"She Walked Like a Woman and Talked Like a Man"

Today, Knucklehead said:

I haven’t thought about feminism in probably 30 years. Like all big, dumb, root-of-all-evil white guys, I thought that fight was over. Boy was I wrong. Now that I’ve been sucked into Aunt B.‘s pit of liberal feminist sparring, I think about feminism at least 2-3 minutes a month.

Of course, this delights me. Not just because I love the idea of feminism as a contact sport, but also because two minutes a month is almost a half an hour a year. I can live proudly knowing I’ve caused someone to think about feminism for a half an hour.

Ivy is guest hosting Nashville is Talking and today she has a really thoughtful post about feminism and the current infighting over the whole “stay-at-home mom” business. She says something that stops me dead in my tracks: “It’s something I’m very interested in, although I’m not entirely sure how I fit into feminism these days.”


That really sucks. “I’m not entirely sure how I fit into feminism these days.” Is this the piss-poor job we’ve done explaining ourselves, that intelligent thoughtful women can’t even tell if they are feminists?

How did this happen?

I’ve been giving it some thought and I think it’s a problem with the gap between second wave feminists and third wave feminists. As you’ll recall, when we talked about conservative reactions to The Vagina Monologues, I explained about the two factions of second wave feminism, the liberal feminists who wanted broad social change* and the radical feminists who wanted to raise women’s consciousness. (Check out this bit of consciousness-raising I did last year, which I think is one of my favorite things that I ever wrote.)

Now, the thing is that liberal second-wave feminism has succeeded in amazing real-world ways. My mom, for instance, has credit cards in her own name, a luxury she didn’t have when she was my age. Women can go into bars alone and get served, something that couldn’t happen in that liberal hotbed of sin–New York City–when my mom was my age. Women have careers now they never would have dreamed of having when my grandma was my age–we’re mayors, doctors, lawyers, senators, etc. We really do have opportunities we never had before and we’ve gained those opportunities in a very short time.

And so many of those advances seem so ordinary, we don’t think of them as feminist advances. So, anti-feminist women can sit on college campuses right now complaining about feminists and never see the humor in that. They never have to be aware of the things they have because of feminism. It just seems like that’s how things are.

Women drive cars and vote and go to college and have their own bank accounts and make their own medical decisions and these things, to most women and, happily, to most men seem ordinary. They don’t seem like feminist advances at all.

Which is okay, because if there’s one group of feminists who do not need to be revered, it’s the liberal second wave feminists. When Betty Friedan died, a lot of feminists were in an uproar because some of the coverage of her death pointed out that she was a chore to work for, at best. To which I say, well, duh. How many of those liberal second wave feminists do you know right now who are marching around acting like the champions of women’s rights while they treat the women around them like shit?

I know quite a few. Which is not surprising. As Maya Angelou so wisely said on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, most people don’t want change, they want exchange. They don’t want to dismantle current power structures; they just want to be the folks on top for a while.

And this has been a real unfortunate side-effect of liberal second wave feminism–that a lot of these women get power and they horde it. They sit around making grand pronouncements about what feminism is and should be and they don’t put that in action in their own lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that I live in a world where I can be 31 and unmarried and hold a job and support myself and I don’t have to have my dad’s name on my checking account because I don’t have a husband’s name to put there.

But that doesn’t oblige me to lick the cunts of those “well-known feminists.”

Which is what makes the position of the radical second wave feminists seem so attractive at first–here there really is no hierarchy. You can’t point to a radical second wave feminist and say “If you read her or talk to her, you’ll really get what radical second wave feminism is about” because that’s not how it works.

Radical second wave feminism is about self-empowerment. It’s about questioning everything and calling people on their bullshit treatment of women on an individual and personal level. It’s about interrogating everything in your life and trying to rid yourself of the patriarchal bullshit.

This is good fun.

The problem is that it is usually hostile to men. And as freeing as it can be to say, “You know, the problem really is that you’re a sexist pig, every one of you, so fuck all y’all,” you do have those broad shoulders and those up-to-no-good grins** and, when the chips are down, you come through.

Who wants to spend her whole life being your enemy? Not me.

So, since feminists are just people like everyone else, you have these two strands–the “Give us some opportunities so that we can screw over our flunkies, too” strand and the “You suck. You cannot help but suck because the whole system you’ve put in place sucks. No, there’s no one to whom you can appeal this judgment, because we don’t believe in emulating your sucky hierarchies” strand.

I mention this at such great length because I think the situation we find ourselves in now is that there are women who don’t feel like feminists– even though they constantly avail themselves of the gains that feminism has won, because they’re turned off by the utterly human behavior of the two groups of second wave feminists–and we have third wave feminists who are trying to find some way to salvage the best the previous wave of feminism had to offer and make it useful to us.

Third wave feminists don’t really have a unified feminist philosophy. Like the radical feminists, we distrust hierarchy and want to speak for ourselves. But, like the liberal feminists, we want to keep and ensure for future generations access to opportunities. And, any more than that, I don’t feel comfortable saying.

I think that, the third wave of feminism is an individual feminism. Which makes it a lot harder to know if you’re a feminist or not, since no one speaks for young feminists, by definition.

And yet, when I see Ivy, in such a public forum, defining feminism for herself–

Basically, what I think feminism should be about, is that women should have a choice to have children, or not have children. If they choose to have children, they should be able to choose to work, or stay at home. If they work, they should be able to do any job that they are qualified for. They should be paid the same amount of money that a man would be, dependent on their qualifications. I think nearly everyone could get behind that sentiment, but there are people from both the left and right that pull and stretch at those ideas, until they are barely recognizable.

–with the expectation that her definition will be given consideration and honored, it stops me short again. But this time in a good way.

If a woman speaks in public and expects to be heard, expects that she will be listened to, and her ideas given consideration, isn’t that something grand, whether or not she calls herself a feminist?

*Ooo, a pun!
**And those magnificent penises…

5 thoughts on “"She Walked Like a Woman and Talked Like a Man"

  1. Women drive cars and vote

    Good lord, what more do you want?

    Now be a good girl and fetch me a beer.

  2. You’re right, of course, B. And I still do consider myself a feminist, put me in the third wave category. ;)

    It just never ceases to shock me when I see women putting other women down for the choice that they made that was best for their life. I see a lot of people feeling like women who go to university, and then become stay at home moms are wasting their education, whereas I think that’s one of the best uses of one’s education- using that education to raise children who will hopefully someday see the benefit of getting an education and becoming something even more than their mother.

    I see the people that identify sahm’s as being only the rich white women, and I’m certainly not rich, and I’m barely white. I have the woman part going ON though! ;) One of the biggest things I hope I can teach people is, you don’t have to be a rich white woman to be a stay at home mom, if that’s what you want. Wanna be a stay at home mom? I can teach you how.

    Feminism has done a LOT for the world, and not just for women. Where would the world be, if not for the Oprahs of the world, the Barbara Walters of the world, etc, etc, etc? It wouldn’t be nearly as great of a place.

    Of course, hopefully someday someone’ll be like, “What would the world be like if not for the Ivys of the world, and the Aunt Bs of the world?” That’s us, changing people one blog post at a time. ;)

  3. the “Give us some opportunities so that we can screw over our flunkies, too” strand

    I must admit that since I left college, the majority of the “feminists” I’ve encountered in the workplace are of this variety.

  4. Looking at the inequalities in this country, it seems that complaining about men as oppressors is like field-slaves complaining about being looked down upon by the house-slaves. Eighty percent of the white men (and more of the women and non-white men) in this country are being ground under the heel of the oligarchs.

    Look at ‘real wages’ (lowest level since 1956 or so), and the concentration of wealth that is accelerating. Bickering amongst ourselves serves only the interests of our would-be masters, comrade.

  5. Knucklehead, I went and got you a beer, but you weren’t here, so I just drank it myself. I hope that’s okay.

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