Thursday, November 13, 2008

on intellectualism and feminism

i admit it, i can't stay away from the huffington post, even though the election is over. this morning, it was bob cesca's article on the madness of the far right in cyberspace. although some pretty wacky stuff is being said out there...he cites "impeach obama" groups on facebook (ahem, guys, can't really impeach a guy who hasn't taken office yet...) and some far out far right blogger who is actually claiming that bush made no verbal gaffes in the past eight years...we would do well not to ignore it, as beneath argument as it would seem to be. i think that's what got us into that anti-intellectual space in the first place. tho' it does seem pretty absurd to have to go head-to-head on issues like whether africa is a continent or a country or which countries are part of north america.

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debi's comment on my quick michelle obama post yesterday has me thinking about feminism and what it means, at least to me. and although i posted the article link light-heartedly and more as a justification for my love of middle-of-the-road/pocketbook fashion, debi brings up a valid point about what feminism means today. i'm not sure that i really know because it's a word that gets bandied around quite a lot and used and abused by all sides.

when i was in college, i studied lots of feminist literary theorists--bell hooks, camille paglia, julia kristeva, to name but a few. i was, for a time, interested in the whole notion of "the gaze" and how it often objectifies women, especially on film. i read naomi wolf's the beauty myth and the classics by betty friedan and simone de beauvoir. but i had to admit that i was still hesitant to call myself a feminist. yes, i thought women should have equal pay for equal work, the same opportunities as men, control of their own bodies, but feminists just seemed so angry and strident and righteous. and i'm just not really cool with righteous.

i had this feeling that to be feminist, you had to forsake makeup and beaded cocktail dresses and i simply wasn't prepared to do that. i love high heels and eyelashes and mac paint pots and sparkly clothes. so, instead i embraced a strong woman like madonna, who is arguably a feminist, but one who someone like me could believe in. she was sexy, strong, determined, capable and successful. with her sex book in the early 90s, i felt she took that "gaze" by the horns and in embracing it, subverted it and made it hers, wresting it away from the male who would objectify her. i'm not sure now that it really worked, but for me, it worked at the time--i felt that was a feminism i could identify with.  frankly, madonna at 50 represents a feminism i can still live with (even if i wouldn't personally go there on the plastic surgery)...she's still sexy, feisty, successful and going strong. 

i was a little dismayed to read last summer that camille paglia was coming out as anti-madonna on her 50th birthday. although she's a bit of bitch (something a feminist is also free to be, so i mean it in a good way), i always kinda liked camille for her daring. it just feels a bit wrong for her to abandon madonna on the feminist front. 

i guess what i'm trying to say is that the label "feminist" has always been a bit problematic for me. it is a little too equated with bitch (in a bad way) and perhaps a bit too anti-man in its formulation for me to fully identify. i like men and i like being able to use my femininity in the very male world in which i find myself making a career. would a feminist do that? i'm not sure. they would probably castigate me for indulging in feminine maneuvering to accomplish my goals--like wearing my "audit dress," a grey suit with a short skirt, and sexy black wolford tights--on days when there's an audit. but isn't using your feminine side to be strong and achieve the upper hand also a form of feminism? or shouldn't it be? enjoying one's ability, even at 40-something, to possess a room full of men just by walking into it wearing the right clothes and makeup and then having the further satisfaction of sealing it when you open your mouth and they find out that you're smart on top of it! that's feminine power if not feminist power. and as i see it, the only way to achieve equality in paychecks and career opportunities.

i guess i don't think feminism has that much to do with the abortion issue. i can imagine that feminists think that women should have control of what happens in and around their bodies. and to believe that just because you believe in free choice means that you think everyone SHOULD get an abortion is naive. it's called pro-choice, because we think that people should have the choice to decide for their own body and their own life. although i used to provoke my mother by saying i wished i needed an abortion whenever we passed those clinics in wichita with all the protesters outside of them, i'm really glad that i never needed one. i'm certain it's a heart-wrenching choice for those who choose it. however, i would fight to the end for their right to do so and never imagine that i could make that decision for them (not unless i had already donated the kidney that i'm not using, in which case i could really argue that i 'm pro life...but i digress). 

i objected to sarah palin's citing to katie couric that hunting moose was a form of feminism, but if i reflect on it, perhaps it is. because it's about making your way on equal footing in a man's world--and hopefully transforming it to a more human world, without gender distinction. hunting moose is just her way of doing it and wearing my audit dress on audit days is mine...perhaps that's the beauty of feminism, it's what we make of it.

and me, i'm gotta go put on some of my new eyelashes because husband and me have a date night tonight..we're gonna go see the new james bond!


paris parfait said...

I think we have similar backgrounds on the feminism issue. To me the most important points were and remain equal pay for equal work and the right to choose. All those gender/behavioural issues just seem like a waste of time - men and women are always going to react to each other on slightly different levels, although they treat each other with respect in the workplace. It's genetics, more than learned behaviour, although there are elements of that in it as well. I wouldn't by any stretch of the imagination consider Sarah Palin a feminist, mainly due to her right-wing views and her anti-choice position about abortion. Also, she seems to have little grasp or understanding of the world at large and its history and politics. She repeats talking points that other people have used and discarded (after they were discredited). She uses a lot of words, without really saying anything. Not only is she trying to cover up her lack of knowledge, she is being manipulative, thinking the listener isn't smart enough to understand that she's trying to pull a fast one. I'm afraid we haven't seen the last of her, because of those conservative right-wingers who think she is a torch-bearer for their philosophy. And there's nothing feminist about their philosophy!

Barb said...

Here, here Julie, you make me want to burn my bra but at my age I would have to then tuck my girls in my trousers. LOL

On a more serious note tho' I totally agree with your take on feminism, let's still be women, but women in charge of our destiny, not relying on anyone else to "complete" us or "define" us.

Great post. Barb

Unknown said...

Being free to wear an audit dress, hunt moose or dance on stage at 50 is all the best parts of feminism. Equal pay and control of bodies should be a given, but must be negotiated and fought for by men and women alike.

Flirt all you want, go for the gold where it matters.

d smith kaich jones said...

Well, I'm still a bit confused by the exclusion of right-wing women, or pro-life women. Paris says Sarah can't be considered a feminist because she is anti-choice about abortion & has right wing views, despite the fact that she holds a very powerful office, earns her own money, does what she wants, believes what she wants. I would contend that true conservatives - those who don't feel the government has to be their daddy - are actually much more "feminist" politically than those who believe the government ought to be taking care of us. That a woman can be, as Barb says, in charge of her own destiny.

So I'm left wondering still if the term feminist can only be applied to a woman with left-leaning politics. Which is just fine, but if so, there should be no pretending that all women are included. We should have a true understanding that feminism, as a political movement, is not about freedom for all women - that it is in fact a left-wing ideology. Again , that's fine - I don't care. I just think we should be honest about what it really means.


Brenda Pruitt said...

I think the problem is that the whole concept just doesn't work for most women of the right-wing party. Their whole stance for the past twenty or more years has been to lean to that far evangelical bunch who are against abortion. And being over 50, I ascribe that feminism means a woman makes up her own mind, for her own reasons, and gets to choose for her own body. No ifs, ands or buts. I just haven't heard many Republicans go pro-choice, and that is pro-feminism.

julochka said...

paris--i would agree that i don't find SP in the least feminist, but i was trying to make sense of what she was saying about hunting moose and providing for her family and i think what she was getting at was a feminist sensibility--of providing for the family on equal terms with men.

barb--that being in charge of our own destiny is just what i was trying to say (probably a little long-winded-ly (if that's a word).

kip--very interesting to have a male perspective on this issue. thanks for that!

debi-- i'm not sure feminism is inherently left or right, conservative or liberal. and although i am definitely left-leaning, i too am hesitant to actually call myself a feminist. it carries for me a righteousness that i don't want to engage in. i think what we've pointed to here is that it's a highly charged and problematic term.

brenda--i agree with you quite whole-heartedly as to what feminism means, but i'm still a bit reluctant to call myself a feminist.

Molly said...

So here goes: I think feminism is passé.
(And now I lean back and sideways to avoid any blasts of anger directed in my direction.)
As a woman in my early 30's I completely acknowledge and honour the work done by the many brave souls before me which allows me to make this statement. There are many equalities I can now take for granted (and I think with every susequent generation these become more) because other women fought for them.
But I really feel that by now we've come to a place where in order to truly honour that fight(and I agree with Kip), any struggle for equality should be everyone's issue, discrimination against a woman should be tackled as a human rights issue, not a feminist one, and that woman should be freed of any pressure to have to align herself as a feminist or not.
A woman's right to wear short skirts or mascara should now be as acceptable as a man's right to use moisturiser or cry in public without prejudice or ridicule.
And where it's not, and where the much more serious issues of women's right to vote or have control over her own body are not resolved, these are human rights issues, and should be tackled as such.
SP's right to hunt moose is a moral issue and an animal rights issue, it should make no difference in the least if the hunter is a man or a woman, right or left.
Feminism has increasingly become a measure against which women judge other women and how did we let that happen?
I'm deeply suspect of -isms. Except maybe magic realism...

julochka said...

bravo molly--i think you said what i was trying to say a whole lot better than i did!! and i love magical realism too!