Monday, October 15, 2007

Feminism is a Four Letter Word

I think about feminism a lot. Not in an abstract, high-brow way, although I suppose I could. I spent four years at University learning to speak in terms of liberal values and what is universally moral, and why you should believe what I'm saying because, clearly, I have the weight of the Western World and all it's thinkers behind me. But I never did Women's Studies, never even got close. The closest I got was admitting, in a third year tutorial, that I considered myself to be a 'feminist'. And I was shocked by people's reaction. They looked at me like I was crazy, took in my short hair and comfortable shoes and, I'm sure, decided that I was a lesbian, a man-hater, or both.

I am neither.

But I am vexed by a world in which it is hard to say that you are a feminist. This means that only the extremists, who want the Men to die, will claim the title. I grew up assuming that everyone was a feminist, in the same way that everyone is Human. At least that all women would be feminists, because, surely, it's ridiculous to suppose that anyone would want to have no choice. Because isn't that what it's about? Choice? You can be free, but if you can't choose what to do with your freedom, it's a false freedom. In name only.

I remember the furor our Women's Officer at uni created. The Women's space was being moved, since the buildings were being renovated, and some planner decided that all the offices together was a better idea. The alternate space was not inferior. But she decided that it was a conspiracy by the patriarchy to oust the Women's Room. I am generally quite suspicious of conspiracy theories in general, since they take much more effort for the conspirators than is usually feasible. But I do believe in the patriarchy. Because I'm a part of it, I know it is there, I see it all the time. But sometimes it is just. Not. About. That.

So, the Women's Room was being moved, and our Women's Officer at the time went on a huge rant against, you guessed it, men. She started out sounding sane with why we need a Women's Room and not, for example, a Men's Room. (Although, if the men felt that they needed one, they could go ahead and make one for themselves) Then it started down the slope of why we needed the women's room, really. IE, because all men are pigs and should have their testicles torn off with rusty pliers.

This is where I jump of the bandwagon. I'm sorry? you are saying that in order for me to be empowered, I need to dis-empower others? You're saying that equality isn't what we're after? That equal and just treatment is, in fact, the enemy? No thanks. Truly, I think I would rather be oppressed than the oppressor. At least there's moral superiority in that.

As I've said before, I truly believe that men and women are, essentially, different beings. I like being a woman, and not a man. I don't want to change the things about me that make me different. Partly this is because, why should 'being equal' mean 'being like men'? I'm happy with 'different but equal', despite the historical instances of that phrase actually meaning 'different, and inferior'. I think we are closer now than we ever have been. I think that's wonderful. but we're not there yet. Not by a long shot. And partly, the problem is ourselves.

Each other.

I feel a deep gratitude to the women who pushed the envelope before I was born, and while I was young, so that I could grow up taking for granted that I was as human as anyone else, and my right to an opinion was as strong.

But they missed something. Most of them. That was: We want to choose. We want to choose to work. We want to choose to raise children. We want to choose whatever gives us satisfaction, be that handstitching a quilt or writing legislation. We want to choose variations and combinations of these, and other things, and while not every choice will be the ones we wish we could make, and every choice will involve sacrifice, and unpleasantness, we want this to be only a function of living in the real world with it's real hardships and facts. Most of those feminists never had children (as I found out in this excellent book, which is gentle and thoughtful and, I've just found out by googling, extremely controversial). That's not a problem. It's just a fact. Choosing one thing rules out another choice.
That's life.

The fact that this is seen as a betrayal of feminism seems cruel to me. It means that those who choose to work feel guilt that they are not at home, on top of all the hardships that being a working mother entails. And those who choose to stay at home feel guilt that they are not working, along with all the hardships that staying at home entails.

And it means that we feel the need to paint each other's choices as 'wrong', in order to make ours 'right'. This frustrates me, badly.

I've been reading Yarnstorm, which I've had in my blogroll for about a year, but, since it starts with a 'y', haven't read in almost as long. But Jen was talking about it, and I took another look. Apparently there's been some controversy about whether the kind of life that I see us all trying for in blogland, that beautiful life full of creativity and peace and the joy of small things, is 'valid'. I don't even know how to respond to that.

Because I want that life. This morning, I cooked, I cleaned, I knit, before I went in to work. And I thought to myself that if I could do that all day, I would be happy. Not all day, every day. That's not a full, well lived life, for me. But just showing up at the office doesn't guarantee you that, either. And these days, when most people don't have 'careers', they just have life-long jobs... which will better give you satisfaction? I don't know that either is guaranteed to do so. It's about who you are, and what you can make of it.

My little nest

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy working, interacting with people, etc. but I also know that it gets in the way of the life I would like to have. Not a Martha Stewart life, but the type of life I see on blogland. Not that that is really real, any of it. But bits and pieces are. A careful, intimately beautiful life, filled with light and love and handmade things.

And I know that that is not what life is. I love the different aspects of life, and I love thinking about the way my life changes, and looking forward to all the changes to come. But whatever those changes are, if they involve a career, or a husband, or children, or a life of solitude, or any combination, I want to be free to make the choices that it presents to me without fear of being ridiculed by people who, quite frankly, should know better.

Otherwise, what is freedom for?

Dame Roma Mitchell
First woman in Australia to be Queen's Counsel
Twice Dux of my high school
Advocate of equal pay for equal work
Fighter for Social Justice
First female Commonwealth supreme Court Judge (retired from the bench the year I was born)
Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chancellor of Adelaide University (first woman in Australia)
(First woman) Governor of South Australia
Founding Chairperson of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Conservative Feminist
General Hogger of 'Firsts'


audrey said...

Great post Kate. I came across your blog on Australian Index. I'm a feminist, loud and proud, and I'm equally as frustrated by the tendency of the second wavers to denigrate the choices of the third wavers simply because they differ. I wrote a post about it here that you may be interested in. It's about some comment Greer and Weldon made at the Edinburgh Writers Festival.

BTW, I am neither a lesbian nor a man hater. My eternal argument for the case of feminist badge wearing is simply that, to be afraid of claiming feminist empowerment because others might assume you are a man-hating lesbian (ie unfeminine, unwomanly, unacceptable) is proof positive that feminism is still very much a necessity. The real battle comes with convincing women our age (and younger) that they can redefine this feminism for themselves to whatever ends they best feel empowers them. (Of course, that leads then to the conundrum of raunch culture, but the response to that is empowerment versus value - ie, does flashing your breasts in a bar make you feel sexually empowered, or sexually valued? The reality is that it's mostly the latter - again, a clear argument in favour of real feminist ideals, by which I mean the claiming of self-determination, strength and respect for one's abilities.)

Forgive me if this is rambling - it's late...

Jen said...

AMEN, sister! Brilliant. This was a really good post.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)