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9 Jul

Fights Like a Girl

As I note here with some frequency, I have spent a long time in the university system. In the Academy, Social Sciences and Humanities quadrant. Where they take their feminism seriously. (You don’t think studying the Feminist Hermeneutics of Xena, Warrior Princess is serious? Then you are clearly a slave to the passive misogyny of the masculinist knowledge system that dominates Western culture.)

So it is that I have participated in many a discussion, many a debate, about the place of women is spaces that have been traditionally occupied by men (which is to say, if you are a certain breed of feminist, all public spaces). Some of these discussions have bordered on the absurd: as I recounted in my post on the politics of the term ‘mommy blogger,’ I once had the unique pleasure of debating the question of whether or not the term caucus – as in, should we form a women’s caucus in order to have a forum for women’s issues in the department? – was inherently sexist. Because, you know: COCK-us. Language can rape, people. Gotta watch that.

Yes, I mock. Because so much of the content of these debates seems, to me, to be ridiculous. But I do think that the general thrust (OMG she is completely brainwashed by the phallocentric MAN) of these discussions is tremendously important. Where and how do women fit, as women, in public spaces? And – what does it mean to speak, as a woman, in those spaces?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as I have been thinking about Linda Hirshman and my reaction to her recent contributions to the public debate about what women (and in particular mothers) should be doing with their lives. I’m not going to flog that particular horse any further right now (although I do retain flogging rights and intend to return to flogging at a later date); what I’m interested in at the moment is how, exactly, I am thinking and talking about these issues, and whether there is anything particularly feminine about how I am going about this discussion. What I’m thinking about is, how am I speaking – how are we speaking – in the public space that is the blogosphere?

Queen of Spain got me thinking about how we – mama bloggers – speak about the issues that interest us when she said this in response to my War post:

A big, fat AMEN sista… except for one thing. I like the fighting.

I think it means we’re arrived. The men fight about crap ALL the time. They debate. They have heated exchanges. They do what they need to do to make their points HEARD. So I think that this fighting is the next, necessary step in equality. We’re finally so good with ourselves, as a gender, that we can openly and freely debate what is best and what is horrible about all the various choices we have.

Sure we like to be all huggie and happy and pat each other on the back and support one another…but why can’t we do that and add some smack down? Why do we always have to be so peace and love? Is THAT lack of agression, that fear of a fight that really dooms us? I say bring on those morons like Caitlin and Linda who want us all to be in one box or the other. Let’s all duke it out with them. With each other. Then let’s all go get pedicures and laugh about it later.

I’ve been thinking about this for days now. When I first read the comment I thought yes! But then a moment later I thought well… yes and no. And then I went back and forth between yes and no for the next few days.

I love disagreement. Disagreement – the clash of opinions – is the motor of real dialogue. But must disagreement always look like fighting? This is where I get stuck. I loves me a good smackdown. But to my mind, a smackdown is not dialogue. It’s battle. It’s where the stronger or the more rhetorically agile defeat the weaker or less nimble. It can be as sophisticated as Socrates’ smackdown of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic (the mother of all smackdowns!) or as brutish as a playground taunt-match (you’re stupid/no you’re stupid/no you’re stupid/I know you are but what am I?) When I say that I’m going to smack down Linda Hirshman I don’t mean that we’re going to sit down over tea and exchange ideas and then agree to disagree. I mean that I am going to pull the full might of my brain and years of study into my figurative fists and that I am going knock her about until she (or the dummy-Hirshman that I am using as a punching bag) cries mommy. Which is to say, until I have fully shown her up to be WRONG. And I’ll have fun doing it.

I likes me this kind of fun. But I wouldn’t have it at my friends’ expense. Not just because I think that it would be mean – and I do think that it would be mean – but because I don’t think that it really furthers discussion. If I just out-and-out smack down Hirshman, I’m closing off any real possibility of taking her ideas seriously – and as much as I disagree with most of her arguments, I think that they are worthy of serious consideration. In order to engage in real dialogue with Hirshman’s ideas (much as I would like to smack her for many of them), I need to take them seriously. I need to respect them, or be respectful of them, even as they make my foot tap impatiently and my hands clench up into fists.

But, but… here is where I cringe a little bit at the possibility that I sound just like a girl. Isn’t this just like a woman – or, at least, a certain kind of woman – to wring her hands and insist upon civility and good manners and listening skills? To tsk tsk at the boys as they wrestle gleefully in the dirt, as they punch and pummel each other, and then marvel as they ride off on their bikes together?

Is there something inherently feminine (whether this is femininity is rooted in culture or something else, I’m not touching here) about avoiding the fight? About disparaging the fight? About insisting, sweetly, that we can all disagree politely, nicely? If there is – and I am certainly not sure that there is – are we, as women, missing out on something so long as we insist upon civility in all quarters?

We do disagree with each other, occasionally, in the mama-blogosphere. There’s not a lot of disagreement, but I think that that’s largely because we’ve self-selected ourselves into this community and are accordingly, for the most part, like-minded. Another reason, I think, is that as mama-bloggers we tend to discuss quote-unquote issues within the context of our personal experiences and struggles, rather than in some more neutral context, and this limits the terms and scope of debate (the issues discussed in the Basement are not open for debate, for this reason, unless the poster has asked for some critical response.) And what disagreement there is, is (with a few exceptions) civil disagreement. There’s not a lot of mommy-blogger cage match going on (nor, it’s worth observing, is there much daddy-blogger cage match. Shame, that.)

I like that our disagreements are, for the most part, civil. But, again, are we missing out on something? Would we be having more fun if we got a bit dirtier from time to time? Would it be more progressive? (But even if it would be all of these things, wouldn’t it be antithetical to all that is great about the parent blogosphere? Or could the blogosphere use more tension – more bending of the bow, as a certain German philosopher would say?)

I have much more to say about this, but in the meantime, before I tell you what I think (which requires that I actually think, which requires sleep, which remains just out of my grasp) – what do you think?

Civility is the refuge of Last Men, tards. Bring in da noize!