Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Some kind of feminist?

Whad are ya? Some kind of Feminist? - Brother of Ex-expat

Confession time.

Despite writing on a feminist blog, I've never felt entirely happy wearing the label feminist let alone parading it around in public on a t-shirt or something. The word immediately conjures up an image some fat, hairy, tofu-wearing, sandal-munching, anti-sex, angry woman with absolutely no sense of humour. Of course not every feminist is a carbon-copy of Andrea Dworkin or for that matter Gloria Steinem.

But where does that leave me?

Do I continue to keep my feminist label packed away in my underwear drawer, do I come out of the closest with a 'this is what a feminist looks like' t-shirt to wear amongst the masses or do I reject the label entirely and become as Homepaddock suggested a peoplist?

Lets deal with peoplism first. I agree with many of Homepaddock's points in particular that the problem of unpaid work isn't necessarily a question of gender but of the nature of work. As I've ranted previously, men and women are equally capable of performing 'caring roles.' I believe that my experience of having a father as my primary care-giver was of benefit not just to me but other children in my community. Sure he may have been the only dad who did the school run (in a huge truck) or accompanied his kids on school trips but the point was that he was there. And the little boys, and for that matter the girls, in my community got a real living and breathing role-model of what life could be like in a post-feminist world.

Except we don't live in a post feminist-world. As Homepaddock notes, gender still matters. Not just for her married friend who didn't take her husbands name, but also for the men who take on the caring roles or in fact anyone who takes on a non-sterotypical role for their gender. What feminism broadly does is raise the analysis of gender as an issue.

My worry with the 'people first' approach is that it seeks to neutralize the problem through language rather than changing power structures. And if you look at the history of terms for the intellectually disabled: retard, moron, cretin, you do see that the language changes in order to neutralize the negative associations of the terms. In the same vein you find that many women will often use the phrase 'I'm not a feminist but' and then give a rather eloquent gender analysis on a given topic.

But is that repudiation of feminism merely a sign that feminism is dead? Or at least no longer as relevant as it used to be in the west where as Noelle points women have so much power and choice?

But what use is power and choice without knowledge or as Noelle so eloquently puts it 'feminist dogma?' Well not all that much. Contrary to public opinion most feminists have no problem if women want to wear lipstick, have sex with as many as she wants, watch porn, have an abortion, not vote or take her husband's name or any other sort of 'un-feminist' activities if they so desire. The point is that they have the information to do so and are free to without pressure nor ridicule. However when I read about stuff like this, this, this, this and this I know we've still got far to go and though I might not agree with a lot of feminist thought, I also know that if the questions over gender aren't raised then we sure as hell aren't going to find the answers.

But what good is all of these questions going to do for the women who work in sweatshops and harvest the crops in the developing world. For that I leave you with a rather interesting anecdote. One of my good friends in Korea also happened to be a Colonel in the United States Army (and in answer to my long-time readership yes THAT Colonel). He'd served in a number of places that are etched into our collective memory: Germany back when there were two of them, Kuwait when Saddam was in town and Bosnia as part of the Nato Stabilisation Force. Part of his brief in Nato was to help build up women's organisations in post-war Bosnia as part of Nato's reconstruction work there.

And what is that radical feminist organization the United States Army doing building up 'wimmins' groups? The theory ran that in order to ensure a stable society after the attrocities committed in the Balkan war, the social, economic and political status of women needed to be improved to ensure that such horrors never happened again. When I see pictures being beamed into my TV of the world's more notorious hotspots where thousands of young men running around playing silly buggers with no women in sight (unless it is as a victim) I think that the Americans might be on to something.


Azlemed said...

building up womens groups are important, the womens sector of the labour party supports a project in vietnam that helps to empower women.

I am a feminist, its hard though at times to workout what that means as a married at home mum with three kids...

love reading your stuff stef. D

alison said...

It often seems to me that feminism has two interlinked, but separate concerns to it. One is the treatment of women as equals; the other, less talked-about concern is the treatment of traditionally feminine traits, interests, approaches, as equal to those that are traditionally masculine.

It seems to me that in many ways, women have been accepted as equals, but that traditionally feminine traits have not been. In many ways we've been asked to prove we're equal by displaying masculine traits, and succeeding in masculine arenas. Men who transgress traditional gender roles are still much less acceptable than women who do, which sounds like sexism against men, but is actually rooted in sexism against women and femininity. To display traits that are seen as feminine is still to be seen as weak, less than fully human.

That's why I choose to use the term feminist - it encapsulates not only concern with the equality of women, but with the equality of those traits, behaviours and ideals that are traditionally associated with femaleness.

Joanna said...

My previous reluctance to label myself a feminist came not from a fear of being labeled a fat tofu-eating hairy manhater, but because I thought you had to have studied it extensively to earn the right to call yourself a feminist. I thought I needed to be able to define Dworkianism vs Steinman vs Woolf vs oh I don't know, other people. But then I realised that while it can be helpful to have done formalised study and extensive readings, believing that women deserve to be equal and seeing the ways that they're not is enough to 'earn' the title.

Fidelbogen said...

As I see it, the central difficulty with feminism (a "permanent fatal error", you might say) is its lack of coherency.

Despite this lack, however, the movement operates as a united organism by presenting a combined front of opposition to the surrounding world. Its purpose is to extract advantage in one form or another -- that is the central motivation which unites it.

A difficulty arises given that the FORMS of opposition are incoherent, even as are the advantages sought. Thus, incoherency within the movement translates into its counterpart in the world at large. The net result (for the world at at large) is entropic and destabilizing.

Destabilization, however, is to the advantage of the movement insofar as it furnishes the element of dynamism so necessary to perpetuate "motion" (which ensures the continuation of the "movement").

Or putting that another way, the "host body" releases energy in the process of giving up coherency, which permits the "movement" to continue moving (even in its own state of incoherency) for precisely so long as the host body remains vital.