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3 Oct

So, is this about feminism, or my neuroses? You decide!

I kinda don’t feel like talking about this anymore right now… but then again, I kinda do, and the only other thing that I’m burning to write about right now is how fucking unkempt and ugly I feel these days and you really don’t want to hear that sorry rant.

(Then again, it was going to be punctuated by my astute observation that even skinny young undergraduates look silly and – sorry – fat in this stupid belted-sweater look that some moron decided to resuscitate from the 80’s. And that would have made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and yielded at least one good piece of fashion advice – don’t belt your sweaters around the waist. Don’t do it. That, or my derogatory use of the word ‘fat’ would have offended you and caused you to send me mean e-mails and we’d be right back where we started.)

(Hey! If I’ve lost you already, maybe you want to go read about animals! Or maybe you’d prefer to just scroll around and admire the gratuitous photos of WonderBaby!)


Where were we? Right. What I don’t really feel like talking more about, for the moment: feminism. Not because I don’t loves me the subject, but because I’m feeling a little bit as though I’m harping on one note – a good portion of my recent posts have been about feminism and/or feminists and/or any number of feminiceties. I’m a bit talked out about it, after last week’s feminist ranting and this weekend’s blog exchange debate with the lovely Julie of Mothergoosemouse (who is also continuing the discussion chez soi). I fear that the discussion is getting a little tired. (Cue big sigh.)

And – here’s the real complicating factor – it’s making my head hurt a little bit.

This might sound surprising, coming from someone who writes obscenely long posts on whatever topic happens to strike her fancy on any given day, but I don’t really like explaining myself. I want to speak my piece and I want you to get it and – here comes the uncomfortable confession – I want you to like it, whether you agree with it or not. I don’t mind if you disagree – I like disagreement – but I want clear, positive, constructive disagreement. Julie and I disagreed in our blog exchange posts – she doesn’t like calling herself a feminist, I think that it’s important to identify myself as a feminist – but it was sympathetic disagreement. I can see her point, and she can see mine. And pretty much all of the discussion that came out of that debate was wonderfully constructive and illuminating and I enjoyed it. But I get uncomfortable – and I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, just an uncomfortable thing – when I get caught between points of disagreement. When I’m not sure if my original point was understood, or not sure that I was sure of my original point, or not sure that I understood the disagreement, or just plain not sure of where I stand on any points that I made or that someone else made and who started this goddam discussion anyway?

Not me.

And there were one or two points of disagreement that caused me some discomfort. Not in a bad way – just, rather, in an I’m-sensitive-and-want-to-be-understood-so-that-you-won’t-dislike-me kinda way. Some objected to the use of the word ‘feminazi,’ and said that we shouldn’t be using the word at all. I took pains to explain in my comments that my use of the word wasn’t approving – that I used it because it had been used on me, and because it had come to represent, for me, part of my struggle with certain elements of feminism (the angry parts, and the parts that provoke anger in me.) The whole post was, in a way, a plea to reject anything and everything that employs and provokes that term, and to embrace feminism in a positive, inclusive way. But I ended up feeling uncertain about whether I had made my point clearly. Maybe I had misused the term? Had I been perpetuating old, evil stereotypes about feminists by using it? Pass the Tylenol.

The other thing that I found discomfiting was my own, emotional, response to people who said that they had always been feminists. Mad Hatter wrote a wonderful post about this, about how she simply cannot understand how or why it is that some people reject the label feminism. She makes an impassioned plea for us to get passionate about feminism, to change this world in which so much violence is done to women. It’s a great post, but it made me uncomfortable – because it made me feel somewhat ashamed to have ever rejected feminism, as I did for a while in my years as a graduate student (recounted here). I read it and thought, yes. How wrong of me to have ever rejected the label ‘feminist.’ How embarassing to have done so. Bad woman!

What do I keep telling you? BAD.

But then I thought again – my struggle with some of the extreme elements of some corners of feminism was a valid one, as was my struggle with anger and frustration last week when I was accused of being a tool of the patriarchy for supporting Gloria Steinem. I thought that Girl’s Gone Child’s treatise on masculism a few months back was brilliant and forceful and compelling, and I was totally sympathetic to my girl Jennster’s struggle with all this femi-talk a few weeks back. And I still think that Julie has some valid points to make in her defense of her rejection of the term feminist, even though I disagree with her conclusions. And it all makes my head hurt a little bit. Because I can’t have it both ways, right?

I want to passionately support women, but I don’t want to exclude men, and I certainly don’t want to exclude women who don’t identify as feminist. I want to be a feminist – but I want to be a humanist and a masculist (to borrow GGC’s term), too. I want to be warrior-like in my defense and support and promotion of women, but I don’t want to be (here comes the dreaded word) a feminazi – that is, someone who provokes anger with her anger, who provokes hate by hating. I don’t want there to be any reason for anyone, anywhere, to use the term feminazi. I don’t want Julie, or Jennster, or anyone, to be put off by feminism.

I want all of the good, and none of the bad – is that too much to ask?


So, in a twist of cosmic fate, I receive in my inbox, just after writing this, an e-mail with Gloria Steinem’s responses to our questions of a few weeks ago. (I’ll post these later this week.) And in it, among a zillion other wonderful and fascinating things that I will share with you forthwith, was this exchange with Kristen:

Kristen: How do we and/or can we redefine feminism as a more inclusive term? Does identification as a feminist require outspoken activism? Or is it a belief system, that we nod our heads at from afar?

Gloria: There are many great terms – feminist, womanist, mujerista, women’s liberationist – and they all mean the same thing: the belief that females are full human beings. There’s no litmus test for action; it’s what each of us can do and wants to do. We probably cycle in and out of periods of activism, whether that means living out our values in a private way or in a public one. I would just say that if we don’t act on what we believe, we soon feel powerless and depressed, so why would we not act? I often think that the only alternative to being a feminist is being a masochist!

So, while that maybe doesn’t totally answer my question, and probably isn’t convincing to those who think that Gloria Steinem is irrelevant or dangerous to feminism (and I experience no discomfort in disagreeing with those people), it is a start.

And maybe that’s the best that I can hope for, for now.