Hey, let’s start the New Year off with a Bang. In this case, “bang” will probably translate to at least a dozen of you wanting to plant your boot in my rear end, but here it goes.
I am a feminist. I’m a 40-something, twice divorced and now semi-attached, business owner and geek. I have always beaten my head against the glass walls and ceilings of the American corporate culture. I have worked for and fought for equal pay, equal representation in politics, business and popular culture. I voted for the Equal Rights Amendment and have taken to the streets protesting violence against women, the gutting of Roe vs. Wade and the Bush Administration’s continued erosion of our rights as human beings.
That said, I wonder, seriously wonder, what being a feminist means in today’s world. To me it means the freedom to make and act upon my own choices. I can vote, I can hold any job I am qualified to do, I can create my own company and I can enter almost any building, club, or courthouse without permission of a man. I can own property, have my own banking accounts, cook a meal or order take-out. I can shave my legs or let them go, I can go bra-less or I can wear a corset and stockings. I can wear a dress or slacks. I can smoke, drink, swear and do all those things that in my Grandmother’s day would get me arrested and ostracized from my social peers.
I am a feminist and yet I’ve been told I’m not a feminist–not really. Why would I not be considered a feminist? I’ve heard many reasons and I consider most of them nitpicking. No one is going to tell me I’m not a feminist because I enjoy cooking, or that I choose to shave my legs because I like how smooth skin feels, or that I enjoy the company of men as lovers, friends, peers and co-workers. For me being a feminist is about the choices I make and the motivation behind those choices. I do not believe that wearing a corset for a dress-up lark (to go clubbing) automatically enslaves me in some return-to-the-Victorian era dark hole of sexual inequality. If men choose to ogle or objectify me because I wear one, that is THEIR problem. I do not make it more dangerous for me or for other women who follow me simply because I have a handbag fetish or choose to wear lipgloss. I understand that there are those who do not agree with me and that’s fine. That is their choice. They can wear something different when they go clubbing.
Molly Ivins once said that in the early 70s, when she would tell people she was a feminist, men heard that as her willingness to go to bed with any guy, at any time, for any reason. In the 70s the word feminist was synonymous with sexual freedom and promiscuity. In the late 90s (when I attended her UC Berkeley lecture), when she would tell people she was a feminist, men and women alike assumed she was a lesbian.
When did being a feminist require us to reject anything and everything male? Must I be a man-hater/woman-lover before I can be considered a feminist? Some women in Berkeley and Oakland have assured me this is the case. I have been taken to task for running around in skirts with shaved legs, wearing a hint of make-up and carrying a purse. My detractors insist that I am attempting to curry favor with, feed into, or at least mollify the male stereotypical expectation of women as the fair-sex, the weak sex, the inferior sex. To me that line of reasoning means they have a screw loose. Of course these same women nearly soil themselves when I insist that I know many men who consider themselves feminists and work tirelessly for equal rights, equal access and an end to violence against women. They draw themselves up indignant and self-righteous: “MEN can NEVER be FEMINISTS!” Again, I say: Screw loose.
I once read that sons socially inherit from their fathers in a way that ensures continuity. When they take up their father’s names, businesses, causes, clubs and memberships they carry on in similar manner of their preceeding generations. They rise up, mature and become their fathers. Women, on the other hand, must destroy their mothers and their grandmothers, escape the matriarchal hand-me-down issues and re-emerge bold, new and unique in their female/feminist perspective. I have seen this even in my own lifetime. It no longer takes a generation, apparently. Someone tell me please, what number “wave of feminism” are we now on? I’ve lost count.
I believe that too often women are their own worst enemy in the ongoing battle for equality and power. There are real issues and real battles to be fought in this world. Violence against women is on the rise around the globe. Our hard-won battles for equal access to jobs, wealth, medical care, property, voting and legislative representation are forever under attack. I don’t think we can continue to lose focus on that by falling upon ourselves–generation after generation–with knives and nail files. We lose too much. We lose time, we lose ground, we lose focus, we lose cohesiveness and we lose power.
I’m caught in a conundrum here because I am one of those women who have had to break out and cast aside my upbringing. My mother is not my friend and co-feminist. In spite of 50 years of being a working woman, she voted against the ERA and has constantly told me that I should be grateful where I was abused and debased in professional and personal relationships. My first husband beat me and even tried to kill me on more than one occasion but I was supposed to be grateful he’d even consented to marry me in the first place. When I left a job and contemplated suing for sexual discrimination in 1991, she was shocked that I would even consider such action. I should be grateful they even offered me a job in the first place. In 2007, I co-founded a biotech start up. Our conversation went as follows:
Me: I’m starting my own company!
Mother: You can’t do that.
Me: Oh yeah? Watch me.
I swear here and now, my 12-year-old niece will not face such short-sighted comments or advice from me.
Another example showed itself during the recent presidential race. Much of the literature I received from the National Organization for Women during the political race for the White House exploded with a central theme: A woman in the White House AT ANY COST. When Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the Democratic nomination for president, the howls of anguish were deafening. I was disappointed too but not to the point of anguish. I was disappointed in the campaign as it was run. I was disappointed that it would be four, eight, or even 12 years before we see a woman run for the highest office again. That said, I could not believe what I was hearing over and over again: ANY woman in the Whitehouse at ANY cost. The idea that any woman would be better than any man in the office of the President of the United States is completely without logic or sense. Being born with a uterus is not sufficient qualification for politics any more than it is for being a brain surgeon. I unsubscribed from NOW for the first time in 25 years because the signal-to-noise ratio was deafening to me.
Do not get me wrong. I firmly believe we need to continue to fight for equal footing, equal consideration, equal rights, equal access, equal safety and assurances, but I do not for a moment advocate that to achieve this we must emasculate the opposite sex. I worry that we have reached a point where the feminist hive mind has taken its eye off the prize, lost sight of the goal and the spirit of the cause. We have gone from a noble mandate, equality for women, to demanding complete domination and eradication of men and their power base as payment for centuries of oppression. This does not further our goal in my mind. It is yet one more example of the fatal human trap: The oppressed rising up to become the oppressor, which in turn falls to the next wave which rises up in protest.
And gentlewomen, this way madness lies.