Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tenets of My Feminism

Have you noticed that I'm a militant feminist? I think once a long time ago someone asked me in a comment to outline my definition of feminism or my beliefs about feminism. That sounded like a lot of work. But I'm going to try to do it here, in rough fashion. I'm not going to bother listing out the dead-obvious stuff about feminism that everyone already agrees on. (That is, everyone who is a thinking adult; the average schmo doesn't even know the denotation of the word feminism. In 2011, I talked about the difference between a new usage and a misusage of a word, and why "feminist" is so often misused. Sorry guys, but feminism isn't sexist.)

So here are some of the tenets of my personal feminism:

1. Anyone can be a feminist. There's no required reading list. You don't have to major in women's studies or even go to college.

2. I believe in counterintuitive solutions. Orchestras used to be primarily male. They closed the gap by moving to a blind audition process, not by telling women to play more like men. Be suspicious when the proposed solution to any gender gap problem involves telling women to behave more like men:

  • When the VIDA numbers come out, editors claim they get more submissions and pitches from men, so everyone tells women to submit more. Be suspicious. Maybe men need to submit less. Editors are overworked and underpaid, and most of what they're getting is crap. 
  • What about the pay gap? The standard line is, men get more promotions and raises because they ask for them; there's a confidence gap; women need more self-assurance. Again, the problem is always with women, not men. Maybe men are over-confident? Maybe they ask for too much, and end up hording all the resources? It's also easier for them to take the risk of asking for more, since other men are making most of the decisions. A big part of the problem is that we define success in terms of male characteristics. Men are more aggressive, therefore aggression=good. (Kind of like how humans are the most intelligent species, since we define what "intelligence" is in terms of what we can do.) Question the status quo and the value system. It's not just that women aren't paid enough; it's that men are paid too much. (I'm not talking about your buddy at the next desk; look to the top.)

3. With regard to charges that "feminism is for white women": I don't think feminism is particularly racist. Has feminism, historically, as a movement, excluded women of color? Yes, of course, but this is a general rule, not a particular one. We (people) are racist as a whole and we need to change that. I do not think it's productive to pit feminist activists against race activists as though their goals were mutually exclusive. Let's do both at once. If you see a feminist being racist, call them out, but don't blame it on feminism. Blame it on racism. (Note: I remark on this because I think men can use charges of racism as a way to undermine feminism and derail feminist conversations; it's a form of the "always a bigger problem" fallacy, i.e. racism is more important because it affects men too! Naturally I take these concerns much more seriously when they come from women of color.)

4. That said, being white makes feminism easier. Being attractive makes feminism easier. Being rich makes feminism easier. That's because being white, rich and attractive makes everything easier! Privilege is additive. Being a "hot feminist" is not subversive.

5. To me, feminism isn't about honoring personal choices, i.e. "I'm a woman and I do whatever I want and it's my choice." Feminism is about seeking equality. If you're a woman and you make anti-feminist choices (like, say, editing a magazine and only publishing men), you can't then use "feminism" as the justification for your choices.

I think those are the big ones.

30 comments:

  1. I agree in particular with #5. I really hate the concept that feminism means not demanding anything from women. Feminism specifically asks women (along with men) to promote equality and fairness for women. So for instance, it asks women not to get ahead at work by sleeping with the boss, even if that is, in some sense, empowering on a personal level. The idea that feminism means "the absence of rules that apply to women" drives me up the wall.

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  2. I think people are more class-ist than they are racist. And early feminism did a big disservice to women who were stay at home moms They alienated a ton of people, some who will never call them self feminists.

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    1. Point taken, a lot of racism is classism in disguise (though I think if you subtract out classism, racism still exists).

      It sucks, but I wonder if it's avoidable. Maybe activism always alienates.

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    2. Good points, E. Now to have further thinks about this. Thanks!

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    3. Thank YOU! I appreciate the input.

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    4. Best book about the American class system I know: Class, by Paul Fussell. I bought a battered paperback copy for 25 cents at The Salvation Army, cuz I'm a classy guy. It was published in '83, so it's acquiring a patina of quaintness, like Love Story or The Official Preppy Handbook; but it's still so eye-opening. I've heard that Douglas Coupland was thinking of Fussell's "category X"--the intelligentsia, the bohemians who've escaped the class racket--when he coined "Generation X," which I'm obviously a member of. Every day I see and hear things that remind me of Fussell's great book.

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    5. I'll look for it. I think you have mentioned it before. I just skimmed an article about it that mentioned the way you pronounce "patina" is a class marker.

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  3. Fussell mentions that. Accent on the first syllable is the Anglophilic and therefore classier pronunciation.
    One of my youtube arguments was about a class marker Fussell mentions. I was watching an episode of Dark Shadows, the 60s horror soap, and a character who's supposed to be a 19th-century English aristocrat says something like "I shall arrive momentarily." I pointed out that momentarily means FOR a moment, not IN a moment. Barnabus Collins wouldn't commit such a vulgar solecism, I said, My pedantry incurred someone's resentment, and we argued. Some people just aren't sensitive to language.

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    1. Whoa! For a moment? I didn't know that. It's like "presently"

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  4. Provocative post, Elisa (which I love). What I observe most in my own life is that women move ahead without stating it openly. Ambition and boldness is globally accepted chatter from males, but not females. As one who occupies a high corporate position, I am STILL cautious of how I language my ambition. At the same time men around me openly talk about their next promotion, the next step in their career. Like women are supposed to be grateful for empowerment and promotion, even though they accomplished it covertly, on their own merits, without anyone's consent. That continues to piss me off...and I will continue to move ahead.

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    1. Love hearing your perspective on this since you're a high-powered woman! So interesting that you can move through the ranks -- you just can't talk about it!!

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    2. Am too distracted to carefully read through this, but your fifth bullet point strikes me as crucial/necessary. Maybe this links, maybe this doesn't: it seems to me that some people are too comfortable with equating the personal to the political, that they treat it as a truism, rather than seeing that this notion may not always be equally relevant: surely some acts or concerns really are more clearly at the personal end of the spectrum than the political. In other words, I sometimes feel I'm witnessing people intellectually bolster their personhood by claiming it's exactly equivalent to broader spheres. I do think the notion was valuable, and it, case by case, may still be very useful--but I don't think this lens always gets at all relevant dynamics constituting a given scenario. Maybe my more specific issue is sometimes I see this equation being invoked when the writer can look good from it, but then there don't seem to be lots of writers lining up to articulate how many particulars in their life may conjoin awfully well with white supremacism or what have you. A white person dating/marrying/being sexually attracted to a white person is totally political--genitals are so liable to be insanely dubious in terms of racial politics--but I'd wager most people are likelier to try and pawn this off as more strictly personal. Last go: what if the personal really is politcally fucked up, in the sense that the person is the agent of the fucked-upness, not the body acted upon by third parties.

      I look forward to going through your post carefully this evening! Happy April!

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    3. Ahh. yeah, I think I have unpopular opinions when it comes to sexuality. I don't think everything is inherent/inborn/not-a-choice. I think a lot of sexuality is learned....

      Anyway, hi and same to you!

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  5. If I read you write, we're on very related pages; and I love the way you aren't sneaking in Hetero Hegemony/bigotry and insinuating that this only work one way--with Homosexualism; actually I think I might love your comment: am I Batty or does this gel with me feeling that Heterosexuality is infinitely not natural--or at-least not more natural than non heterosexuality, and that instead many are fallaciously conflating reproduction to sexuality; Ds and Fs can totally make babies--but yah right, the social paradigms to enable this are barely here.

    BTW: nodding at your race and feminism point (s)--totally agree that it's questionable to dismiss racist feminism as if the problem is feminism as a totality whereas I'd argue the "real" issue is inadequately ethical thinking, a condition not unique to any one discourse. I all the time try and teach my students this point via its inverse--that most of what constitutes mainstream "civil rights" (itself a problematic term when one considers that generically speaking this solely means race, which is not to suggest race ain't colossally freakishly important as a dynamic) history of the 50s and 60s is yes-yes-yes, awesome, but not complete because it seems rather well established now that racial uplift meant for men, as if men can always be synecdoche for humanity--bell hooks goes through this point and various permutations quite a bit, for example.

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    1. Yeah I tend to think sexuality is more fluid and thus can definitely be influenced by cultural stuff, life experiences, etc. (So in my view "I was born this way" is oversimplifying things, but of course I don't think that makes LGBT rights any less of an important issue. And as you say neither is better/more "natural.")

      And yes, the civil rights movement was historically sexist! But that doesn't mean we should just throw it all out with the bathwater.

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  6. Oh--ha-ha, totally the enemy of the fluidity argument: if that's the case, then why is there--"indisputably"--heterosexual hegemony; the fluidity position grosses me out because it--once again--scrims heterosexual hegemony/refuses to recognize its truly outrageous enfranchisement/dominance, a dominance that's maximally terrible because it ain't dominance at-all; it's simply nature and the world gets this even less than how logically invalid maleness as better is: every continent except Antarctica has women's movements that are at-least a little past the subaltern stage, but this isn't the case for sexuality. I don't believe I've ever heard this position from a homosexual is perhaps notable too, though I'm getting into logical fallacy territory, I suspect.

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    1. Wait, I'm confused. How was I refusing to recognize the dominance of heterosexuality by using the word fluid?

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    2. My thing is this: When people say stuff like "I believe in gay rights because they're born that way, they can't help it!" that suggests that if it were a choice, they wouldn't deserve the same rights. Or that it's some kind of handicap. To me, that's a non issue. Gay rights are important either way!

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  7. Oh it's not that I don't think you're unaware of the dominance; I do think one can argue that framing sexuality as fluid can erase awareness of hetero dominance though, and imply that heterosexuality is not--at many levels/in many instances a terrifyingly stable monolith but instead something far more generous and experimental, something less codified and rigid, something that's "fluid"! Maybe using a sex analogy will help: men encompass a wonderful span of ways of being, it's a demographic full of engaging diversity, but to invoke that case--as a baseline position--could easily slide into downplaying the relation between very problematic hegemony and maleness. I get your qualms with the born that way position, but I think it's politically sensible, as what's I think really being expressed--albeit not perfectly--is that the world needs to understand that homosexuality is not outside of nature, that it's not some silly fabrication. again--I don't think you're unaware of these points, it's the language choices that I think need interrogation.

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    1. What I meant is, I don't really believe that people are just born either "gay" or "straight" and that's that. I think prevailing cultural mores have a big effect. See Ancient Greece. But my point was not that people who identify as gay are just "experimenting," any more than people who identify as straight are experimenting...

      The "outside of nature" idea is just religious mumbo-jumbo IMO. Scientists would never say that, since homosexuality occurs in the rest of the animal kingdom.

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  8. I'd word it as the outside of nature idea should be mumbo-jumbo, but it's discursive status is, in some sectors, well beyond the evangelist ones, far from it; it should be mumbo-jumbo, but much mumbo-jumbo has more clout than better caliber reasoning. Again, I don't distrust you, my sense of you as a person, I just have major issues with the initial frame you aligned yourself with; for me it's too much of a blood-thirsty wolf wearing pastel cashmere at a nice brunch place in Brooklyn. And, actually, I think marking the mumbo-jumbo as endemic to a certain conservative religious field is letting too many people off easy; I am alas all too often observing feminist discourse which takes sex as the stage, and assumes sexuality--hence leaving heterosexuality once again un-marked and thus hegemonized; I am a feminist--it's an essential part of my identity--but I don't see any large-scale indication that the majority of feminism exists in un-hierarchical ways to sexuality discourse: even some ostensibly sophisticated feminism is still predicated on the Female/Male (as genital category) axis/divide, and while the world's centuries away from rendering this divide un-meaningful, it is also simultaneously, I'd argue, tremendously obfuscating. Here's the quickie version: feminism and sexuality studies strike me as a ways away from being a partnership that's remotely symmetrical. And finally--but anyone who wants to view what I'm writing as fodder for ditching feminism should, I believe, really try and revise that stance!

    I really enjoy this blog-space: I find you fun and delightfully minimally stressful to "converse" with!

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    1. I know what I'm saying is potentially controversial -- hence my need to couch it in terms of "unpopular opinion." I believe I'm on the right side anyway because I think it comes down to human rights NO MATTER WHAT. In my view, whether sexuality is a choice or not, it SHOULD NOT affect your legal rights. Like I'm basically quibbling about nature vs nurture (I think it's both, not either/or), but if we could at some point discover exactly how much of sexuality is nature vs nurture, in a theoretical world, I don't think that should have political ramifications. Humans are humans.

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  9. I agree--but your (quite gorgeous) statement strikes me as a pure truth, and I feel like political truths rarely are; and I like how your post does already begin to integrate this counter-point. I'm curious what you think of my view regarding America and a female president; my hunch is that it's not a bad one, but that it's also too extreme to be politically intelligible or, rather, remotely innocent: honestly, I don't want one--or not in an over-determined way; actually it's terrific to me so long as people don't assume it's the mass victory it may look--because I don't like presidents; presidents justify Nation-States, and Nation-States are arguably ruining the world so I'm just not all that cheered by the notion that attaining this platform is excellent. But yah then I also--not, it's not also, it is-is--do love the idea of people seeing photos of a US president and the morphemic difference between this and every other one is pronounced. Oh yah, I should, going back to sexuality, admit that legislative frames (regarding sexuality) don't stir me nearly as much as de-facto ones, so that's mega inflecting my thinking.

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    1. Ah well I fucking hate politics in practice because it's all compromise and money etc. It's not really about beliefs. I do wish there were more women in positions of power just because it sets an example; I think it shapes what people realize is possible.

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  10. I don't think it's nurture because that would presumably be something like one's environment encouraging one to be homosexual, which strikes me as laughable; does any part of one's environment--other than those who have awesome millieus that are so a-typical as to render them politically un-intelligible--ever actually foster being a same-sexer? Honestly I'm impressed people figure it out at-all, so active--though often un-spoken/articulated/marked (transparent like clear air)--is the bias. I do think your point works really well for heterosexuality though--which I mean in an excited, engaged way, not as mockery!

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    1. I honestly think it's both (part genetic, part environment) but it's not like I've done controlled studies....it's just my interpretation of the data so to speak.

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  11. I'm very with you with "realize what's possible"--but I wish the bloom wouldn't be, almost inevitably, other than power as opposed to ethics/reason.

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  12. This may seem too out-there/dumb, but does this make any sense to you? I am pretty sure human makes sense as a contingent, political concept, but I don't think there's innately a human at some indivisible level; that honor, for me, would go to homo-sapien; there s ample evidence that demographics can lose out on an existence anything like "human." Women were, and sometimes still are, not humans--nor non-whites, non-heterosexuals, various religious minorities etc.

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