Monday, July 21, 2008

I'm a feminist, and...

I'm a feminist, and I like to get dolled up from time to time...

I guess this post can be read as a follow up to "I'm not a feminist, but" where i addressed why some people, even though endorsing feminist values, may not embrace the feminist identity. This post, on the other hand, looks at those of us who do identify as feminists and are no more or less feminist because we look, act, dress, think, fuck, write, a certain way. Still with me? Good.

When i first learned about the women's movement i was enlightening, outraged, empowered. I wanted to stand on the rooftop and shout "DOWN WITH PATRIARCHY!" I also became incredibly conflicted. Was i supporting patriarchy by looking the way i did? With the clothes i wore? With my new found love for bare minerals make up? With my adorable string bikini? Was i supporting a system of patriarchy by flirting? By being sexual, by letting guys buy me drinks, by loving to dance at bars? By wearing lipstick? By being 5'9 and rocking high heels? By occasionally obsessing over my weight? By liking Madonna? Was the very essence of me and all the things i enjoyed a direct result of this system and therefore meaningless, trite, cliché? Even worse, were they (therefore, I) not only existing in, but supporting, oppression, patriarchy, and inequality? My brain almost exploded. Everything i stood for got flipped on its head at which point i cut my hair 12 inches shorter, donated a my more skanky* clothes, and stopped shaving my legs (it was winter anyway ;) ... "Fuck patriarchy!" I thought "and fuck this system that expects me to look, act, think a certain way!" It was my sole intention to do everything opposite than what i was "supposed to" as a woman.

But you know what? I wasn't happy. At all. In fact, not getting to wear my stilettos and flirt made me miserable. I didn't feel any more empowered, just depressed. I needed a different feminism because the one i created for myself didn't work for me at all. The problem was that i didn't realize i was "allowed" to still be me and a feminist.

It took me a while to understand that as long as i thought through where my likes, dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, etc. came from, i was certainly entitled to them. Let me try to explain this.

Is feminist and conventionally pretty compatible? Yes. As long as you realize that your preference for looking this way may have been influenced by media and years of socialization. You recognize that and still want to look the way you do? More power to you. I think Sarah said it best, "My lipstick doesn’t negate my brain cells." Telling me i'm not a feminist because of the way i look is bullshit. You're judging me based on appearance - how is that any better than what patriarchy does in the first place? "The anger that some women are treated differently by society than others based on their looks is a valid anger, but why the hell are feminists directing it at the women who happen to fit the preferred look rather than the system that insists on ranking all of us?" You know what's even more annoying? A main reason this blog is semi-anonymous is because I don't want anyone to know what i look like. I've mentioned before that what i look like isn't the point but now it just annoys me. Would people take me more seriously or less seriously based on my appearance? Would other feminist bloggers respect what i say any more/less based on the way i look? If so, that's bullshit. And as much as i want to share pictures of me from time to time (for example, post my sexy tattooed back), this is exactly why i won't post a photo of me on the blog and that's just annoying, and distracting, because who the fuck cares? But apparently a lot of people do...

Is feminist and sex work compatible? Yes. As long as it empowers you. And you know what pisses me off? When people i respect are renouncing the feminist label because of others who tell them they are "antifeminist." (Who made you the fucking feminism police anyway?)

Is feminist and Obama supporter compatible? Yes. As long as you value what the idea of Hilary Clinton means for women. It isn't any less sexist to support a candidate because she is a woman than it is not to support her because she is one.

Is feminist and stay-at-home mom compatible? Yes. As long as it's a choice you make that works for your family and you made that decision without being pressured or forced.

Is feminist and male compatible? Yes. As long as you don't try to take over the movement ;) Many of my favorite men identify as feminists. Men have a lot to gain through the goals of the women's movement. For one, gender roles negatively impact men as well as women and the rules of masculinity are arguably just as rigid as those of femininity.

Is being a female feminist who is romantically involved with a man compatible? Yes. So is female feminist who is romantically involved with a woman, so is feminist and single... Whoever you're attracted to is cool, and you aren't any more or less feminist for finding men sexy**. Oh and marriage doesn't make you any less of a feminist either.

Is feminist and activism regarding other forms of discrimination compatible? Um... yes? Isn't that the point? Isn't feminism about equality? I didn't really understand how anyone could have thought that writing about Sean Bell distracted from feminism. Fuck that. Racism is absolutely a feminist issue, "just like poverty, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and much more are feminist issues, simply because these are factors that oppress women on a daily basis and prevent them from living lives freely, safely and to their full potential."

Is feminist and the opposite of all the things above compatible? Yes... with (IMO) the exception of the last because i really think feminism is about equality and needs to focus on all aspects of oppression. Other than that: you can still be feminist and not conventionally beautiful. You can be feminist and not shave your legs. You can be a short feminists, a tall feminist, a skinny feminist, a fat feminist, a no make up feminist, a combat-boot wearing feminist (i feel like a fucking Dr. Seuss book...) My appearance does not determine my level of feminist commitment. Neither do my choices to or not to marry or my sexual orientation. Or whether or not i like porn. Guess what? I can vote for whoever the fuck I want and still identify as a feminist. Whatever.

Moral of the story is stop fucking shaming me for being who i am just because i don't fit into your picture perfect notion of feminism. We need to stop hatin' on each other because that is what's distracting.

And i can already see the "you must not understand intersectionality" bullshit comments i am bound to get (esp. in regards to the conventional beauty piece of all this). I do understand intersectionality. I think about it, talk about it, blog about it and understand how much intersectionality effects all of us. That's just it. All of this bullshit is part of the problem. We, as feminists, need to stop targeting each other and work together towards a common goal. PS, that goal's equality, or at least I always thought it was. So why the fuck are we wasting our time fighting with each other? Wouldn't it be extremely liberating to embrace who we are, not feel guilty for it any longer, work together, and get shit done?

I'll include MY feminism here. Because i've written it out before but it seems even more relevant now: I identify with feminism because of its commitment to social, political, and economic equality for all people. Regarding women specifically, my feminism allows me to: be independent, while depending on those I love; be flirty and "girly" whenever I want, without it compromising how people view my intelligence or sexual freedom; exercise, for me, for my body, for my health and strength, not to fit into conventional beauty; stand firm for what I believe in, and not be called too masculine or bitchy. My feminism does not discount the differences between men and women, but strongly believes that these differences are either a product of, or exaggerated by, socialization. My feminism values men because it values equality. My feminism is anti oppression. It seeks to end the discrimination of people on the basis of sex, age, race, social class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Oh, and my feminism is always changing, because like the waves of change flow through society and politics, feminism needs to be fluid to reflect the needs of the world.

Ever been told you aren't feminism enough for whatever reason? Get snarky about that bullshit in the comment section ;)

*a word i used then, wouldn't use now
**Update 7/22: Oh no!!!


sally said...

This is an awesome, awesome post!

The thing I get the most from non-feminists is that they're surprised I'm not a lesbian. This is usually followed by surprise that I wear tight clothes & like to show off my assets (when appropriate, of course) and that I like sex.

The thing I get the most from feminists is surprise that I support Obama.

Black Thirteen said...

As someone who thinks "Twisty" hates women just as much (if not more) than the men she maligns, I must say, this post is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I've been told that I'm not a feminist because I have an open marriage. That one has NEVER made sense to me.

Also, I am apparently not a feminist because I want to date women even though I have a husband. Because I only want to date women so my husband can watch. Yep. That's it.

I'm constantly amused that my nontraditional marriage makes me less of a feminist.

Anonymous said...

You are awesome. I love this post.

love love love love.

and I want to see your tattoos! I love photowhoring mine. :)

Michael Hussey said...

A main reason this blog is semi-anonymous is because I don't want anyone to know what i look like

A wrote another blog anonymously. I got linked the Wired and rethought the whole anonymous blogger thing. I've since won a media award. The bad thing about being anonymous is you can't claim credit for popular posts. Even Atrios had to come out of his shell.

Negative comments are part of blogging and feminists bloggers deal with the most extreme trolls. It's your choice if you wish to be anonymous. Don't let the trolls make that decision for you.

Michael Hussey said...

One more thing:

By being sexual, by letting guys buy me drinks

I've had women buy me drinks. Now that's feminism! Free booze is a God-given right. I'm agnostic, but just deliver me free drinks.

Renegade Evolution said...

yeah, I just can't hang onto a word when SOME people using it treat people like me and other sex workers like shit and actively try to harm us or deny us autonomy or access to resources we need, when they trash and actively try to hurt other women. I just can't try to span that bridge or whatever any more, the word is dirty to me at this point.

Radical Reminders said...

frau sally benz, i hear you, totally hear you...

Black Thirteen, i just can't believe you finally agree with me on something... un-freakin-believable :)

feministblogproject, you should absolutely post about your marriage arrangement - that's really progressive, i've never heard of a couple having a successful, feminist, open, relationship... definitely write about it, i'd love to read that post (unless you already wrote it in which case link here :) haha)

Sarah, haha "photowhoring" - i totally almost "befriended" you today on facebook... but then thought it was too close to the real world and didn't go through with it :)

Michael Hussey, i agree, free booze is terrific :) esp when it comes with no strings attached... that's sometimes the catch with allowing guys to buy girls drinks, they also buy some sort of expectations...

Renegade Evolution, i understand where you're coming from, it's just a bummer to see someone whose opinion i value denounce the feminist identity - it's too bad because the movement needs more women like you in it.

Black Thirteen said...

Black Thirteen, i just can't believe you finally agree with me on something... un-freakin-believable :)

It was bound to happen sooner or later. :D

Besides, I don't see how anyone can read what she writes, and not come away thinking "Wow, she really must hate women."

Anonymous said...

The gap between I'm a feminist but and I'm a feminist and...

I think the hardest part for me right now is the issue of activism, and am looking for your thoughts on the necessity of activism (mostly in the verbal/written format) within the feminist identity. Looking through your "quiz" on the I'm a feminist but post, there is no way that I cannot consider myself a feminist. But, yet, I dont. Feminism made the life I lead possible, and I fully accept that fact. However, I do not identify as a feminist because I do not actively deal with feminist issues. I dont try to educate others and I try not to get too offended when people make stupid comments. I try to promote female strength and intellegence through my actions, but that's about it. I think my more or less acceptance of the status quo negates the answers to the above mentioned quiz as identifing as a feminist. So my question to you is, is it possible to be a "passive" feminist?

Anonymous said...

Lots of good stuff here. It's great that you can tread both sides of the spectrum and keep your appearance and beliefs mutually exclusive. Anyone who thinks there is one archetype (and not just in feminism, but any movement) is just as blind as the opposite side. You should never have to compromise your individuality for the sake of others, and certainly not for the sake of a movement that in my eyes is not about making us all the same. That's not equality, that's conformity. As long as your actions are consistent with your beliefs, look however you want and like whatever you want.

In regards to sex work, is it even about empowerment? To me, it's just another path in life one chooses (has to be willingly of course).

To anonymous, I think it's quite possible to identify as a passive feminist, but you have to realize that feminism, or any movement for that matter, is about spreading your ideas to others.

lankydancer said...

Hi, I cam here via the link love at Belledame's and just wanted to say that I love this post. I've always been really bothered by the fact that if you looked or worked or had sex a certain way, you were automatically undermining everything feminism stood for. This:

"The problem was that i didn't realize i was "allowed" to be still me and a feminist."

is right on the money. Enjoy your stilletos and flirting, I know I do.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing - the issue of being feminist and sometimes being feminine is something that I still struggle with. I think I'm sort of working out what I'm comfortable with, but it's nice to see other peoples' views!

Rachel said...

Great post. Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

I love your post. Both my mother and I are feminists, and we have had MANY discussions on the challenge of being a feminist. It is not easy to be a feminist sometimes! We both still wear makeup, I wear 'trendy' clothes, and my mom dyes her hair. But we are both extremely active and conscious in our feminism. Sometimes I think: am I just trying to make feminism a "convenient theory for you" thing? As in, we understand the implications of wearing make up, or trendy clothes, or dancing at a bar, or what have you, but we want to do them anyway, so we create some way to say that our actions are still feminist - when perhaps they do not do feminism over all justice.
For example, in my women's studies class in college, a feminist who did not wear makeup, trendy clothes, and did not shave, mentioned that those who did the opposite (*ahem,* me!) were not exactly liberating other women. She did not say that i wasn't a feminist, and i understood EXACTLY what she meant. And I agree. But I could not do what she did - I would feel not only uncomfortable, but insecure, which is something I had just gotten over. It probably was media that did that to me - made me feel insecure if I didn't dress trendy, etc, but it made me who I was, right or wrong.

So in the end, my mother and I came to the conclusion that even if society/media has brought us to the constrained choice of wearing makeup, it is now today part of who we are - it is sometimes too hard to try to undo all that has been done to us via society/media/etc. So we do what we can for feminism while still trying to hold on to our selves, however we may have come to be our selves, and believe the important thing is to understand what our actions mean, even if we choose to do them anyway (therefore, I often try to tell others how my actions may not be helping the image/objectification of women overall so that I am not, in a sense, "marketing" that behavior as good for women). That's our somewhat foggy conclusion to the entire complicated matter, anyways.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Intersting subject. I really think you are right! I think when it comes to looks and feminism it is all about having a choice. Its about having the choice; and excercising that choice day to day, situation to situation. It can feel liberating to wear a mini skirt. Just as it can feel liberating to cover up. But maybe the liberating thing here is just feeling secure enough to make your own choices about your appearance. (Whatever that choice may be). To feel like you have power over the way you look and that, as a woman, this is not dictated to you by society.

It is also true that you don't have to look one way all the time. I can dress up in a pretty dress and makeup and feel really good. And I also can feel really good wearing no make, with decidly dodgy hair while wearing rough tracksuit bottoms and a pj top. And I love that! I appreaciate this freedom all the more for this variation. In both cases I am still the same feminist!

Society noticebley obsesses over how attractive women are considered and thus over their clothing. This obssession is apparent in both directions; whether its because the clothing is considered too sexualised/attractive or too unattractive/unsexualised. It strikes me as similar either way. A woman can feel oppressed by a binki or hijab if she really dsnt want to wear it.

Personally I don't wear heels. After wearing them for some years... its just because I don't like pain! I don't think its worth it. This is my indivisual choice. Its because I am a feminist that I feel I can/should wear whatever shoes I want; heels/no heels.

Anonymous said...

I've been told I'm not a feminist because I believe prostitution should be legal and regulated, because I believe prostitution should not be shameful, because I support sex workers of all genders and sexualities.