I start my blog with feminism because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I recently discovered Feminist Current, and after a few weeks of keeping up with the newest posts, I’ve decided to work my way through the blog archives. Rather than attempt to describe Feminist Current, its founder Meghan Murphy, or the various courageous and opinionated women who write for the blog, I’ll encourage you to head over and check it out yourself (once you’re finished paying attention to me, of course).
I’m breaking my own rule here, on my first official post, and discussing not just an article, but an entire blog. This is because I’d like to use Feminist Current as a jumping off point for exploring my own ideas about feminism as a whole (I hope they’ll forgive me).
Disclaimer: I am fairly new to the world of feminism, radical or otherwise. I am most likely going to come off as rather naïve. I am also, for the purposes of this discussion and all future discussion about feminism, going to take it as self-evident that the following exist: patriarchy, the male gaze, rape culture/apologists, and people who for one reason or another refuse to acknowledge all of the above.
Meghan and her contributors seem to all identify as radical feminists, and set themselves up in direct opposition to liberal feminists. As I work out which, if either, of these groups I belong to, I find myself nodding in agreement to the claims made on this blog. I have generally come to agree on something that seems to occupy the core of Meghan’s philosophy:
Just ‘cause you like it, doesn’t mean it’s feminist (Or, how feminism isn’t about you):
Being a feminist means recognizing that I enjoy all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily empowering, and that don’t do anything to help the movement progress. Things like putting on makeup, cute or sexy clothes, or wearing high heels in order to look more attractive to men; things like enjoying romantic comedies, romance novels, HBO shows, teen dramas, Disney movies, and Young Adult fiction; things like listening to country music; things like taking my husband’s last name, letting my dad walk me down the aisle… You get the picture.
I like to think that I don’t do any of these things blindly. I get that playing to the male gaze will not earn me respect from men or other women, but that knowledge is outweighed by emotion, by the fact that I feel validated by attention from the opposite sex, and like knowing that my husband finds me attractive. I know that romantic comedies, romance novels, teen dramas, and Disney movies are full of tropes, stereotypes, and clichés that are negative at best and harmful at worst. I enjoy both consuming this media and deconstructing it.
I thought a lot about whether I liked the patriarchal symbolism of letting my dad walk me down the aisle when I got married, and eventually decided that the symbol I most cared about was his public acceptance of my relationship. I agonized over whether or not to take my husband’s name, and at length concluded that, while the patriarchy-serving move will probably haunt me, I couldn’t stand the thought of our future children having THREE last names.
My point is that while all these things are things I like, things I choose to do, things that make me feel good, they can’t be called “feminist”. I wish they could – I wish, like the liberal/choice feminists claim, that identifying myself as a feminist automatically means anything I do helps the movement “‘cause I ‘chose’ it”. But this claim is problematic because it shuts down the dialogue, and thereby erases social pressures that may have dictated, forced, or otherwise influenced a woman’s decision. It does a disservice to the movement to pretend that I don’t (of my own free will) use looking attractive as a means of seeking validation or power from those who dominate our society – power that is, ultimately, hollow because it is only granted to me based on my ability to conform to their standards.
And here I come upon my first truly frightening conclusion of this line of thought: If I’m getting false power by conforming to the male gaze or to patriarchy, then how exactly do I go about getting real power? And what is real power, anyway? And do I really want it, or have I been too well socialized, to the point that I believe I only deserve power if I can get it by doing things ‘their’ way? I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, and maybe I never will.
Before I sign off, I’d like to address my issue with the “your choices aren’t feminist” rhetoric. I remember from my Introduction to Feminism course several years ago having misgivings about the idea that there could ever be any single definition of “feminism” or a “feminist movement”. My problem with what I’ve construed to be the rad-fem definition of feminism – a movement to end women’s oppression at the hands of the patriarchy – is that it’s reductive. There’s no such thing as a collective “woman”, which means there can’t be a single benchmark for what freedom from the patriarchy looks like.
I’m not entirely troubled by this – pessimistic it may be, but I don’t believe there will ever be an “end” to feminism, so I don’t think it’s very important to define a penultimate goal. However, I wonder whether I, or any other person, should criticize a woman for defining her own freedom, especially if I don’t understand her life or circumstances. I agree that a bunch of individual actions do not a movement make, but I also don’t think we ever have or ever will get more than a relative few women at a time to agree on what it means to be liberated or empowered, or even on what it means to be subjugated.