husband” and “wife” are going to remain their words, stuck with misogynistic sentiment and reminiscent of a time when they referred more to property-rights than relationships.

    Them and the middle-class, with all its sensibilities and microwave dinners.

  3. I'm a little confused by the first paragraph. Do you think my use of the phrase "sour-looking woman" is a reflection of me not wanting to understand what she's saying to begin with? Or are you saying that the phrase will turn people off upon reading my post? Either way, I am endlessly preplexed by the elusive and metamorphic properties of feminism, and the way feminism suddenly becomes misogyny, which suddenly becomes feminism, which then again becomes misogyny...which is also rampant in the you tube video. She would most likely not be on youtube if there were no feminists, and she condemns them. It astounds me...where did she think the right to express her opinions in a public forum, as a woman, originated?

    To address your comment about politics, I don't think there need to be different rules, I just think the rules should be more equally weighted. If everyone was as concerned about Hilary's voting record as her wardrobe, that would be fine. But the fact of the matter is, they're not. I've never been a huge fan of Hilary, but in the last couple years, it has become apparent that she does not have two s**ts to give. As someone who has at times wished, hoped, and dreamed, in certain instances, for the ability to not care what anyone thinks, and then to finally have that granted: I can tell you there are few better feelings in the world. And it is clear that she has been granted this, and I honestly believe that in her being granted (or granting herself) this permission, or this freedom, that the resulting behaviour is an incredibly ( and probably unexpetedly) powerful avenue to real, legitimate, no bulls**t feminism. The article I've attached below about her is my favorite. And texts from Hilary? I'm sure that is doing awesome things for her image. Instead of saying, "Hey, I am a real politician, I can be apart of the ole boys club, and I can run with the best of them! I swear! And my wardrobe, hairstyle, and everything about me can prove it! I can live up to this standard!" which is the desperate position women in male dominated feilds can often fall into, she is now saying, "I've been around the block. I don't have to play these bull s*** games anymore. Throw my hair back? No problem. Shake my booty in South Africa? Frick yeah." It is so intnsely liberating to watch a woman behave like that and know that she is enlightened with the truth.

    Also, that's a really good point about the million kinds of effed up... and I think my own biased views towards women tending to have more issues results from the outward stability of all my males friends, whether they really were/are stable or not. This also ties in with the video and my opinions about feminism, which is that feminism isn't a movement to promote the idea that women are better than men (which I can see the misunderstanding in that the word feminism is, in iitself, descriptive of only women... but dudes have mankind and kingdom and all that, so just give us this one!), but it is to promote equality and humanism. Say all of the friends I had growing up that were male really did have some stuff going down, the fact that they are male shouldn't keep them from feeling like they can ask for help, or even express outwardly that something is wrong.

    And on wife - I think you're right. When I imagine the use of the term wife, I do think of property rights on some level. I think the foundation of my relationship right now, although not perfect, is a really decent example of equality in a relationship. My hope is that over time, I'll be able to consider myself, in the partnership of marriage, a wife without all the baggage of the word. We'll see. I've got some time. :)



  5. I liked that article.

    I'm wondering about the quote that references Clinton being too overweight to be electable, which seems wholly about her attractiveness, compared to the way Mike Huckabee was praised by the media in 2008 for having lost so much weight, which was always presented as a testament to his character and will-power. It seems like while appearance is important for both male and female candidates, with men it's framed as being about aptitude, whereas women are just expected to be attractive for the sake of being attractive.

    As to my first paragraph, it was just the thought that came to me when I read the phrase. "If I were writing this, I'd probably get tripped up wondering if I should use that phrase. I'd want to use it, because it's descriptive, but do I know enough about my own interpretation of feminism to justify criticizing a woman's appearance when it's not directly related to the argument I'm making?"

    Is it weird that I've only, just this moment, realized "kingdom" is a gendered term?

  6. Yes! I actually just learned that it is a gendered term. The alternative is kindom, which is too hippy-freaky for me... so I haven't really made up my mind about what to do about that.

    That makes sense, about the use of my description. In my mind, I didn't really question it though, because although I didn;t make it clear, I was describing her demeanor more than I was describing her permanent facial characteristics. I think she could have been not sour-looking, had she chosen to do so, and given the same speech.

    And I'm glad you liked the article. :)