Thursday, August 30, 2007

"I'll be Post-Feminist in a Post-Patriarchy"

Salon has a point. "I'll be Post-Feminist in a Post-Patriarchy" makes a good bumper sticker. Salon's Broadsheet and this post from Feministe, like many Second Wave Feminists don't like the term "post-feminist" because it can mean everything from "we think feminism has achieved its goals and is old hat" to "we do not like the militant nature of Second Wave Feminism and want to be barefoot and pregnant and go shopping." Which is it? Broadsheet asks, "how do people who call themselves post-feminist define post-feminism?" And as I call myself "post-feminist," I thought I would answer--not just answer, tell my story. Because I think it is a story that will resonate with other Gen X women.

I came from a socially and fiscally conservative rural family. My mother was educated (had her MA) and my father had a HS diploma. Mom had a career, but the truth was, my brother and I were troubled, we needed her home. My father was an alcoholic, emotionally distant. Being from a rural area, I had no real experience with many things: people of other races, door to door proselytizers, feminists. They simply did not exist in any concentration in the rural area where I lived.

I went to an urban college, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA in 1988. At the time, the ration of males to females was 3 to 1 in the university and closer to 7 to 1 in the engineering school where I took my degree. In my major, there were 6 males for every female, which was the lowest ration in the college of engineering. Suffice it to say, I was surrounded by men. And yes, I experienced a small amount of discrimination because I was female in a "man's world."

There was a very vocal group of Second Wave Feminists on campus. Back then, in the last 80's the just called themselves Feminists. You can look up second wave on Wikipedia, but here's the gist as I get it. First Wave Feminists got us the vote in the 20's. Second Wave is what we most commonly associate with feminism: the militant bra-burning 70's. And I have to say, I didn't much like these feminists.

For the most part, they dressed like guys, not just in jeans and t-shirts (everyone wore those), but in plaid flannel and work boots. They had rough manners and frowned a lot. They disapproved of wearing make up, nylons and heels--UGH, shopping--going to parties, flirting... and it really seemed they disapproved of men in general and sex--particularly sex with men--in specific. They were militant and annoying, arousing ire and ridicule even among people who might have agreed with their principles. Now, perhaps this is not what Feminism is supposed to be about, but for the self-described feminists I met in college, it darn sure seemed so.

(Update: To clarify, this is NOT to imply any bias against lesbians, whether or not they may present a "butch" image. I, personally, strongly support gay rights as human rights.)

I was just not like that.

I LIKE men. Most feminists say they do, but sometimes it's really hard to think they do because of what they say afterwards. "I like men, but..." If we're in a patriarchy, then men ARE the enemy. I don't think men are the enemy. I like men. The guys in my "office" are good people, if a bit juvenile and geeky.

I like having sex with men--not every moment or on command--but for mutual attraction and enjoyment. Great sex? Big dicks? EHLL YES! It seems like a lot of Second Wave Feminists thought that the way to gain respect was to not have sex. To the feminists I went to college with, a woman couldn't have sex because she wanted to, because she was attracted to someone, or just for her own pleasure. That would be demeaning and a sign low self-esteem. And to me, this buys into the patriarchy like nothing else. If I am empowered NOT to have sex, then I am also empowered TO have sex (thus modern "hook up" culture). If I choose to have sex, it's not because I'm being forced, goaded or cajoled, it's because I want to. My body. My reasons. My choice. The feminists I knew in college did not approve any more than the right wing barefoot and pregnant types did. Strange bedfellows! Again, perhaps this is not what Feminism is supposed to be, but it sure as heck was the type of feminism practiced by the people who called themselves Feminists.

I liked great clothes and I enjoyed shopping for them, though I did not have much money to do so. Why not be proud of getting a $125 cashmere cardigan for $15 because it had a hole? What a steal! What's wrong with finding pumps that make my legs look long and slender? What's so wrong with shopping? I have never figured that out, though I guess that if you don't think you should care about your clothing or your appearance, shopping can seem so frivolous. It is frivolous. So what.

The feminists I knew seemed to hate the trappings of womanhood: dresses, make up, jewelry, heels. I don't hold with the idea that you had to BE a guy to get respect like a guy. I had a nice figure. I liked to show it off. I liked to dress up, wear make up, put on my heels and go dancing. I liked standing up straight and being admired because I was pretty as well as smart. I LIKED--and LIKE--being sexy. And I thought to myself, "Why can't I be competent, smart, assertive, self-confident AND sexy?"

And I didn't see why I couldn't be all of the above.

This is, BTW, the origin of my nickname. In Freshman year of college, I chose the nickname Dejah from Heinlein's The Number of the Beast. Heinlein's Dejah Thoris (unlike Burrough's Dejah Thoris) was the supreme post-feminist heroine. She was graceful, beautiful, brilliant and KICKED ASS. She could carry off a ball gown and heels, waltz divinely, clean a fish, shoot a blaster, slaughter aliens, and fix the space ship. She didn't NEED a man to take care of her. But she was also sexy, and able to attract and satisfy the kind of man who deserved her: a man of principle, courage, and intelligence. I thought, THIS is what feminism is missing. Women can be sexy and competent, we don't and shouldn't have to choose.

It was a solid fifteen years before I discovered that there was a word for how I felt. How I felt that Second Wave Feminism didn't represent the whole of what a woman is, only a part of it, how it wanted to restrict me to a narrow view of womanhood, not set me free to make my own choices and define myself.

That word is "post-feminist."


Serenity Now! said...

It could also be called Third Wave Feminism. Which I kind of like. I was always someone who referred to Feminism and the "F" word. But then I realized that the third wave was just what you described.

It challenged the belief that there was one way that women thought. One "universal female identity" or that any one person can define feminism for anyone else.

I guess I'm not ready to give up on the "f" word by suggesting that I'm "post-feminist" but I'm certainly not willing to say that being pro-women is being anti-men (ala the Second Wave).

Jerry said...

As long as our top tier feminist (bloggers) call themselves both: 3rd wave, positive sex feminists, and still war against the patriarchy, then no, I don't think it can be called 3rd wave feminism.

Interesting perspective Dejah, thank you.

(a geeky juvenile engineer.)

Serenity Now! said...

Interesting Jerry... did I wage war against the patriachry with my comment?

I'm confused about why a "top tier feminist (blogger)" calling herself anything or waging against anything has anything to do with ME calling MYSELF a Third Wave Feminist.

Carolyn Erickson said...

I never fit anyone's idea of anything, so I just quit trying to find labels for myself.

Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, feminists, post-feminists, 3rd Wave feminist (which I never heard of until now, btw!) can rally all they want, but I will just pick and choose from among them according to my principles. And I think a LOT of people are like me.

But since none of us have organized a rally, the world doesn't hear us much, I guess.

I call myself a Christian, but even within that moniker there are such divergent beliefs!

I once heard Rush Limbaugh criticize people who are "in the middle" as being indecisive. That they don't know what they believe.

What garbage. I have some pretty strong beliefs. They just aren't cut whole cloth from any particular sect. And that includes any particular form of feminism. (Which was my whole point. Sorry it took so long!):D

Now, tell me how I'm going to explain "big (er) Richards" to my daughter, LOL!

groovygrrl said...

I, too, thought of the term "Third Wave Feminism," as an option. Post-feminism does sound, to me, like "it's done." And I think we all know that equal rights are definitely not "done."

Are we closer? We are. Are we closer because some of us donned wicked lesbian t-shirts and Took Back the Night in the '80s and early '90s? Maybe so.

p.s. I so loved Take Back the Night. Part of the Second Wave Feminism of the '80s was about women refusing to be victims any longer. I think this is one of the best things to come about from that form of feminism.

TGR101 said...

I'm one of those bra-burning feminists of the 1970s and while I can't say that we always made the best choices, we did advance women.
And we loved (and love!) men -- we just didn't want to be automatically discounted by them. In the 1970s I had friends whose husbands wouldn't let them drive, wouldn't let them vote, wouldn't let them get a college education. I had friends whose husbands thought it was okay to hit them if they misbehaved and society turned a blind eye.
Maybe we did it by dressing like men, swearing like men and behaving badly (like men) but we are better off now because of that. Because we believed that we had to move 180 degrees just to get society to move 5 degrees. And, just as we stood on the shoulders of the women who fought for the vote and working rights, nearly all of the rights that women have were fought for and/or won by those who came before.
We ALL stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and there is still much work to be done. It doesn't matter what we call ourselves. What matters is that we share the vision that one day we won't have to fight for things that are readily and automatically available to men.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Truly, men are victims of societal patriarchy as much as women are. But they ARE the victims with the power handed to them whereas women are the victims having to fight for equality. Not quite the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.

I sure appreciate men who rail against the system as much as I do.