I've probably been headed in this direction for a while now. My sporadic habit of delving into feminist writing seems to have developed into an ongoing interest, and I've been finding myself more and more taking feminist lines in discussions I've been involved in. At the same time, I've been getting increasingly angry about sexual violence in various forms. I am not completely sure that feminism is the optimal way to address this problem, but there's not much else available in the way of movements organized around the issue, and it's important enough that I feel I have to do something. I can't just dismiss it as somebody else's issue when so many women's lives are constrained by the fear of rape, and when that fear has proved justified for so many of my friends.
There are undoubtedly some people who define themselves as feminists who are not at all nice or even rational people, but I've become increasingly aware of feminists I strongly admire. (Not just people I admire who happen to be feminists, but people I admire because of the way they live as feminists specfically.) It's never a good idea to judge an ideology by its worst adherents! Several people on my flist have influenced me in this direction, but redbird in particular has inspired me. Partly, in fact, by not being terribly evangelistic about feminism, but just being an example of someone who is compassionate and thoughtful and makes sensible and enlightening comments from a feminist perspective.
The immediate cause for making this decision now is to do with the discussion around and reaction to the incredibly stupid Open Source Boob thingy. I found myself following links and reading posts about it almost compulsively, and some of it was really amazing and insightful, but some of it was incredibly, crushingly depressing. I'm not going to talk about it much because really absolutely everything original that could possibly said has already been chewed over about five hundred times. But the point is I was feeling more and more strongly that I want to be on the side of the people who are making insightful and compassionate analyses all over the place, and not on the side of the people who keep coming out with crass and depressing comments.
I don't really expect the Sisterhood to welcome me with open arms, mind you. I still don't really believe in the Patriarchy or Privilege or eliminating the syllable man from English, and I'm still really not an enthusiast for abortion. I don't particularly want to police anyone else's gender expression or sexuality, and I get defensive when people try to proscribe mine. Also, I'm not generally terribly good at being a Sister, because I don't fit well into groups organized around gender identity. I think this is part of the reason why I was so reluctant to embrace feminism for so long: I don't really identify as a woman very much, either in the positive sense of thinking that being female is an important aspect of who I am, or in the negative sense of experiencing difficulties in my life because of being female. But I'm starting to realize that gender is a major force in society at large, even if it isn't a major force in my life. And, well, it's a moral thing to combat discrimination regardless of whether you personally are disadvantaged by it. To quote the inestimable synecdochic, don't be an ally because you think it will get you something; be an ally because you don't want to be an asshole. So it's very much not about being liked and accepted by the feminist community.
Talking of the feminist community, I'm very much not interested in sitting around discussing whether trans women are real women, or whether disabled women should grudgingly be permitted to exist as long as they don't cause too much burden on their caregivers, or whether it's acceptable to appeal to racism in order to promote the feminist cause. The thing is, though, that activism for women's rights which isn't transphobic, ableist and racist is still called feminism. I think the danger with this sort of ideological movement can be that it becomes a mechanism for perpetuating its own existence, feminism for the good of feminism rather than for the good of women. That doesn't mean that all feminism is like that, of course, but it's an outcome I'm rather wary of. Even my religion is non-dogmatic and non-proselytizing, so I certainly expect as much of my political affilations. I want to commit myself to feminism as a pluralist, which means I don't want to waste my energy defining who gets to be in the club or striving to be in it myself.
What I do want to do is align myself with pro-women and anti-sexist causes. That's probably going to mean giving money at least initially, but I hope I can get to a position where I can contribute my time and effort as well. And more generally, I want to consider my decisions, opinions and actions in the light of whether they are likely to contribute making the world safer and freer for women. I want to notice what effects ways of telling stories may have on the position of women in society, and make sure that I communicate in positive ways.
Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm pretty arrogant and opinionated, but I will make a point of taking more experienced and knowledgeable feminists seriously if they criticize me for not living up to my newfound feminist ideals. I suspect this is going to make me uncomfortable; up till now, I would just have brushed off such criticisms by saying "who cares, I'm not a feminist anyway". But I am coming to think that from a moral perspective I need to deal with that discomfort and think seriously about whether I'm actually harming women or just genuinely have a different opinion about what is good for women from some other feminists. It might also happen that I'll get attacked by people who abominate feminism or think the whole concept is mean and unfair to men, but I doubt I'll ever be a major target for that sort of thing, and any such attacks would likely make me more convinced that affiliating with feminism is important.
Recanting a long-held opinion is a bit painful, isn't it? Last time I went through a process like this was in my early teens, when I realized that caring about the long term environmental effects of my lifestyle was actually morally important, and not just some stupid trendy bandwagon. It's a big part of my self-image that I am capable of changing my mind if I'm convinced by better evidence or arguments, and that allows me to overcome the cognitive dissonance and just general embarrassment of admitting, actually, I was wrong.
I don't fit well into groups organized around gender identity.
Certainly, one version of feminism is one that seeks to move beyond gender essentialism and rejects the notion of a constructed gender as an emblem of identity. I think that feminism as political activism has generally embraced the idea of a Sisterhood, fighting together in the form of a female union in the search for economic and social rights, and that has ben powerful in the past; but academic feminism often seeks to move beyond gender politics and instead questions what it is to define oneself as female or feminine.
Academic feminism does feed back into political feminism (raising questions about women's roles in the workplace or home, for example), so the two are not completely divorced, but one might say the political wing of feminism is more strident in defining a Sisterhood than the academic wing which seeks to challenge essentialist ideas.
I'm still really not an enthusiast for abortion
Your own, or other people's? I'm pro-choice myself, but would not be terribly enthusiastic about terminating a pregnancy of my own. Although people often read "pro-choice" as meaning "give me as many abortions as I can handle", I think it should be remembered that the term means "being in favour of presenting more than one option". I feel I wouldn't choose to have one myself, but I'm in favour of other women being able to terminate a pregnancy if they choose.
It's really hard for me to admit that there's any academic thing that I struggle with, but a lot of academic feminism is just way over my head. A lot of it is so post-modern and literary and I just panic if I get into a discussion where language doesn't work.
In general, I'm in favour of the idea of challenging gender essentialism. Indeed, a big part of the reason why I was so reluctant about feminism until recently was precisely that I don't want gender to be a big deal, so why should I get involved with a movement where gender is the point. My problem is that this whole questioning femininity thing seems to lead directly to the place where women who are "too" feminine, whatever that means, are devalued. I don't see much difference between despising feminine behaviours because they're not feminist enough, versus despising feminine behaviours because anything to do with women is obviously weaker and less worthwhile. It's also that kind of academic feminism that sometimes wants to make trans women not exist because they mess up the theory, and that really freaks me out.
In general, though, any ideological movement has to have a balance between theory and a sound intellectual basis, and practical political activism. One without the other is worse than useless. So I'm going to keep trying to understand the academic basis for feminist activism, and try to get over being frustrated because post-modernism interferes with communication.
On the abortion question: I can't buy into the idea that it's a purely personal thing. I don't think a foetus is a person, but I do think it's a being with moral significance. And there are major social effects to widespread abortion and pro-abortion attitudes, it's not just a private preference for the individual woman involved in the decision.
I want abortion to be completely unnecessary in almost every case. I want women to have access to contraception and adequate information about sex, and better autonomy about whether to have sex at all and what kind of sex to have. I want poor, ethnic minority, disabled and other disadvantaged women to be treated as potential mothers just as much as well-off white women. I want disabled women to be recognized as people, and I want there to be adequate resources to support them and women who are parenting or caregiving them. I want it to be possible to be a mother without suffering massive financial and career disadvantages, and without social ostracism if one isn't in an "approved" relationship model. I want the adoption system to be a lot better. There are still going to be women who medically or psychologically can't sustain a pregnancy, but that would be a much, much smaller group than the number who currently have abortions. Basically, I want to see greatly reduced need for abortions much more than I want to see improved access to abortion. That doesn't mean I think abortion should be illegal, but it's really hard for me to regard it as a good thing.
Thanks so much for your input. Your response to the boob project was one I really appreciated and learned from, and I also appreciate the links you've given me here. I'm a bit reluctant to call myself a womanist, because that feels like it's somebody else's movement and I don't want to muscle in on it. But a lot of the ideas coming out of womanism seem more appealing to me than standard feminist rhetoric. Reproductive justice rather than pro-choice, for example. Immigrant rights and prison justice as a feminist issue.
I have been dipping into My Ecdysis occasionally, and I do respect Sudy. The idea of a kyriarchy seems like almost a tautology, though: rule by the rulers! I suppose it's a way of saying that there are parallels between the way white people can treat POC, with the way that men treat women, and all of them need to be recognized and combated.
karnythia I hadn't come across before and she's pretty impressive, thanks for that link. I read delux_vivens and oyceter (as well as some of the Jewish anti-racist LJers) and follow links to that section of LJ sometimes, though admittedly I'm not really into media fandom so some of it is not very relevant to me. But I'll keep reading and keep learning, unquestionably.
Sweden is definitely a lot better than the UK, but it's still not perfect of course. I do really notice the fact that they have a concept called "parental leave", not maternity leave, and it's amazing how much difference that makes. I think seeing a more egalitarian society working is part of what's inspired me to want at least this level of respect for women everywhere.
Where do I hang the "Welcome!" banner? :) The reading has been amazing and helped clarify much of my own thoughts; I'm glad you've had much the same experience.
"...I'm very much not interested in sitting around discussing whether trans women are real women, or whether disabled women should grudgingly be permitted to exist as long as they don't cause too much burden on their caregivers, or whether it's acceptable to appeal to racism in order to promote the feminist cause." Quite. I've tended to refer to this as "Academic Feminism" and regard it as something to avoid.
i haven't read any of the controversy or anything much at all but I don't really identify as a woman very much, either in the positive sense of thinking that being female is an important aspect of who I am, or in the negative sense of experiencing difficulties in my life because of being female. But I'm starting to realize that gender is a major force in society at large, even if it isn't a major force in my life. is something i can identify with, certainly. i have read a little about entitlement recently, that someone else posted to, and if anything, i worry about being part of the problem - not just through inaction, but actively - people of all genders can reinforce the social structures and oppression of other women. i have promised myself to try and be more aware. as a rule i find internet 'discussions' pretty depressing. but occassionally they can be good. i randomly browsed to a thread about abortion and recent legislation in the USA and was pleasantly surprised how considerate, eloquent, and well-argued the 3 main posters were - they essentially agreed to disagree but were still interested in understanding the others' point of view.
Thank you, you always have such insightful and thought-provoking comments. I definitely agree that awareness is important, not being part of the problem is something I'm really thinking about at the moment.
Internet discussions can be depressing when they're on the level of people yelling at eachother and repeating cliches. I think the response to the boob project was pretty exceptional, because it involved such a wide range of different people, and because people started talking about stuff that doesn't get discussed much. I didn't get depressed by the obvious idiots, but by the people who obviously think they are nice, civilized, respectful people saying the most atrocious things in fairly literate terms. And the women who talked about how they get groped and harassed all the time.
What's changed? You remain staunchly opposed to injustice. All I see that's changed is that you have realised that the lunatic fringe does not make up the totality (or even the majority) of feminists. I forget who I'm paraphrasing when I say that "There is no movement so right that it won't attract nutters. And they tend to be the most vocal ones." I think all that's changed is that you've seen that much of what many feminists oppose is both real and ranges from the thoughtless to the vile.
My view is that as a rule of thumb, if I don't know which side is the right one, seeing what the less extreme and evangelical feminists have to say is normally a good place to start. But that isn't sufficient for me especially as much of the framing such as [i]femin[/i]ists and [i]patri[/i]archy (sometimes made more explicit by the extremists) leads to the conclusion that it's a female only thing, that everything that's gone wrong is the fault of men, and that it's us or them (and by virtue of my birth, I'm one of "them" - and to me it's a hideous sign when a movement implies that). (Incidently, the idea of the Kyriarchy linked below sidesteps most of that).
And FWIW, I don't think that anyone is actively in favour of abortion - it's simply the least bad option some of the time. If no abortions were to happen in a year because abortion was irrelevant then I think that there'd be a cheer from most of the pro-choicers, whatever their rhetoric sometimes implies.
What's changed is a good question. Yes, it's partly deciding that I am not going to let the extremists and the bullies put me off, but I think more importantly I've come to realize that there are some things that affect women as women, even though I generally think of people as individuals and particularly don't like gender as a way of lumping a group together. This comment of redbird's probably started the process. Yes, that was two years ago, so you can see I'm having trouble summing up quite a major and ongoing shift in attitudes.
A big part of my motivation is to do with the issue of rape, gender violence and women's safety. Obviously, nobody even slightly reasonable is in favour of rape, but I've started to see it as a social problem as well as being about violence perpetrated by one individual against another. It seems that feminism is the only movement that is addressing the question at that kind of systemic level.
Being more aware of the way gender skews society doesn't mean that I think men's interests and women's are opposed. That whole battle of the sexes thing seems to me like fundamentally an anti-feminist idea. Feminist ideals are about women living as people, being a full part of society. I think the concept of the patriarchy is supposed to counter this meme, by saying it's not individual men who are the problem, it's the system of patriarchy. But people are quite bad at dealing with abstractions, so it's easy for the idea of patriarchy to become literalized in an unhelpful way. Also, I personally believe that human life is not zero sum, that it's perfectly possible to make things better for women without harming men. Indeed it's impossible to get there any other way, because people are so interdependent and what affects one group will affect others too.
The problem with saying that nobody is actively in favour of abortion is that every time I think "but nobody really thinks that, it's just a caricature", I come across somebody who does express whatever opinion. I do understand why some people are vehement on the issue, because the so-called pro-life movement they're fighting is seriously dangerous and horrible. It's not the question of whether abortion is good or least worst though, it's the way that the pro-choice identification has become such a badge of identity for the movement, whereas I think there should be a lot more room to question that stance.
(You know that bit where I said I don't want to align myself with a feminism that is ableist? Part of that is not using terms like "crazy", "lunatic", "nutter" etc to criticize people whose ideas I don't agree with. I'm not policing anybody's language, but I want to make it very clear that for me, the problem with some approaches to feminism is not craziness, it's people holding opinions that don't fit the real world or that are harmful to a subset of women.)
Thank you so much. You know what I love about the response to this post? It's all the encouraging comments from feminists I look up to. I think if the people I respect think I have something to contribute, it doesn't matter so much if I find myself out of line with the orthodoxy (sic).
1) Feminism is not a distinct entity. It has many facets, and you don't have to follow or agree with all of them. I think you're agreeing with this anyway, but even so the degree you embrace feminism does not necessarily force you to follow certain norms.
2) Being insightful or crass is not a binary condition - even amongst fairly specific subject areas. There are feminists that in some areas I find insightful and thought provoking, but in other areas wrong, idealistic and pandering to their own agenda. I'd suggest that by combining people this enables a more coherent viewpoint, although if the group of people is not balanced things can go a little askew..
Various things synecdochic has written are indeed pretty good, and that it's important not to be an arsehole. The progress to this is of course limited by time, effort and the rest of life, but it's a good endpoint to aim for.
Recanting opinions is always a bit painful, but is just the price of being adult :)
Thank you, this is a really helpful comment. And I've enjoyed discussing around the topic with you too. Of course it's true that feminism is not a single ideology, and of course you can't divide the world into right people and wrong people, everybody has a mixture of some good opinions and some bad opinions. But feminism is an identity as well as an ideal, and I know I'm not going to fit in all that well with the group who see themselves as being in charge of the feminist club.
But it's not entirely like, say, membership in a political party; clearly you would only want to join a party if you largely agreed with its ideals. Standing up and being counted as a feminist seems like something important to do for its own sake, even when there are a lot of opinions that come under the heading of feminism that I don't agree with.
You completely get it about the self-improvement thing. Yeah, not being an arsehole is always a work in progress, and sometimes that progress means changing one's stance.
*hugs* I thought your last post wasn't very controversial :)
Recanting a long-held opinion is a bit painful, isn't it? ...actually morally important, and not just some stupid trendy bandwagon.
Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, well said.
Unsurprisingly, I think a lot of it comes down to definition of terms-- OK, apparently a thousand words of feminist linguistic ranting is too much for an LJ comment, so rather than condense it to salient points, I moved it here: http://cartesiandaemon.livejournal.com/465911.html
Hello. This was interesting; every time I look at your journal you've posted something interesting; we know people; I've friended you. (In fact we were briefly in the Carlton at the same time a few weeks ago, but I'm afraid I wasn't feeling massively sociable.) Er, I'm not going to say anything insightful about this posting, but thank you for it.
(Actually, Heather Corinna is a feminist I'd recommend reading. And - your comments about a world in which abortion isn't necessary are more or less exactly how I feel about it, yet I describe myself as pro-choice. Terminology, etc.)
Hi, welcome! I did see you in the Carlton and worked out from context who you were, but we didn't talk much. If I continue to hang out with that set then I expect I'll run into you in future.
I was aware of Heather Corinna before, and have a lot of respect for her activism. I didn't want to open the sex-positive can of worms in this post, but it's one issue where I find myself aligned with what seems to be a minority opinion in the feminist world. The stuff Corinna is doing with teen education is exactly the kind of feminist project I really want to get behind. I don't entirely agree with her opinions about every topic, but I really admire her bravery in discussing some extremely controversial topics in a way that is both analytical and personal.
Thanks, I'd be delighted to read accounts of significant feminist books. (My little brother is very into early feminist novels recently and has been lending me some, but I don't know if you mean non-fiction.) There are a few feminist communities on LJ that I do dip into occasionally, so the recommendation is helpful too.
Clearly growing up in Berkeley warps your mind. I can't remember not being a feminist. I'm still suprised how many women I know don't want to be called feminist. I'm in the if you believe women and men (and for that matter other gendered people) are are moral equal, then that all that matters camp though.
I really like this explanation of privilege. It made me get it in a way I hadn't before. Also did a lot in helping me separate guilt and privilege- but that is likely less of an issue for anyone who didn't grow up in Berkeley.
A resource that really shaped my feminism is Ursula K. Le Guin book of essays Dancing at the Edge of the World. This helped me understand the importance of work traditionally done by women. I could lead it to you via Jack if you like.
I still don't really believe in the Patriarchy or Privilege or eliminating the syllable man from English, and I'm still really not an enthusiast for abortion.
*laugh*. i'm not a feminist, but i "believe" in privilege and the patriarchy (though as somebody above pointed out, kyriarchy is actually a better term for what i observe, but i don't use it because eh, who wants to explain it every time).
i doubt i'll ever write things like "womyn", "herstory", and "girlcott", though i don't use "man" as a standalone for human, and definitely don't use "he" as a generic pronoun for animate beings.
in any case, i think it's a good thing that you're willing to change your mind, and it'll be interesting and possibly eye-opening if you continue to read about feminist thought.
I don't know. I am of course aware that there are inherent inequalities in the world, but I really dislike the way that the concept of privilege is used rhetorically. The patriarchy is more slippery, because it's not well defined at all. I think the original intent of the term probably made sense, a shorthand for talking about things that are systemically unfair rather than the actions of particular individuals. But in usage it seems to mean almost the opposite of what it was intended to mean, the suggestion that there's an international conspiracy of men to keep women down, or even that there's some kind of ur-Man out there who is "making" people behave in sexist ways.
My biggest problem is that it's in-group speak, and all it accomplishes is defining who's in the club and who isn't. I do know what the words are supposed to mean in context, having spent the last however many years reading lots and lots of feminist thought. But I spent a long time being put off the whole concept because the terms were so misused, and I've seen a whole lot of arguments that should have been avoided entirely, based around misunderstandings of the terms. That's not effective communication, or at least, it's not communication that accomplishes what I want communication to accomplish.
It's a similar thing with trying to make language "gender-neutral" or "feminist". I do think that some things can be accomplished by changing language. But doing so in an etymologically insensitive way just annoys my pedantic side too much, and looks ridiculous. And again, it marks those who aren't in the club because they spell words in the standard way. But yeah, I'm a lot more careful these days about he as generic all the same.
Have you looked into pro-life feminism. I'm continually frustrated by the way so many mainstream feminists won't critique abortion when, to me, it seems like such a huge symptom of the patriarchy we are living with.
http://www.nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com/ seems to be quite an interesting blog by a pro-life feminist and there are some interesting essays here http://www.fnsa.org/. There are also two books on the subject, Prolife Feminism: Yesterday and Today, which I haven't read, and Swimming against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion, which I have read and found very interesting.
Of course, there are also lots of people who use the label 'prolife feminism' whose feminist credentials might be questionable.