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Friday, July 25, 2008

Will The Real Feminist Please Stand Up?


Well, it seems as though the feminist blogosphere is doing its semi-monthly implosion over who, exactly, is THE REAL FEMINIST, and who is the eevul shill for our Patriarchal Overloards, who are trying to convince us its cool to remove our floating ribs and wear whalebone corsets again.
Let me throw out a few things before I really get into this:
1. I know that not everyone who calls themselves (I'm going to use the incorrect gender-neutral plurals 'they' and'them', because I find the personal pronoun juggling cumbersome) a feminist is.
2. I know the MSM, among others, tries to sell women on "empowerful" popfem crap that is really just the same old patriarchal tripe.
3. Patriarchy is everywhere. It is the water we fish swim in.
Let me also talk about what I am referring to. Specifically, I am referring to this post on Feministe, the diatribe by FA linked to in the Feministe piece, this response at Renegade Evolution's place , and this piece from I Blame The Patriarchy.
Got all that? I hope so. Blogger HATES real html, so that was a real labor of love up there.
Now. The upshot of all of that is that- surprise! Some people think that "pretty" feminists aren't real feminists. "Feminist Anonymist", who I don't know, had some interesting things to say to women who fit within societal beauty norms-
If an ugly woman posts her picture on her blog, she is being transgressive.
But a pretty conventional woman doing that is performing the exact opposite
action. If you're going to show off your looks to gain approval from men don't
call yourself a feminist.
So, being ugly is transgressive? I'll have to remember that for future reference. FA seems to think the "sexxxyfunfeminists" have "let us down", the presumptive "us" in this case being "feminists"...because they weren't born transgressive enough?
Wowwie wow wow wow. I don't even know where to begin here. What a crazy can of worms. First of all, "ugly" by who's standards? FA's? Mine? Hugh Hefner's? Am I supposed to vet my pics from now on with the arbiter of ugly so as not to "let down" The Movement? Talk about New and Improved Oppression, Now With More Self-Loathing!
Twisty takes on this subject with a little more nuance, and links it to the "rape culture". Women who make themselves pretty buy into the rape culture. As do sex workers, which I will deal with in a moment. Now, Twisty's take on things has always been consistent, and a lot more coherent than the stuff I read at FA's. I like a lot what Twisty says. I buy the whole rape culture idea- we do treat women as consumables, and that's a huge problem. But here is where Twisty and I part ways- I still blame the patriarchy. Twisty apparently puts part of the blame on the "funfeminists" who "buy in" by making themselves conventionally attractive.
Please refer back to #3 above. Patriarchy is the water we swim in. We are fish in that ocean. EVERY single blessed thing we ever do is shaped by the patriarchy. Even if I rebel against it, I use techniques of resistance it taught me, and I legitimize its opression of me, because now I AM dangerous and antisocial. No one can get away from it. Why, oh why would anyone want to condemn any woman who is self-aware enough to know she is being used by the patriarchy and who is fighting back any way she can? And who among us is so stainless that we can judge anyone for capitulating? True "collaborators" are those who join in the shaming, blaming, and narrowing of women's horizons by telling them what they can and can't do.
Also, we've got to get away from the gender stereotyping crap ourselves. Just because society has named makeup or the color pink or shoes "feminine" doesn't mean they in fact are. Just because society has defined "feminine" as weak doesn't mean it is. The truth is much, much scarier for the patriarchs- "feminine" DOESN'T EVEN EXIST! I can think of many occasions where wearing makeup or donning heels could be a transgressive statement, especially when certain brands of patriarchy are tied up in modesty fetishization, and call those things immodest. No one size fits all, and no one knows better than the individual women in the individual circumstances they face what being "transgressive" truly is. And why this big push for transgression? Can't I wear standard clothes and still make a statement about my political and philosophical beliefs in other ways? Were the suffragists who marched in their corsets and long skirts not transgressive enough to count as feminists?
This all leads me to the sex work conundrum, because this is where the lines seem to be drawn the deepest. Over at Twisty's she lamented the fact that:

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, while privileged Western dudes continue to
reward funfeminists who “choose” to ironically embrace the
hilarious trappings
of rape culture, the ripples they make in the global
misogyny continuum aren’t
so funny: “I am a widow
and I have to feed my five children. I am illiterate and no one will give me
a
job. I hate to be a prostitute but if I stop doing this job my children
will
starve to death.”

Really, Twisty? A woman who wears heels or who works as a stripper is making the woman in Afghanistan suffer as a prostitute? Sorry- here I thought that was the patriarchy again. The sad fact is that a lot of women are pushed into prostitution out of desperation- here in the US, and abroad. It's sad. It's deplorable. But really, it isn't the fault of women who embrace sex work. It's the fault of societies that accord no respect to women, which have no safety nets to help impoverished families, and which often pass laws that make sex work a dangerous, unregulated sector of society that largely passes under the radar. This, along with the fundamental disregard society shows for "fallen women", makes their lot precarious.
Just because sex work has been labeled as "dirty" and "bad" by the patriarchy doesn't make it so. Women can and do choose to do this kind of work (as much as anyone can choose anything in an oppressive system). The answer isn't to limit women's choices. The answer is to legitimate all choices, and give more women the chance to choose.
As I see it, all of this hoo ha boils down to one real issue- short term v. long term goals. Short term goals tend to revolve around making things better for the people right here, right now. Changing laws usually falls into this category. Most of the big landmarks in the feminist movement- suffrage, access to education, liberalized divorce laws, liberalized employment laws, etc. fall under this category. These tend to be easier changes to make, because they are more concrete.
Then, there are the long-term goals. These are the "revolutionary" ideas of actually changing the philosophy that underpins patriarchy. This is the hearts and mind stuff. I'm not saying changing laws is easy, but it's a walk in the park compared to this. Change in these areas moves at a glacial pace- lifetimes go by with only the smallest shifts being made here.
Both are important. Both need to get done. People who focus on the long term, I am convinced, are the ones who see "funfeminists" as a disappointment. They want to go for the "big idea" things, start the revolution of ideas. But ironically, the spark that starts the revolution of ideas is usually the short-term goal action. The women who make sex work safer and more respectable slowly start to tear down the madonna/whore dichotomy. Women who focus on affordable daycare and health care normalize the consideration of "women's issues" as general quality of life issues. The winning of specific "rights" forces society to look at women as full citizens. See how it all hangs together?
People who care about women being treated as full human beings are feminists. Pretty or ugly, lipstick or no. We can differ on the particulars, but of that fundamental fact, there can be no argument. Divisions and labels are arbitrary, and are placed upon women by the patriarchy.
I don't want to prop up those divisions any more.

3 comments:

belledame222 said...

I still think FA is a troll. Well; I mean, clearly a troll, I just don't know what -kind- of troll, and at this point don't much care. That said, there's enough of that crap in more "legit" circles, sure. And Twisty--well, I've said enough about her. To the point where even neologisms of hers like "empowerful" give me hives. Apart from that, though--

well, among other things, my position on the corset in the icon there is, in no particular order

a) sure am glad corsets aren't mandatory anymore; personally, and especially on an everyday basis, I can't even stand bras or tight jeans anymore.

b) that said, I think it's pretty hot, in a fetishy sort of way.

I don't really have a problem holding both of these sentiments at once, and don't feel the need to "examine" my fetishy stuff any further: yep, I know the origins, yep, I know all the theories, and nope, still doesn't change my feels about it. I realize this makes me "not a feminist" to a lot of people, or at least not properly so, but eh, fuck 'em

belledame222 said...

The answer is to legitimate all choices, and give more women the chance to choose.As I see it, all of this hoo ha boils down to one real issue- short term v. long term goals. Short term goals tend to revolve around making things better for the people right here, right now. Changing laws usually falls into this category. Most of the big landmarks in the feminist movement- suffrage, access to education, liberalized divorce laws, liberalized employment laws, etc. fall under this category. These tend to be easier changes to make, because they are more concrete. Then, there are the long-term goals. These are the "revolutionary" ideas of actually changing the philosophy that underpins patriarchy. This is the hearts and mind stuff. I'm not saying changing laws is easy, but it's a walk in the park compared to this. Change in these areas moves at a glacial pace- lifetimes go by with only the smallest shifts being made here. Both are important. Both need to get done. People who focus on the long term, I am convinced, are the ones who see "funfeminists" as a disappointment. They want to go for the "big idea" things, start the revolution of ideas. But ironically, the spark that starts the revolution of ideas is usually the short-term goal action. The women who make sex work safer and more respectable slowly start to tear down the madonna/whore dichotomy. Women who focus on affordable daycare and health care normalize the consideration of "women's issues" as general quality of life issues. The winning of specific "rights" forces society to look at women as full citizens. See how it all hangs together? People who care about women being treated as full human beings are feminists.

YES. All of that.

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