Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My Feminist Confession

Yesterday afternoon I learned Betty Friedan died on Saturday. I learned many news items on from the newspaper and internet mainstream media Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning, but only when I read an alternative on-line news source did I hear about Ms. Friedan. Hell, Yahoo! even saw fit to announce the death of Grampa Munster ahead of one of the most influential people of the 20th century. That's just wrong.

You know what else is wrong? I've never read Feminine Mystique. When Ms. Friedan came to speak at my college, I couldn't be bothered (twice). In the past I've also been dismissive of feminists. I've taken my successes in life for granted, without so much as a nod to the women that came before me, blazing trails and changing perceptions. Now, with a daughter facing the same injustices that I ignored or accepted, I would like to right all the wrongs. I read Bitch PhD regularly and I am learning there is so much more to being a feminist than joining NOW and making everyone call me Ms. So much more.

As long as I'm making this a confessional, I have to admit I'm a little afraid of feminist literature. I'm afraid that I'll become dissatisfied with the status quo. I fear that if I read and learn too much I won't be compatible with the life I've made for myself. That's wimpy, right? I could make so many analogies to the way people thought prior to scientific discoveries we now consider common sense. The world is flat, gravity doesn't exist, the universe revolves around us... this is me with respect to feminism.

Some day I will read Feminine Mystique. It won't be today or this week. Maybe not even this year (I don't even finish the comics on a good day). But I will read this book, if only for the sake of my daughter and what she needs to know as a woman. I feel this is my duty as a mother to a daughter. My mom taught me by example, and I am grateful for that. If she had not left her unhealthy marriage, raised us in a free-thinking, liberal environment and encouraged our every pursuit I would not be the person I am today. I am (fortunately) not forced to take the drastic steps to achieve independence that she was, so it is even more important for me to stay vigilant with my thoughts and words for my daughter. I believe Betty Friedan's book will help me do that. I hope it will.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Have you read Betty Friedan's books? Did your mom instill in you a feminist mind? Tell me - I'd like to know.


Anonymous Beverlee said...

I am quite a new blogger and am roaming about trying to connect.
I figure if I enjoy the first page of someone's site, I will likely enjoy the rest. Re the Betty Frieden question, I have never been much into the feminism thing. I know that my generation has hugely benefited from others in that area so I am not against it either. It just isn't where my energy lies. Your site was a pleasure to read. I'll come again.

2/07/2006 10:38 AM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

It isn't something I think about all that much. Despite working in a male-dominated field, I don't generally encounter that type of discrimination. Many of my co-workers are Hispanic, and I see much more bias against them than against women. It's sad that there always seems to be at least one group that's a target.

2/07/2006 11:03 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I guess you could say I have a complicated relationship with feminism. I just sort of do what I want to do. I'm a 28-year-old female lawyer who's often been mistaken for a secretary. I'm married to a man twelve years my senior, and it's a genuine partnership of equals. Changing my name was one of the hardest things I ever did, and yet I was happy to do it, too. I guess I don't want to be anybody's poster child and don't want to be told what to do; I just want to live my life.

I hate that so many things are harder on a woman's body than on a man's. As my friend C.S. put it, my fertility testing consists of having sharp objects stuck inside my vagina every other day, while my husband's consists of masturbating and having sex. Yet, what is the feminist "answer" to this issue? This is a gripe against nature, not against men or society. I get my period once a month, accompanied by cramps and acne. I sort of rebel against some feminists' arguments that we can do whatever we would normally do when we have our periods, be it swimming a marathon or addressing stockholders. I think we should be able, at least in theory, unapologetically to take to bed, drink tea, and watch trashy movies during our periods. I took the bar exam during day one of my period; don't tell me I wasn't at a disadvantage compared to the men!

Sorry to ramble. I guess I don't really want to be treated the same as the men. I want to be treated like a woman, meaning, I want my ideas, emotions, and efforts acknowledged and appreciated, and I want my special health needs as a woman acknowledged by myself and others, and I want to make sure I treat myself well (and others do, too) because of all the physical shit I have to put up with.

I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for making me think.

2/07/2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous 1 of 2 Dads in Dresden said...

I consider myself an honorary feminist (or feminist sympathizer, if that is more permissable).

Most gay people have realized that so much of what is "obvious" or "taken for granted" concerning societal attitudes about gender and sexuality does not universally apply. Majority belief is no indicator of truth (at times I am tempted to think it as a contrary indicator). For most of us it was our own deeply personal experience when the truth of our beings and our love collided with the apparant "laws" of nature.

Anyone else who critically examines such assumptions and brings enlightenment gets high marks in my books!

Self knowledge and discovery, enlightenment... hmmm getting way to Buddhist here.

Besides... the patriarchal hierarchy isn't all that friendly to us gay guys, now are they? Shame on us for taking those "top" and "bottom" definitions of the ordained hierarchical order far too literally...

2/07/2006 11:40 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I don't consider myself a feminist. Let me check though....yes, I am wearing a bra so I guess not.

Didn't mind changing my name. I grew up with all boys and now only have boys. I have always felt that girls can do whatever boys can (except pee on a fucking tree) but why would we want to? I believe that men and women should be treated equally but we are not equal. We are too different to be equal. Does that make sense?

If I had a girl, I would feel so much pressure to make her strong and independent. Having boys, I try to explain that girls ARE just as smart as they are. Unfortunately, girls in jr. high and high school don't represent us well. Remember the term airhead? Its popular again. Thanks Jessica Simpson.

2/07/2006 11:53 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Thanks for stopping by beverlee - I'll be sure to come over for a visit, as well!

I think you can still be a feminist and say we are equal to men, but different, and I don't want to be 'like' a man either. Just to have the same advantages and opportunities. I like your thinking, Arabella. I want the world to acknowledge our physiological differences and accomodate for them when possible.

It's funny Debbie... I think the whole bra burning thing was more than just a call for 'freedom from restraint.' Bras had always been designed by male-dominated companies, emphasizing perkiness and size with total disregard for comfort. Nowadays it is still that way with the mainstream lingerie lines, and we're forced to pay 50 bucks or more just so our mammary glands aren't pushed into our armpits or up under our chins.

I knew you'd be on board, Mark. I still wonder about how the "laws of nature" affect parenting and gender roles in the home. I wonder if instict is too strong in our species to ever fully level the playing field.

2/07/2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Great post Mignon. My mother was a feminist in good little wife clothing. She was bound by some choices that she made, but she taught me to be a free-thinking and independant person and I am very grateful for that. I haven't read Friedan either and I really need to. Maybe we can do a B-List book club.

2/07/2006 12:54 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I was just going to say we need a book club when I read Teebs's post!

I think the real shame is that feminism is something that not all women embrace because people will think they're militant or, as Debbie said, don't wear bras. Or shave their legs or armpits. The truth is, being a feminist is just being damn proud that you're a woman, and believing that you can do the same job as a man and deserve the same pay for doing it. Women will always require different treatment than men - we ARE different, but what we need more than anything is a bit of equality. If a man opens a door for you, you should take it in the spirit of kindness in which it's meant. But you shouldn't expect it and feel slighted if he doesn't, either. Both of you are human and should be treated as such. The Golden Rule always applies.

I read Bitch PhD and I Blame the Patriarchy, and they're funny, smart women. Do I always feel the same as they do? No way. But I gotta love 'em for standing up for themselves and for women as a whole. Every woman should identify as feminist. A lot more men than currently do, should, too. Neither sex should be the enemy to the other, and at its best, feminism helps keep that from happening. At its worst, it creates walls between women and men and women and other women, unfortunately.

The important thing is to find your own brand of feminism and wear it like a skin, rather than subscribe to what doesn't work for you and end up feeling uncomfortable.

2/07/2006 1:57 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Amen, Mrs. Harridan. I wanted to say more in my last comment and that really sums it up. I'm sitting here waiting for my flight to take off to 35 degree warmer temperatures!

2/07/2006 2:08 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Yes, Mrs. H! That's exactly what I think!
Plus I don't like to feel like I'm less of a feminist if I don't subscribe to all the tenets. Like what if I find staying home with my children a more important career than my previous one?

2/07/2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

the bra comment...its called sarcasm, people!!!

2/07/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I guess I haven't really ever considered myself a "feminist"...I'm glad and proud that I'm a woman, I like being a woman and there are many days when I mutter under my breath that I'm glad I'm not a man. ~winks~

2/07/2006 5:34 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

Debbie, I understood that you weren't serious about the bra comment, but it's the sort of thing that some women who are freaked out by feminism do say (along with the not shaving/not wearing makeup), and I kind of wanted to call it out for that reason.

Of course, there seem to be very few who *aren't* down with the free-boobin'. See also: Drew Barrymore at awards shows. I think the bra-burning of the 60s/70s is just a gesture now.

2/07/2006 5:59 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Debbie, I didn't mean to be, um, accusatory or something... I was just thinking about shitty bras because my current collection causes pain and are all coming apart at the seams, and a new bra that fits right is 60 bucks and I'm cheap and a little bitter about the whole sich.

I actually love free-boobin', but two kids and all, well, you know. And I'm all for shaving all the shaving parts, but I'm a complete buffoon when it comes to make-up. That's my feminist resume, I guess.

2/07/2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

My mother was anything but a feminist. I had to locate my feminist mind on my own.

I read the Friedan's books years ago. They're still relevant, though the premise of feminism isn't as complicated as people would like it to be. It is as follows:

"Women should be allowed to make the same decisions as men, be given the same latitude and opportunities as men and the same margin for error as men. The same credit for things they did not do and praise for skills they do not possess. In short, BE A FUCKING FLAWED HUMAN BEING without criticism or censure. Without legal or societal limitations. And without labels that seek to marginalize and criminalize the freedoms they seek which are, in fact, guaranteed automatically to 50% of the population.

Hu-what???Grandpa Munster died?

2/07/2006 8:53 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

P. S. I used to read Bitch PhD. , but I just can't get down with a husband AND a boyfriend.

2/07/2006 8:55 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

No, I am not a feminist, but I try to do things to make sure women look good in the workplace. I have fought long and hard for a balance between work and my children and I think others benefit from this fight.

I don't read feminist lit for much the same reason, I might have to do something about it and I don't have time, how is that for cowardice?

2/07/2006 10:01 PM  
Anonymous 1 of 2 Dads in Dresden said...

Great discussion all. One other comment was prompted by my reading. It is a huge loss to society to marginalize 50% of the population, and to ignore the unique and complementary nature of women. We do this at our own peril. I think it could be argued that many of the largest problems facing humankind today are the result of a one-sided, testosterone fueled world-view run rampant and unchecked with some very powerful technologies. If we as a species don't become more balanced we may well lead ourselves into extinction.

Feminism is to me an imperative - so long as it pushes toward a different but equal philosophy of the sexes. I would also include the whole rainbow of human sexuality and gender expression into this push, but then it needs another name. Liberation?

2/07/2006 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I have never read Friedan. I do want to someday.

I think Mrs. Harridan summed up some things I'd been thinking about, common misperceptions of feminism -- to me, the term "feminist" has always been associated with a very militant set of beliefs and a very aggressive stance. I know this is probably an outdated view, but that's what the label "feminist" has always meant to me. But to me I am not a fan of labels anyway -- I think they oversimplify complex positions and issues.

I am however a firm believer in the concept of feminism as Wordgirl describes it: women are separate but equal to men. I like to celebrate differences between men and women. I don't subscribe to the thinking that boys play with guns and girls play with dolls. I admire strong and forward-thinking women and reject the notion that a powerful man in business is a "go-getter" and a powerful woman is a "bitch."

Bottom line: I like to embrace our differences as individuals, regardless of race, gender, religion, income, etc. That's the belief that is most ingrained in me and that drives me throughout my life.

2/08/2006 6:24 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

Ooops, I see I left out the word "men" in my comment about free-boobin.

Also, Wordgirl, that is exactly why I stopped reading Bitch PhD. I respect her decision, but ... I felt like anytime anyone asked her about it she got really defensive. And I am just not down with it, either, really.

One of 2 Dads, I hope that someday what you propose actually happens. Maybe someday everyone can get together and push together instead of having separate agendas.

2/08/2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

Nice post - but I would really like to know how ou did that banner thing.

2/08/2006 8:08 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

nancy, you said what I've been feeling all along. I just don't like the label Feminist because I don't like labels. I don't really fit into any particular category (who does, really?) and I balk at the notion of changing myself to accomodate any particular group.

Mark, you Libertarian!

rock, e-mail me and I'll send you the code... and some rudimentary instructions (I'm such a neophyte at CSS and html, it's laughable that I could be instructing anyone!!).

2/08/2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I guess I am a feminist. I took the Women's History and Lit courses in college. I have retained my maiden name and am love that my husband introduces us as the "My name first-His name family". But he knew this going in.

One of the things I have learned via the brain research of young children is that male and female brains are wired differently. We ARE biochemically different. We will never be the same.

That being said, a system in which power is given to one group because of an "Arbitrary" characteristic ( a penis, skin color, age, sexual orientation) is unacceptable. That is what we must struggle against - not one gender versus the other.

I also think that one of the issues with Feminism as it has evolved is that the Leaders were envisioning something, and talked Policy...and we 2nd and 3rd generation women are trying to figure out procedures. Not just that I CAN have it all, but how do I manage this in a realistic fashion?

2/08/2006 4:01 PM  

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