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On Feminism Today

Before the topic of BJ's completely falls off the radar, I'd like to note that the whole kerfluffle over what goes on in the bedroom of two consenting adults generated orders of magnitude more heat and light this weekend than the fact that Louisiana now has an anti-abortion law that's nearly as stringent as the one in South Dakota. And I didn't post about it either, which makes me just as bad, I know. But then, I've never set up to be an officially 'feminist' weblog.

And as I was mulling over what I might say in a post about why, 20 years after first enthusiastically reading Betty Friedan and Adrienne Rich I don't always feel comfortable calling myself a feminist, Echinde put up a long post about the Working Mommy Wars and related issues. It gave me some clarity.

It's been 40+ years since the First Wave and we're still stuck on basic issues like the right of a woman to decide her own path in life without being shamed? Women still struggle with discrimination in the workplace, don't get paid as much as men do, and generally have a much harder time achieving economic security. Why are we worrying about who does what to whom in the bedroom when these much more important issues are still nowhere close to being resolved?

Why do I consider economic issues to be a primary focus for feminism? Because as so many women have discovered, if you don't have the ability to earn wages sufficient to keep a roof over your head and food on your table, then you don't have the autonomy to make your own life choices. And to me, that is the essence of feminism -- the belief that women should be just as able to set and steer their own life's course as men are. Without that freedom, the rest is meaningless.

If the Great BJ War has taught us anything, it's that even the most intelligent and self-aware women are not going to make the same choices in their lives. The problem lies when people, for whatever reason, think that not only are they are better able to decide what another person should or should not do, but that they have a better understanding of the underlying emotions and motivations that go into the choice. And what's worse is that much of the shaming comes not from "The Patriarchy" but from other women.

I won't argue with the fact that it's possible for a disinterested party to make a 'better' decision than someone caught up in the middle of a given situation, but when you start saying that a person is not feeling what they say they are feeling, then I draw a line. When last I checked, telepathy didn't work very well. Even psychotherapy isn't totally effective. To assert that an outsider better knows what is going on in a person's mind from a cursory examination of their words or actions goes directly against my belief that personal autonomy is what feminism is about.

To get around this little issue, some feminists have employed Engels' concept of "false consciousness," whereby the person is told that she is unaware of her real motives and is therefore incapable of correctly understanding the situation. (Many of them, I suspect, are not aware of the Marxist roots of this concept.) It's a great tool when you're trying to impose your beliefs onto someone else, because it creates a no-win situation for the person being accused of false consciousness.

I've wandered a bit far afield from my original topic, which was supposed to be about why I'm not comfortable calling myself a feminist these days. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that I don't feel very simpatico with many of today's feminist bloggers. I'm a happily married heterosexual with a ketubah hanging over my bed, after all. True, I didn't change my name when I married and I don't have children, but overall I've made pretty conventional life choices, and I don't regret having done so. I care more about the problems that women as a whole face than I do about the possible impact of patriarchy on my own life.

Call it false consciousness or tell me I'm a tool of the patriarchy for not thinking radically enough, and I and say with all due respect, piss off.

Comments (7)

Thanks for writing this, it's pretty much the best thing I've read on this. (There are also a couple of very good posts by Tekanji over at Official Shrub.com blog.) (And another good one over at punkass blog.)

Two things strike me: people obviously *like* talking about sex, and feminists in particular are used to thinking critically about the world around them. So inevitably, sex acts come under the microscope. It is unfortunate that this discussion obliterated two news items from the feminist map (Right Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori, first female presiding bishop, the abortion news you refer to in your post).

In my view it's as legitimate an area for analysis as any other area. What I didn't like was the divisiveness some of the more personal comments/blog posts causes, and the resultant bad feelings these writings generated. (See Tekanji's plea to the feminist community.)

Finally, thanks for sharing that you hung a ketubah over your bed. I wouldn've looked it up (I flatter myself thinking), but your link to the definition made it that much easier. ;) And I found it interesting.

Sorry, I meant to also add:

A form of this whole "storm" went on in the early 1980s with the BDSM/leather-loving crowd crashing a femininst academic conference in the U.S. (I believe).

Some women objected to the BDSM attendees' prescence, others didn't... I'll have to look up the references...

Perhaps we'll just keep having this conversation until its sorted itself out.

Great post! I think you hit the nail on the head with the stuff about "false consciousness".

I have to disagree on this point, however:
"Why are we worrying about who does what to whom in the bedroom when these much more important issues are still nowhere close to being resolved?"

I understand the feeling behind this, but it treads awfully close to the "why don't you focus on a REAL" problem (if my stupid blog wasn't broken currently I would link you to where I talked about this). As a feminist who focuses on the intersections of popular culture and feminism, I hear that argument over and over again as evidence for why I'm not allowed to be talkinga about video games or comics in the way that I do.

Feminist discussions are valid no matter what their topic -- whether it be economics or video games. I firmly believe that the feminist goal of allowing women to exercise their autonomy includes recognizing that there are many different ways to fight against oppression (again, another topic I could link if my blog wasn't down, darnit).

Anyway, good post, and if you're interested let me know and I'll come back and post those links I talked about (did I mention I'm going crazy without my blog, and it's only been since this morning?)

S L:

It was a good post, and the subject Twisty opened up was worth talking about -- no one ever died from a conversation, anything's talkable, y'know?

For what it's worth, I'm gonna throw this out there and if someone wants to crap all over me, so be it.

I'm not saying that there isn't discrimination against women. Or blacks, or asians, or jews, or fat people, or (fill in the blank). There is. Human beings unfortunately seem to have this inherent flaw for prefering the comfortable and the similar, and fearing the different and the unknown. And talking about these differences is exactly what we have to do to get over the fear of the unknown and the different and maybe have a prayer of, if not loving and adoring another person, at least being able to say "hey, this is another human being, let's at least try to be decent to one another." So I agree with tekanji, let's talk about anything.

I think where I lose patience with whatever aggrieved individual is at that moment venting their aggrievedness is when they get to the point of claiming that there is some intricate, intentional, thought-out conspiracy to ruin their personal existence. Or when they assume that they have all the pain and I have none because I have a weewee. Or white skin. Or something like that.

It reminds me of being in college, speaking with a friend who announced that she wasn't shaving her pits, and rather innocently and completely off-handedly commenting that I thought women not shaving their armpits was just kinda unattractive to me. Ho-lee-crap. Thereon ensued a five minute diatribe about how my oppressive attitudes were supporting the male patriarchy and the continued enslavement of women. And I had three reactions to that.

-- I don't really like okra. It doesn't mean I'm part of a vast Northern conspiracy to destroy Southern culture by undermining their cuisine, nor does it mean that I'm enslaved to the corn and broccoli overlords. I just don't happen to like okra. I don't hate okra. I don't want to see it imprisoned or wiped off the face of the earth in a vast act of okracide, I just don't want to eat okra. Is that really such as a big deal?

-- Is the value of a woman defined by shaved or unshaved pits? I hope there's not a woman around who circumscribes her existence thus, because I sure as heck think women are a lot more than whether or not they shave their pits.

-- As I told my friend, if she wanted not to shave her pits, she could always put on a shirt and no one would be the wiser. I, on the other hand, am required by society to drag a razor across the most visible part of my body, every day, and whether I do or not influences what every single person who sees me will think of me. I will have immediate judgments made about my intelligence, education, hygeine, dateability and employability. I don't particularly like to shave, but by society's "standards" I look like crap when I don't. So are men speficially and only oppressing women specifically and only? Or are we all stuck in social systems that impose constraints, burdens and restrictions on all of us?

I know, the usual answer at this point is "men created that society". You know what? I don't buy that. We had a hand in it, but I think men and women both have created the circumstances in which we live. The whole competition for women thing is men trying to meet the standards women impose. So I think we're all/both responsible for the world we ended up with.

Which, in the end, leads back to what I think was tekanji's point. The only way we're ever going to tackle oppression, restriction, constraints, etc. is to confront them, analyze them, discuss them, really go looking for them and root 'em out. I guess I'm making a plea to the feminists of the world to try a little harder to look at some of us as good faith allies, not your enemies. Sometimes it feels like the latter. We're not all trying to ruin your lives, some of us are just trying to navigate societal shoals that seem no less difficult for us than they do for you.

Nora Vincent has a really interesting book out, "Self-Made Man". She pretended to be a man for some time. Interesting insights. I think if we could all live as the other sex for a year, it would be very interesting and helpful.

And BTW, this happily-interfaithedly-married, ketubah-hanging, heterosexual has no illusions about who is in charge in this house. As my father-in-law said before the wedding, "Son, remember two things. First, there are no words more important than 'yes dear', and second, if mama ain't happy, ain't noooooobody happy."

I am, however, the official drama queen and I will SO bitchslap anyone who lays a hand on my tiara.

toodles...

S L

fiat lux:

tekanji -- sorry your blog is down, please do come back & let me know when it's up.

Your point about the fact that there are many ways to fight oppression is a good one and I agree with it, althought I can see why you reacted to my framing of the issue. Ultimately my issue here is my objection to being told how I ought to be thinking or feeling.

fiat lux:

SL -- LOL on the okra bit!

serial catowner:

As a man, with a nursing degree, employed as a nurse for the past 25 years, I've had a real interest in seeing women's pay and working conditions improved. And a lot of experience of being in the minority.

If I ever saw a feminist blog take on the B-S "nursing crisis" that's used constantly to import substandard workers and drive wages down, I would be ecstatic. I would probably also be in cardiogenic shock, because it ain't happened yet and I'll bet it never will.

I read one autobio by a feminist in which she admitted that in her entire life she'd never held a real job. She was all for the working class, as long as she didn't have to be part of it.

So, if you find the tone of the feminists a little tiring, you're not alone.

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