Sunday, August 07, 2005

Inaugural Address: "You Don't Seem Like a Feminist"

I started calling myself a feminist when I was twelve years old, as soon as I understood that there was a word for thinking that boys and girls having different chores, rules, or allowances wasn't fair. While I hope my thinking has become broader and more nuanced since then, the general idea remains the same. As far as I'm concerned, there is no reasonable way for any person to argue with the basic tenets of feminism. Women and men are intellectual and emotional equals. Women and men should be socially, politically, and economically equal. These were radical thoughts in 1792, when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her A Vindication on the Rights of Women, but they are not radical now.

Still, whenever I have called myself a feminist, the term has elicited a reaction. The reaction varies; it can be an eyeroll, sudden anger, or--more rarely--a sense of instant comraderie. However, the reaction that concerns me most, and paradoxically appeared only after I became a grown woman, is the correction. This is most often a variation on the theme stated in the title of this post. "You can't be a feminist, you're not like them." It should be noted that the 'them' in this sentence is clearly used as a pejorative. The 'them' of whom I cannot be a part, are different, other, wrong. This reaction is partly due to the success of the opposition in characterizing feminists as bellicose women with whom nobody would care to associate anyway. Well, wrong. It is entirely possible to have both social skills and self-respect. Assuming that the men you know are not in immediate danger of having their opposable thumbs rescinded, it is also possible to be a feminist who enjoys the company of men. Hey, it's even possible to be a man and a feminist! So, I freely confess to you now that I am, indeed, one of those pesky women who has respect for herself, and a willingness to speak her mind.


Flash!topian said...

Thanks, Heocwaeth! I found your page from the chick lit discussion over at Dr. Bitch. (I'm irate commenter Carrie.) I think part of the problem with current perceptions of feminism is that they're tainted by a kind of feminism that is not very old and has never been very effective. My feminism is of the Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Willard type, asking for equal opportunity so that women can participate in the meaning-making structures of society, like the law and the church. The other branch, which I don't think is much older than a cheap pop version of the European "New Woman" of the 1890's, is more about the right of women to, uh, smoke. And have vibrators. And... uh, spend their husband's money! Whoo! As you said in your comment about "chick lit," surely women have more to offer than this.

HeoCwaeth said...

Thanks for posting, Carrie. Additions to the instant comraderie list are always welcome. (I returned a comment to you before this, but managed to delete it in my attempts to edit. Blogging Lesson #2, I guess.)I think my problem with some 'chick lit' is its tendency to take the idea of women as the owners of their own sexuality, and twist it so that sexuality is all that women are. I guess my point of reference is always medieval lit, and there is plenty of "women as hyper-sexual and only that' to be found in medieval stuff.

Flash!topian said...

Exactly! Female sexuality in the 18th century, too, was the major basis for misogyny. And isn't Wollstonecraft's point that, without education and a worthwhile career to work towards, women have nothing to be except bodies? I am greatly in favor of (and have benefitted from) the sexual revolution. Go it. But what good is the right to orgasm without the right to an equal standing in society? Mothers who would be proud if their daughters became mindless supermodel trophy brides believe they inculcate feminism by giving the girl a sex toy at 13. To semi-quote Samuel Johnson, the virtues of chick-lit's heroines are the vices of a true feminist. I do get so worked up about this. Sorry for the ranting.

HeoCwaeth said...

Carrie, lol, never apologize for ranting around me.

ehj2 said...

as long as you don't have a bumber sticker that asks, "Have you run over a boy today?" ... you're probably not too feminist.

glad to see you're working on acquiring power "the old fashioned way" ... you just take it.

looking forward to reading your clear voice.

good luck in all you do.