women learn to be women
and men learn to be men
and I don't blame it all on you
but I don't want to be your friend
-Ani Difranco, Letter to a John
Okay, so call me a stereotype. Like every other pseudointellectual queer woman of my age, Ani Difranco is one of my heroes. I listen to her music nearly every day. I dissect her songs and poetry and see how it relates to my life and the world around me. I use her for inspiration in a lot of my writing. And while I don't blindly agree with everything she says, I feel indebted to her, in the same way that I feel indebted to Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin, or Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
Anyway, these lines from Letter to a John have been rolling around in my head for the last few days, lending themselves to all different interpretations of feminism. I've been thinking about what feminism means to me, and do I even know what it is anymore? As a woman who has a relationship with another woman, who is raising a female child who will someday be a woman, and as a woman who lives in a blatantly male dominated society, what are my thoughts and feelings on the feminist, and if I'm confused, how do women without my strident opinions feel?
I grew up in the 90's, a decade in which there was a huge backlash against the feminist movement. So many of the girls I knew casually in high school refused to even label themselves as feminists. (My closest friends, of course, always considered themselves feminists, even my male friends.) The term of the decade was "feminazi." As though the idea that women are people was so radical as to place it on the same level as "the Final Solution."
So many people I know believe that feminists hate and fear men. That all feminists are either openly or secretly lesbian. That if a feminist "found the right man" she'd stop complaining. I don't hate men. I do fear them. And with good reason, in my case, some might say. I've been exposed to my fair share of dominating, hurtful men. But, I've also had the wonderful good fortune to know amazingly kind and compassionate men. And I'm smart enough to know that men as a species can't be lumped into two categories, good guys and bad guys. And that's what I find frightening. That even the "good guys" the ones on "my side" aren't really on my side. They can't be. They aren't women, can't understand what it means to be a woman in this world, how it feels to fight against every idea of what "womanhood" means. That's like saying I understand what it means to be a black person because I sympathize with the fight blacks have against white oppression.
There is so little movement left in the feminist movement. We've stopped shouting and waving our flags and marching. Women are putting on "power suits" with "sensible pumps" and assuming the biggest battles are over. There are, to be sure, women talking about breaking through glass and marble ceilings. Women fighting for "equal pay" and all these things that people think of when they think of feminism.
But, I think all those things are distractions. They're beside the point. We've been lulled into complacency by the idea that because we can go out there and get jobs and live on our own, we're winning the fight. We go through life like the patriarchy isn't something that should frighten us. We assume that because our fathers and brothers and lovers and friends support our right to choose and our right to be equal that we've won the fight. But the basic issue of male domination of the entire world hasn't changed. Women are still second best at best. We're still in awe of a woman in power. Nancy Pelosi's recent ascent to speaker of the house proves that. It was met with jubilation, rather than disgust that it took so damn long. It's like the men are allowing us the leftovers of their great feast of power and we're just so damn happy to even be invited to the party that we aren't seeing that that we're basically still just sitting at the kids table.
Because even when we ascend to power, and maybe most especially when women ascend to power, they are supposed to be still be "feminine." Take Hilary Clinton for a great example. During her husband's presidency, a lot of people accused her of taking a much too powerful role. She was criticized for being "dowdy" and not wearing makeup and for wearing her sensible suits and shoes. And now, with her new and "improved" image, great hair, plenty of makeup, people are looking at her like...hmmm, a woman president? Not, hey, look at this amazingly competent democratic senator, perhaps that's the kind of leadership the White House needs. Gender is still the main identifying factor, here.
Which maybe wouldn't be such a big deal, except that along with gender come all those "traditional" gender roles. Women are softer, less aggressive. We are expected to compromise. We are the ones who have to choose between family and career. We're the ones who are criticized for working 60 hour weeks while the children are at home with nannies. A woman that has sex whenever she wants is still a slut. A woman with strong opinions is a bitch
And then I think about all the people I love most in my life, male and female. And I get it, why these people are the ones I can sit and talk with and not want to poke out my eye with a sharp stick. These are the people who don't buy into the traditional gender roles. Take, for example, my friend the Archaeogoddess, Erin C., she travels the world by herself. It simply doesn't occur to her that a "mere woman" doesn't usually travel to places like Israel or Jordan without companionship. Whereas I have another friend, a lesbian, but she still plays the traditional "girlfriend" role. Does the laundry, asks her girlfriend's opinion on everything and expects her girlfriend to pay for dinner. And while I love her, every time I talk to her about her relationship, I feel vaguely nauseated. It's a feeling of uneasiness that even lesbians can't shake the traditional gender stereotypes.
We won't have won equality until a woman runs for president, and we don't think, hey, a woman in the white house would be nice. We'll only have equality when we look at people and don't immediately say, she's a woman so she's this, or he's a man, so he's this. When we look at a political candidate and the only question is, is this person qualified? When we aren't surprised by a woman who buys her own home while still single. And yes, when women can march right alongside men into any battle that our foolish governments involve us in.