Why I Don’t Write About Feminism

One big reason I don’t write about feminism is because there are a number of places around the internet devoted to thoughtful discussions of feminist issues, and most of them get the job done far better than I ever could. Two such places I link and read regularly are feministe and Hugo Schwyzer’s blog.

If you follow either of those sites, you’ve probably noticed the active and sometimes volatile discussions going on in the comments regarding what is or is not valuable discourse, and how certain bloggers’ moderation policies (or lack thereof) might help or harm that discourse. Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the best way I can boil it down without making this entire post a summary of stuff other people said.

Woven in with those arguments is the ages-old “how can you call yourself a feminist when you support _____?” argument. And that argument, my friends, is the primary reason I don’t write about feminism here.

I am not interested in having every word I write compared to someone’s personal benchmark of what a feminist should be. For that matter, I’m not interested in having every word I write compared to someone’s personal benchmark of what a Democrat should be, or a liberal, or a writer, or a Southerner, or any of the other things that make me who I am. But for some reason, I seem to see people’s feminist credentials attacked more often in real life as well as in the wacko insular blogosphere more than any of those other labels.

Yes, I consider myself a feminist. My sisters and I were all raised that way. For us, a big part of this was not falling into stereotypes of what was “for” boys or what was “for” girls. Honestly, I think that was probably made a little easier for my parents because there were no boys around, so we never had a chance to fall into routines where boys worked in the yard and girls worked in the house (for example). We’ve all raked leaves and mowed the lawn and carried wood and shoveled mulch. We’ve all also done laundry and dishes and grocery shopping and cooking. My parents taught us that we’re capable of learning anything we need to know, and that we’re not getting out of a damn thing by claiming our femininity as an excuse. I think that’s solid advice.

All four of us have been athletes, and I was actually one of two girls who played rec soccer with the boys in elementary school. As kids, we had G.I. Joes and Barbies and dump trucks and My Little Ponies. Sammi in particular went through a phase where all she wanted to play with were dump trucks and action figures (found on the “boy” aisle at the store). We play video games and read comic books and watch football and know what we’re talking about when we discuss those things. They aren’t “guy things” – they’re things we enjoy. But you know, we’re also into pink clothes and cute little kitties and hair ribbons and makeup and all kinds of other things.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve occasionally found myself in situations where someone assumed I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman. In college, for example, I was in an organization for a while that put on concerts for the student body. I’d work on the crew that prepped the venue and built the stage, and we usually worked with the artist’s own road crew (99.99% male).

We were building a stage one time when one of the roadies showed up with a few power tools and said he needed some guys to screw down the planks on the stage. I was standing directly in front of him and told him I could help with that, and he ignored me. I asked a second time, in case he hadn’t heard me, and he said, “These are power tools – we need a guy to do this.” It was frustrating, but I explained to him that I had a grandfather who was a contractor, and a father who was an electrician and carpenter, so I figured I could handle myself. And I did.

For me, being a feminist means I’m never going to let someone else assume anything about me just because I’m a woman. And if I need to prove that person’s assumptions wrong, I will.

But you know what? I hate bugs. Bugs freak me out, and I shriek and act like a nutjob when I encounter them. If someone else is around when I have a bug encounter and is willing to kill the bug, that’s AWESOME. If that person happens to be a guy, am I going to suck it up and kill the bug myself to preserve my feminist credentials? No. I’m going to let him kill the bug. I’d let another woman kill the bug, too.

(For what it’s worth, I know a guy who was a Navy SEAL who pretty much pees his pants when he runs into a spider, so I’m not married to stereotypes about genders and bugs either.)

But see, that’s the problem. There are people who would try to invalidate my confidence in my own beliefs by saying that if I let a guy kill a bug for me, then I’m no feminist. I think that’s crap, and that those kinds of attacks are as hurtful to feminism as the ones from people who believe I should be barefoot and pregnant right now. It’s one thing to challenge other people, but it’s another entirely to insist that everyone in the world stick to the standards you’ve set for yourself.

Sars at Tomato Nation wrote a great essay once about being a feminist, and I think that her philosophy is one I can totally follow.

Comments 14

  • I do judo which is basically martial arts wrestling, and because im little, and a girl, the guys always try to go easy on me, and pretend to do it. it really pissses me off so i make them understand that I am tough too, by beating them :-) Its great. haha.

    But i am also a feminist. I took a few classes last semester on it, and from what i learned there, is that people’s perceptions of feminists is really effed up. Feminisim is really about wanting things equal, deserving equal pay for the same job, having choices etc. Its not about not being afraid of bugs. You COULD kill the bug if you want to, but you choose not to. that choice, along with just the right to choose between things, rather than be limited is what I think it is all about. But there is no manifesto one needs to strictly adhere to consider themself (sp?) a feminist.

    Good job on the blog, i agree with you, about gettiing annoyed with all the people who try to hold you do some strict ideology of theirs. Its pretty pathetic. Its like them telling you how to live your life following a religion or something.

  • Feminists shouldn’t try to shake other feminists’ confidence. We’re never going to get anywhere if we’re not supportive of one another.

    For me, a feminist is any woman, man, girl or boy who believes women and girls should be treated equally and fairly. It isn’t as difficult to get a guy to agree we should be treated equally as it is to get him to agree that he’s a feminist.

    And I think my boyfriend is just as afraid of bugs as I am. I just make him kill them, because I’m more of a baby about it.

  • Thanks for the link and another terrific — and fair — post, Lorie!

  • Beautifully said, IFC. That’s basically what Sars wrote, too, and what I believe.

  • right on.

    one thing i really hate is how some women say shit like “men can’t be feminists,” though heather corinna recently made some really good points along those lines in her blog (its on her femmerotic site, which probably isn’t one you want to hit up at work). or men are allowed to be feminists until we voice our own opinions about abortion or something and suddenly, we just don’t know, we can’t have an opinion.

    the song “refusing to be a man” by propagandhi is what got me into…well, lots of things, including political punk rock. but most importantly, it got me to start thinking of myself as a feminist.

    it also, oddly, inspired a lot of guilt that i think was totally mis-reading by my younger self. this is what happens when you entrust your politics to three chords.

    also, i tolerate bugs, and my semi-buddhist streak means that i don’t like killing them. and spiders are good because they kill annoying things like mosquitoes and flies.

  • I’m still surprised that we talk about feminism like this new thing that people don’t understand. I think that, culturally, it’s gotten out there and, basically, many people across the specturm have just taken a stand on it. I think certain groups, taken as a cold, indifferent whole, have simply made a choice about the place of a woman (if not “the abilities”) and the threshold for tolerance men in that group will observe.
    It seems, more often to me, to be something that’s either commodified or (and) only still rooted in the academia. It’s something that people with the time to discuss it spend their time discussing while, others, women and men, live out in small ways day to day. Others, who fight for rights, don’t fight for feminism but for people, for humanity, for lives. Should a guy “admit” he’s a feminist or is it enough that he expect the best from himself and his mothers, sisters, teachers and lovers?
    It may be simply residual from our PC-centric phase that people still feel they need to validate, acknowledge or otherwise qualify their stance and/or relationship with feminism. (Also, is the “feminist” path in academia proof that other departments have somehow avoided this integration of the fact of advances in the practice of feminism – or is it just a path that won’t ever allow itself to get swallowed up because, frankly, too many grad students have just invested too much time in it? I mean, why can’t bell hooks be read in a broader sense in more disparate courses? Who, ultimately, evaluates the progress?)
    Or, perhaps I’m just getting so old that everything simply flattens out on the horizon. Still, it’s more and more curious to me.

  • I totally agree, on all points. Nicely done.

    I recently had to explain to the Boyfriend that being a feminist doesn’t = “man-hater.” In short, I told him it’s about equality and our ability to make our own decisions. He quickly agreed and that was the end of it. I am SO glad when our discussions go this smoothly.

    Being the only girl (aside from my mom) in the house growing up, my dad didn’t “pull any punches” so-to-speak and treated me just the same as my brothers — we all did outside yard work as well as in-house chores,we were all active and involved in sports and my parents were equally supportive of the things each of us individually wanted to do. Like you, I think that’s a solid upbringing too. One can only benefit from such a situation, in my opinion.

    I scream bloody murder when in the presence of spiders, I don’t care the color, shape, or size. Spiders SUCK. Yet I live in Brown Recluse Country. *shivers*

  • PS: I’d kill bugs for you anytime and you’d never need to explain yourself to me or anybody else ’cause, as guys will do, I’d maim the challengers.

  • why dont i remember wanting to play with dumptrucks?

  • There are pictures of Christmas when I was 6 years old of me alternately playing with my new Hot Wheels garage (dude, it was, like, 17 stories tall and had a pulley elevator!) and the new Strawberry Shortcake ballerina doll I got (dude, she came with a barre!). I have spent my entire life working, slowly slowly, toward a place where I am afraid of bugs, but DO NOT LOSE MY SHIT. And then, right after I moved in here and was showing my mom’s best friend my shower curtain, a 1,000-legger bug CAME OUT FROM BEHIND IT. And I promptly lost my shit. I’ve known just as many men as women who would have the same reaction, and when Nancy took her shoe off and beat the living shit out of the bug, I was only too glad to let her.

  • You know what I hate… when people spell things like:

    Womyn and Herstory (instead of History)…

    Come ON people… WTF?

  • ginny–yeah, that stuff is ridiculous.

    sandy–i read that as “she came with a barrel!” which made me wonder that they connected ballet and DRINKING so early on!

    ~A–bell hooks IS read all over the place. we read her stuff in my interdisciplinary arts masters program. and i kind of think that it is a combination of the people who write the books and the people that clean the houses (and read those books on their breaks) that make social change.

  • the term “barefoot and pregnant” brings to my mind a woman in a flowery dress wandering through a field of wildflowers with the wind blowing her hair as she aimlessly walks around swathed in the glow of pregnancy, oblivious to the world around her. As I correctly remember, I worked full-time while pregnant, cleaned the house, raked leaves, swept the 10 million steps in front of my house, helped shovel 2 tons of gravel that were delivered and dumped in our driveway, washed, dried and put away laundry, cooked, cleaned, did all of the shopping washed the cars, took out garbage and once killed a snake in the basement and with pregnancy number two did all of the above while taking care of a three year old (with the exception of the snake killing). And I ALWAYS wore shoes!

  • I am interested in talking to Dolly Parton fans.

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