Blood in the Water

I’ve been searching for my inner feminist the past couple years, and I’ve gotta tell you: it’s hard. The whole reason I stay out of politics is because political conversations feel like floundering in a pool that’s despairingly deep and full of sharks. One wrong word and there’s blood in the water.

Feminism isn’t much different.

“Which women are we talking about? Middle class whites? That’s not good enough.”

“While we’re at it, make sure you’re not just talking about cisgendered and/or heterosexual women.”

“Let’s not forget women with disabilities, either. In fact, here are some guidelines on what not to say.”

“Inclusion is all good, but I don’t want to dilute the issue…”

“Why pick and chose? We can handle multiple issues at once!”

“Girls! We’re too divided…”

“Guys can be feminists too, you know.”

“Sure–just make sure to check your privilege. (Really, that goes for everyone.)”

Moreover, feminism connects with a host of other hot-button issues (sexual assault, abortion, body image, pornography, prostitution…). The very word “feminist” has an antagonistic edge to it (which makes sense when you consider that “antagonistic” means “indicating opposition or resistance”).

“All you’re doing is bitching about feminism. That’s not getting anything done.”

Thank you, inner critic. (Also, is “bitching” really the best word to use?)

If I could just complain about oooone more thing… There are, in fact, multiple kinds of feminism. But a lot of people jump in assuming that feminism means one thing (usually, the equality of men and women).

Maybe that’s not a bad thing–there’s that “We’re too divided!” concern–but I would personally just like to give different types some consideration, and remind others that they can, too. We don’t all have to approach feminism in the same way. What comforts me most in searching for my inner feminist is that she is what I make her.

And while I still haven’t put a name to the sort of feminist she is/wants to be, I do like the sound of this definition of feminism provided by Urban Dictionary:

The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women.

The basic idea of Feminism revolves around the principle that just because human bodies are designed to perform certain procreative functions, biological elements need not dictate intellectual and social functions, capabilities, and rights.

Feminism also, by its nature, embraces the belief that all people are entitled to freedom and liberty within reason–including equal civil rights–and that discrimination should not be made based on gender, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, religion, culture, or lifestyle.

Feminists–and all persons interested in civil equality and intellectuality–are dedicated to fighting the ignorance that says people are controlled by and limited to their biology.

This definition strikes me as conscientious, inclusive, and compassionate. It puts feminism in a frame that emphasizes overcoming prejudices against any person who is different, rather than just prejudices against “women.”

“I don’t know if you could still call that ‘feminism.'”

I’m going to call it feminism, with the understanding that its definition is broader than its sound. If nothing else, feminism is sure to be a consequence of practicing the above. I’m already striving for an awareness of my place in the world; why not extend that to include other people’s places in the world? What word is there for all that?

Well, honestly, it’s broad enough that you could call it a host of things: Religion, Love, Community, Social Awareness. I don’t know. Maybe everybody is talking about the same things in different words. (Now you can say “They’re all feminist issues!” *facepalm*)

(Tangent: While googling for this post, I stumbled across two articles: one arguing that Immigration is a feminist issue, and another arguing that Gun Control is a feminist issue. I’m not saying their arguments are all wrong or that these articles don’t have a place. But why not just say, “Here’s a feminist perspective on these issues, which I think may shed light on x, y, z…”? I know I just made a joke about turning everything into a feminist issue, but you don’t really have to do that, do you?)

Ah, I know: power structures. There’s a nice frame to limit the word. Practicing feminism isn’t just fighting prejudice and loving everybody. It’s also being aware of power structures: how they work, their effects, ways to navigate them. Here I’m thinking of The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault.

Some people would rather call it The Herstory of Sexuality.

Some people would rather call it The Herstory of Sexuality.

Daunting as this task is, I will now try to summarize for you my understanding of this text.

Firstly, this book is not about sexuality. Sexuality is only the particular that Foucault uses to work his way toward talking about a wider, more difficult to name subject. Like a fish that wants to talk about water, only all the other fish are like, “What’s water?” so he has to start by talking about, say, bubbles. (Imagine how difficult that would be!)

Secondly, you have to rethink your ideas about power–specifically the idea that power is associated with an oppressor or someone capable of oppressing. Like, for example, a king who decrees a law that is then enforced.

The sort of power that Foucault is talking about is water. It’s everywhere, influencing everything, and it’s not a good or bad thing. It just is. While power can oppress, it also creates and produces and drives. You don’t really attain power, and you can’t ‘escape’ it. You can resist, but your resistance is not outside of or apart from the power you’re resisting–it’s just another function of power. Like a fish who says, “Water, I know what you are now, and I’m going to swim away!”

Not a perfect analogy... but you can't really say this fish is 'escaping,' either.

Not a perfect analogy… but you can’t really say this fish is ‘escaping,’ either.

Here are some of my initial reasons for wanting to find my inner feminist:

  1. I realized that my ambitions for myself were not very high, and I didn’t see why that should be.
  2. The very intelligent people around me knew more about feminism, and I didn’t want to be found lacking.
  3. I had yet to find any close female role models I wanted to emulate, but I knew I wanted my own children to have one. Or even if I didn’t have any children, maybe at least my nieces and nephews.
  4. The thought of being dismissed, belittled, or undervalued, and then not realizing that I was being dismissed, belittled, or undervalued, really bothered me.

Here’s something that really happened to me, at an airport.

I was walking with my uncle, and I noticed a man at a table with some books. I like books. But my uncle and I were going somewhere and I didn’t have money to buy anything anyway, so I didn’t go over.

But as we were going by, the man at the table called to me. I’m not sure if it was a “Hey you” or a “Young lady” or what. All I know is it got my attention, and then he did something very peculiar, which was to give me this look like I’d done something wrong while beckoning me with his finger.

Thanks for jerking my chain, #$^%@&*. Glad to know it was so easy.

Come here, little girl. You need to buy some books.

It worked like a charm.

“You wanna get married, right?” he asks me. “Here’s a cookbook.”

It was a vegetarian cookbook. My thought was that, while I did want to learn how to cook, I didn’t want to make it any more of a hassle than it already was. I looked at his other books to be friendly and polite, and because I was just curious. At most, I figured the marriage comment was old fashioned.

Then my uncle came up, politely said we weren’t interested, and moved me along.

Slowly but surely, the more I thought about the man’s gestures, his come-here-now look, his tone of voice, his “sales pitch,” the angrier I got. The whole way back to my uncle’s house, I fantasized about verbal evisceration scenarios, which I’m sure never would have happened anyway.

Even now, I keep thinking that if I had been self-possessed, confident, and aware enough, I would have known from that first look not to waste my time. I could have just given him the stink eye and kept walking. “I’m not interested, thank you.” @$!#%!&.

It still took me a while to get interested in feminism. My first thought wasn’t “I should become a feminist,” it was more like, “I should be better than this.” Feminism just kind of came up along the way.

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