Saturday, November 13, 2010

GS: last one for awhile

Since I'm boring myself to death with the grad school posts, I'm sure it can't be too much fun for anyone else, either.  Fortunately, we are done with the theory portion of my Intro to Graduate Studies class, so there will be less to think about.  The rest of the semester is about research methods, getting published (not one of my goals), and getting into a PhD program (also prob not in my future, esp since the school I'm attending doesn't have a PhD program in English).

Yesterday we went to the university library and visited the archives.  I could never devote my life to archival research, but in the short run, it might serve a useful purpose for me.  The archivist was ... oh, the term is demeaning, but still... he was adorable.  We were all politely yawning behind our hands at the tedious boredom of it all (only one box on the table at a time, only one folder out of the box at a time, ask for permission, ask for permission, ask for permission, etc). But the archivist was practically dancing around in his excitement about his special collections.  I find human beings endlessly fascinating.  And btw, the latest way of taking notes:  instead of copying or typing while you're examining the materials, you bring your digital camera and take a picture.  No lie.  How cool is that?  After you ask permission, of course.

Anyway.  A few observations before I leave theory behind-- I wish I could say forever, but I fear it will be with me for at least the next couple of years till I'm done with school.  I'm still thinking about feminism, of course, and it occurred to me that what I'm arguing with myself about isn't whether or not feminism is valid (because it is), but how it should be practiced.  I was reminded of something that happened in the first theory class I took, which was back in June.  Of course I'd heard about the biological vs. cultural definition of gender, I'd even had arguments about it, but it was the first time I'd studied it as an academic discipline.  The professor was going on, for about the third class period in a row, about how there is no significance to our cultural definitions of what gender should be, it is all just a construction.  And I had another one of those little moments, where the fog lifts and you get it.  Geeze, this is two posts in a row about something like that, which will lead you to think I have these moments all the time, which is not true-- this was six months ago.  Anyway.  For a moment, it was like this huge weight lifted off my shoulders.  All those expectations of what women should be like-- chatty, maternal, good cook, homemaker, endlessly involved in their friends lives, interested in clothes and makeup and jewelry -- and which I am manifestly not, disappeared.  It was like floating.


So it's not that I don't get it. I do.  But it was followed almost immediately by a feeling of betrayal-- that if I leave cultural femininity behind, I am betraying my sisters.  this is difficult to explain.  bear with me here for a minute.  Because feminine values are not valued in our culture-- the ones I listed, and a lot more (vulnerability, interdependence, cooperation, to name a few).  So while I completely support the banishing of cultural expectations that are imposed on anyone about almost anything, I can't support the denigration of feminine values.  I'm learning to separate those two out.  In fact, that's what this post is about.  Me trying to figure out how to let go of all those years of feeling like a failure, while at the same time not devaluing the feminine.

Because feminism often feels to me not like male-bashing but like female-bashing.  Broadly speaking, it often feels like we feminists want men to be feminine and women to be masculine.  And to an extent, I agree-- to the extent that each of us needs to balance out within ourselves our own unique mix of masculine and feminine aspects. And given the nature of our culture, that sometimes means that women need to over-emphasize masculine traits (like valuing the individual over community (to be blunt: acting out of self-interest), or being strong and opinionated) and vice versa in order to compensate for cultural programming.

But even as I say that, I still staunchly stand by the importance of femininity.  Even though I'm not a very feminine person.  You mess with my sisters, you mess with me.  It's a funny mix where we are right now, isn't it?  Because women are still discriminated against in ways that have much to do with the way our culture is organized.  I'll even go along with using the term patriarchy, as long as we're clear that a) patriarchy isn't just about men being in charge, and b) women can (and often are) just as patriarchal as men.  Because how are we going to undermine patriarchy if women are all trying to be patriarchal?  Being a biological female doesn't excuse being ruthless or cruel, or using unethical means to get what you want, or ignoring the importance of people in your push to own power-- all of which are things that I associate with patriarchy (not masculinity), and all are things that I've heard feminists justify as being OK if it's done by a woman with feminist goals. 

I'm boring myself again.  I was going to skip the reading report for October because I hadn't "read anything" until it occurred to me that I could report on some of the academic reading I've had to do.  Because everyone should read House of Mirth and Age of Innocence (both by Edith Wharton).  Oh, lord, should they.  Wharton is such an incredible writer.  HoM is earlier, and the writing is more sort-of in-your-face so you notice it-- wow, that was beautifully written.  And it could be a textbook for teaching structure-- the two halves are perfectly balanced.  AoI is more subtle, and absolutely brilliant.  When I read them in my 20s, I thought HoM was better, and AoI was just the pathetic story of a man who was too weak to go after what he wanted.  At nearly 50, it read entirely differently.  But they are both depressing, so you're forewarned.  And talk about women supporting patriarchy-- read them, and then tell me which gender is oppressing which, because you could sure as hell argue it either way.  Beautifully written, worth reading, but depressing.


  1. Okay one: not boring.
    And B: I have to think about this one for a bit before I can comment appropriatly. You always make me think. Which is good, but sometimes painful.
    Well done. Once more.

  2. Ditto - Definitely not boring.

    I think your insight about how feminism is practiced is a useful distinction. The refusal to acknowledge any biological component to gender differences is a modern-day parallel to the "proof" by (men in the 18th century . . . from skeletons, I think, my memory of this stuff is hazy) of the inferiority of women. Having the power to enforce our beliefs on a group of people does not give them a basis in reality.

    And the valuing of the feminine (vulnerability, connectedness to others) is something that needs to be done in our society. Replacing a male patriarchy with a female patriarchy isn't an improvement.
    Much of the drive of all these arguments is grounded in a slippery slope mentality that if we ever relinquish anything as women, everything will revert to the Victorian approach.

    Keep thinking and talking about this - I love it.

  3. P.S. Whenever I am tired of grading essays, I always stop by ABNTHREE in hopes of articulate and insightful writing. Thanks - you're my hero.

  4. cheery-o and urthalun, can I just say y'all keep me going? THANK YOU. more than I can say.