Friday, January 02, 2009

"The good kind of feminist' (by Suzie)

          Perhaps because I have keen, dog-like hearing, I talk softly. (Why is everyone else shouting??) I dislike confrontation. For much of my life, I was slender. Sometimes I wear skirts and dresses, and I really do think that they can be comfortable and that men should have that option. I’m compulsively* heterosexual. At times, I wear makeup, not because feminism gives me choices, but because I was indoctrinated with the idea that I’m more attractive that way, and I can’t get that out of my head any more than I can shake the idea that I need to be attractive. Sometimes I pull the hair out of my legs with a little torture machine, not because I like smooth legs or think torture is sexy, but because I have enough to deal with, without some idiot making fun of me for having hairy legs.
           Radical feminists may think less of me for these things (sorry! I’m trying!). Like most women, however, I get a lot of positive reinforcement for anything considered feminine. I’ve had liberal/leftist/progressive/feminist men confide that they like me because I’m more feminine than some feminists they know. I want to cry, “That’s not a compliment!” But I don’t because of that problem-with-confrontation.
         I felt that same anguish this week when I read this comment from Comrade Kevin to the author at Liberality:
You're the good kind of feminist. The one I can listen to, I mean. No point in eschewing your femininity and expression of it in the process of seeking empowerment.
         To Kevin and all similar comrades: If I want equal rights and opportunities, including a reduction in the epidemic of male violence against women, will you listen to me only if I wear skirts and smile winningly?
         I'm low income and disabled. If I want to discuss class and disability, will it help if I look demure and speak softly?
        When men talk political theory or philosophy, privilege or oppression, do you listen only to those who do not fear expressing their masculinity? What combination of masculinity and femininity do you require from lesbians and gay men seeking rights?
        Kevin’s comment on femininity relates to my recent post on masculinity. It suggests that men and women are masculine or feminine by nature. In other words, there is something in my genetics that encourages me to wear dresses and makeup, avoid confrontation, etc. If I don't act in ways that society deems feminine, I must be eschewing my femininity, or denying my nature. 
        On his own blog, Kevin calls himself a feminist and criticizes the “second generation.” (That would be the “second wave.” As I’ve said before, these terms are imprecise, but even the first wave included more than one generation.) He says:
Feminism should not be a myopic viewpoint pitting men against women. True feminism is egalitarianism and moves the entire human race forward: women of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations, and men of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations.
Once again, we see the idea that feminism must fight all oppressions and not focus (solely? too much?) on gender and women.
          Going back to his comment on empowerment: Some people talk about it as if it's all good! No one has to make any sacrifices! Men and women can both win! Sometimes, however, some people have to give up power in order for others to be empowered. If women had parity in Congress, for example, it would mean fewer men in Congress. The post on masculinity noted that some men feel less powerful when they are no longer needed as providers and protectors.
          The idea that men would listen if only we were "the good kind of feminist" plays into the good-girl trap: If only we tried harder, if only we were more understanding ... It's as if we were asking for special favors, and men had no responsibilities. (Amananta's post on "the latest false woman-dividing dichotomy" also applies here.) If women could win equality by pleasing men – if all we had to do was look at them sweetly and bat our mascaraed eyelashes – the revolution would be over tomorrow.    
*Joke. See “compulsory heterosexuality.”
ETA: See the comments for Kevin's response.