the f-word: feminism
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
lyrics from "Grand Canyon" on Ani's newest album, Educated Guess, courtesy of danah.org:
"people, we are standing at ground zero
of the feminist revolution
yeah, it was an inside job
stoic and sly
one we're supposed to forget
and downplay and deny
but i think the time is nothing
if not nigh
to let the truth out
coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout!
why can't all decent men and women
call themselves feminists?
out of respect
for those who fought for this
i mean, look around
we have this
i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter
came through hell and high water
so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears
is cutting a grand canyon of light"
to re-pose her question, "why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists? out of respect for those who fought for this?"
seriously. what makes "feminism" so radical these days? what would've been different about my life had the "first" and "second" and "third" waves not occurred (and keep occurring...)? and what do the "waves" mean, anyway?
That's another, lengthier blog for another day. for the moment, though, it's worth considering why folks don't explicitly call themselves feminists.
Alas, A Blog, as usual, has an interesting note on the subject. Check out the "I'm not a feminist, but..." poster at the bottom of the post, too. food for thought.
if you're not convinced that you should call yourself a feminist, let's talk, for cryin' out loud. if you are, well, then shout it out! in your head, in your workplace, in whatever small or large way you can.
(note: i'll problematize the movement "feminism" in the future; for now, if you can, wear the word with pride)
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
i'd like to expand a bit on ann's definition of marriage. i agree with most of what she says, but i would make the following adjustment:
"Marriage [must be construed as ] a set of legal rights compiled with the intentions of the individual couple."
i'd add that, for the purposes of the SSM debate, it's essential to recognize the importance of marriage as an equalizer--as a way to acknowledge who counts as a citizen of the u.s. and who doesn't, similar to (but not exactly the same as) the way that allowing citizens above a certain age to vote acknowledges them as itizens.
however, i'd also like to take a cue from Valerie Lehr's book, Queer Family Values: Debunking the Myth of the Nuclear Family, and point out that the institution of marriage has historically been aligned with particular and particularly powerful forces--which, i'd add, must be challenged by straight folks who choose to marry. to provide a brief example, marriage hasn't exactly been the best deal for women. need i go into detail here? Valerie Lehr lays it out so well--i'd point you toward her book. indeed, some queer folks wouldn't want to marry, even if it was an option, because they don't want to be associated with an institution that has been so historically oppressive.
this is where the concept of civil unions come in--now, i agree that civil unions would be "enough" in a perfect world. let me say it again: civil unions would be enough in a perfect world. i do believe that civil unions would, in effect, create a separate, less-legitimate kind of citizenship for TLBGQ folk--who knows whether it would be legally the "same" as marriage or not? i could see a court years into the future challenging the legitimacy of a civil union for one reason or another.
the only potential saving grace for civil unions might, might, might be if straight people choose to use it as an alternative to marry. after all, it's not as though all straight people who want to be in a legally-binding partnership necessarily rush out to marry. i can think of a few couples just off the top of my head who might have chosen a truly equal alternative... if it were truly equal, that is... if only because they, too, don't want to associate themselves with marriage as an oppressive institution.
reality check: i'm not sure that straight people would be out in droves to get civil-union-ed (see? it's not even an equal word type!). so, i stand firmly with folks in favor of SSM. i think it's worth questioning why marriage must, in this day and age, be the holy grail of legitimacy for QTBLG folk, though. but i ultimately agree with ann on her definition and analysis.
Friday, February 20, 2004
of folks who say they can easily define "feminism." i can't even begin to place it in a category, never mind narrow it down to a comprehensive definition. is it a movement? is it a theory? is it both at the same time?
definition difficulties aside, i can talk about what feminism means to me. i'll get into those concepts at a later time. however, the kinds of work i consider to be included in my feminism fall broadly under the rubric of social equalities: anti-racism, queer activism, gender equality, environmental, elimination of economic class differentials, disability rights... and many more.
today, feminist ann is writing about the same-sex marriage (SSM) debate. it's quite a heartening thing, at this point. i'll be blogging more on this later, to be sure.
i wanted to make the point, though, that feminism isn't exclusively about gender. i came to an awareness about many of the issues mentioned only briefly above through feminist theory--initially, at least. thus, i will always call myself a feminist partly in recognition of the influence of feminist theory in my own life.
it seems that calling oneself a "feminist" in any kind of a public way is an increasingly radical act these days.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
SPEAKING OF "BIOLOGICAL" GENDER...
here's Rahne blogging on bodily integrity, self-determination, and so-called "autogynephilia"...
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
WOMAN, part deux
to get back to previous blogging, what does it mean to be a woman? in this simple, seemingly obvious question is literally a whole world of complication. it is, indeed, impossible to come up with a simple, concrete, universally-applicable answer to this question.
what did my friends mean when they said that they didn't think of me as a woman? i believe that, for example, the folks in the bus station who sold me my ticket today understood me to be a woman (a particular kind of woman, but i'll get back to that point in a bit). the mechanics at the car dealer who've been trying to screw me over for the past month believe me to be a woman. yet my friends, as they indicated, didn't. what's going on? am i a woman or am i not?
biologically, you might say, i'm a woman--as we understand biology, that is. folks who look at me make an assumption about my body as soon as the word "woman" springs into their head. given the definition of "woman" that prevails these days, for example, they assume that i have breasts and a vagina and two x chromosomes in each of my cells. my status as "woman," though, is much, much more complicated than these simple biological terms--to which i myself don't entirely subscribe, anyway.
hold your spinning head for a moment--i'm taking you on this ride for a reason. me being a woman isn't just about me being a woman. it's about how other people see me--and see everyone else around them. for example, in the eyes of the bus station employees, i'm not just a "woman." i'm a white woman, young, middle-class, and, they probably assume, not much of a terrorist threat. to the mechanics, i'm similarly a white, young woman who knows little about cars--true, in my case--but i'm also a lesbian. they know, presumably, this because they've seen the rainbow and woman symbols on my car and they've been yelled at by another woman who is clearly my partner. to the aforementioned two male friends, i'm a more generic person who's not available to them for sex, who doesn't do the things they presume women do--wear makeup, talk about "boys," don "feminine" clothes, etc. etc.
i "pass" fairly effectively for a woman in my day-to-day existence. i use the bathroom marked by the person with the skirt with nary a glance from others. i mark the little "gender: F" box on official-looking forms with little trouble. i don't worry that the gender on my driver's license matches the gender with which i identify. i don't flinch when folks refer to me as "ma'am" or "miss"--much. in these respects, it's fairly easy for me to negotiate the gendered landscape as it rolls under me with each passing day.
looking at what might be considered the borders of how we, as a society, define the genders provides a more complex picture. for example, considering these purportedly straightforward little gendered moments--like the oft-considered bathroom example above--from a transfeminist perspective yields a richer understanding of gender. for more on transfeminism, i heartily encourage a trip to Rahne's transfeminsm blog, which is chock-a-block full of mind-blowing readings and analysis. identifying as a trans person--MtoF, FtoM, or neither--might give you pause when selecting which bathroom to use. what is a seemingly easy decision to most of us has the potential to explode into very real physical danger for individuals who walk a less solid line of gender identity. need i elaborate here? given my audience, i'm going to say no.
returning to my original question, then, what does it mean to be a woman?
let's separate this question into three parts:
1. is it phenotype/appearance?
yes and no. simply by virtue of existing in the world, folks you encounter every day make assumptions about your gender--in conjunction with assumptions about your race, class, sexual orientation, age, and ability (and, of course, other things). you can play with these assumptions to some extent with varying consequences; for example, i can wear a three-piece suit with a tie and give myself a buzz cut. most folks would probably still assume i'm a woman (although i've never really had a buzz cut, so i can't be entirely sure). walking into a men's bathroom and using the facilities might be met with amusement, horror, verbal responses, even physical abuse, given a wide variety of circumstances. the point is that my existence is somewhat limited by my perceived gender at a given time.
2. is it genotype/biology?
yes and no. again, given my chromosomal makeup--what physicians might argue is the most fundamental indicator of my status as one of two possible genders--certain inescapable assumptions may be made about me in a variety of contexts. if my primary care physician discovered that my cells contain an x and a y chromosome instead of the assumed two x chromosomes, what might the consequences be? might i be treated differently? might i receive different medical care? what if i happened to be a Somali woman--how might assumptions about race and health care affect the illnesses for which i am tested? these questions go on and on...
3. is it individual identity?
yes. given the above two questions, this third oft-ignored piece is crucial. if folks view me as a woman, i am genetically female, and i identify as a woman, things are relatively hunky-dory. what if i identified as a man? what if i truly believed that i am, for lack of better phrasing, "a man trapped in a woman's body?" what if i didn't want to undergo surgery and hormone therapy to make these three pieces match--what if i just wanted others to take my word for it? or, what if i didn't want folks to refer to me as either gender--as some of my friends do? what if i wanted folks to refer to me with gender-neutral pronouns, such as "ze" and "hir"? would i constantly be struggling with my neighbors, family, and friends to be treated as a legitimate, whole human being? you bet i would.
so, are you confused yet?
my point in going through these women's studies 101-type exercises is to plant the seed of a "hmm" in your brain. ultimately, i would argue, it's about respect. it's about taking individual people seriously and believing their experiences. it's about taking nothing for granted, even if it makes things more difficult for a time. it's about freedom (to be you, to be me). it's about equality (among all people, regardless of gender). and it's the start of thinking at a deeper level about what it means to call yourself a feminist.
to my two friends who said that they don't think of me as a woman, i say: check yourselves. yes, i do identify as a woman, regardless of your assumptions about what it means to be a woman. if you love me as a friend, treat me as a human being. respect my self-identity, even if it flies in the face of what you've learned as Truth. only then will feminism cease to be a necessity.
to add to the above resource on transfeminism, check out the following gender-related resources:
Juggling Gender, described on its homepage as "a loving portrait of Jennifer Miller, a lesbian performer who lives her life with a full beard."
the transfeminism.org reading list--i'm not sure when this page was last updated, but it's a great place to get started
butchdykeboy.com, a Boston-based genderqueer space. every time i find that someone else has linked to this page, my little heart goes pitter-pat.
Friday, February 13, 2004
sidenote: saw a really great comedian at bo-bo last night--laughed my ass off. Hari Kondabolu meets all of my "great comedian" criteria; that is, he: 1. addressed issues of oppression at least twice, 3. made no racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist jokes, and 2. made me laugh out loud. guys like him almost make me regret i'm a lesbian... almost.
my favorite part (as close an approximation as i can recall): "given the choice between white guilt and oppression, i'd take white guilt every time!"
Thursday, February 12, 2004
before i continue with my thoughts, check out Ann's blogging on sending pornographic calendars to troops in Iraq.
Don't forget to check out her essay on Playboy vs. the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition in the Archives section. here's how i commented on this essay (about which i'll think & write more in the future):
a note to add to your "Playboy vs. Play Sports" article:
i'd say that porn itself is not the problem. i'd go on to say that what we need is not less porn but *more* porn--just *different* porn for people other than the presumed white, male, straight audience. i agree that we can't legislate, regulate, or beat this kind of desire out of the aforementioned category of men--nor out of anyone else, though lord knows we, as a society, have tried to ignore that aspect of women's lives.
in my mind (and a lot of second-wave feminists would completely disagree, as is their right), it's an issue that parallels in many ways prohibition in this country in the 20's (and 30's? i have to read more history...). not to say that people "need" alcohol in the same way that they need information and opportunities to understand and explore their sexuality but, rather, to say that americans' paranoia around sexuality is marked by repression, ignorance, and denial in harmful ways. in the same way that having an open discussion about alcohol can be harmful (e.g., can lead to experimentation without being aware of consequences, etc.), not educating folks about the realities of sexuality can put people (women, especially) in harmful or downright dangerous situations.
to take the pendulum back where i started: this is also not to say that porn, as it currently appears in our social landscape, isn't flawed. the industry is clearly biased towards a particular audience and only portrays particular sorts of people for particular purposes. guess what those are? as shocking as it might sound, then, i'd advocate for more porn! perhaps a spoof of some of these mainstream publications pointing out the flaws in this whole system. or something else entirely.
this whole argument is so complicated, of course--it's about porn, it's about sexuality education, it's about what it means to be an american. folks who advocate for the abolition of things like nuanced, honest sexuality education, access to abortion, even marijuana remind me of an ani difranco line... "they keep pounding their fists on reality, hoping it will break."
Monday, February 09, 2004
most folks would associate feminism with the notion of women's equality, but to talk about this concept, we need to have some kind of common understanding of that little two-word phrase.
i'll start with the first word, "woman." and i'll start with me, since it's the location from which i'm speaking, anyway.
there was a particularly interesting week a few years ago during which two of my male friends (biologically and self-identified) told me on separate occasions that they "don't really think of me as a woman." they said this in the context of talking about different "girls" they were pursuing and why they could talk to me about their problems without fear or discomfort. my immediate reaction was, of course, "why?"
"well, you're just not like most girls, you know?" i remember one of them saying. given their tone of voice and immediate defensiveness, i think they meant it as a compliment. but what did that mean?
to be continued...
Monday, February 02, 2004
i'll be posting more thoughtful stuff as soon as i get this weblog hooked UP. suffice it to say, at this point, that my name is clare and i'll be getting into some complex stuff around this word... this f-word... feminism.
some introductory questions (for myself, as much as anyone else): would you ever use the word to describe yourself? why or why not? (note: legitimate answers to these questions include [and will be deconstructed later]: because i want to, because i'm a woman, because i'm not a woman, because i'm not a lefty freak like you, etc.)
some personal questions: why does it matter to me? why should it matter to anyone? what parts of my life (and, i promise you, there is at least one) have been influenced/caused/made easier/made more difficult by "feminism?" what does it mean for me to use the word "feminism" as a way of empowering myself or, conversely, as a way of degrading someone? i ask again: who gives a rat's ass?
some advanced questions: what delineates the first, second, and third waves of feminism? what are the pros and cons of each? what about womanism--where does that fit in? what are the brands of feminism (marxist/socialist feminism, radical feminism, lesbian separatism, radical feminism, eco-feminism, whathaveyou) and what do they mean? are there advantages/disadvantages to claiming each?