What Femagination is All About

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A comment left on this blog two days ago* got me thinking about the views I hold as a feminist. Although I’m well aware of the fact that feminism is not a universally loved ideology, I still tend to think that most women (and many men) hold at least some of the views that a feminist does.

What woman, for instance, thinks it’s okay for a man to make more for doing the same job that she does? Or that women shouldn’t have the same opportunities for education, employment or promotion? Or that it’s all right to objectify and abuse women sexually?

Often, when I try to tell people who agree that all these things are wrong that they hold feminist views, they still resist the label. This attitude keeps them away as readers as well. That’s why I recently changed my blog’s tag line to “the feminine imagination blog” from “the feminist imagination blog.” I haven’t stopped being a feminist, but I am tired of people assuming the worst just because I call myself one.

I’m also tired of people refusing to see that a feminist slant merely means that this blog is about women and the issues that affect them directly. It’s not about destroying the institutions of marriage and the family. It’s not about hating men or blaming them for everything that’s wrong in society. Nor is it about women being masculine or non-maternal.

What this blog is about is how to be the person you want to be, unhampered by rules and traditions that prevent you from reaching your potential. Whatever your goals are in life, this blog is here to help you achieve them.

For example, I’ve written several posts about obesity and I plan to write more in the future. I’ve written about everything from abortion to the workplace. (See the drop-down menu to the right for all the topics I’ve covered in the 600+ posts included here.) Sometimes I view these topics from a feminist stance but more often I just view them as a human.

I’m not trying to convert anyone to feminism. If you’re already a feminist, you’ll find plenty here for you. If you’re wondering what feminism is all about, you’ll find that, too. But if you dislike, even despise, the notion of feminism, you should still give this blog a try. You might be surprised by what you find here.

* See the comment on “Why More Mothers Aren’t Feminists.”

Why Should We Care About Shulamith Firestone?

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Shulamith Firestone died sometime last week at the age of 67. She had been a recluse for years, which is one reason why no one found her body for several days. (Her sister confirmed that she died of natural causes.) The feminist community took notice, but the average person could have cared less. And that’s a pity.

Why should we care? What connection could she possibly have to our lives today?

Those of us who are Baby Boomers might remember her name in connection with the Women’s Liberation Movement. She helped to create several radical feminist groups in the late ’60s and was outspoken in her criticisms, not only of the patriarchy, but also of the political left, which she felt didn’t do enough (if anything) to liberate women.

But it was her book, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, published in 1970 when she was only 25, that earned her a primary place in feminist history. And it was also her book—or rather, the reception the book received—that drove her to withdraw from public life in the years following its publication.

To say that Dialectic created a firestorm is an understatement. Even many feminists felt that Firestorm had gone too far in her denunciation of family life and her assertion that women are enslaved by their biology. She felt that women should be released from the burden of reproduction by the use of artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and artificial wombs.

Besides being one of the first feminist theories of politics, Dialectic also set the tone for how the general public perceived the feminist movement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it helped to make feminism the dirty word it is to many people today. The book calls for a complete obliteration of gender differences and traditional patriarchal society (what many would now call “family values”). She wrote that pregnancy was barbaric and that as long as the traditional family existed, women would never be liberated.

It was strong stuff then and is even more so now. Most people have forgotten the woman who put forth these ideas, but they haven’t forgotten that feminism appeared to approve of them. They fail to make the distinction between radical feminists, which Firestone most certainly was, and mainstream feminists (as typified by the National Organization for Feminists, or NOW).

I’m a pretty traditional woman. I believe in marriage (although I don’t think it has to be restricted to male-female unions) and families. I think there is such a thing as a maternal instinct and that mothers tend to occupy themselves more with the care of their offspring than fathers do (or perhaps just in a different way). But I also believe that women are penalized in this society merely because they can have children, let alone if they actually have them.

A lot of people still think that feminists are anti-family, that they put down stay-at-home moms, or moms period. (Not to mention are bitter, man-hating lesbians.) But the vast majority of feminists get married (or enter into committed, long-term relationships) and have babies, work in and out of the home, and struggle with the same issues as non-feminists.

The difference is, feminists are also aware of the wrongs that are done to females in this society and are willing to fight to right them. Firestone recognized the problem, and, even if we don’t agree with them, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize her sincere attempt to formulate solutions.

She saw what a lot of people are unwilling to see: This society is not woman-friendly, especially when it comes to reproductive issues. However, the answer is not to give up on having babies. The answer is to take charge of our own bodies. We don’t need artificial wombs; we just need for (male) law-makers to keep their hands off the ones we have.

 

Thoughts on Femininity and Feminism

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On Facebook today, “Muslim Feminists” asked the question, “What makes you feel feminine?” Apparently there was a discussion about this on a radio show and the women who called in said everything from dangling earrings to being on their periods.

I commented that I feel feminine when I get dressed up to go somewhere. And I feel maternal (which I suppose is a  subset of femininity) when I’m around children (including my own, who are grown). But the rest of the time I feel androgynous. I happen to believe that gender behavior is largely socialized and that somehow I missed out on the training.

But when I thought about it more, I realized that while I don’t feel particularly “girlie,” I do feel like a woman. And I feel more like one the older I get. It’s as if I feel like I’ve earned the designation by all that I’ve been through: puberty, menstruation, PMS, sex, relationships, marriage, birth control, abortion, pregnancy, childbirth, mothering and menopause.

But I don’t think I really started to feel like a woman until I became a feminist. There’s something about being aware of the injustices done to women that makes you begin to identify with them. And that’s not even counting the sense of pride you feel when you realize what women are capable of and have been able to accomplish, despite forces that try to keep them down.

Gender identity is a double-edged sword. If your entire being is wrapped up in your gender identity, it’s easy to feel discouraged when you don’t live up to society’s expectations. But if you don’t identify with your gender at all, you lose a significant part of what makes you feel both unique and part of a group.

(And that’s not even taking into account how you feel if you don’t fit into the gender construct assigned to you at birth.)

Another thing that occurred to me is that no matter what your gender identity is, there are times when you feel like the opposite gender. What if the radio host had asked men what makes them feel feminine? Or women what makes them feel masculine? How many of us embrace the parts of ourselves that don’t fit into our assigned gender?

I can see why some women don’t like to identify as feminists. They think that doing so sends the message that they care too much about their gender identity. They would rather feel free to express both masculine and feminine traits. Or, more typically, they prefer to call themselves “humanists.” (The author Alice Walker is a case in point.)

There’s something to that argument. But it also misses the point of feminism. Feminists are not saying that women are best. It’s not a form of female chauvinism. What they are saying is that we need to collectively support and assist our gender to achieve its highest potential as human beings. So in a sense all feminists are humanists. And all humanists should be feminists.

When do I feel feminine? When I take pride in being a woman, in doing things only a woman can do. But I also feel feminine when I exhibit the gender behaviors that society approves of. The real question is: how much of my sense of femininity is determined by positive forces and how much by negative ones?  Do I only feel feminine when I’m weak and submissive? Or do I feel feminine from a position of strength and self-actualization?

The Roles, They Are A’Changing

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I’ve recently had some correspondence with a rabid anti-feminist (see my post “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?“). It’s easy to write off his comments as the rants of a troll (Internet-speak for someone who deliberately leaves comments intended to rile up the writer or other readers), but I took him seriously enough to answer him and to write about his comments today. For one thing, he appears to be quite serious about his anti-feminism; when he writes on his Anti Feminism Blog he takes the time to address specific arguments for feminism with counter-arguments that sometimes have some validity to them.

For example, he writes that the gender pay gap exists because women choose to work part-time and take off more time than men do because of their child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, they undercut their own advancement by their lifestyle choices. This is a well-documented phenomenon all over the world. But he refuses to acknowledge that women who are willing to accept the same conditions as men traditionally do are treated as if they are going to suddenly turn into women who would rather stay home with their children, even if they are childless.  They are being stereotyped just as surely as African-Americans are who are typified as lazy.

It’s patently unfair, as well as unrealistic, to assume that just because a job candidate has male genitalia he will be a better or harder or more consistent worker than a woman will be.  The real problem lies with society. Not only do we socialize women to be less ambitious in the workplace, we also make it hard for her to juggle her other responsibilities if she does choose to work outside the home. There is no such problem with men, because they have wives. What women need are wives of their own—or else husbands who will contribute as much to home and child care as they do.

I suspect that anti-feminists who are male (sadly, there are female anti-feminists) resent the perception that they are being asked to do all the changing while women reap the benefits. What they don’t realize is that women who enter the work force have to make a lot of changes, too. In a way it was much easier for both sexes when their roles were strictly defined by social expectations. Now that those expectations are shifting, both men and women are finding themselves lost without a template.

Another thing that anti-feminists fail to see is that it is not just feminists who are calling for these changes. Women who would never identify as feminists are standing up for their right to work at whatever job they choose and to be paid as much as men. They welcome more help around the house and with the children. Anti-feminists blame feminists for the ills of society when in fact it is society that is changing.

And it is not only women who benefit when men conform to the “demands” of feminism. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their families. They’re being given custody of children and alimony more often than ever before. (Shared custody is much more common than it used to be.) They don’t carry the full brunt of being our country’s protectors (i.e., in the military). It has become much more acceptable for men to show their emotions and even to express their “feminine” side. They get to spend more time with their children.

It’s human nature to react with fear and anger whenever we think something we’re used to is being taken away from us. But what anti-feminists need to realize is that they’re gaining much more than they’re losing.

Second Wave Feminists: We’re Not Dead Yet

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As I navigate the Internet searching for feminist resources, I come to an unpleasant conclusion: Second Wave feminists are either all dead or might as well be.

I understand about the generation gap. I do. I know that younger feminists are eager to find their own way in the world. They don’t want to do feminism the way their mothers (and grandmothers!) did it. But do they have to shut us out so completely?

Everything I read is seems to be geared toward girls (or Grrls). Which in itself is weird to me, since feminists from the ’60s and ’70s fought so hard to get people to stop using “girl” or “lady” for “woman.”  (Can you imagine Helen Reddy singing “I Am Girl, hear me roar”? Do you even know who Helen Reddy is??) We felt that to be called a girl was a way of infantilizing us. We wanted to be treated like grown-ups.

I also understand that young feminists don’t give a shit what others think of them, including other feminists (especially older ones). If they want to dress sexy or be obsessed with fashion and makeup, that’s their right. If they want to stay home with their children instead of having careers, that’s their right, too. That doesn’t make them less feminist in their way of thinking.

But what they don’t realize is that older feminists get that. We even admire it to some extent. What we resent is being treated as if our take on being feminine is obsolete. We stress(ed) not getting caught up in the societal attitudes that objectify us.  We didn’t want to be seen as just another pretty face or to be judged by our appearance. We worry that younger feminists are playing into the hands of men who want to keep us in categories they approve: sexual partner, mother, wife, girlfriend, servant.

Which brings us to another difference between Second Wave and subsequent waves of feminists: we blamed men for everything. Or at least we are characterized that way. Actually, we felt that men were as trapped as women were by role expectations and that everyone would be better off if we could break free from those expectations.

I’m not saying that today’s feminists don’t see the sexism in our society. They’re just less likely to blame it on patriarchy. They believe that women have been somewhat complicit in the downgrading of women. And they’re all about taking responsibility for their own choices in life. They don’t want to be hemmed in by what older feminists think is acceptable feminist behavior.

We should have anticipated the generation gap and prepared for our own obsolescence. But instead it seems as if Second Wave feminists have retreated into our middle-aged shells. There’s barely a peep from us on the Internet.

Is it just because we’re old fogeys who haven’t kept up with the times? Is our age to blame for our lack of relevance in the world today?

I’ve used the past tense almost all the way through this post to describe Second Wave feminists. That just goes to show you how even we have bought into the idea that we’re has-beens.

But I for one refuse to lie down and die. I think the Second Wave still has a lot to offer. I even think that Third and Fourth Wave feminists owe us. Without us, they would have neither the opportunities nor the respect that younger women enjoy today.

First Wave feminists prepared the ground for women’s advancement. Second Wave feminists planted the tree. And now today’s feminists are grafting other species onto that tree. What that will mean for the future is anyone’s guess. But we could all use each other’s help to tend what is being created.