Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

So, is this about feminism, or my neuroses? You decide!

I kinda don't feel like talking about this anymore right now... but then again, I kinda do, and the only other thing that I'm burning to write about right now is how fucking unkempt and ugly I feel these days and you really don't want to hear that sorry rant.

(Then again, it was going to be punctuated by my astute observation that even skinny young undergraduates look silly and - sorry - fat in this stupid belted-sweater look that some moron decided to resuscitate from the 80's. And that would have made us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and yielded at least one good piece of fashion advice - don't belt your sweaters around the waist. Don't do it. That, or my derogatory use of the word 'fat' would have offended you and caused you to send me mean e-mails and we'd be right back where we started.)

(Hey! If I've lost you already, maybe you want to go read about animals! Or maybe you'd prefer to just scroll around and admire the gratuitous photos of WonderBaby!)


Where were we? Right. What I don't really feel like talking more about, for the moment: feminism. Not because I don't loves me the subject, but because I'm feeling a little bit as though I'm harping on one note - a good portion of my recent posts have been about feminism and/or feminists and/or any number of feminiceties. I'm a bit talked out about it, after last week's feminist ranting and this weekend's blog exchange debate with the lovely Julie of Mothergoosemouse (who is also continuing the discussion chez soi). I fear that the discussion is getting a little tired. (Cue big sigh.)

And - here's the real complicating factor - it's making my head hurt a little bit.

This might sound surprising, coming from someone who writes obscenely long posts on whatever topic happens to strike her fancy on any given day, but I don't really like explaining myself. I want to speak my piece and I want you to get it and - here comes the uncomfortable confession - I want you to like it, whether you agree with it or not. I don't mind if you disagree - I like disagreement - but I want clear, positive, constructive disagreement. Julie and I disagreed in our blog exchange posts - she doesn't like calling herself a feminist, I think that it's important to identify myself as a feminist - but it was sympathetic disagreement. I can see her point, and she can see mine. And pretty much all of the discussion that came out of that debate was wonderfully constructive and illuminating and I enjoyed it. But I get uncomfortable - and I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, just an uncomfortable thing - when I get caught between points of disagreement. When I'm not sure if my original point was understood, or not sure that I was sure of my original point, or not sure that I understood the disagreement, or just plain not sure of where I stand on any points that I made or that someone else made and who started this goddam discussion anyway?

Not me.

And there were one or two points of disagreement that caused me some discomfort. Not in a bad way - just, rather, in an I'm-sensitive-and-want-to-be-understood-so-that-you-won't-dislike-me kinda way. Some objected to the use of the word 'feminazi,' and said that we shouldn't be using the word at all. I took pains to explain in my comments that my use of the word wasn't approving - that I used it because it had been used on me, and because it had come to represent, for me, part of my struggle with certain elements of feminism (the angry parts, and the parts that provoke anger in me.) The whole post was, in a way, a plea to reject anything and everything that employs and provokes that term, and to embrace feminism in a positive, inclusive way. But I ended up feeling uncertain about whether I had made my point clearly. Maybe I had misused the term? Had I been perpetuating old, evil stereotypes about feminists by using it? Pass the Tylenol.

The other thing that I found discomfiting was my own, emotional, response to people who said that they had always been feminists. Mad Hatter wrote a wonderful post about this, about how she simply cannot understand how or why it is that some people reject the label feminism. She makes an impassioned plea for us to get passionate about feminism, to change this world in which so much violence is done to women. It's a great post, but it made me uncomfortable - because it made me feel somewhat ashamed to have ever rejected feminism, as I did for a while in my years as a graduate student (recounted here). I read it and thought, yes. How wrong of me to have ever rejected the label 'feminist.' How embarassing to have done so. Bad woman!

What do I keep telling you? BAD.

But then I thought again - my struggle with some of the extreme elements of some corners of feminism was a valid one, as was my struggle with anger and frustration last week when I was accused of being a tool of the patriarchy for supporting Gloria Steinem. I thought that Girl's Gone Child's treatise on masculism a few months back was brilliant and forceful and compelling, and I was totally sympathetic to my girl Jennster's struggle with all this femi-talk a few weeks back. And I still think that Julie has some valid points to make in her defense of her rejection of the term feminist, even though I disagree with her conclusions. And it all makes my head hurt a little bit. Because I can't have it both ways, right?

I want to passionately support women, but I don't want to exclude men, and I certainly don't want to exclude women who don't identify as feminist. I want to be a feminist - but I want to be a humanist and a masculist (to borrow GGC's term), too. I want to be warrior-like in my defense and support and promotion of women, but I don't want to be (here comes the dreaded word) a feminazi - that is, someone who provokes anger with her anger, who provokes hate by hating. I don't want there to be any reason for anyone, anywhere, to use the term feminazi. I don't want Julie, or Jennster, or anyone, to be put off by feminism.

I want all of the good, and none of the bad - is that too much to ask?


So, in a twist of cosmic fate, I receive in my inbox, just after writing this, an e-mail with Gloria Steinem's responses to our questions of a few weeks ago. (I'll post these later this week.) And in it, among a zillion other wonderful and fascinating things that I will share with you forthwith, was this exchange with Kristen:

Kristen: How do we and/or can we redefine feminism as a more inclusive term? Does identification as a feminist require outspoken activism? Or is it a belief system, that we nod our heads at from afar?

Gloria: There are many great terms – feminist, womanist, mujerista, women’s liberationist – and they all mean the same thing: the belief that females are full human beings. There’s no litmus test for action; it’s what each of us can do and wants to do. We probably cycle in and out of periods of activism, whether that means living out our values in a private way or in a public one. I would just say that if we don’t act on what we believe, we soon feel powerless and depressed, so why would we not act? I often think that the only alternative to being a feminist is being a masochist!

So, while that maybe doesn't totally answer my question, and probably isn't convincing to those who think that Gloria Steinem is irrelevant or dangerous to feminism (and I experience no discomfort in disagreeing with those people), it is a start.

And maybe that's the best that I can hope for, for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Act on what we believe. Hear hear.

I think that all the parties in the discussions at your place and at mine can agree with that statement. Regardless of what we do or do not call ourselves.

Now - the house in the background of the WonderBaby photos - is it for sale? If not, can I persuade the owners to sell it to me?

9:31 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Okay, wow. Where to begin?

I hear your point. Feminism, or being labeled a feminist, can sometimes be a slippery slope.

My problem with being labeled a feminist has always been the assumption by others that feminists are angry man-haters. Not true. Not true at all. Isn't a feminist a person who wants women to be seen as equal? (Simplifying the issue? Maybe.) Yes, I know it's a struggle, it's an uphill climb, but does it have to be a war? Doesn't the term "war" bring to mind "defeat"? Who are we defeating? I'd rather be enlightening. And why be angry all the time? Doesn't anger beget anger? I think, as feminists, we need to overcome the old stereotypes and quickly move on with our message. Treat me like an equal partner, a person on the same level as all others.

And, dammit, give me equal pay for equal work.

9:32 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

I think we get far too caught up in semantics.

We need to stop acting like men by getting in these pissing matches.

We're all on the same side--we want equal rights for women--why do we complicate it so much?

9:36 PM  
Blogger Tracey said...

hmm... okay, though i know its incredibly lame to comment with a URL, here i think its applicable/appropriate/easiest:


ahem-cough. HI EVERYBODY!

9:50 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

man, i love how you make me really THINK. :)

10:01 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Thanks for tackling a sticky subject. I appreciate your willingness to do the hard work of teasing it all out and discussing it with us.

Ugly? You, my dear, are insanely gorgeous and I don't mean that in a "you are beautiful inside" kind of way. I mean you are physically so beautiful that I am blown away that you ever have a moment of self-doubt.

10:28 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

I think getting through the day is sometimes battle enough. But I love reading these debates.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Um, Sweetney, YES.


10:29 PM  
Blogger Mad said...

Argh!!! No!!! I never wanted anyone, especially you, to feel bad about any of this. As I said in my own post, my own thoughts and beliefs are being continually shaped. I want to live in a world where everyone can confidently say the same thing. I think it fabulous that you have reevaluated your ideological stances over the years and will continue to do so.

When I said "especially you" in that last paragraph what I meant was this. You, HBM, have taken on a Herculean task to create a sense of community for the mothers (particularly Canadian mothers) that exist in the blogosphere. To have done so has required the delicate balancing act of stating your own beliefs meaningfully and poetically without becoming belligerent. What you (and other bloggers, but you in particular) have accomplished is astonishing. And to think you have done all this when I know that a lot of times you would rather be writing happy, soulful posts about your daughter.

Me, I slip into belligerence too often. I am old and find I get curmudgeonly very easily. Please don't ever let grouchy old me ever, no never, make you feel bad.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Scribbit said...

Okay I'm just going to avoid all the feminist issue here and just say that those pictures were mighty cute. I LOVE hats on babies!

12:35 AM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Have you ever read "A Woman Speaks" By: Anais Nin. It's one of my favorite books of all time and all about these issues. One would think it might be dated but no. She was always considered a "feminist" but argued that she was in fact a "humanist." Yes, humanism.


2:12 AM  
Blogger rachel said...

i left the comment at mothergoosemouse about the term 'feminazi' and wanted to clarify that i didn't interpret your post as endorsing the term as helpful, per se. i guess i just want to go about as though it doesn't exist.
i hear a lot of women and a lot of my college students talk about not wanting to claim th label'feminist' because of the assumptions of man-hating (as an earlier commenter said) or bitchiness or shrillness or whatever. what i try to tell them is that the assumptions that go with the lable won't change if no one who cares to change them cares to inhabit the label. which is to say one's "i'm a feminist, but...." where "..." = please exclude me from this set of characteristics, does nothing to change or revise the stereotypes of feminism. in fact, it reinforces them. if you want feminism to look differently than it does, if you still think there is merit to the foundational idea of equality, then say, "i'm a feminist" with no qualifiers and show the world what your feminism looks like.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn you post stealer :)

Mine will come shortly - I'll try not to play it out anymore than perhaps it already is, however...

feminism = humanism = civil rights.

I'm ready to take back the definition and make it my own - just like everyone else.

I have about 15,000 more things to say but I'll save it for my post :)

8:25 AM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

I'll echo metro mama's comment - it's semantics.

what woman - what person - doesn't want to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness? Call it what you want.

bumblebee has a little t-shirt that says 'feminist' on it. her dad hates it. he thinks that it forces gender politics on the most innocent, that cares not, and should not care, about gender politics.
perhaps he's right, but i also say that there is no more pure feminist out there - she does her thing; nature v nurture has hardly come into play, and she can just be who she is. no better example of feminism to me. but it still makes me feel a teeny tiny bit uncomfortable.

does the anecdote apply?

9:02 AM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

plus, those pics are freakin adorable. the hat, askew... oh dear, my ovaries are spinning.

9:04 AM  
Blogger rachel said...

Penelope: i think that's a fanstically applicable anecdote. and while i get what you (and your partner) are saying about your daughter not being able to intellectually inhabit the term, here is why i think it's important:
every semester i meet a new group of 18 year old women and men who are scared of the word 'feminist.' only a very small percentage willclaim it. and that's why it's NOT just semantics. 1. because "semantics' are kind of everything, really, insofar as they are the words we use and what we intend to communicate with them and 2. because the demonization of the word feminist reflects precisely the need for it. We all know there are piss poor example of Republicans and Democrats in the world, of Christians and Muslims and Jews, of liberals and conservatives, and yet we are not, as a society, nearly as hesitant about claiming those ideological labels and inhabitting them on our own terms. in the case of feminism, the negative connotations of combativeness, etc. have taken over the label such that people want to eschew it as no longer relevant. the former phenomenom, for me,reveals exactly why we can't.
i don't want to belabour this point, esp. becasue I don't want HBM to feel 'neurotic' about incepting a debate or being misunderstood - i am so grateful for this dialogue and for her words. but i think it's crucially important. i think if we had really advanced to a point where we didn't need feminism, more people would say, 'yea, i'm a feminist [shrug], what of it? who isn't?'
this is not to say that there is not an institution of Feminism and that there aren't myriad problems with the inclusiveness of that insititution (cf. Sweetney's link to her smart post). this is a real problem.but again, it seems to me that the solution inheres inmore disparate persons populating the institution adn revising it from the ground up.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HBM and other commenters, I'd like to thank you all for having this discussion in public where interested outsiders like myself can profit from it.

Like most men, I didn't give a great deal of thought to feminism. My wife and I have often discussed equal rights and although we agree on many things, we do disagree on a few points. Our discussions were usually more academic than passionate, however. My wife often accused me of having a rose-coloured view of the state of equality between the sexes.

Now, I have a 7.5 month old daughter and the issue is suddenly much more... personal... to me. I'm going to have to help explain to my little girl why the world is the way it is, and then help her find a way to deal with it or change it as she chooses. All of a sudden, the hypothetical is very, very real, and I'm finding myself questioning a lot of things.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

Forgive me for sounding naive, but my thoughts on your rejecting the term feminism for a bit are this. I think that anything you truly believe in, whether it's faith, feminism, or any sort of "cause", whatever you need to question it, and maybe reject it for a time. University is the key time to do this. Many people do.
I don't think you should feel bad about it at all. Everything that I have true conviction about I've rejected and gone back to.

10:07 AM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

Last night I asked my husband if he would call himself a feminist. After we got past the problem of defining a feminist, he said yes. He said, "If you're not a feminist, then what are you?" I can understand why some might shy away from the term but I think it's important that we re-appropriate it. I do like mujerista a lot too though.

I used to think men couldn't be feminists but now I think they can. I don't think individual men are to blame; they are subject to all the same cultural messages we women are.

Penelopeto: I think the t-shirt is 100% appropriate because culture loads our babies with gender pretty early. What's the first thing people ask when they see your baby? (Ok, well sometimes it comes after how old?) It's boy or girl? And if they make the wrong guess, they get concerned that we, the baby's parents, will get upset. I personally don't care and say, "Hey, he's a baby; that's the important and obvious thing." And many people I work with won't buy an expecting mum a gift until she has the baby so they can get something gender appropriate. So I don't think it's ever too early to take note of these things, and even question them.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me the word "feminazi" is really kind of funny. Often, people who use it don't fully understand what they're insinuating so I can't really take them seriously.

However on feminism, I am torn. There are so many ideas, opinions and understandings that there will never be consensus. We have so many languages. We are so individual. We have our own customs. Whether we agree on the terms we should be agreeing on the premise. That women can not be denied. We still have to fight harder, prove ourselves twice over and explain ourselves definitively. But we are different than men. Yes, but we are also different than each other, too.

With that said, I don't think I identify as a feminist, but only because I don't understand the definition. I am for women. I am for women helping women. Women helping men, men helping women, people making this world better. I am for better understanding, listening more, talking less and giving people the benefit of doubt.

10:33 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

I think I have a husband for the IMPOSSIBLY adorable Wonderbaby. That child is edible.

I will echo mad hatter here- I think you do an excellent job of working through things and spelling out your beliefs without becoming psycho-belig.

I also think this is such a hot button that I admire you for even tackling the subject of the title of feminist.

I like the term humanists. It encompasses rather than segregates.

11:32 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

I think I have a husband for the IMPOSSIBLY adorable Wonderbaby. That child is edible.

I will echo mad hatter here- I think you do an excellent job of working through things and spelling out your beliefs without becoming psycho-belig.

I also think this is such a hot button that I admire you for even tackling the subject of the title of feminist.

I like the term humanists. It encompasses rather than segregates.

11:32 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

I think I have a husband for the IMPOSSIBLY adorable Wonderbaby. That child is edible.

I will echo mad hatter here- I think you do an excellent job of working through things and spelling out your beliefs without becoming psycho-belig.

I also think this is such a hot button that I admire you for even tackling the subject of the title of feminist.

I like the term humanists. It encompasses rather than segregates.

11:33 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

I think I have a husband for the IMPOSSIBLY adorable Wonderbaby. That child is edible.

I will echo mad hatter here- I think you do an excellent job of working through things and spelling out your beliefs without becoming psycho-belig.

I also think this is such a hot button that I admire you for even tackling the subject of the title of feminist.

I like the term humanists. It encompasses rather than segregates.

11:33 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

Ugh- stupid blogger- sorry 'bout the multiples.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Baby in the City said...

I think it is vital that we don't agree on what feminism means. The fact that women continue to try and shape and define feminism is what keeps it contemporary - alive. A single definition, to me, attaches feminism to a defined group, in a defined period. Yikes! No thanks. I love that there are so many of us trying out new words to represent new ideas. All of this keeps feminism alive and relevant.

And to anyone who thinks GS is a dinosaur and no longer really relevant - her response to Kristin surely proves them wrong. So simple and spot on. She can sure cut through it.

12:28 PM  
Blogger j.sterling said...

i think those belt should be worn on the hips- not the waist. mmmk? LOL
i heart you- and who you are, and what you are- and the baby in the swing too. :)

12:43 PM  
Blogger tracey clark said...

Great post. Great points made. I think I feel a Mother May I post coming on....hmmm....

12:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I can understand why some would feel unsure of the label of feminist, thanks to the attacks on the nature of the movement and trying to turn it into some kind of war.

As for me, I consider myself a feminist in that I believe women aren't equal in this society and we do need to work towards making this an equal society. But I'm also a humanist, and believe that people, men and women of all sorts, deserve to have equal rights. So I do think that feminism can be seen as humanism as well.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

I find nothing wrong with the term feminazi. It is proper to be incredibly passionate about an entire group's rights as human beings!

Would anyone object if someone were a self-described Anti-Racism Nazi? The only people who make differences in this world are the ones who rock the boat - who shake things up - who get extreme.

How YOU define feminazi is up to you. Only you can apply the label.

(That said, I'm not 100% comfortable with the use of the word "nazi" in any context for its historically violent connontation. But, I don't object to the IDEA behind the use of the word with feminism.)

3:28 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I understand the weariness. Debate and hard thinkin' take a lot of of you. It makes me all the more impressed that Gloria is still doing her thang after all these years...

and that you're still doing yours.

When you're ready, you'll get back to it. Until then, we're here to discuss fashion, puppy dogs, chocolate cake recipes or whatever is on your mind.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

catherine--i think your discomfort is an absolutely necessary one. while i've always called myself a feminist (which makes me so GOOOOOOD;0) i've also done my share of bashing feminism and "essentialism" and deconstructing the epistemological foundations (a la Butler) of feminism (i.e. what is "Woman"?)
I even rejected the need for "women's studies" and got frothy at the mouth that we should only use the term "gender studies."
i was more interested in the terms of the debate than the material reality of women's lives. (that's what happens when you get a critical theory phd. make you crazy lady).

in short, i was insufferable. now i feel like my feminism has calmed down, or at least become more pragmatic, and so become infused into my daily life more. it's just there--it's a mindset, and sometimes its an active form of politics.

and feminism is *not* clearcut--we will always debate what it is, who gets left out, who it priveleges. when do you identify yourself as a feminist? and for what purpose? but this does not mean we throw it out. we can throw it out when there is no demonstrable gender inequity. until then, we can fight the good fight, but at the same time step back and examine who we are and how we are fighting.

so don't apologize for not having it straight. how can we?

4:39 PM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

I hear and validate your discomfort, as I also experienced it when reading both (and associated) posts. The movement evolves, we evolve, our sisters evolve, and we are still trying to find our place and voice - and while you might need to take a break and clear your head, your perseverance (and subsequent process) is all part of the journey, so thank you for standing up.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Mommygoth said...

This hit me between the eyes. Amazing post.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy...so many things to think about and brew on. But alas, I think you know me well enough by now that a lot of that isn't necessary.

One point I must address, however, is your discomfort with being misunderstood.

There's almost nothing that bugs me as much as feeling like I've been totally misunderstood. It's okay if you get it and disagree with or dislike me but I can't handle it if you disagree with or dislike me for what you aren't correctly understanding.

Drives me crazy and drives me to overexplain like some kind of babbling idiot.

Arghhh....I feel ya, sista.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Hi Catherine! I'm going to delurk to say thanks to both you and Julie for giving us all much to think about. As bloggers/writers/or, in my case, rambler extraordinaire, it's good to be reminded that words should not be taken for granted, be it feminist, feminazi, feminiceties or even just TWINKIES. Man, I love those things. Thanks again.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Yay, gratuitous Wonderbaby photos!

I said this at Mom-101's place as well - thank you for the excellent posts on the discussions with Gloria. I'd gotten complacent and stopped really deeply thinking about feminism, what it has done and is still doing.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok ... I have to admit I have never been one to get that passionate about feminism as a theory however always identified myself as one. I am far from educated on it, I would much rather learn PHP, CSS, and all the codes of web design (things that make most people quiver).

However I have read all your posts on the debate and the single thing I can personally relate to "females are full human beings". I had no idea that was debatable, yet I know I have fought to hold up that ideal.

Feminism to me has always been about choices. I chose to go to university, and now I chose to stay at home with my children, support my husband's career and develop myself as a human being at the community level rather than a career level.

ok maybe I need to blog about this rather than ranting in your comments *blush*

I hope that you realize how much you make me think about it all ... and for that ... I think you are amazing, no one else can draw me into it liek you do :D

10:22 AM  
Blogger Sandra said...

What Gloria said.

I have always considered myself a feminist. A strong feminist. As you know, I even work for a grassroots feminist charity now. Though many of my coworkers prefer "womanist", I think the title is less relevant than the intention behind it. That women are equal human beings. I could write for hours about how strongly I feel about this but in the end that is what I would be saying - though not as eloquently.

Thanks, as always, for being you.

11:06 AM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I would just like to second what Lady M said:

thank you for the excellent posts on the discussions with Gloria. I'd gotten complacent and stopped really deeply thinking about feminism, what it has done and is still doing.

Your posts, and Mad Hatter's, have got me thinking and even blogging about feminism. It's also made me notice that yes I do identify myself as a feminist.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Domestic Slackstress said...

Hey, what's wrong with obscenely long posts? Um, yeah. I don't, um, known any mommy bloggers who have a habit of writing trailing posts. At least none as funny and informative as yours, that is.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is late, and I am tired and must take a bath ... but I just had to say:

-You are such a great writer and I love to read your stuff
-I am so glad I met you through the Greenstone event
-When we have posts about posts about posts about feminism it is time to take a break and just get out there and do cool stuff. So I understand your headaches. It reminds me of college when I would spout on and on and on about liberation theology and oppression to my relatives at Thanksgiving and their eyes would roll back in their head. ( I know you are Canadian and don't have Thanksgiving cause your people didn't sit down to eat with the native americans then steal their land ... or maybe they did, but didn't create a national holiday to celebrate it.)

Blog on sister, you are cool and interesting and funny.

Now to bath for me.

2:33 AM  

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