Tuesday, March 5, 2013

trouble in stilletos

I was reminded yesterday, through this brilliant post on my friend Lauren Bacon's blog, about a funny story.  I was probably 28 or 29, late in my return to university career, and surround by thinking friends and thought-provoking conversations. I was not yet divorced, but it would come soon enough. In the course of a typical humanities student conversation, my friend Toodles - a male - made reference to me and feminism, and I blurted out inelegantly "Woah. Hey - I'm not a feminist." Toodles looked aghast, if not horrified, swallowed his dumfoundedness (that is too a word - I just used it!) and explained to me that yes, I was a feminist, and then proceeded to explain to me all the things that word could mean beyond my misunderstanding of it.

It took a man to unveil for me my feminism, in part because women were unwilling to do so, in all the ways outlined on Lauren's blog. I had been told I couldn't be both a Christian and a feminist. I was told that if I was really a feminist I wouldn't have taken my husband's name when I married him. I had my own prejudices (still do) that feminists are belligerent, dogmatic and humourless, and I wanted to be none of those things. Finally, it took a man to explain feminism and my relationship to it because - and in a dynamic that is designed to perpetuate the status quo - I believed it more coming from a man. He was not recruiting me to the team - he was only telling me the team I was already on.

Let me pause here to say that Lauren's post is more thoughtful, more carefully thought-out, more macro, and more compassionate than mine - please go read it. Lauren's post is about Marissa Meyers, Feminisim in general, politics and intersectionality. Mine is about stumbling through the swamp of feminism/femininity in my high heels.

And no, my awesome shoes DO NOT
make me a cougar! 
Politically, I am a feminist. I was raised in a house where both parents worked and both parents contributed to the running of the household. Yes, my parents mostly divided labour along fairly traditional gender roles, but I had equality of the sexes in rights and responsibilities modeled for me, and we three daughters were taught we could be anything we wanted to be. Socially - by which I mean as a creature of my socialization and society - I am feminine. I relish emphasizing my femininity with heels, skirts, jewelry, my baby blues and my golden locks. Philosophically, I am a Christian humanist. I believe (grossly oversimplified) that human beings are one of God's amazing creations, capable of both untold good and unthinkable evil. Physically and mentally, I am female. I am a mother, a daughter, and a girlfriend. Sexually, I am heterosexual – I adore men and almost everything about them – I giggle and blush and flirt and daydream without even knowing I'm doing it. All in all, I love being a woman. And, I shudder at the way women occur in the news, in popular culture, and in every day life.

It’s not just a ‘rape’ culture, or living in a society that consistently turns a blind eye to violence against woman and children. It’s not just the razor sharp line between being a whore and being a prude that leaves no room for self-expression or finding one’s own way. It's the unrelenting castigation of women - in groups and as individuals. We live in a world where it’s not okay for Katy Perry to sing about kissing a girl because she’s not a lesbian, but it's also not okay with a whole lot of people for Ellen to be a lesbian. Joan Rivers is mocked as a post-modern Frankenstein's monster for clinging desperately to relevance and ‘beauty’ even while she slags on Adele for being overweight. Angelina needs to eat a sandwich while we salivate waiting for Jessica Simpson to regain the weight she's lost. 

We laugh it off as the price of celebrity, but we also live in have created a world where girls are over and over and over again blamed for the brutal violence done to them – when college girls are raped ‘they asked for it’ in their clothes, their behaviour, and who they spend time with. Women who stay with men who beat them ‘would leave if it was really that bad.’ Girls who are bullied and shunned for being different in high school should ‘try harder to fit in.’ Eating disorders and mental health issues flourish while the businesses that capitalize on them flourish. 

All of this is obvious. It’s discussed over and over again in all kinds of liberal/alternative/feminist press outlets, and increasingly in mainstream press. I just don’t know where the answers lie. Yes, slut shaming and victim blaming focus the attention on the wrong end of the problem, but does that mean we don’t tell our daughters how to protect themselves, not to be naive, that they are at risk. We teach them to be careful, but why does that burden have to fall on them?

Every time I see a young woman and think ‘she seems to have forgotten to wear pants’ I feel old and irrelevant. Worse, I feel like I, a natural ally for these young women, have made myself the enemy. In my experience women are far more cruel to each other than most men are, at least in our conversations. How did we get to the place where our tolerance margins for what is acceptable in dress and deportment, for what we say and do, for who we are, are so miniscule? 

I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights ... I’m just trying to work out my simple thoughts on a very complex subject. Sometimes I think it'd be easier if we all just burrowed away, hidden inside hoodies and sweat pants and straggly hair. I have often felt like feminism left no room for being feminine, sometimes I wonder if we even allow each other to be. 


  1. **I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights**

    Not True.

    This was brilliantly and eloquently written.

    I love!

    1. Thank you, Kim. I'm glad you got something out of it. :)

  2. I recently had a revelation when Gloria Steinem made a statement about all of the fuss about Anne Hathaway's dress at the Oscars after she had studied and worked hard on learning her part for Les Mis - and nobody was talking about that. I was horrified to admit I was one of the people talking about her ugly dress and nipples....

    1. Thanks, LGGG - it was during the Grammy awards that I started percolating on this, and then during the Academy Awards when I really became aware of how much of the conversation about women was about their looks rather than their talent. And how much of that conversation was women talking about each other.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...