Feminism and Power

Yes, we’re back on the question of just what kind of feminist I am. Not because anyone else has been asking, but because I’ve been kind of shook down to my feminist foundations lately.

One was seeing the Wayward Boy Scout refer to his spouse as “the missus.” It hurt my heart. Being someone’s wife? Eh, whatever. You bake some cookies. You get the kids to school. You clip coupons. You sit around all day pretending like you give a shit about vacuuming. “The Missus?” She’s out drinking Tom Collines. She’s going on road trips. She’s an art thief and at the center of international intrigue. She’s well-versed in poetry and poker. She drives a vintage Jag.

“I’ve got to get home to the little wife.”? Fuck you, buddy.

“I’ve got to get home to the missus.”? Sign me up.

See, god, what the fuck is wrong with me?

And the other is my growing, sneaking suspicion that the problem with the patriarchy* is two-fold. It’s not just that men have power over women; it’s that they wield it so poorly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Remember when we talked about how men rape women and so, if we want to stop rape, it’s pointless (and misandrous) to insist women change their behavior; men have to stop raping women? And some of you rightfully raised a stink and said that it wasn’t all men who were raping women, so please refer to them as rapists and don’t lump them in with y’all?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking, though. They are men–the men who rape or beat or kill women. But I think, as much as I’ve been arguing that feminism is not a moral position, I’ve failed to internalize that power is not inherently evil. Having power over someone is not inherently a bad thing.

As the Professor keeps saying, one can use one’s power for the betterment of the people you care about. Being powerful is not always to be the victimizer and being vulnerable is not always to be the victim**.

But people who don’t understand how to wield power can do a lot of damage. It’s not just the rapists and the wife-beaters, it’s also the mother who takes the electrical cord to her kids. But it’s the same thing: a belief that the most effective way to wield power is through violent oppression of the vulnerable.

But clearly, that’s based on a mistaken understanding of what power is and how to exercise it effectively.

Insisting that men give up their power is stupid and short-sighted. Why would they do that? No, what we have to do is two-fold. One, we’ve got to become aware and comfortable with our own power. (Of course, we’re going to have to move some folks out of the way to achieve this.) And the other is to insist upon the same thing from men. They need to be aware and comfortable with the ways they are powerful.

* Now that the children are asleep, the adults can talk.
** Though, of course, as must be pointed out–linking power to maleness and vulnerability exclusively to femaleness is utter bullshit.


How Do You Expect a Man Not to Get Lost?

This morning, as we came out of the house, the sky was black overhead, but pink and lavender around the southeast edge. There was a light layer of frost over everything and the dog’s feet made quiet crunches in the grass.

I was thinking.

I wonder if Mrs. Wigglebottom was. They say now that dogs laugh, so I suppose they can also sit around pondering. Somehow I doubt it, though. I think, based on my own observation, that dogs are pretty satisfied with themselves, fairly happy. They might wish they had a bone or that you were home from work, but they don’t dwell on it.

They’re lucky that way.

I’m home from work early because it’s so hot in the office I can’t get anything done. I got a ride because I’m tired of walking, though, admittedly, I wouldn’t be in such a piss-poor mood if I had. I hate walking home, but I feel better for doing it. I brought stuff home to work on, but I can’t bring myself to look at it.

I’m in a funk. I spent Sunday on the couch staring at the ceiling. I spent yesterday failing to console old people. I spent today looking at the pile of shit I have to get done and not feeling the least bit motivated to do it.

I got home and the house still wasn’t clean.

But the storm door is finally up and two of the windows are covered in plastic, so I feel bad about complaining. At least the house is being slowly transformed into something ready for winter.

That’s more than I can say for me.

The Old Man says two things* which I’ve been neglecting:

1. Foolish is he who frets at night,
And lies awake to worry
A weary man when morning comes,
He finds all as bad as before.

2. The generous and bold have the best lives,
Are seldom beset by cares,
But the base man sees bogies everywhere
And the miser pines for presents.

“Generous and brave men live the best.”

If I’ll just admit to myself that worry is a form of cowardice, then the reason I’m so bummed becomes clear. I am afraid of a lot, and afraid of a lot I can’t really do anything about.

Mrs. Wigglebottom is brave and generous, always ready for an adventure. Content with the slow changes and ready for surprises. This Christmas marks her fourth year with me.

When my parents brought her here, I expected a nightmare. Much like my uncle, who called me up the day after Christmas and said “First she’ll kill your cats and then she’ll kill you,” I expected that having her with be terrible.

But I’ve been lucky to know her. See, I started out this post all mopey, and watching her curled up on the couch has healed my day. She should become a therapy dog for people who don’t mind being jumped on.

*At least in the Auden & Taylor translation. Larrington (who I love best) puts it thusly:

1. The foolish man lies awake all night
and worries about things;
he’s tired out when the morning comes
and everything’s just as bad as it was.

2. Generous and brave men live the best,
seldom do they harbor anxiety,
but the cowardly man is afraid of everything,
the miser always sighs when he gets gifts.

I Have Questions

As you may recall, I owe Sarcastro thirty nine billion dollars. He’s been lording it over me for months now, but finally, we’ve arranged a repayment plan. For starters, last night, we went to the Army/Navy Surplus Store and then I took him out for dinner*.

As a result, I have some questions:

1. No grenades? No spare cotter pins laying around? No enemy skulls? Surplus what, then? Long johns?

2. Isn’t there some OSHA rule against having someone without steel-toed boots moving around construction equipment? Especially if that someone is in her brand-new work shoes?

3. How in the hell has Sarcastro made it to his advanced age without being stabbed by some enraged woman? Can dimples really protect a man for 40 years?

4. Is there some mathematical rule, whereby if you take the length of the buffet in feet and divide it by the number of people sitting in the restaurant and, if you come up with a whole number larger than say 1, you should flee?

5. Eh, let’s face it. This was a lot funnier when I was thinking it through walking the dog this morning. I had a tangentially grueling day yesterday where a guy I don’t really know died and everyone he knew called me to tell me. Very considerate on their parts, but I started to think that maybe they didn’t have a funeral for him or something, because I spent the better part of my day on the phone listening to very old folks with that “proper” Southern accent that lets you know that they’re of a certain age and that they went to college, talk very lovingly about a man they were devastated to lose.

By the end of the day, I was sad the world had lost him, too. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, both from my interactions with him, and from the things his people have told me about him. And it seems that so few of us know how to be good to each other and to ourselves, it kind of bums me out that someone who seems to have had that figured out died so unexpectedly.

*No, he didn’t suddenly crumble to dust when I whipped out my wallet. But I, too, wondered if he would.