Thursday, October 12, 2006

On unrest in the feminist blogosphere

Okay, so I had a post all prepared (I start so many posts that way, don't I? I just need to start getting these things up as soon as they're written) in response to a current controversy among a few of my favorite feminist blogs, and now it really seems to have gotten beyond me and turned into something big and broad and kind of messy and unpleasant to watch. You know, like Rush Limbaugh.

It all started with this post at Feministe, where Jill quotes Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy. Twisty asserts that the trappings of femininity (marriage, fashion, makeup, the nuclear family, etc.) are merely coping mechanisms that women use to make it through the day in a society dominated by the patriarchy. The passionate discussion thereafter led to this post, wherein Jill defends her position as a "fun feminist." Thus arises what seems to be the biggest and longest-running controversy within the feminist community: Are you still a feminist if you accept some of those patriarchally-imposed trappings of femininity? Jill says you can be.

Over at Pandagon, Amanda questions whether that actually is the case, defining "femininity" as "whatever marks you as a trophy for a man" and therefore identifying it as universally negative, which shifts the argument somewhat from "is it good or bad" to "is it okay that women have yet to throw off the yoke of femininity after all of the progress that has been made". She follows it up with this post about what will happen as women find more and more equality, and whether the burden of femininity will ever really be cast off, and if men becoming more high maintenance is as positive a step as women becoming less high maintenance.

Meanwhile (isn't this starting to sound like a soap opera?), this chick is roudly condemning Jill for being so blatant about her "fun feminism," insisting that she, too, is fun, even without the bikini waxing, and saying that as role model, Jill should be ashamed for promoting the idea that a woman can be a feminist and, at the same time, feminine. Jill responds with this post denying that she is, actually, any kind of a feminist role model and wondering why she should have to forgo her makeup just to look, outwardly, like the feminist her actions prove her to be.

Are you exhausted yet? I am.

All I can think about is Sneetches. They have to have stars. No, now it's better to not have stars. The plain-bellied Sneetches are going through McBean's machine to get stars on, and as soon as the star-bellied Sneetches see that, they're going through to get their stars off, and they end up going around and around and around until nobody knows who had stars to begin with, and McBean takes off, and what have they accomplished? Nothing.

Because what's the advantage to having stars or not having stars? Nothing.

Sweet leaping Jesus. Is this really what we need to spend our time worrying about? Seriously? Is the state of Jill's pubic hair worth this many angry words? On the grand cosmic list of patriarchal oppression thrust upon women throughout the ages, are makeup and high heels enough to risk some kind of schism within the movement? Will we soon have to start identifying ourselves as "Schick Feminists" and "Fuzzy Feminists"?

A few things that are yet to be resolved:
- The gender wage gap, which still exists
- Reproductive freedom, which women have yet to secure
- Honor killings in Turkey
- The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
- Violence against women in Darfur
- Effective, accurate sex education
- Or maybe we could just sit a spell and talk about the recent assassination of writer Anna Politkovskaya.

But no. You're right. It doesn't matter whether or not women live in poverty and can't afford shoes, as long as when they manage to steal a pair, they're not high heels.

Allow me to give some advice to my feminist sistren: Go put on some makeup. Or don't put on makeup. Shave your legs, or alternately, don't shave your legs. Put on a dress, or some pants, or some men's jeans, or a kilt, or a tablecloth with a hole cut out of the top for your head. Wear heels, or flats, or go barefoot. Straighten your hair, or wear it curly, or curl your straight hair, or braid it, or loc it. Blow dry. Don't blow dry. Tattoo or don't tattoo. Get something pierced. Remain unpierced.

But for the love of God, don't go around thinking that the outfit you have on your back makes you a feminist.

Feminism is about your thoughts and feelings and actions. Campaigning for a Congressional candidate who is knowledgeable about and active with women's issues? Awesome; that's feminism. Donating money to feminist organizations? That's feminism, too. Speak to young women about your work in a male-dominated career. Show your daughters - and sons, too - that it's not okay for Daddy to talk down to you or smack you around. Babysit for a single mother so she can go to night classes. Teach your sons (or other people's sons) that women are equals and should be treated as such. Coach girls' soccer. Encourage your math-oriented daughter. Teach Sex Ed. Be a Big Sister. Take your daughter to work. Take someone else's daughter to work. Teach a guy to cook. Fuzzy Feminist? Teah girls that that's okay. Schick Feminist? Use those benefits you gain by conforming to the patriarchal standard and do something good for everyone.

The women in my life have been an incredible influence. My mom wears makeup and skirts. One aunt doesn't do the makeup, but loves a dress. One aunt doesn't do the makeup or the dress. My grandmother does not only the skirt, but the lacy blouse, too. But all of them have taught me about feminism, because all of them are strong, smart, capable women. My mom has worked, but now stays at home to raise my father (which, bless his heart, is a full-time job). Looking at her in a dress and cute little heels, you'd never know how well she can sling a sledgehammer to put up a barbed-wire fence. My grandmother is accepted as an expert in the field of military medical history. My one aunt is a hydro-freaking-geologist, and my other aunt is more tech savvy than most of the men I know (and gets paid for it). I feel really blessed to be able to look to these as my example of how to be a woman.

But it's not because of what they wear.

I realize that for those women who choose to eschew traditionally "feminine" things, who don't shave and don't wear heels and don't primp, life would be easier if the rest of the women in the world did the same. I don't want to seem unsympathetic, but honestly, that's your choice. I congratulate on doing what feels right to you, and I condemn anyone who would treat you differently because of it. But now I'm doing what feels right to me. I'm not asking that anyone else do it. I'm not even asking that anyone else be happy about it.

What I am asking, though, is that people quit freaking bitching about it when there are so many other important things to do.

I promise, when the world is free of oppression and women everywhere have access to education and healthcare and jobs and compensation the same way that men do, then you can start lecturing me about my makeup. I might even listen.

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