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.