Saturday, October 14, 2006

Some Thoughts on Feminism

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot lately because of some discussion I have read on various feminist blogs has been about make up and girly things and how those fit into feminism or how they don’t as the case may be. A lot of discussion has been around how such things are not tools of empowerment but rather survival skills in a patriarchy. Many are saying that it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to employ traditional trappings of femininity in order to gain power from men since it is still one way to do it. Some say that since women now have other options, options that result in women actually being seen as capable, they should leave the trappings of femininity behind. Others say that one should just do what one wants to do and should wear makeup and get married or whatever they else they want to do as long as they recognize that when other women chose not to do those things, it is a valid choice. I have to admit that I am in that camp. I simply cannot bring myself to get offended when another woman shaves her legs or puts on lipstick.

The discussion brought up some other thoughts though. One blogger, while talking about her love of things feminine made a comment along the lines of “no one ever accused me of being a feminist because I couldn’t find a man” (I cannot for the life of me remember which of the dozens of feminist bloggers I read who said that so I apologize for not giving credit.). That particular line got me thinking more about feminism than any other thing I read. Because you see, to me…lipstick is just lipstick and shaving one’s legs is something a person either does or doesn’t do and generally I don’t think about it too much unless I feel that I am being judged for not wearing makeup and not often shaving my legs or not having a man in my life as a romantic partner. You see, the thing of it is…I think that I am a feminist because I cant get a man. Seriously. (we will all just forget for a moment as I often do that when I say that I cant get a man, what I really mean is that I cant get a man that I want. I suppose if getting a man were my only concern, I could choose someone I am not interested in)

Ok. So here is the thing. By and large, I have been rejected by the patriarchy. I get no power from men. Men do not generally pay me compliments. Men generally do not ask me out. Sometimes men treat me badly because of how I look. Some women do too but they are usually women who get a lot of positive attention from men. Like it or not, getting a lot of attention from men gives women power in our culture. Less so than in times past but even today a woman can trade her beauty for economic security. It isn’t an accident really that most women’s economic position rises considerably with marriage. Men’s economic positions also rise with marriage but there seems to be less of an effect. There are other less obvious ways that women often find their self worth attached to the attention they get from men. I see this everywhere. From the shelves of books at the bookstore with instructions on how to get a man or how to keep a man to the comments made by single women along the lines of “Lots of men want me, I am single because I want to be” which may be true but still acknowledges that the attention of men is a valuable thing for a woman. (And to be fair, the attention of women can be valuable for a man but it seems different to me somehow and I am sure it is a power differential I am sensing)

Men, for whatever reason, are often attracted to women who take an effort to appear feminine. Now, of course there are all kinds of women who don’t wear make up and dont shave who still find themselves shacked up with some guy. I will just say that if one happens to be very overweight and also chooses not to wear makeup, high heel shoes, feminine clothing, etc that one’s odds of finding a guy drop considerably.

At any rate, at some point in my life, I stopped internalizing the bad messages our patriarchal culture was giving me that I was somehow not deserving because of my body or my choice be somewhat hairy and without lipstick on a regular basis. I stopped being offended by the phrase “women in comfortable shoes” since I generally like to wear comfortable shoes. What is wrong with comfortable shoes? Eventually, I decided that the real problem was outside me and that it was a problem with the culture at large and it was feminists and feminist writing that helped me see that. It was feminists who helped me take all of that self-loathing and put it outside me. And at some point I realized that I could starve myself and spend more time than I wanted to molding myself into a version of myself that was more approved by our culture OR I could just be the me that I have learned to love. I could learn that it is ok for a woman to choose to be herself even if it means not attracting a man. That was a very freeing moment in my life because once my sense of self worth was no longer in any way attached to attention from males, I could stop worrying about the lack of male attention I was getting and I could start paying attention other, more important, things.

And so…I have accepted that I am a single woman. But being a single woman has also made me appreciate feminism all the more. You see, married women do not feel things like the wage gap as much as single women do because their household’s incomes include a man’s income although I imagine that divorced women and especially divorced women with children feel the wage gap even more than single women do. Being single has made me appreciate the advances that have been made by feminists before me. I can have a job that is something other than being a librarian, a nurse, a teacher, or a social worker. I can own property and get a mortgage. I can vote. In short, I can do everything I need to do in order to have a fulfilling life even without a man.

More than just that though, being a single woman has given me a point of view of the outside looking in. There are a lot of amazing women in the world who have been blessed with incredible good looks, who get lots of positive attention from our patriarchal culture who have managed to still see all of the things I see. There are men who have managed to become feminists too. Those men and women are amazing. I don’t think I would have been one of those women though. I suspect that if I were given lots of power by the patriarchy, I would probably have used it for evil instead of for good. I think I needed to be challenged strongly in order to form my views in a way that was different than the patriarchal culture I was brought up in. I needed to be a woman in order to understand male privilege. I needed to be fat in order to understand how unfairly fat people and fat women in particular are treated in our culture. I say this because even with the challenges I have been given, I still accept at least some of the patriarchal notions of our culture. But I am working on it.

I know that is a thought somewhat far away from “is it ok for feminists to wear lipstick” but there you go. Sometimes I start in one place and end up someplace completely different.


Sandy D. said...

Lynne - this was very thoughtful and interesting and I think you should submit to the next feminist carnival.

I think the economic security aspect of marriage is definitely overrated, though, especially given how many marriages fail. I think single mothers really bear the brunt of this, not just divorced women.

...if I were given lots of power by the patriarchy, I would probably have used it for evil instead of for good.

I loved this line, it made me laugh, imagining you as Ann Coulter. ;) Interestingly, though, I think many feminists or social critics of any kind are people who have been marginalized (or 'outsiders') in some way. It would be a good survey to throw out there for a larger group of feminists.

Proshat said...

Dear Lynne,
It's frightening how sometimes you just say the words out of my mouth. & It's rather bizarre that I feel you have said what I have been afraid of saying all a long.
I do wear make up... not much but still... I know that I look cute. Cute but fat & that makes me seen as more of a little sister than a poteintial partner.
& I consider myself feminist. I had been 'accused' of feminism so many times I've lost the count of. & I try my best to make other women see their rights & capabilities. However, you had me there when you metion the fact that being let say forced to be single has caused you to become one. I wan to put your post on my blog. I hope you don't mind.

Lynne said...

Thank you Sandy. I just have to say though that although I might have used my powers for evil, I dont think I could ever be like Ann Coulter without cracking up laughing all the time. I mean, I could be pretty evil but I am not sure I could be that outrageous ;)

Proshat, I would be honored.

I also would be especially interested in hearing what it is like to be feminist in Iran and what issues might be particular to your country.

sanaz said...

dear Lynne. I'm proshat's Friend. my name is sanaz. I'm going to translate your post about Feminism in persian. and as proshat asked me, maybe add some other thing about it in other post. just want to know if I have permission to do that or not ( my english is not very good. sorry because of mistakes)
have a good time