There’s an interesting post today over at I Blame the Patriarchy. In a post titled “Only sub-human”, she gives her views on femininity, stating that it “impedes the revolution”. Please read the full post, and give me your thoughts on the issue in the comments below. The following are my initial thoughts from an email chain responding to a friend who sent me the link:
First, I feel like she’s coming at this from a second wave standpoint. I mean yes, I get that femininity is problematic in its former context, but her analysis ignores the ways that many third wave feminists are actively disrupting the dichotomy of masculine/feminine & rel. assoc. characteristics (like the idea that femininity=passivity, etc.) Subjugation of women within male-defined concept of femininity as cornerstone of patriarchy? Yes. But we’re dismantling that dichotomy in order to weaken the patriarchal hold on our identities. By rejecting femininity-as-is, you’re still playing by the rules of the patriarchy, still allowing them to set the terms on what is perceived as empowering to your identity. Skirts=patriarchy? Not unless we let them define the terms on which we are permitted to express ourselves, whether in a “feminine”, “masculine” or blended way.
She identifies some critical trends in the patriarchy and media’s attempts to re-appropriate control over women’s image (her discussion of advertising playing on women’s psychological self-representation in order to create a familiarity and identification with their products) has been part of the feminist conversation since Betty Friedan devoted a long, detailed chapter about it in The Feminine Mystique (1963, “The Sexual Sell”), re: capitalist interests in defining/constructing/encouraging women to develop primarily a consumer identity. Its not going to stop, and billions of dollars are put into the industry today to keep it up. How can women bear up under the onslaught? By talking about it. By developing a consciousness of the many insidious ways that we’re told how to be ourselves. Media literacy is big in feminist circles, and having these discussions in a non-judgemental way allows us to mediate our need to live in our reality while being conscious of the choices and sacrifices we make for it. Some women choose to shave their legs. Some choose not to. But allowing body hair to become a marker of your “feminist” status downplays the real conversations we need to have about body image. How can we expect all women to join in the conversation if they think we’re placing ourselves above and beyond social pressures. They deal with them, we deal with them. Non-conformity sometimes just re-affirms the boundaries we’re trying to disrupt. By placing yourself on the other side of the line, you’re not actually changing the damn line. Changing the line means talking about, changing and removing those pressures, not ignoring them. Whatever your personal grooming choices are, we need to acknowledge that these pressures exist, and that we face enough judgement and censure about our choices without it coming between the very people and women who very much need to have a conversation about them.
She’s equating femininity with a very advertising centric representation of it. She’s accepting their terms of the debate instead of challenging them. A third waver would be far more likely to be an intelligent, kickass theorist who likes to bake cupcakes [*self-referential, not intended as a depiction of all third wavers] than some simpering advertised construct promoting chocolate as a cure to ruined stockings/life problems. By playing with masc/fem and rejecting the characteristic delineation between those spheres, we reject the premise of that construct. By admitting that its problematic, we refuse to make the terms of the debate invisible or one-sided.
Her litany against femininity is confused, I feel like she’s actually railing against patriarchally demarcated “femininity”. And in that sense I would partially agree with her. I feel like there is a lot of confusion today around these concepts, particularly in the constructs of “sexiness”, “sexual liberation” and “feminine”. Sexual liberation meant releasing women from the sexual control placed on them through the virginity complex, allowing them to choose to say yes and be safe and protected from unwanted pregnancy, and have pleasurable consensual sex. It was not meant to obligate them. The equation of women’s worth with her sexuality is something that continues to be problematic, and I think that gets confused with femininity in the barely-there skirts and holy hell heels. Bar stars are struggling with the same pressures that we are, and I’ve learned that putting them on the defensive is soooo not the way to bring them into a constructive conversation about it. For third wave feminine feminists, we actively negotiate the boundaries of our identity, making choices, making mistakes and learning from them, finding avenues of expression that may or may not fit into traditional constructions of masculine or feminine. But to blacklist all expressions of femininity as complicit in patriarchy? Why does it have to be one or the other? Is she suggesting that we become masculine and play into the patriarchal diminishment of the feminine? That’s complicity to me. I think she’d be down with the third wave way if she understood it, of creating something wholly new, of employing a hybridity that goes above and beyond our old understandings to rethink the ways that we interact with gendered dichotomies.