Natalia’s take on… whatever the hell just happened

I don’t need to fight, to prove I’m right;
I don’t need to be forgiven.

– The Who (it’s currently playing in my head after too much of “CSI: New York”).

I don’t normally like writing about things that happen in the comments’ sections of other people’s blogs. It seems petty. But then again, whatever happens in the comments is a part of life. Blogging has become the equivalent of going to a book-club (or some other club) meeting. People meet up on blogs to discuss all sort of things. And their perspectives are just as real as those expressed over cups of coffee from the Starbucks strategically embedded at your local Barnes & Noble. If anything, people are more honest online.

I’m not going to make you read the 587 comments on the now-closed Feministe thread that attempted to discuss feminist attitudes toward women who conform to beauty standards – anything from breast implants to shaving legs, and/or merely being stereotypically attractive due to a particular set of genes. Renegade Evolution, a self-described live nude girl and the owner of a pair of implants, posed what I thought was a relevant question:

Whatever happened to women, all women, being happy with their bodies?

The responses that followed were varied. Some called “strawfeminist” (i.e. strawman argument). Others (like me) shared stories of being treated by self-described feminists with disrespect (people are really sensitive about this, as I knew from before), scenarios wherein our physical appearance figured into the conversation. Yet more others pointed out the difference between examining the choices that women make, and actively criticizing the women involved. Some talked about where they personally draw the line in regards to grooming and beauty standards. It could have been a good discussion, if tempers were kept in check. Strangely enough, one person who criticized Ren for creating this topic in the first place, ended up criticizing Ren for… you guessed it, having implants, being “employed by the patriarchy” (as if most of us have jobs that cannot possibly carry some weird implications, though I doubt that a Wal-Mart employee would catch similar flak), and setting the standard for women everywhere.

Ren, ironically enough, was proven right.

Here are some conclusions that I am drawing at this juncture:

1. You can read someone’s behaviour in different ways. A sexist jerk can look at, say, the nature of Ren’s work and think “Big boobies, yeaaaaaah! Women exist to please me!” And Ren, meanwhile, can look at her work as fulfilling, lucrative, and so on. The reaction of the sexist jerk should not be laid at Ren’s feet. I know she doesn’t need a knight in shining armour (or, for that matter, some chick blogging from Dubai) to save her from the meanies, but the attitude being thrown at her was pretty awful. All that was missing was a couple of shouts of “fallen woman!” – And… actually, let me save this one for point two.

2. I’m not a fan of any kind of radicalism, although that doesn’t mean that I hate the “scary” radfems (radical feminists). What I’m saying here is not directed at them (people sometimes assume that if you’re talking about beauty and grooming, you’re automatically channeling radfems). It’s directed at anyone who wishes, however innocuously, to police women’s appearance: guess what, you’re about one step away from having tea and biscuits with the Taliban. No, you’re not throwing stones at anyone (yet). But you believe that there is a “right” way to look, and a “wrong” way to look, and, when the Glorious Revolution comes and Teh Feminist Paradise is established everyone will look “right,” you’ve got problems. No such views were expressed in that thread, thank God, but Csquared’s comments came close, in my opinion. Furthermore, I’ve definitely heard this sort of thinking expressed in other venues. These ideas are most certainly out there, often celebrated in their own domains as bold and edgy and whatever, and denying their existence is akin to…

3… Sweeping dirt under the carpet. That’s right. I’ve been told, a number of times (most notably by an older woman who wished me well) that sometimes, you’ve got to take one on the chin for the sake of an idea. Well, funnily enough, if the idea happens to revolve around justice and equality, taking one of the chin is a form of regression. I won’t stay silent about being treated like dirt by self-described feminists with supposedly impeccable credentials, just so someone’s precious worldview won’t be challenged. Shit happens.

4. A number of commenters on Ren’s thread remarked that “no one lives in a vacuum,” and a woman’s decision to, for example, wax her pubes is never made solely just for her own personal enjoyment. I agree. We are all affected by factors in our environment. Throughout the ages, people have had to deal with all sorts of pressure. Everyone negotiates their own path in society. But nobody’s life can perfectly fit any particular ideology’s mould. If we try to achieve that we end up with…

5… The Soviet Union. I was born there. Many of my relatives ended up repressed in the 1930’s. I grew up with their stories, and echoes thereof. One of the things that attracted me to feminism initially was how organic it felt – how far removed from the sort of thought-crime policing that ended up destroying an entire generation back home. However, getting to know feminism meant getting to know the various individuals movement, and some of them genuinely seem afflicted with the Soviet Syndrome. Theirs is not the road I want to follow. Now, I would never take it upon myself to excommunicate them from the movement – I’m not normally the one to play Spot the Fake Feminist. You know why? Because…

6. Feminism is NOT a goddamn monolith. Feminists are different people. They come from different walks of life. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I am, for example a…

7. Cynical eurotrash feminist. What does that mean? Two things:

“Cynical” = I believe the human race is inherently fucked-up. There is no cure. There will be no utopia. “All ya can do is do what ya must,” as Bob Dylan sang. Doesn’t mean I don’t love people. I do. But there it is.

“Eurotrash” = My feminism is informed by my background. I’m not going to use lofty words such as “heritage” (I believe I’ve used this word before, and I apologize). Basically, my family inspires me, my paternal grandmother in particular. She had a brilliant career as a medic in the Evil Empire. She changed lives. She had a happy, devoted marriage. She had serious clout. She enclosed her enormous bosom in a pointy bra, she loved her curvy body and never wanted to lose weight, she wore skirts and twin-sets, and, even now, at 80 years old, she dyes her hair and wears lipstick outside the home. She has always been fabulous – in dress, in conversation, and in her work, and she has remained fabulous.

My grandmother is the woman I want to emulate. Her culture is my culture. She buys me perfume and asks me to twirl before her in my own skirts and twin-sets. She gives me career advice. She teaches me that yes, you can have a great career, and a great family, and all those hacks in the American media whining about women who want to “have it all” can just stuff it. I have thought about what emulating my grandmother means, especially in the context of living in my adopted nation, the U.S. I’ve thought about the lipstick and what it’s actually made of (and shopped for lipstick at the Body Shop)…

… And I will be goddamned if I’m going to let anyone shame me for my choices, or, for that matter, shame my grandmother; pick her apart and put her back together again in various contexts, none of which can get at her humanity. If I’m a “fake feminist,” then so is my grandmother. And, I suspect, she wouldn’t give a fuck. So, in the end, neither will I.

Haven’t had enough? For more, see Daisy.

16 thoughts on “Natalia’s take on… whatever the hell just happened

  1. This is a familiar issue in our home. My wife is Russian, and despite the fact that she had been in the US several times as an exchange student before we ever met, her adjustment to the often monolithic American Feminist point of view is interesting and worth noting.

    For example, Katja is 5’8″ and about 120 lbs (173 cm and 55 kg). She keeps in shape, does yoga and is very careful about what she eats (she has food allergies). Yet, she will get looks and comments from American women who feel she is too slender.

    She doesn’t overdress often (from an American standard) so she hasn’t heard too many of those style related comments. However, she has learned to wear a bra (despite the fact that she doesn’t feel they are healthy) to avoid comments or looks from both men and women.

    Lastly, she has been repeatedly harassed and been subjected to sarcastic comments from her female doctors when she indicates she isn’t interested in taking birth control. Katja doesn’t believe that taking birth control pills is either natural or healthy and she prefers to avoid it. We practice other methods of birth control. And yet, when she has met with female gynecologists for exams, she subjected to sarcasm. As a result, she has switched to an older male gynecologist to avoid such comments.

    I know from her involvement in other forums that her experience is not uncommon among Russia and Asian women who come to the US. And yes, the monolithic “conform or else” point of view of some feminists simple doesn’t take into account individuality or some women’s form of personal pride in their appearance.

  2. “One of the things that attracted me to feminism initially was how organic it felt – how far removed from the sort of thought-crime policing that ended up destroying an entire generation back home. However, getting to know feminism meant getting to know the various individuals movement, and some of them genuinely seem afflicted with the Soviet Syndrome. Theirs is not the road I want to follow.”

    Exactly. Those were the first feminisms I heard about, and why I never identified with feminism. I think a lot of the standard “it’s so WEIRD that young GIRLS think feminism is a DIRTY WORD WAAH!” whining is… all about ignoring that, well, some forms of feminism are thought-policing, and why WOULD girls see that as liberating?

  3. amen sister, rock on. i’m pretty sick of the dissection and neat little labels as well. a woman’s complexity cannot be so neatly divided.

    your grandma sounds awesome. my paternal grandma was the same (may God rest her soul, i miss her like crazy). published author, painter, devoted wife, mother of 6 awesome kids, overlord of her domain. she passed away wearing lipstick. i look to her and my mother (who’s more stylin then i ever will be) as my feminist role-models.

    anyhoo, just wanted to say i totally hear where you’re coming from.

  4. “It’s directed at anyone who wishes, however innocuously, to police women’s appearance”

    I suppose the response to that might be “we’re not policing, we’re examining.

    examining, I suppose, with an eye toward eliminating.

    there are places in the world that are trying to eliminate lipstick – where a woman can get horsewhipped in the public square for wearing lipstick. (symbol of Western decadence as it is.)

    but women do it anyway.

    so which is the real rebellion? which is the real radical act?

    being cosmetics-free as a rebellious reaction to the concept of patriarchy that seems to infuse every social and cultural interaction, without actually being “official” and “real”?

    or slapping it on your (covered) face with a putty knife as a rebellious reaction to the Official Real Ministry of Making Women Behave?

    I mean, pernicious as concepts can be, an idea alone can’t handcuff you in real handcuffs and cut into your real flesh with a real whip.

    you can’t go to jail anywhere in the world (as far as I know) simply for NOT fixing your face.

  5. Your granny sounds awesome.

    and yeah, I think my own favorite feminist is Molly Ivins. Women are neat people, the only coherent statement on fashion the movement ever came up with was that maybe June Cleaver would’ve been happier if she hadn’t insisted on vacuuming in high heels, you got to dance with the one that brung you, and I am the Cosmos, TOO, by God.

    no pretension, no bullshit, no cutesy affectations and seekrit handshakes. She was a true small-d democrat. of which feminism is a necessary, but not sufficient, part. RIP, Molly, once again.

  6. W. Shedd,

    “However, she has learned to wear a bra (despite the fact that she doesn’t feel they are healthy) to avoid comments or looks from both men and women.”

    So it’s the “momolithic American feminists” that are forcing your wife to wear a bra? Hmmm.. . whatever happened to the bra-burner reputation?

    I can count the times I have sported bras on the fingers of one hands and yet I have never ever got any kind of look from anyone who identifies as feminist.

    “Lastly, she has been repeatedly harassed and been subjected to sarcastic comments from her female doctors when she indicates she isn’t interested in taking birth control.”
    Oh so because some ob/gyns have been jerks to her, American feminists have a monolithic “conform or else” point if view. How do you know that those doctors are feminists anyways?
    And it’s really funny I have been on and off the pill over the years for different reason and I have never come across a doctor pressuring me or ridiculing me for wanting to stay off. Your wife runs into a couple of arrogant doctors and OMG those feminists are evil.

    Ands as for her belief that “taking birth control pills is either natural or healthy”, well, I have to say that if you say that to a doctor they can’t help but be somewhat annoyed, you know, because It’s not a matter of her belief, it’s a matter of scientific facts and evidence. It’s not natural? Well, neither are glasses, shoes or clothes for that matter.

  7. And it’s really funny I have been on and off the pill over the years for different reason and I have never come across a doctor pressuring me or ridiculing me for wanting to stay off.

    You know, I have. After birth control pills caused my body to react negatively – first with mood swings, then with yeast infections, and finally with spurts of blood that appeared almost daily for a month. The first doctor tried to up my dosage. Didn’t work “Stick with it, don’t be silly.” Went to a different doctor.

    New doctor: “do Depo.” Me: “Can I get a diaphragm instead?” She: “it’s what’s best.” My mother was on the phone from Ukraine, begging me to go off when she found out, but the doctor said “your mother doesn’t understand.”

    Depo was mood swings, and bleeding for about two months. I want to stop, am told “your body is adjusting.” Mother’s screaming that something is wrong (I was home for Christmas and bleeding all over the place). I go back. “Don’t listen to your mother.” Two more months of bleeding, crying, and cramps – I was rolling around on the floor screaming.

    It still took a professor of mine, a feminist who puts us all to shame as far as I’m concerned, to tell me that I needed to stop, and think for myself.

    I don’t think this is some huge indictment of the American feminist movement. As someone who considers herself as much a part of American life as anyone born in the country – I don’t like generalizations of any sort.

    As I said in my post, shit happens. Even when we do things because they are for the best.

  8. Antiprincess, you’ve pretty much written the deepest things I’ve read all week (and I read a lot). Do you want to write for my magazine sometime? Give me a buzz – it’s nvantonova [AT] gmail [DOT] com. I’m looking to include very diverse opinions on a variety of issues.

    examining, I suppose, with an eye toward eliminating.

    See, that always makes me flinch, because having gone through a pretty radical feminist conversion myself, I nevertheless choose to look a certain way. I like clothes and beauty products – and their different implications, anything from cold-hard cash issues to art. It’s an eternally fascinating market – with bad sides, and good sides. What I WOULD like to see is people gaining more freedom to negotiate said market – opting out is crucial.

    I think the only real snag down the road is the idea of beauty – and changing beauty standards. What’s beautiful always draws the eye – and it inspires both affection and hate (and politics… Or is it the other way around? Hmmmm). Can we eliminate the beautiful? The Soviets certainly tried. And the most horrible thing about the Soviets is how their idealism turned monstrous.

    At this point in my life, I’ve also discovered that I strongly identify with both the work-ethic and beauty-ethic of women in my family (who came of age, ironically, in the Soviet era). It’s a cultural issue for me, as much as a feminist issue.

    Other women, for example, have the same sort of link to hijab, or even niqab for that matter. Niqab makes me uncomfortable – but I realize that my interpretation of it isn’t the only one there is. Living in the UAE has given me way more perspective on all of these issues of appearance. Once again, the ability to opt out is crucial.

    Hope the above makes a bit of sense. 🙂

  9. “Cynical” = I believe the human race is inherently fucked-up

    But you obviously think that there is a workaround if we get our asses in gear. Maybe you’re an idealistic cynic? And either way, yeah, I’m really tired of people getting shat on for an idea, and idea that’s fluid, not rigid, and is not a monolithic structure that can never be questioned. Sure there is a structure in place to make women feel shitty about themselves so as to help subjugate them. Let’s defeat that as opposed to defeating individual women.

  10. But you obviously think that there is a workaround if we get our asses in gear.

    I think we can achieve at least modest success, yes. And even if we don’t – I think the act of trying is what’s really important. I believe that good people always triumph over the evil bastards, even if their triumph is not readily apparent.

    If you’ve made a positive difference in one person’s life – you’ve already done something major, as far as I’m concerned (which is why I still have respect for Germaine Greer).

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