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.