Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Feminism Post

Though I've often found myself thinking about feminism and my relationship to it, a recent post of Becky's has inspired me to bring my feelings to light here. Because, you know, Becky's right: it is "the subtle things we gotta look out for."

Like how society defines and demarcates feminism.

For so long, I refused to call myself a feminist--even in spite of the fact that I held many feminist beliefs--simply because of what I felt the word meant. For so long, the shrill, narrow minded, humourless man-hater stereotype personified "feminist" for me. Unlike feminists, I maintained, I had no problem with men. Unlike feminists, I believed, gender issues did not lurk behind every conflict, and misogyny certainly did not lurk behind pronoun use. Unlike feminists, I knew, I valued femininity and girlishness, and I assuredly did not value career women over stay-at-home moms.

The first time I encountered the theories of Michel Foucault, I was amazed; it was as if everything was suddenly brought to light. Perhaps I shouldn't have been as excited as I was, for the guiding principle behind Foucault's work--to question binaries, glib definitions of behaviours and ideologies--was one of the most formative lessons my mother taught me as a child. It was a principle I embraced whole-heartedly, not in the actively rebellious, defiant sort of way, but in a more intellectual, probative way (the only perceivable way for an approval-seeking child like me.)

Still, it was years before I actually questioned feminism.

Many feminists would maintain that my former view of feminism was socially indoctrinated. Now, I find it hard to disagree. How can I, really, when my own mother--the very former-stay-at-home mother who played me that "Free to Be You and Me" tape over and over, told me that I could be anything I set my mind to be (regardless of how the profession was gendered), taught me to question--refuses to call herself a feminist because she sees feminism as an inherently anti-male ideology which seeks to elevate women at the expense of men.

What is undoubtedly more damaging than such a reductive definition of feminism is the refusal to question it. The lack of awareness, of investigation into feminist issues, if not ideology, can retard--even halt--the forward movement towards equality (like Becky, I don't believe patriarchy is best replaced by matriarchy); it pits woman against woman, weakening feminism's numbers and ideological pool. It isolates women, keeping them out of the dialogue surrounding equal pay for equal work; the ghettoization of women in low-paying, non-unionized jobs; female circumcision/genital mutilation; and violence against women. In refusing to question how society defines feminism, women are disenfranchised by both society and feminism itself.

So, too, are self-avowed feminists (as I am now) when they accept the Second Wave/Third Wave dichotomy. Lisa Jervis, one of the founders of Bitch magazine, says it best:

[women's issues] can't be discussed productively while in disguise as generational issues. That disguise keeps us distracted from the real work before the movement today.

Here's what we all need to recognize so that we can move on: Those in their 20s and 30s who don't see their concerns reflected in the feminism of their elders are ignorant of history; those in their 50s and beyond who think that young women aren't politically active -- or active enough, or active around the right issues -- don't know where to look.

We all want the same thing: To borrow bell hooks' phrase, we want gender justice.

We may not all agree on exactly what it looks like or how to get it. We should never expect to agree. Feminism has always thrived on and grown from internal discussions and disagreements. Our many different and often opposing perspectives are what push us forward, honing our theories, refining our tactics, driving us toward a more thorough dismantling of the white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy (to borrow another phrase from hooks).

It is "the subtle things we gotta look out for." Like the subtleties of definition.

No comments: