March 26, 2006

Past Imperfect

I really wanted to wrap this up tidily with some attempt at explanation on my part, some "What Feminism Means to Me" or "Why Feminism?" (but not "Whither Feminism?" because even I'm not that pompous) or "How I Became a Feminist"-type essay, but so far I'm doing a really lousy job of it. And maybe I'm even predestined to do a lousy job of it, because whatever I point to or include means something else gets overlooked and left out.

I could write about my experiences growing up and becoming aware of feminism, and someone else could point out, correctly, that that's just feminism from the white middle-class perspective, and haven't we had enough of that already, and bleah, who cares?

I could write about my experiences that grew out of maintaining this weblog, and someone else could point out, correctly, that that's just applicable to people who read weblogs, who are a very small, if growing, subset of the populace, and how does that relate to the big wide world anyway?

I could write a post highlighting the many excellent attempts to define feminism that were generously offered here. In fact, I am certain I could get weeks worth of posts out of just those comments--from Kevin's view that feminism is a part of the larger fight against oppression, to Liza's amazing series of posts on everything from Rosa Parks to the Nanny Diaries, to Bitch Ph.D.'s "Feminisms," to Amanda making me kick myself, hard, for passing up The Second Sex in the local bookstore last weekend--there is just so much stuff there, good stuff, great stuff.

I'm especially indebted to all the commenters who expressed their own hesitancy about whether they were "doing it right" in offering their own definitions of feminism, because I have that same hesitancy myself, and even as I experience it I wonder why we worry about it at all; how do you do feminism "wrong?"

I could be here for a very long time with all this material, is my point, and come to think of it, maybe I will be. School will resume for me next week and cut into my time again, and posts that celebrate the people who worked their thoughts out so elegantly that they spared me from having to reinvent the wheel will be most welcome.

Which gets me to the main thing I personally take from feminism: For me, it's a form of social calculus. It simplifies things in the way that learning integral calculus simplifies problems that would otherwise be murder to solve if attacked only with algebra and geometry. I don't mean it makes everything simple--it certainly doesn't do that, if this thread is any indication--and I don't mean it makes my approach to life simplistic. I mean that, to quote from Barbara Findlen's introduction to Listen Up:

Feminism is what helps us make sense of the unfairness by affirming that it's about political injustice, not personal failure. The feminist movement offers us the combined strength and wisdom of people from all walks of life who are fighting for meaningful equality.

Feminism gets monkeys off my back that should never have been there in the first place. Feminism helps me own my problems without adding the burden of society's expectations to them. I don't find it a celebration of victimhood or a glorification of oppressed status at all, and I'm always amazed when someone else does, because I find it ultimately affirming.

Feminism says, "You don't have to wonder why some women embrace their own subjugation--someone already worked that out for you." Feminism says, "You don't have to wonder if it's just you or if the culture really is sliding back into a celebration of misogyny--someone already documented the dozens of times and the thousands of ways in which the culture has done just that." Feminism says, "You aren't the only woman who remembers the years before puberty as a time when you were just yourself, just another person, a human being, instead of the Other, a deviation from the norm, which is men."

Feminism says, if I'm playing some stupid computer game that rewards me for killing prostitutes, pimping a female friend as gang-bang fodder for "a bunch of drunken Scottish bisexuals," and running a porn studio, that means the game was coded by misogynist dweebs, not that I "lack a sense of humor."

Feminism says, if Babycenter's "Twenty Things That Change When You Have a Baby" includes these gems:

18. If you have a son, you no longer curse men. (Hooray for all men!)
19. If you have a daughter, you hope she won't endure your same heartaches.

--then that's evidence--sad, sorry, sickening evidence--that our society continues to have the lowest possible expectations for women even as it just can't cheer often or loudly enough (hooray!) for men.

Feminism helps me make sense of the insensible. You can think of it as not being paranoid if they really are out to get you.

It's my sense that they really are out to get me. It's my sense that life is better lived knowing the score, knowing what I'm up against, not so I can batten down the hatches, stock the ammunition, and never leave the house again, but so that I don't reel in confusion and shock when the system smacks me upside the head, kicks me in the gut, and then tells me to quit complaining, because I have it so good, really, and besides, what about [men/Muslim women/the unborn/families/God/country]?

Feminism says, "Yeah, hands up who didn't see that one coming? The question now is, what are you going to do about it?"

And feminism is the process through which I work out, daily, what I'm going to do about it. And then I try to do it.

Thank you for helping me this past week to do it. Thank you for being patient when I didn't do it perfectly or even well. Thank you for suggesting so many ways in which I could do it better.

Thank you to all the bloggers who supported this:

Meryl Yourish



Plum Crazy

Alas, A Blog

Pinko Feminist Hellcat

Bitch Ph.D.

Rox Populi

Body Impolitic

Persephone's Box


Impetus Java House

Holler if I've left anybody out--because that, I think, would be coming very close to actually "doing feminism wrong." The accomplishments of feminists get overlooked often enough as it is without me exacerbating the problem.

Thanks, everybody.

Posted by Ilyka at March 26, 2006 03:20 PM in blog against the strawfeminist

*applause* Great week of posts, Ilyka. And keep up the fun art and amusing parentheticals...

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at March 26, 2006 05:15 PM

Thanks for this, Ilyka! I for one learned something.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte at March 26, 2006 07:07 PM

I really like your conversations about what is feminism.

I had a personal experience with a straw feminist last week, who insulted one of the models from my book Women en Large: Images of fat nudes in her newpaper blog.

So, "Body Impolitic" had a perfectly timed chance to blog against straw feminism.



Posted by: laurie toby edison at March 26, 2006 08:45 PM

Whoo!!! Excellent post. I really enjoyed reading and following the links

Posted by: Rachel Ann at March 27, 2006 01:36 AM

I'm sorry, but I have to ask a question in all seriousness, and beg that you read it with as low of a snark quotient as you can. After a week of complaining about "strawfeminists" (many of which complaints, as a pretty liberal guy, I recognize as very much legitimate), you link to a post containing the following statement:

This remarkable statement reflects our heroine’s capitulation to the patriarchal feminine hotness imperative. Whereas she sensibly repudiates the absurd notion that she should be “in love” with her brisket-shaped kid, she cannot bring herself to reject the authority of the Male Gaze.

So here I am, wondering how to take that. I'm not even sure where to start, so here goes:

Is "Twisty" saying that all of the following are inherently symptomatic of patriarchal inequality?
- Wanting to be attractive to one's significant other
- Loving one's newborn child?? (mouth hanging open in shock at that one)
- Maintaining a healthy weight

I'm struggling to figure out any other way to interpret that post. I mean, I'd like to take your "strawfeminist" arguments seriously, but unless I'm missing something, I'm not sure I can imagine a more illogical and emotion-centric (not to mention self-centered) belief. Do you think guys don't want to be attractive to women? We just don't talk to each other about it all the time.

I can safely say, as a distinctly unattractive male, that I would vastly prefer to be more attractive, and that has absolutely nothing to do with any "socialization"; it would just make it a lot easier to get laid. For a married couple, can't you imagine that it's easier to have a healthy sex life if there's real attraction between the couple? And that such a desire comes from something other than patriarchal brainwashing?

I realize I might seem to be engaging in a little guilt by association here, but that's not really my intent (unless, of course, you do share Twisty's beliefs). My point is more to say, well, isn't that an example of someone taking a position as rhetorically extreme (though certainly with less nad-removal involved) as the obvious caricatures represented by one of your strawfeminists? In other words, didn't you just get finished with saying feminists aren't as insane as they're often portrayed by the right, and now you're pointing me to one who says that loving your newborn child is evidence of the patriarchy?

I mean, Jesus... I hope my mother wasn't lying to me all those times she said she loved me - and my two sisters and a brother - from the moment we were born. That would be kinda sad, wouldn't it?

Posted by: CITIZEN JOURNALIST at March 27, 2006 09:38 PM

One thing I gotta state right off the bat, CJ:

I am poorly educated, hotheaded, vain, verbose, and faintly masochistic, but I am not such a fool as to presume to interpret that esteemed gentleman farmer and spinster aunt, Twisty Faster. So I would suggest this question:

Is "Twisty" saying that all of the following are inherently symptomatic of patriarchal inequality?

--be referred to Twisty. Email her and she might tackle it; you never know. Although, I can point you to her primer on the concept of patriarchy which might clarify some things, I dunno.

As to the rest of it, the whole Morphing-Into-Mama thing, let's pretend you asked me what I think (because it's all about me around here, and I can't resist):

--Anything I would have said about the issue has already been said, here. Whatever you think of a woman's choices or intellectual development, I think it's better said without a lot of noise about how stupid she is.

--That said, all I myself personally look for in a relationship is mutual respect. That means, if my guy's having a problem being attracted to me because of the way I look, he expresses that respectfully, and not in a way that implies he's been sold a lemon, so to speak--because, one, I'm a human being he claims to love, not a defective digital camera or other purchase to be potentially returned for not meeting expectations; and, two, because otherwise I'm going to kill him. Ha! No, I kid. Two is actually, because respect is good. Respect is important. And so is sex, so if there's a problem with it, I want to know.

--Where I objected to MIM's initial post on the subject, though, was that whole "false advertising" idea. There's a Tom Wolfe book I like, A Man in Full, in which the protagonist's ex-wife is lamenting that she's 50 and going to hardcore exercise classes to try to look 30. And she's thinking about how in her mother's day, women didn't have to do that. Women were allowed to age, to grow matronly. This is a privilege men have always enjoyed but which heterosexual women have recently had to give up, if they happen to get "traded in" for a "newer model," and want even to consider a second marriage. They have to compete with 30-year-old women. Now I think that sucks bad enough, but when that competition begins even before the divorce, when the marriage appears to be conditional on "keep your figure or you're out," I'm all, "Uh, what happened to richer or poorer, sickness or in health?" That's not commitment, it's a contract, you know?

--Nonetheless, I agree that everything from hooking up in the first place to maintaining a physical relationship is easier if both people do what they can about their appearances. And that's actually something I've seen go both ways. After a period of depression in which my boyfriend dropped about 25 pounds off an already-slender frame, I made the horrible mistake of telling him, "You look like Iggy Pop." As you might imagine, that was totally unfuckinghelpful to the situation, and I spent a lot of time explaining it after the fact--that my deal was, it wasn't that I was upset about him being less attractive to me, it was that I was upset that his health might be affected. Still, the way I chose to express my worry completely sucked, and so I can't claim total innocence on the matter.

Posted by: ilyka at March 27, 2006 10:35 PM

Great post! I'm STILL reading lots of the links.

I started to reply here and when I realized it was getting to, er, post length, I decided to post my reply on my own blog here

Not trying to link-whore, but you don't have trackbacks.



Posted by: Darleen at March 28, 2006 07:56 AM

I *heart* Ilyka

Posted by: Jill at March 28, 2006 09:32 AM

Thank you for a great week's worth of reading and thinking.

Posted by: Ith at March 28, 2006 11:08 AM

Thanks for taking the time to introduce us to these strangely beautiful strawbased lifeforms.

Posted by: ScottM at March 28, 2006 12:47 PM

Thanks for the link, Darleen. I'll go check it out.

Posted by: ilyka at March 28, 2006 04:53 PM

It isn't just that you said it well, which you did.

It isn't just that I agreed with what you said, which I did.

It's that you said it so well, I find myself wanting to share the same sentiments with others, in my own words.

I think they call that "inspiration."


Posted by: Jo at April 3, 2006 09:58 PM