Friday, May 28, 2010

feminism revisited

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about feminism.  OK, I just went back and checked it was three months ago.  Where the hell does the time go?

Anyway. As I said, I wrote that post, and it was fine, and it said what I wanted to say on that day, but it didn't say nearly enough and it didn't feel right.  A week later, I wrote the comment that is attached to it, which helped, but it still just didn't seem right.  It's such a complicated issue.  But every time I re-read it, it sounded OK-- there isn't anything there that I disagree with.  I just couldn't figure out what was bugging me.  And then I forgot about it.  I've been busy.

But I'm taking this literary criticism class, where feminism is a major theme, and taking the class means driving and driving and driving, and finally a couple of days ago while I was in about my fourteenth hour of being behind the wheel this week, I figured out why that post had been bothering me so much.  Because I really am still a feminist.  The tools that feminism gave me are still a fundamental part of who I am.  But the circular reasoning that goes along with it drives me nuts.  I'm going to try to explain this but apologies in advance, because I'm having a hard time explaining it to myself let alone get it typed out.

I've heard it said that if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will hop right out, but if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly heat it, the frog will boil to death.  I have no idea whether or not that's true and there's no way I'm going to test it out, but it does illustrate a point.  Growing up as a female in the 60s and 70s was a bit like being a frog in that cold pot of water that gradually heats up as you move from childhood into puberty and adulthood so that you don't realize that the life has gone out of you until it's too late.  There were so many little things that were limiting for girls at the time:  dress codes and stated restrictions on what sports and activities you could be involved in and unstated restrictions on what career you could go into or what kinds of opinions and attitudes you could have.  Ways that men were allowed to intimidate and bully women to get what they wanted; ways that women bullied and intimidated other women to keep each other in line.  But for the most part it was all just background, it wasn't something you thought about as long as the men in your life were fairly nice.  It was just the way things were.  The women's movement of the 70s changed all that.  They made us see all the little things that had just been part of the background before.  It wasn't until feminism gave me the tools to recognize the ways I restricted myself to fit into someone else's mold that I became aware enough of those restrictions to learn to effectively manage my own life-- I figured out how to jump out of the pot.  Or at least became aware that I could jump out of the pot if I needed to.

And that still is the way that feminism is useful to me.  I use it all the time.  It's a major part of the lens through which I view life. (how many metaphors can I get going here? wait, maybe I can work in a mirror and an egg)(I've been reading Northrop Frye.)

But here are the things that still bug me about it.  Back in the day, you could really get off on seeing women as victims.  Here were poor, innocent, pure women, who were all about love and kindness, who had been held back and oppressed by evil power-hungry militaristic men.  But that isn't the way it was where I grew up--and maybe this is more obvious if you're from the South-- it was often women who were the ones enforcing all the restrictions and even making them stricter than the men in our lives cared about.  way stricter, for that matter.  I know that's a complicated topic, but because of that, I don't see the point of blaming men.  Both genders were there.  I think it took all of us to build the society we had/have, even if in many of the ways that feminists like to harp on, it was a society that benefited men.

Again, complicated topic.  I can think of twenty things I could say here on both sides of the argument, but it's a blog post, not a dissertation.  I can remember having this argument in college with the professor, who was a traditional 70s/80s feminist, vs. almost everyone in the class.  The professor wanted us to believe that women are practically always the innocent victims of a powerful patriarchy that is run by and benefits men, forced to go along with it because of their concern for the safety and welfare of their children.  And I, and most of the young women in that class, just didn't agree. If you're going to see women as purely victims in the creation of culture, it somehow makes them subhuman.  Women are HALF of the population.  either we're half-responsible for what we've created, or we're relegated to some sort of childlike status that excuses us from responsibility.  Not buying it.

Wow, that wasn't really what I was going to say, but there it is.  And now I can't remember what I was originally going to say.  so maybe this will get edited some more.  In fact, knowing the way I usually do this, it will probably get edited a lot.  work in progress.  Let me know if you have input.

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