the original kStyle blog.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Feminism, or I'm Really Just a Goddamn Contrarian

I've always shied away from talking about Feminism in this space, because I believe it's a very personal thing, and also because I would rather create a Web space of harmony than one of conflict, and nothing gets heated like a discussion of Feminism.

But it's a bold new year. I just ask that any discussion in the comments stays respectful and cool-headed; of you're feeling explosive, come back later to write your piece. And please, let's be sure to listen to each other.

As I mentioned below, I'm a bad Feminist. I have little time to contemplate the patriarchy because I'm occupied contemplating life, and I do honestly believe that framing actions/choices as a reaction to patriarchy is another way of giving the patriarchy power. Not that we should close our eyes and ears and lalalaaaa, I can't hear or see a patriarchy, but if, for example, a woman really wants to stay home with her children, and sees little point in the numbing, petty rat race; or if it means a lot to her to take her husband's name; or if she likes high heels; then I say, good for you, doing what you want. Don't structure your life as a reaction against; create your life as what you want. Yes, certainly, there are women who feel that they "have to" take their husband's names or stay at home or wear heels, and I'd love to tell them that they should be fulfilling their own potential/desires, not someone else's expectations. Compromise is always necessary, of course, but that's a two-way street. In feminism, as in elsewhere, intention is very important to me. Intention and actions; words are secondary. Anyone can say things. (I'm a regular meditator, and one aim of my practice is to get clear on my intentions and keep them pure. To avoid action based on impure intention, too.)

Feminism takes myriad forms. Each woman's feminism is, I believe, as unique as her. No two snowflakes, women, or feminists are alike. And who am I--who is anyone, really--to say, No, you're not a feminist, because of x, y, or z? So let's just dive into a few case studies of Women I Know Who Do Not Read This Blog, Except for the First Example, Who Is Me.

Example #1: Me.

I don't call myself a feminist. I do believe in the ideals of equal rights, personal fulfillment, health and wellbeing, etc., for every person, regardless of gender, creed, sex, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and the rest. I also believe that compromise is necessary for a peaceful society. by "compromise" I don't mean, women in the kitchen poppin' out babies, I mean, like, not driving Hummers. Recycling. Respecting each other. "Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins." I believe that with individual rights comes individual responsibility. On occasion, especially when inebriated, I might confess that I believe stupid, willfully ignorant people should not be allowed to drive or to vote.

And yet, I've made several decisions that many people would consider feminist. I kept my maiden name, I'm starting my own business, I never wear heels, wear makeup only when I really feel like it. My husband and I split the housework even-steven; in fact, I seldom do laundry because I freakin hate it. In truth, he probably does more housework than I do, because his schedule allows more time at home. (He's very sweet.) My shiatsu practice focuses on women's health, which I believe is underserved/poorly served by conventional medicine.

At the core, I'm stubborn and contrarian. This is called "Rebellious Stomach Qi" in Chinese medicine, or "being an Aquarius" in Western astrology. I have no desire to tell others what to do or how to live (except for the stupid and willfully ignorant), and woe to anyone who tries to tell me. I will accept and consider heartfelt advice with an open mind, but I will do the opposite of anything that I'm told I "have to" do. Before our wedding, I was on the fence as to whether to keep, change, or hyphenate my name. Then the future MIL pleaded and chided and tried to browbeat me into taking the name (even though she divorced out of the name but still has it). That’s when I made up my mind to keep my own name. My mother was disappointed, which only reinforced my contrary ways. Shortly before the wedding, I had to tell both my mom and MIL that I hate kids, because if they dropped one more hint about eagerness for grandchildren, I knew I would decide never to produce any, and I might want kids someday.

Which hopefully gives you an idea of why I can't join any sort of feminist movement. If the more strident feminists tried telling me not to shave my body hair, it would only reinforce my decision to shave it. I don't like being told what to do, by men, by women, by trannies, by the patriarchy, by the Catholic Church, by a manager (mine mostly leaves me alone because I do good work and I think she understands my independent ways), by feminists, by diet gurus, by antifeminsts, by the government, by advertising, and so forth. Frankly, it's between me; my conscience; my intention; my confidants, true friends, and loved ones--when they are clear on their intentions; and the Divine. And I won't tell you what to do, either. Unless you're driving a Hummer or voting along the 700 Club's lines.

I'll just summarize the other examples. I have one friend who calls herself a feminist, and is a member of NOW; she took her husband's name and she does 99% of the housework and is obsessive about her own and other women's weight. (I've been trying to encourage her gently along the path of Self-Esteem.) Another friend doesn't call herself a feminist, but rather calls herself "traditional"; she took her husband's name and is super-driven at work while her husband gets his Bachelor's degree. Her family is freaking out because of the "untraditional" arrangement. Another feminist friend belongs to NOW and has bumper stickers like, "I'll be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy". She hates the institution of marriage, but is thinking about committing to her guy; she stomps around in big black boots and calls herself a "riot grrrl". She's fun and also uber-neurotic. Once when I was teaching her some qigong for menstrual problems, she became angry that women place right hand under left on the lower belly in the exercise, but men do the opposite. I pointed out that men and women have different anatomy and therefore a different arrangement of qi. It's not that one arrangement is better.

And you know what? To me, it's all good. If they're happy, then I'm happy. Plus, we're all on a journey, continually changing. And that's great.

PS I use the spelling "women" because acknowledging our connection to "men" does not mean we are less than them; it means we are the same species.


Blogger Eric said...

What an engaging, well-articulated, and smart piece of writing. Since I'm a male (though one who thinks of himself as a feminist) I'm not sure if I'm allowed to "agree" with you or not, per se, but to the extent that I am, I do. Individual choice, creating one's life as the thing one wants... yes, yes. Hear, hear.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

I agree--but I do call myself a feminist. This is because feminism consists of two beliefs:

1. That various forms of gender inequality are built into our culture.
2. That they shouldn't be.

In other words, if I have to decide between calling myself a feminist and disagreeing with certain individuals' feminist tenets--I can, for example, acknowledge the fact that high heels come out of the patriarchy and criticize people who insist that women "should" wear high heels (i.e., the Twisty opinion) while also supporting every woman's decision to wear them (the anti-Twisty opinion)--or not calling myself a feminist at all, I prefer the former.

Life is at least partly about believing six impossible things before breakfast. There's no way to be consistent in all your beliefs, so you have to do your best to think hard about those beliefs that you hold most dear, realign them as necessary, and try to trust yourself and others. This doesn't mean you have to succumb to absolute relativism or utter moral righteousness; it just means that the world is complicated.

3:29 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Eric, I say your allowed to agree or disagree, regardless of gender. Thanks for your kind words.

Well said, Ann. I like your reasons for calling yourself a feminist, and I love your nuanced take on the issues. And I think I just might get the sentence, Life is at least partly about believing six impossible things before breakfast made into a bumper sticker.

As the resident contrarian, I try not to define myself by any -isms or -ists, is part of it.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading both of these posts, and I promise a longer/better response (either here or back at my place) . . . but not today. today I'm going to take a shower and go sit in front of a fireplace (with a fire in it) and drink fermented beverages and see what happens.

4:48 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Narya--Sounds delightful; have a great time.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

PS. The quote "six impossible things before breakfast" comes from Alice in Wonderland.

10:20 PM  

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