Let’s rock with the tough girls

14 08 2013

I’m a feminist, and a theorist, but I’m not a feminist theorist.

Theorist: I do political theory, mucking about the edges of modern thought in both its pre- and post-forms, and much taken with ontology of late.

Feminist: While not the absolute beginning of my political consciousness—as a kid I held up the two-fingered peace sign against the Vietnam War—it was the way through which I entered politics in a determined way. And while I now prefer the term “liberationist” (yah, woman’s libber!), I don’t give up “feminist” because a) it has historical meaning, b) it means something in my own history, and c) because I’m a stubborn wench with little patience for those who cringe that “feminist” is too confrontational or mean or hairy or something.

Why, then, am I not a feminist theorist? Because my political self and my intellectual self, while in sympathy with one another, are not the same—which, by the way, suits my pluralist self (-ves).

The upshot of all of this is that I rarely peruse explicitly feminist websites. As I mentioned in the linked post, those joints are not meant for the likes of me (this is an observation more than a criticism) and, honestly, I don’t really need pointers from anyone on how to be a better or more authentic feminist, nor do I need reminders of how shitty this world is for women, and, for that matter, many human beings.

Still, two recent posts, one by bspencer at Lawyers, Guns & Money and another by Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber have set off a few of my feminist neurons.

Not in any particular direction, mind you: I’m almost as unfamiliar with the Hugo Schwyzer clusterfuck as is bspencer, and the Ferrell piece requires more thinking, or “unpacking” if you will.

(Do people still use unpacking? Useful term, tho’ dreadfully overused in the nineties. If it’s fallen out of favor, I’d be willing to pick it up again: I like me some gnarly anachronisms.)

Anyway, these pieces (and their attendant comments) set off a bit of a brain fizz. Now let’s see if I can manage to to pull more than a preface to a thought together before the carbonation runs out.





Say it loud!

16 07 2012

Don’t like the word “feminist”?

“What part of  ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

—Caitlin Morgan

h/t Peggy Orenstein, Slate





He said, shut up

11 12 2011

Belle Waring brings it, again, at Crooked Timber:

10 Problems Women Need to Fix Before They Can Complain About Problems With Popular New Software, On a Blog

by Belle Waring on December 7, 2011

1. Female Genital Mutilation, Everywhere, Ever.
2. Women Getting Raped in Far-Away Lands, like Afghanistan. AND YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!
3. Growing Gender Imbalances in China and India (Also known as “Where’s Your Precious Right to an Abortion Now, Missy?”)
4. Sexist Islamic Law Codes (“Wait, why just—” “Shut up.”)
5. World Hunger (But not through those programs where they only give micro-payments/loans to women on the basis of research that it is more effective.)
6. Lack of Access to Clean Drinking Water For The World’s Poorest Citizens, Because, Hey, While You’re There.
7. Africa. Is Some Shit Just Fucked up There, or What? Get On That.
8. Access to The Most Basic Knowledge About Human Reproduction and Assistance of Midwives Can Lower Peri-Natal Deaths Tremendously, But Please Don’t Tell Anyone About Contraception or Abortions.
9. Forced Prostitution, Sex Slavery, Human Trafficking.
10. Are We Seriously Just Not Even Trying to Go to Mars Anymore? Really, Though? We Made it to The Moon in Like 5 Years With Some Slide Rules and Horn-rimmed Glasses and Shit, and Now All We’ve Got is These Weaksauce Telescopes Peering Back in Time. What the Fuck? Mars, Bitches!

Now you know, ladies. Sorry any sexism in developed nations up to and including your own personal experiences of sexual assault didn’t even make it on the list, but better luck next time!

I’ve disdained what I’ve called “hierarchies about suffering”, and the term “oppression Olympics” may also be applied (in reverse, or sideways, or something); either way, the point is clear: Shut. Up.

Tch.

What was that line from Serenity? I aim to misbehave.





‘a woman who gives birth to a child is a woman first and a mother second’

23 03 2010

“Today, we’re told we’re not allowed to smoke, to eat unpasteurised cheese or seafood or even to a drink a glass of wine when we are pregnant. It’s time to stop all that.”—Elisabeth Badinter

This French philosopher and old-school feminist has plenty to say between drags on her cigarette.

“We’ve always been mediocre mothers here,” Badinter said (pointing out that in the 18th century French women farmed their children out to nurses “so that they could continue to have social lives and sex with their husbands”). “But we’ve tended to have happier lives.”

This is what all those so-called ‘Bad Mommies’ miss: they chastise themselves for not being perfect and miss the fun of such imperfection.

And, frankly, it wasn’t all being the kid of a mom who had better things to do than chase after you every goddamned minute of every goddamned day.

Freedom all around.

(h/t Slate)





I am woman—hear me roar

12 01 2010

I am so fucking tired of having to generate outrage at yet another horrendously stupid or awful comment on or policy regarding women.

It’s not that I’m no longer capable of outrage—note the existence of the ‘Rant’ category (or see this post)—but JesusMary&Joseph can I not simply walk away from idiocy on occasion?

Look, I’m old—an old feminist, and shit that used to rile me is now far more likely to lead me to roll my eyes. Some dickwad thinks women can’t think and menstruate at the time and I’m supposed to engage in a point-by-point rebuttal of this so-called argument?

Can’t I just laugh in his face and move on?

C. and I were discussing our respective positions vis-a-vis feminism the other night; while her views generally might be described as feminist, she declines the term. I’ll leave it to her to explain why—she’s working on a post on the topic—but she was clearly weary of the ‘rules’ of feminism. Do I have to invoke ‘The Patriarchy‘ every time some guy acts like a douche? Can’t I just say, This guy is a douche?

I think patriarchy is a key concept in understanding the development of male-female roles and relationships across societies; I also think such understanding requires a sense of critical distance from the term itself, as well as an ability to distinguish between overarching/underlying structural dynamics and the idiosyncracies of individual behavior.

Translation: Yes, sometimes a douche is just a douche.

But even if I think that scripts for individual behavior are shaped (not determined) by those structural dynamics, it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to go nuclear every time someone tosses a dart my way. Sometimes I can just toss it back—bent, if I so choose. Sometimes I can just duck.

This is called judgment, and one of the benefits of aging is accumulating enough experience on which to base this discretion.

This does not make a bad feminist or a sell-out or blinded by privilege. (Grrrr, now there’s a word that sets me off. . . .) As a long-ago grad school colleague responded to a newly-out woman’s hectoring her on not being a good enough lesbian: I’ve been out since I was fifteen, so I don’t need any lectures from some baby dyke.

Was P. invoking privilege in her put-down? Yeah—an earned one. And P., an exceptional mild person, didn’t go any further in criticizing this woman’s zeal; rather, she made the practical observation that the way one relates one’s sexuality to the world changes over time. Such change, needless to say, can indicate development in as opposed to repudiation of an aspect of one’s identity.

So how I’m a feminist has changed over the last thirty years—which strikes me as a good thing. I was twelve or thirteen when I first identified as a feminist, and took to it with a teenaged zeal. I ain’t knocking adolescent views—they’re entirely appropriate for adolescents—but, really, how sad would it be for an old broad like me to ignore the fact that I am no longer thirteen?

It is true that in those intervening decades I have come to question feminism and to shift where I locate myself within the spectrum of feminisms. It’s not that I’ve abandoned my previous commitment to equality, but in recent years I have focused more intently on issues of liberation and domination.

These are big topics, but here I want simply to make the practical point that domination affects all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. Some people might focus on race or ethnicity or class or sexual orientation or gender identity or disability or any number of other boxes in which we find ourselves, but it seems to me that we can share the general goal of liberation, as pursued in our particular ways.

So while I might have to start calling myself a ‘libber’ to reflect that larger project, my entry into this project was as a feminist. It has formed my thinking and guided my development regarding liberation, and I see no reason to discard it, now.

(There’s also the little matter of rank oppression of women world-wide and the necessity of recognizing that however general the goal of liberation, it is in fact experienced in the particular. Women’s rights may be human rights, but you can’t neglect the former and hope to achieve the latter.)

Still, I share C.’s wariness to some versions of feminism, those which traffic in conversation-stopping jargon and which allow for no nuance in how we actually inhabit this world. We discussed a couple of websites and their contributors, and the constant jackhammering in their posts.

C. was pissed off, but I (uncharacteristically) took more of P.’s mellow line. Look, I said, those websites are geared toward a particular audience—a younger, academically-oriented one. They’re pounding away on stuff that we might already have learned to deal with. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing, but for those of us outside of that target audience, it’s bound to produce its share of irritation.

Then C. asked a very good question: Where the hell are those websites for women our age?

Beyond the mommy blogs, I couldn’t think of any. Katha Pollitt keeps on keeping on, but where is the Gen-X version of Feministing or Jezebel or Pandagon? (Could we call it BabyBust? Or would that just be too cute?)

We need a site which takes account of our nicks and scars, defeats and victories, and which doesn’t expect us to get riled up every damned time someone says something stupid about women, somewhere. Righteous Broads? Crone? Or, to call on an earlier post, how about Mormo, a.k.a. She-monster?

Something which encourages us to laugh and dance and not be perfect, but human, instead. Politics, liberation—yes, but life, too. Life, always.





Jane says

4 10 2009

Do you know Jane?

‘Jane’ was the name of the underground abortion service in Chicago in the late sixties and early seventies; it wound down after the Roe decision in 1973.

As told by Laura Kaplan (who was a part of Jane) in The Story of Jane, a number of women in the Chicago area put together a not-for-profit and completely illegal service, one which they eventually expanded to include pap smears and female health education. Although a few members were eventually busted (somewhat by mistake), they operated for years with the knowledge both of police and various ‘legit’ medical professionals.

That such an underground service existed is not a surprise. What is stunning, however, is how completely fucking radical these women were. They initially relied upon various sympathetic and/or mercenary doctors to perform the abortions, but eventually learned how to do them themselves.

You got that? These women received training from a guy who received training from a doctor—and went ahead and performed not only D&Cs, but also vacuum aspiration, and, eventually, second-trimester abortions.

I’m as pro-choice as they come, but even I blanched when I read that. Fucking hell, I thought, second-trimester abortions done in apartments and hotel rooms?!

But they were good. One woman did die—a death which led some members to drop out, and to a great deal of turmoil for those who remained—but her death was almost certainly the result of an infection caused by  abortion attempts performed elsewhere. Upon realizing the extent of her infection, Jane members told her to go immediately go to the hospital; she waited more than a day, then died at the hospital.

Kaplan describes the meeting following the woman’s death:

As details of the story were recounted, a numbness spread throughout the room. They had founded the service to save women from dying and now the very thing they were trying to prevent had happened.

That was the whole point of Jane, to save women; even more, to give them a way to save themselves.

It wasn’t simply about making safe, inexpensive abortions available to women, it was also about women—both Jane members and those who used their service—taking responsibility for their own lives. Jane set up training for their members, and provided counseling for the women who came to them. They didn’t have moral qualms about abortion itself, but they were careful to ask anyone who seemed uncertain if she really wanted to go through with it. The decision, and the responsibility, lay with the woman herself.

Kaplan is not a deft storyteller, but she is an honest one. She details the egos and tensions, the difficulties of involvement with an underground organization, the conflicts with other women’s liberation organizations, and all the varieties of risk taken by Jane and the women they helped. All of these women shared desperation: the women (‘participants’, not patients) who came to Jane for help, and the members of Jane themselves, to help all who asked for it.

It was, in fact, that desperation to save women from unsafe abortions that led Jane to take over the operation itself, and to end up inducing 2nd-trimester miscarriages. If we don’t do it, they worried, what will happen to all these women?

There’s so much more to The Story of Jane. I used it in my ‘Women and Politics’ course I taught this past summer as a way not only to foreground reproductive issues, but also the issue of underground, anarchist, or DIY politics. Does underground work affect politics above the ground, or does DIY simply let the above-grounders off the hook? Or is the effect on ‘normal’ politics less the issue than the creation of one’s own politics?

I’m still chewing over those larger political issues. But when it comes to abortion, I wonder if Jane didn’t have the right idea. I’m a big fan of Planned Parenthood (see my links list), but they are at the forefront of putting abortion and contraception firmly within the medical sphere, i.e., within the sphere of specialization and  licensure and, most importantly, women-as-patients.

Jane insisted that abortion was something that women participated in, not that it was something done on or to them. This is your body, they repeated over and over and over, this is your life. In this context, the notion that women should have some idea of their own genitalia—a kind of mirror-empowerment which, honestly, always kind of put me off—seems less woo than utterly practical. How can you take care of yourself if you don’t know what you look like?

I know, there are both hospital-based and free-standing women’s clinics, not a few of which are also interested in patient or client education. And, frankly, autoclaves and medical education seem to me very good things.

But what about responsibility and liberation and solidarity? What of a woman’s (or any) emancipatory movement premised upon the simple declaration that you can and must free yourself? Jane was not encouraging women to bust out into chaos, but to recognize themselves as full human beings, and to inculcate a sense of responsibility not only to themselves but to those around around them.

With liberty and justice for all. Pretty fucking radical, huh?





Sisters are doing it for themselves

3 06 2009

Nothing like teaching about women and politics to fire up the ol’ feminist engine.

I’ve been a feminist since junior high, when my college-age sister brought home a Ms. magazine she had received free on campus. Zing! I had a subscription all through high school.

(I also joined a local chapter of NOW. Meetings took place in a nearby town, so before I had my driver’s license, my mom or dad would have to drive me to the meetings.)

And I was a loudmouth in college, of course, and noticed how left-wing men could be incredibly piggish around women. I wore my buttons and shouted my slogans and. . . not much more.

In grad school I studied contemporary political theory, but not feminist theory. There was a fair amount of essentialist crap floating around at the time (women are more maternal, more peaceful, more cooperative, better. . .), as well as the psychoanalytically-influenced theory from Europe. Psychoanalysis: bleh.

So I fell out of it. Yes, still a feminist, but, after awhile, I just stopped paying attention to feminist movements, to actual feminist activities. Distracted, for all kinds of reasons.

Well. The past year or so I’ve been teaching a basic politics course which my department prefers to center on women. I’ve kind of resisted this, wondering about the students in my courses, worried that the men in particular would think this isn’t ‘real’ or ‘serious’ politics.

Stupid, I know, but I did have to remind myself, repeatedly, that I wouldn’t make apologies for teaching a course which centered on race or class, and that, last time I checked, women were, oh, about half the world’s population. We matter! Yeah, we do!

Right?

This summer, however, I’m teaching a course explicitly about women and politics, so I don’t have to worry that the students are going to feel suckered into learning about girl stuff: they know straight up what they’re getting into. And, boy, nothing like reading how women are screwed at every level of politics to rekindle my energies.

One student had asked for some form of analytical framework for the course, and I responded that the main approach would be to consider 3 levels of analysis: at the institutional or official/governmental level; at the level of civil society, in which movements may be directed either toward affecting official policy or toward other institutions and attitudes within civil society; and at the marginal or underground level, which may encompass everything from (peaceful) separatist movements to illegal acts (such as social support networks for illegal abortion) to activities in repressive states. One of the texts I used tracks roughly along these lines, although their third level is that of revolutionary movements.

Regardless, women are screwed at every level. Sure, there are the good and noble exceptions (institutionally: Scandinavia, Rwanda, South Africa), but, far more often, women’s concerns are shunted aside, women’s movements marginalized, and, in repeat of what I saw in college, even in revolutionary situations, women’s liberation takes a back seat to ‘national’ a.k.a. men’s liberation.

Tough economic times? Cut social welfare provisions. Uncertain security situation? Women must fall back and support the men. Taking over the state? Oh, women will be free ‘after the revolution’.

I know, I know: This is nothing new. Still, I have forgotten so much, have resigned myself to so much, even as I kept stating my fealty to the feminist cause. I stopped paying attention.

I’m hardly ready to go jump over any barricades—I am old and lazy, after all. But it wouldn’t kill me to do more than just bitch about this stuff.

And even if I’ve fallen behind on my feminist analysis, I’ve kept up with my political analysis. Thus, my anarchic streak meets up with a refreshed feminism: DIY feminism and anti-patriarchy. No more compromises on women’s liberation, no more standing back or apologizing for daring to think that the emancipation of half of the fucking world might maybe sorta possibly matter.

Half of the world? Did I say that? How about the whole fucking world? Yep, I’m newly comfortable with discussions of patriarchy (a word that I used to sidle away from, embarrassed), and how it traps men as well as women. Yeah, it sucks that women have to prove their ‘toughness’ , but it also sucks that a man can’t be gentle without having his masculinity questioned. And while women have been able to move into so-called masculine fields—because, of course, women would want to move into something better—men have a far more difficult time lowering themselves to enter so-called feminine fields. Chick lawyer? Check. Guy kindergarten teacher? Um. . . .

Enough. I’m too much the post-structuralist/modernist to think that we can ever be completely free of the nest of power relations, but that’s hardly an excuse for not getting rid of the ones we find odious now.

And that ‘we’ includes me—because, as history clearly demonstrates, ain’t nobody else gonna liberate me. DIY, indeed.

(Image from Red Buddha Designs)








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