Happily, there’s already a Feminism 101 blog where folks who are interested in getting up to speed on feminism can do so. But feminism is not some giant monolith where everyone agrees on everything all the time skipping grimmly through the world in lock formation while we ruin fun for girly girls and try to make men feel bad for having penises.
Most feminists agree on the basic principle that feminism is about recognizing and forcing others to recognize women as fully human, equal participants in society. How we go about that, what “fully human” means or what “equal participant” might entail are all up for grabs.
No one has really settled on that, which I believe is for the best. Ideally, we should be working towards a world very different from the one we live in, one that, I would gather, most of us wouldn’t recognize as being the end result of our struggles.
You can see that kind of tension between anti-porn feminists and pro-porn feminists. Anti-porn feminists complain that we did not struggle as hard as we did for as long as we did so that it would be easier for men to gaze at naked women pretending to enjoy having sex while they watch. Pro-porn women argue that we don’t have to be Puritanical about sex and that there’s nothing inherently anti-feminist about women enjoying and feeling powerful through sex.
Neither side really knows what a woman-friendly future will look like and so they have vastly different ideas that regularly come into conflict about how to achieve that. Do we get it by eliminating all instances of exploitation or do we get it by transforming what used to be exploitative into something we find empowering?
Clearly, we’re not going to settle that today.
But I did want to talk a little about my own feminist strategies and some of why I do what I do here.
For instance, I’m loud and brash and cuss like a sailor here at Tiny Cat Pants (even though in real life, I think I’m much less of a potty mouth and much more charming than I come across here–at least the conservatives always seem shocked that they like me and enjoy talking to me) precicely because, especially here, that behavior has certain markers. Loud, potty-mouthed Southern women are usually poor white trash.
Learning “proper” behavior, learning to be demure and polite and soft-spoken is a way for white women to signal that we’re not trashy and that we deserve to be treated with respect.
In other words, we’re rewarded for being quiet and inoffensive–let the men talk while we get dinner together.
Fuck that. I want to be in where the talking is going on. I want folks to feel like, like me or hate me, they have to at least keep an ear open for what I’m saying. I want the whole experience of reading me to be disconcerting enough that, every once in a while, your guard slips and some important idea gets through.
Why do I dog on conservatives as much as I do?
Because, at the end of the day, I don’t think that they’re idiots.
That may be stupid on my part, but I don’t believe that they’re idiots.
I do believe, however, that many of them are fortunate enough that they can arrange their lives so that their beliefs are never challenged. They can live in neighborhoods, have groups of friends, and attend church with folks who believe pretty much what they believe and so their beliefs are continually reinforced without being honed through conflict.
And these people are making decisions for us, all of us, based on assumptions about groups I’m a part of, and they rarely have to interact with people who challenge those assumptions.
I hope to challenge them.
That’s also, in part, what’s with all the pictures of my tits and why I’m honest about my own insecurities and doubts. I think a lot of folks here think that feminists are “not like regular women,” that we are not the kinds of people they can hang out in a bar with or flirt with or sympathize with.
But we are.
Anyway, I just wanted to stay a little about my strategies. They’re not always the best ones and sometimes I have to rethink them and try something different.
Sadly, no one’s sending out orders from Feminist Headquarters. Everyone’s figuring this stuff out as we go.
So, I’m going to fuck up occassionally, though not quite as often as would amuse the conservatives, I’m sure.
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maybe i’m just daft, but shouldn’t that be a sign of serious trouble? that self-described feminists by and large don’t agree on what the actual goal of feminism should be, i mean.
i get that there’s internal debate about what feminism should try to achieve; you get that in any social movement, certainly in every reform movement. some of that is probably a good thing. but in feminism particularly, looking at it from the outside in, it just looks to me like there’s a dangerous amount of that going on — as if feminism really doesn’t have a large enough core of common, shared goals to be called a single movement. i hope i’m wrong about that, but i can’t help having the suspicion, based on what i’ve seen of feminism.
the internal bickering about details is to be expected whenever you get a group of two or more people together, but within feminism, the bickering seems so intense (to me) that i really wonder if there isn’t something bigger going on. not just the pro-porn versus anti-porn thing, but also the radfems versus what seems at times like the rest of humanity, and probably several more such splits i haven’t even picked up on yet.
then there’s the external attacks; i’m still not sure if Wendy McElroy is an “actual feminist” or just someone trying to appropriate the label, which would serve to dilute the meaning of the word if it were successful. the “feminazi” smear is low and base, but it’s also widely successful, which ends up diluting the word further, to where part of the meaning of “feminist” is effectively defined by its detractors.
and that’s why i don’t call myself a feminist. the basic idea of treating women as people is great, no argument there. but as soon as you go any further than that, i get really confused as to whether “feminist” has any single agreed-upon meaning any more, or if the word really means anything useful at all. by “useful” i mean, if i were to call myself a feminist, what would that tell people who heard me? that i was a radfem, a pro-porn, an anti-porn, an ifeminist, or a feminazi? i can’t see how anybody could tell, really. but if taking on the label would not serve to clarify anything even between differences that huge, then why bother with the label?
How do you not have a problem calling yourself a “feminist” when the very word denotes exclusivity and preference for one gender over the other?
Might as well be a political centrist and call yourself “Republican.”
And so everyone agrees on what citizenship means? What law should do? Or what God is and how we should worship? Or any other ideal value that must then be taken from the ideal realm and put into practice?
Feminism is not a dogma nor is it a checklist of behaviors (avoid this, do that).
I’m continually surprised when people expect it to be, as though there should be no disagreement among billions of people from around the globe. Moreover, I’m amazed when generally right thinking people point to this “failure” as a symptom of imminent crisis. Yeah, like the “bickering” about what democracy should has spelled the doom of the ideal rather than its chief engine of its existence and its chief claim to transformative power. Christianity has sure fallen apart (hardly ever see anyone who thinks they are a Christian these days) because we all had different ideas about how people should think and behave and that failure to all agree across cultures and societies just spelled collapse. Remember, fellas, always trivialize a variety of positions in feminism as “bickering” and not as debate or exchange — as you might when men argued about what they believed — because then that makes feminists appear petty and stupid rather than intelligent people earnestly seeking to communicate their beliefs and persuade each other.
I am not troubled that there’s considerable disagreement about what feminism is and what feminists are. If you proceed from the idea that women are people, really fully people, and that part of being fully a person is exploring, articulating, and defending one’s beliefs, then why is it that when women really do that (feminism) and they disagree with one another, that’s an indication of something profoundly wrong with the ideal?
Besides, feminism as a “reform movement” has a lot more to reform than most such movements. Quick–what’s an aspect of your life (anyone’s life) that hasn’t been affected by how society/gov’t/religion deals with sex/gender? Something that big to change is going to involve a lot of disagreement and discussion along with consensus.
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Thank you, Aunt B., and thank you Bridgett. I was in dire motherfucking need of hearing exactly what you both had to say in this thread.
Nomen and Marina, bell hooks has a response precisely for you guys. She writes that lots of women are put off by media portrayals of feminism, overblown accounts of feminist schisms, or the idea that feminism somehow favors women over men – but, if you surveyed the same women on really basic tenets of feminism (womens’ rights, etc.) they’d be in full agreement. So if “I am a feminist” is too problematic an identification for you, try saying “I advocate feminism” – meaning, I want full human rights, whatever that means to me, and I want to enjoy hard-won rights for women even though I myself am not fighting for them. I think that’s your privilege – not everyone can be an activist – but you’ve got to own up to it.
As far as fractures go… I’m reading a really excellent and readable book called Modern Feminist Thought by Imelda Whelehan. She gives a pretty objective overview of feminism since the Second Wave, and you guys… there have always been conflicts. Always, even early on when it was mainly about who gets to vote. But despite conflicts – perhaps even because of them – progress has been made. If there weren’t constant argument about what means what and who is being excluded, then feminism would become a dogma instead of a dialogue – and dogma is like the opposite of progress.