Monday, October 15, 2012

Hipster Feminism and the Anti-Feminist

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"We must not allow ourselves to be deflected by the feminists who are anxious to force us to regard the two sexes as completely equal in position and worth." --Sigmund Freud           
I remember the day I was sitting at the dinner table with my brother and two sisters and I blurted out, “I hate men.” I recall that I was at least 12, had a bad day, was washing down the bad day with something I didn’t like to eat and had no idea what it meant to hate men. Okay, so the boy I had a crush on who sat next to me in school was being a jerk and my dad and my brother did something that pissed me off that day. I cannot remember what they did, but whatever it was culminated into the illogical decision that I, indeed, hated men.
            In the years that followed, I have learned that I do not hate men. I never have hated men.  In fact I like them a lot. Sure, they annoy me, but lots of people annoy me, regardless of their assigned (or identified) genders. I like men and I am pretty positive about sex, which is what I believe provoked my feminism; I don’t believe that I should have to dislike men to be pro-woman, and I don’t think that liking sex with men or at least being positive about it should hinder my loyalty to my gender, either. Isn’t that kind of counter productive to humanity, anyway?
It took me a while to actually like men, though. At my university, the first two years, at least, I maintained the illusion that men were annoying all the time. I also thought that feminists were weird. I thought I couldn’t identify with them, though unbeknownst to me I was doing that really weird feminist shit anyways. I went through the No Shaving My Armpits phase because I thought it was unfair that men get to not do it. I went through my No Panty Phase and No Bra Phase, but swiftly realized the importance of both to a body type like mine.  I never burned bras, though; anyone who does that is crazy, bras are ridiculously expensive now. I took a Women’s Theatre class for the hell of it and studied women’s roles in theatre and film.
In my third year at the university, I was going on my second year as a resident advisor, which basically meant I babysat for about 35 girls in my all-female dormitory. I made fast friends with an activist vegetarian who, clearly looking for a cause, started a feminist group on campus and forced me to join. She somehow talked me into becoming the organization’s co-president. I can’t even remember how that actually went down. Like, who asks their awkward new friend who was just learning about the history of feminism to become their organization’s co-president? I didn’t know jack shit. I think she wanted me to do it because I am black, I have a big afro and I look like I could possibly be a militant feminist who burns bras. And other black people might listen to me.  I probably said yes after a few Boone’s Farm wine coolers.
Despite my appearance, and the wine coolers, I was a failure at being a co-president of a feminist organization.  I never had anything to talk about, and in 2004, we were all worried about the presidential election anyways. We met in the university’s community center, typically with a few starry eyed girls with about as much knowledge on feminism as I had. This was the only feminist group on my backwoods campus, so everyone assumed we were parading lesbians scurrying about, having girl only witchcraft extravaganzas. (Double, double, toil and trouble, y’all). However, we still gained a few members and I mostly took in the history of feminism and feminist thought, posted fliers and watched “Iron Jawed Angels” more than I’d like to admit. We also got some positive energy out there and registered many women and men to vote for the 2004 presidential elections, something that I saw as a major accomplishment.
            Over the years, though, beyond the university and my backwoods girl-power days, I feel like I developed my own understanding of feminism, which I always encourage others to do. I think that society has bastardized feminism, anyways, especially after the seventies. There are a few terms that kind of get my goat when I think of modern feminism: Post Feminists (a term comparable to “post rock” a genre that seems silly because rock music is clearly not over), Enlightened Sexism (comparable to hipster racism) and Anti-Feminists (just wrong). The chapter called “I Am a Feminist” from Caitlin Moran’s hilarious book, “How to Be a Woman,” best describes what is going on in my own brain when it comes to feminism:
“We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist-and only 42 percent of British women-I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all of that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?” (Moran 75)
People have long associated feminist thought with man hating and being anti-family because we all supposedly want to kill babies and castrate men’s roles in our societies and cultures. After laughing out loud at Caitlin Moran’s humorous approach to the infuriating reality that Anti-Feminist women exist, I started thinking about politics; dangerous, I know. In fact, recently, strange things have been happening in the minds of male conservative politicians. Things like making outrageous claims that women’s bodies can stop a rape pregnancy, (Rep. Todd Akin, US representative of Missouri’s 2nd congressional district) and if it doesn’t then, surprise! If a woman’s body fails to stop a pregnancy due to a rape, then the woman was not legitimately raped. She should rejoice in the news that she is now a legitimate baby machine! Or how about Rep. Steve King, US representative of Iowa’s silly remark concerning child rape and incest that results in pregnancy: “Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way.” As if to say because these things never happened to him immediately, it is okay to imply that they never happened in the first place.
These conservative individuals (sincerely?) believe that being pro-feminist and pro-female means anti-family. In my mind, being a feminist is pro-family. I believe that women and men (or women and women or men and men) should work together as parents to raise their children properly because there are too many idiots in America who have only become that way because they were not raised in an intelligent fashion with care, with others’ ideals in mind aside from their own. Therefore, they have this misguided vision that they were God’s gift to society, one which they should haphazardly run with their own personal agendas in mind; agendas that do not include people who are not like them, i.e. women, minorities, the poor, etc.
That said, I did become highly alarmed a when a friend of mine, recently married, dropped a big ‘ol bomb on me: my beautiful, smart and educated friend announced to me that she was an Anti-Feminist. I imagine the word “Anti-Feminist” being said like one would say “Gingivitis” on a Listerine commercial.
I know what you are thinking: WHAT THE FUCK?!
            In the world we are living in right now, being a woman (and black…and Muslim…all three that my friend identifies with) is like standing on thin ice in the middle of Lake Michigan in March. This was an idea that I had to explore. She is not the only person who has said this to me in a confident manner that implied progressive thought.  A few years ago, a college undergrad I am acquainted with said the something quite similar, and also added that women belong in the home, barefoot, pregnant raising babies and cooking for their men.  This is an actual statement. When I asked why she was in college if she felt this way, she alluded to the fact that she should be educated to catch a man.
I believe this train of thought is a by-product of a bigger, more dangerous idea: that feminism, if it is not dead, should be dead because we have already made it as free women. And because we are free women, it is fine to slink back into the mindset that it is acceptable to just let men “take the reins.” You know, like they are supposed to do anyways. This idea implies that we need to stop making men feel bad about not being as successful as we can be if we apply ourselves and we must start thinking about the fact that we are the lesser sex who need to and enjoy being taken care of. Decision making? Who needs that? We can get pregnant and be pretty and cook and clean and sink back into our roles as women! What a relief, ladies, the work is done, game over.
            No. I think I’ll say that again: No. That shit is lazy.
            The redeeming factor is that upon further discussion, it seems that my friend and I have very similar views and that she was responding to militant feminist thought. We are both practical individuals. The differences in opinion are that I don’t believe in structured gender roles, and she does, which is fine. One can be structured and still believe in the interests of women. However, the discussion sparked the need to explore this topic.
I recently read an older article by Susan J. Douglas, (a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a columnist for the website In These Times) called “Girls Gone Anti-Feminist: Is 70s Feminisman Impediment to Female Happiness and Fulfillment?” (2010). It discusses the idea that many people, especially those who consider themselves progressive, believe that feminism, as a movement, is now only history. First of all, it is a very seductive idea for many that an activist movement is done and over and life can pick up where it left off (but better!), much like people reacted to when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and they thought racism was finally over (sigh of relief, right guys?). The media seduced us into the idea that every person in America believed in equality in race, you know, except for maybe a few ignorant people. The idea that those people, those anti-liberals…well. They aren’t like the rest of us. These blanket assumptions are what allow the perfect environment for an idea like Enlightened Sexism to breed.  Enlightened Sexism is, according to Douglas in a Time Magazine interview,  “A new, subtle form of sexism. It insists that full equality for women has been achieved, and therefore, we don’t need feminism anymore. So it’s O.K. to resurrect retrograde, sexist images of women in the media, all with a wink and a laugh.
A lot of women who buy into Enlightened Sexism really seem to have Ms. Douglass’ definition in mind. They consider us done with this “old school” feminism in which we challenge patriarchal hierarchies. To many, getting passed traditional feminist ideas is actually feminist. If you ask me, these are a misogynist’s ideas in sheep’s clothing. Women cannot think that they can do and say what they want until they are competing with male interests, then back down into the sink to wash their dirty dishes with their tails between their legs. Douglas asked the question, “What is the matter with fantasies of female power?”
“Enlightened sexism is a response, deliberate or not, to the perceived threat of a new gender regime. It insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism–indeed, full equality, has allegedly been achieved. So now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women. Enlightened sexism sells the line that it is precisely through women’s calculated deployment of their faces, bodies, attire, and sexuality that they gain and enjoy true power– power that is fun, that men will not resent, and indeed will embrace.”
            I don’t get it. How did we get to a space where people think that feminism has reached the end, women are satiated and now negative gender politics are okay?  I blame a lot of things, but I think the media is a major player. As someone who has opted out of entertainment media and much of popular culture (for the sake of my sanity, not out of some snobby, hipster mindset), I am surprised every time I witness the effects of the media on female image. We are presented with the absurd idea that we must compete against other women. This theory is pimped on reality television, the news, in music, on the radio and more that we as women must make public fools of ourselves and be hyper feminine to be hot and empowered (I’m looking at you Nicki Minaj…although this article may make you think otherwise). I become extremely annoyed because, really, where do we fit personal responsibility in all this nonsense? The goal of the woman is not to be a pretty (but foolish) fixture on her knees to the world. Our influence on just about everything and everybody is dangerous if the influence is not positive.
            Know what I do need, though? I need the good, positive men to step up. I am not implying that I need the men only to step up and save the world, but what I do need are the strong, good male allies that are out there to back me up. And I know you all exist, I see you every day. I am not offended to be defended. I am offended when I have to be reminded that I am part of the Oppressed Club: black, female and by no means rich, which makes a lot of things difficult. This is not a one sided battle where it is men against women. It is actually simply men and women against Bat Shit Crazy Womb Imperialists. I am not asking for you to be pro-life or pro-choice. I am asking you to be pro-woman. A good man wouldn’t be scared of that and a real feminist would batten down the hatches and charge forward in this sea storm.

2 comments:

  1. You rock. I need to start a collection to get you to Iceland next year and do a reading. Will aim for August for my own selfish reasons! :D

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