Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gender Part 2: Feminism Broadly (no pun intended)

On my Sugar & Spice post, the ever-lovely PhizzleDizzle brings up a great topic. In the comments, she writes:
"So I wonder, how can I be a feminist that espouses choice for everyone, if deep down I feel like my choice of selectively rejecting certain feminine traits is "better"? There's a whole lot going on here in this here brain of mine."
And my favorite blogmale DuWayne writes in response:
"It's not the underlying reaction that's a problem. It's when assumptions are made and accusations are made that it becomes a problem. Feeling like she made the wrong decisions, that the decisions were not really "feminist" decisions is just fine. But turning around and accusing me of trying to subjugate my children's mom, or accusing her of bowing to the whims of the patriarchy, would be entirely unreasonable and ultimately antithetical to the notion of feminism."
I love my brilliant blogpals. :) And so the inspiration for this post was born. 

I hesitate to call myself a feminist because the term implies that I value women's issues and rights over that of men. You should be able to tell by now that this is not the case

But what is feminism, really? The problem is that there are many contemporary variations of feminism. From Transformations: Women, Gender & Psychology by Dr. Mary Crawford (UConn):

"Socialist feminism emphasizes that there are many kinds of divisions between groups of people that can lead to oppression. Socialist feminists believe that acts of discrimination based on social class, race, and gender are equally wrong. Moreover, it views these forms of discrimination as inseparable.

Woman-of-Color feminism, or womanism, began with criticism of the white women's movement for excluding women of color and issues important to them: poverty, racism, and needs such as jobs, health care, good schools, and safe neighborhoods for all people.

Radical feminism emphasizes male control and domination of women throughout history. This perspective views the control of women by men as the first and most fundamental form of oppression. 

Liberal feminism is familiar to most people because it relies on deeply held American beliefs about equality -- an orientation that connects it to political liberalism. From this perspective, a feminist is a person who believes that women are entitled to full legal and social equality with men and who favors changes in laws, customs, and values to achieve the goal of equality....It emphasizes the similarities between men and women, maintaining that given equal environments and opportunities, they will behave similarly. 

Cultural feminism emphasizes differences between women and men. This perspective stresses that qualities characteristic of women have been devalued and should be honored and respected in society. 

Global feminism focuses on how prejudice and discrimination against women are related across cultures, and how they are connected to neocolonialism and global capitalism."

Dr. Crawford continues:

"However, feminist perspectives share two important themes. First, feminism values women as important and worthwhile human beings. Second, feminism recognizes the need for social change if women are to lead secure and satisfying lives. Perhaps the simplest definition of a feminist is an individual who holds these basic beliefs: that women are valuable and that social change to benefit women is needed.....Therefore, perhaps the simplest definition of feminism is one proposed by bell hooks (1984): It is a movement to end sexism and sexist oppression.

Feminist perspectives in general can be contrasted to conservatism. Conservatives seek to keep gender arrangements as they have been in much of the recent past, with males holding more public power and status and women being more or less defined by their sexuality and their roles as wives and mothers."
This last paragraph is where many of us start to have problems. If we believe that it's just fine for a woman to express her feminine sexuality, to be a wife and mother, to be a "girly-girl" - then how can we be a feminist? And if we don't believe that those things are just fine, then how can we be a feminist?

The real issue that I choose to focus on as a feminist is the freedom of choice. The freedom for a woman to  choose how and when to express her sexuality and to what extent it defines her. The freedom for a woman to choose career over family or vicer versa as it suits her needs and goals. The freedom for a woman to choose to wear high heels, lipstick, and get breast implants if it makes her feel good about herself. 

But because I value equality of ALL people, I (as I said earlier) hesitate to actually call myself a feminist. Therefore, I prefer to consider myself a humanist: someone who firmly believes in the inherent equality, worth, and value of all people, regardless of sex, gender, race, social class, age, etc. 

With respect to PhizzleDizzle's comment, it can be difficult not to look at stereotypical "girly" choices with disdain. With respect to DuWayne's comment, it can be difficult not to look at stay-at-home moms as having sacrificed their own fulfillment in order to fill a traditional role in the home. 

What we have to remember is that the most important element here is that of choice. If  a woman chooses motherhood over her career or vice versa, that's fantastic. Because she had the option. If a woman chooses to be a "girly-girl" and decorate herself with pink and bedazzles or dresses in man's clothing and plays football, that's fantastic. Because she had the option. 

It's not about agreeing with, liking, or disliking the choices another person makes. It's about respecting the fact that they made a choice for themselves. That, in my opinion, was what the women's movement was meant to achieve before it became a convoluted mess of contradictory beliefs. 

Here's a controversial analogy for you: abortion. I am pro-choice. Period. That means that I believe a woman has the right to have an abortion if she believes it is the best move for her to make given her life and circumstances. I would never, ever, ever vote to have that right taken away. 

I, however, would not judge a woman whose religious or personal views led her to decide that abortion was not an option, and chose an alternate path whether it involved raising the child herself or giving it up for adoption. The freedom to choose abortion also MUST include the freedom to choose NOT to have one. 

Likewise, the freedom to choose a career must also include the freedom to choose NOT to. The freedom to choose to subscribe to feminine values that include motherhood, fashion, being a stripper or an escort, whatever, must be supported as well. 

So for PhizzleDizzle - it doesn't matter whether or not you agree or like women who are girly. Don't feel guilty for "throwing up a little" in your mouth when you see frighteningly pink images of little girls' rooms. The important question for you to ask yourself is whether, if your daughter wanted to surround herself with the color pink, Barbie dolls, and little girl make-up, if you would allow her to make that choice for herself. If the answer is yes (despite your vomit), you are a feminist (just not a radical one). 

For DuWayne (and you already know this) you are not a misogynist unless you create an environment in which it is impossible or otherwise incredibly undesirable for the mother of your children to choose anything other than staying home with your boys. If the man makes more money than the woman, has more job security, both partners want the children to be raised by their parents instead of daycare, and both partners agree to the solution - that is a feminist act as long as she has the choice. 

Remember in an earlier post I said I would continue to emphasize a certain point? Here it is again:

We must ALL be FREE to be who we ARE. Period.


Ambivalent Academic said...

Thank you! That clarifies a LOT of the shit that I have so conflicting and confusing about "feminism". I tend to agree with your point of view.

Choice. is. paramount.

But you hear all kinds of other crap being thrown around about how "girly-girls" are ruining it for those of us that aren't so pink and bedazzled because they're perpetuating some oppressive stereotype. I don't get that and, well, what the hell do you say to that other than "that's her choice, so it's cool with me"?

Also, I've never bothered to try and figure out the subtle differences between the different sects of feminism - you spelled it out very clearly.

Again, awesome post.


JLK said...

It's just like the discussion that was going on when Dr. Isis first joined scienceblogs - being judged by all these women because she loved shoes and clothes and all that. I meant to include that in my post but totally forgot. Oh well.

We all (I think) have certain feminine aspects of ourselves that we choose to keep and cherish. Like a love of shoes. Or Sex & The City. Or whatever. It makes no sense to draw a line of femininity between acceptable and unacceptable.

I love shoes, clothes, Sex & The City, football, makeup when it's appropriate, rarely wear skirts but when I do they ROCK. I love swearing, reading classic literature, a variety of music dominated by all-male bands, and sometimes I feel like I'm just itchin' to get in a fight. But I am still a woman.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I was tempted, but figured it didn't fit there, to mention the other aspect of the choices made by my children's mom.

She is trying to build a business, making clothes and other art/craft pieces. She is also writing a book that will actually instruct someone who doesn't have a background in sewing, how to make certain clothes and also make it easy for them to adapt and design their own clothing. So while she is a sahm, she is also doing something that will likely (hopefully) help her become financially self-reliant.

But this isn't something that an outsider would see. Other than seeing the pretty dresses she has made for little neighbor girls, no one knows what she's doing, except me, our kids, a couple of clothing stores and a few publishers.

And of course, very few people know that when she and I first met, she was pretty much supporting me. She was working in a gas station and making enough to cover rent, bills and a little of our food. I was playing in a band and making enough to cover the rest of the food (usually) and our dope/alcohol expenses (always - we prioritized;).

I mention this, because appearances can be deceiving. Which is really what I was shooting for. She's fulfilled doing what she wants to be doing. If she can make some or most of what she needs to survive, she will be even more fulfilled.

Therefore, I prefer to consider myself a humanist: someone who firmly believes in the inherent equality, worth, and value of all people, regardless of sex, gender, race, social class, age, etc.

I look at it this way. Contextually, I'm extremely judgmental. You walk onto one of my jobs, I don't care if you have a uterus or 'nads. I don't care if your beige or fucking purple. What I care about is the job you do. Do a good job and I'll pay you what that work is worth. Perform on a par with the claims you made to get me to try you out, you'll have my respect. If you aren't worth the minimum I pay, you won't be back tomorrow. Perform at a lower skill level than you claimed to have - I don't care if you're worth more than my minimum, you won't be back tomorrow.

And with a lot of the work I've focused on, the women who've worked for me fucking shined. One of them bought my old tile saw and started taking my tile jobs, because frankly, she's better than I am and I'm not one to struggle, when I can kick the job to someone else and still make a few bucks.

(Do not suffer the illusion that I might be cool to work for though. I am a major hardass on the job. I treat people who work for me well, but I also demand a whole hell of a lot for it. If I don't get what you told me I can expect - I sent a guy home crying once.)

We all (I think) have certain feminine aspects of ourselves that we choose to keep and cherish.

Sunday, I spent the day with a fucking chainsaw and a huge fucking fire (I had too much to do yesterday to go back over). Today, I wore a skirt to school. (Over a pair of cords, with a checked button down and a cord blazer)

PhizzleDizzle said...

wow, all those definitions of feminism were VERY useful.

Like I mentioned in my initial comment, on an intellectual level I believe in choice and that is what I work for and strive to convey in my everyday interactions. But I still hate baby pink, and I still feel guilty about hating it. But what can I do? (I know, I know, never attack anyone for it. Did I mention my best friend loves baby pink? And I still love her?)

The important question for you to ask yourself is whether, if your daughter wanted to surround herself with the color pink, Barbie dolls, and little girl make-up, if you would allow her to make that choice for herself. If the answer is yes (despite your vomit), you are a feminist (just not a radical one).

I most certainly am NOT a radical feminist, and I would let her do whatever she wants. I'm sure I'd still love her anyway. But I still hope she like trucks better.

JLK said...

@PD - but why do you feel guilty about hating pink? I mean, I don't HATE pink. I feel the same way about it as I do the color orange - there's a time and a place for it. LOL

But it sounds (you told me to analyze you in my next post, so here goes nothing, lol) like you hate pink because of its gendered meaning, not because you just don't like the color. Hate is a strong word to use if you just weren't attracted to pink things and you wouldn't feel guilty about it if it were any other color in the spectrum.

I'm love, love, loving your comments for that very reason. The focus on the Sugar & Spice post in the comments seemed to be "I never liked pink" and "I didn't play with girly toys" and "I know lots of kids who like to play with toy vacuums." Which is great! But these reactions to the post miss the point that these things - colors, certain toys - are strongly associated with a particular gender.

Some of the reactions remind me of AA's story about her brother affirming his heterosexuality to HER, his sister. Women like us who are NOT raised like traditional girls and who grow up to have the values that we have tend to feel the need to affirm the ways in which we are NOT stereotypical women!

Again, remember Dr. Isis's debate on her blog in which she was catching shit for being a shoe-lover and other feminine things. Remember the comments from other women?

They ranged from (these are not actual quotes):

"I hate high heels. I'd much rather be wearing Doc Martens. I don't know why anyone would wear those god-awful girly shoes...."


"High heels are definitely not my thing, but if you're into that, Isis, knock yourself out."

This second one sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?

"I mean, it's not MY thing, but good for him." (AA's brother's comment to her about a family member coming out as gay.)

The first one sounds a lot like the too-often heard statements of "I don't know how anyone could be gay. It's so disgusting!"

Men feel the need to reaffirm their status as heterosexual, masculine men. And women feel the need to reaffirm their status as NOT traditionally feminine. Even the commenters who agreed about loving shoes tended to throw in a line or two about how, despite the shoes, they are NOT girly-girls.

So don't feel guilty about it, PD. It's just how we were brought up. Blame the fact that someone, somewhere down the line decided that pink was for girls and blue was for boys and then gendered everything about a person's childhood.

Keeping little girls away from pink unless and until they choose it is very, very difficult to do. Baby shower invitations have to specify "nothing pink", reminders have to be given to family members and friends before every holiday and birthday.

And the kicker? If you take away pink completely, it is bound to become her favorite color immediately after the first time she is exposed to it. LOL

Ambivalent Academic said...

Women like us who are NOT raised like traditional girls and who grow up to have the values that we have tend to feel the need to affirm the ways in which we are NOT stereotypical women!

You just hit the nail on the head. I love this discussion.

Now, back to work.

Procrastinating Postgrad said...

May I beg to differ on the foundation of your definition?
For me, the essence of feminism is about power. Feminism is firstly about power- the belief that there is a power differential based on gender in the world today. Secondly, and importantly, that that power difference is wrong, and should change. The rest is about techniques. Not to belittle the rest, because, obviously, how to change the power problem is crucial. But these different approaches are flavours of activism, and ideas of how the end result would look, not disagreements of the problem.

JLK said...

Procrastinating PostGrad - I'm not sure I understand why you think we are in disagreement about the foundation. I gave the explanations of the different forms of feminism, and that was followed by:

"Therefore, perhaps the simplest definition of feminism is one proposed by bell hooks (1984): It is a movement to end sexism and sexist oppression."

I think this definition that Crawford provides speaks exactly to what you are saying, without using the term "power" in her description because it's already inherent in the concept of sexist oppression.

But if I misunderstand your comment, please let me know.

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