While browsing thru some of my favorite websites this morning, i stumbled upon an interesting discussion about feminism. Avital Norman Nathman and Mayim Bialik have opposing views about an Instagram post of Amber Rose that was taken down almost as fast as it was put up. I have not seen the photo, but apparently it featured Amber, bottomless, oiled up, and showing her pubic hair. Amber felt it was a feminist post. Avital agrees. Mayim isn’t so sure. Avital feels it is reclaiming the female body from the patriarchy. Mayim feels it is playing into the patriarchy. It’s a great thing to watch: Two educated and passionately feminist women disagreeing in a respectful and thought-provoking way. (Hey, Washington, pay attention! You might learn something!)
In any case, it got me to thinking, what kind of feminist am i?
Nearly 30 years ago now, i was halfway thru my Bachelor’s when i took a class in Feminist Political Theory. There were maybe 20 of us in the class, and only 3 or 4 were men. There were career women, older returning students, and proto-goths who were re-inventing the hippie life. I was married at the time, to a man, and frequently came to class with my baby in a sling, strapped to my chest. I stood out. And in a very awkward way.
Every class was a discussion about a specific matter of importance to the feminist community: Education, health care, infant mortality, sex crimes… Followed by a discussion on how our foremothers fought for and dealt with these issues throughout history. I didn’t enter into the discussions much. My situation was much different from the others’, and a lot of their fires seemed abstract to me in my situation. Not to mention, i wasn’t sure how i would be taken…
… Until one day, one of my classmates used me as an example of victims of the patriarchy. I did speak up to that. And i continued to speak and share my point until i felt i was making the others think about their hypocrisy. I got married of my own free will. I had a choice with my pregnancy, and i chose to become a mom. And i made my own choice not to leave my daughter in day care when i didn’t have to. Wasn’t that what feminism was supposed to be about? Allowing us to make our own choices in the same way that men do? I mean, i am hardly old-fashioned, and was even less so then. I refused to be painted as a bad guy, and was disappointed that few could see my side.
At the same time i was taking that class, i was working on a thesis about the importance of the Madams of the Old West. How, because they were frequently the only ones with money, they often took on tasks of banker, city advocate, and philanthropist. They knew that what women had, and men did not, was the singular power of sex. And they used it to their advantage. And their pocketbooks. They were businesswomen, and generally feminist women, besides (For the time period, anyway). The sheriff and preacher might rail against the evils of prostitution, but when the city was broke and the children needed medicine, they knew the painted ladies would help. (Then, after the fear and need were gone, they would run those same ladies out on a rail.. But that is another story entirely.)
In later years, you saw some feminists aligning with prohibitionists – Because the evils of alcohol encouraged men to treat women poorly. Then others aligned with the anti-slavery cause – Because women knew what it was like to have no power, and wished that on no one else… Equality for all! (Ok, ok, there were other political motives as well, especially for the top brass of the movements… But i’m talking the bulk of the members here.) There was always more than one side. Always more than one movement. Feminists were never united except in most basic premise, even before the United States was an entity.
So why should it surprise us that we currently have divisions within the feminist movement? And why should we feel that only one is “right”?
The women who opt to dress modestly to play down the sexualization of women are no less feminist than those who dress provocatively to take ownership of the female form. If you prefer to keep your legs shaved, you shouldn’t be booted out of the cause for your trichophobia. The woman who has always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom is no less than her career sisters simply because of that aspiration. And that’s not even including the color issues, the trans issues, and all the other subsets of feminism. I’m pretty sure there’s room for all of us.
And we are all valid.
Truly, you don’t even have to be female. By definition, all you have to do is believe that women and men deserve equal rights and equal opportunities. And every father i know, if they didn’t believe it before, believed it once he had a daughter. (You may know someone who doesn’t. Heck, you may even be that someone. But i hope someday you change your mind. Subjugating women, or anyone for that matter, is rarely a helpful idea.)
As i read in the news earlier this week, in this day and age, there should be no laws left that start with the phrase “A woman shall not…, ” because if a woman shouldn’t, a man shouldn’t either. And if a man can, why can’t a woman?
For my fellow women, why can’t we accept each others’ choices and expressions of feminism, even if it isn’t ours? I have a daughter who doesn’t shave her pits. It isn’t my gig, and i’m still not used to it… But i respect her choice.
Shaved or not. Reveling in your sexuality, or taking a more modest approach. Lesbian commercial fisherman, or Pioneer Momma wannabe. Avid painter of flowers, or avid painter of labia. Vocally political, or only vocal at your daughter’s rugby games. We all have something to bring to the table. As long as we all stand for equality, we should be able to stand together when it counts. And, hopefully, we will be able to stand with others as well, since we know how hard bucking the establishment can be. Sometimes it takes every available hand. And even then, it may still take a century. Or two. Or more.
So, what kind of feminist am i? Well, that continues to evolve. As i speak with more feminists of color, more feminists with different backgrounds, different experiences, different views, i am forced to confront things that i hadn’t taken into account. And as i talk to more emotive men, i am also forced to confront some of the backwards limitations that we put on our male counterparts. We can’t move forward if we don’t bring them with us. (Think about how many posts you have seen about body positivity featuring females. Now think of how many you’ve seen featuring men…. Yes, they’ve traditionally had the upper hand, but not all men get all benefits.)
So lets talk about it. Hear what each other has to say. See if we can work together. Consider it practice… For when things really get equal, and we are taking up half of Capitol Hill.
Lets get the discourse going now. There’s a lot to be done, and it’s going to take all of us.
As i went thru spell-check on this document, i found it rather ironic that it marked the word “sexualization”, but had no replacement.