The Fem Spot

So what kind of feminist are you anyway?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Personal Essays, Politics, queer theory by femspotter on May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008 (revised September 16. 2009)

Someone asked me that in an English graduate seminar. He was rather caustic about the whole thing. I think it bothered him that he couldn’t put me in a category.

In my ignorance, I thought you could either be a feminist or not be a feminist. The question had me stumped.

I’m not like…say…oh…we’ll call her “Kara.” She’s a militant Marxist, or socialist, feminist who hates men, specifically the kind who marry…or rather she hates the institution of marriage and thinks it shackles females.

I’m also not a conservative feminist who would criticize women who adopt a “male model” of careerism and public achievement. That’s far too restrictive.

I’m not a liberal feminist. While I do support the notion that all humans are deserving of equal treatment under the law, I do not support the idea that all women can assert themselves and achieve without altering the social constructs we live in.

In much the same way, I am not a post-feminist. I don’t deny the existence of oppression. I do think there is need for change.

It would seem that there is one extreme left: radical feminism. I do not believe that female oppression is rampant – at least not in the United States – nor do I believe that all, or most, men are out to stifle us in order to boost their fragile egos. Misogyny is a big problem – globally, but I believe it can be combated by the elimination of gender stereotyping. In other words, out with “masculine” and “feminine” labels! These are social constructs that fluctuate. To be feminine in 1950 meant to be submissive and quaint: ask no questions and challenge no authority. Today, femininity is part and parcel with a certain predatory quality that signals an interest in sexuality, rather than an indifference to it. If we stop expecting women to be feminine and men to be masculine; if we accept public displays of emotion from men and the lack thereof from women; if we celebrate the institution of stay-at-home paternity in addition to its counterpart, etc. then we begin to raise the status of all women without hindering the status of men.

The man at the seminar scratched his head when I couldn’t entirely identify with one faction or the other. He wasn’t quite sure what use I was to the blanket feminist agenda: equality.

I think we saw this same reaction in politics as Hillary Clinton strove to win the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, even with very little hope left. Let’s humorously examine what all these different feminists might have been saying about Clinton’s tenacity.

Socialist: She should be running under her maiden name. It’s archaic to adopt a man’s last name when marrying. It’s really too bad she married at all. And while she’s at it, why doesn’t she give her millions to starving children in China instead of to her hopeless campaign?

Conservative: Those pantsuits are very unbecoming. She should adopt a softer tone. Instead of talking about the gas tax, she should be sharing baking tips.

Liberal: Barack Obama and Clinton are equal, damn it. They have the same levels of intelligence, experience and likeability. Also, their policies are very similar. Wait…now I can’t figure out which one to vote for.

Post-feminist: As naive as it sounds, I’m voting for a candidate who thinks he can change the way Washington does politics. That’s a man. Sue me!

Radical: The media consists of misogynist freaks who always say negative things about Clinton, even when there are perfectly nice things to say. It’s all a big conspiracy. I think an Obama sympathizer masqueraded as Clinton that day “she” talked about being under sniper fire. Think about it. It all makes perfect sense.

I don’t agree completely with any of these positions on the Clinton candidacy, but they each contain interesting points, which I hope will fuel discussion at many levels, from water cooler conversation to university discourse, for many years to come.

I wouldn’t tell Clinton what to do with her money – I’m a capitalist – but I myself made the conscious decision to keep my maiden name, at least in so far as my career is concerned. (I don’t get mad when people call me Mrs. M*****.)

And while I would never say that Clinton should behave in a way that is unnatural or uncomfortable for her, I do think that she should remember that she is a female and can be “feminine” if she likes. I embrace the differences between myself and my husband. But, hey…if I don’t want to bake, I DON’T BAKE!

I think that it’s important to talk about the candidates’ inequalities, and thus make informed decisions when voting for political figures. While I don’t feel qualified to judge intelligence, I do feel empowered to say that Clinton has always struck me as the more concise, realistic and decisive candidate. In these aspects of character, Obama and Clinton are not equal.

Finally, I think it is necessary to examine the role the media played during this primary season. CNN, for instance, had been declaring a victory for Clinton impossible since March, 2008, demonstrating that Obama is its favorite. On the other hand, Fox News headlines read more like news bites, showing less favoritism and more feigned indifference. That’s probably a function of how far left or right each network leans.

But it could be misogyny.

Misogyny can be difficult to prove, however. I think the largest problem for Clinton has been much like the problem I’m faced with when trying to declare my allegiance with one or the other types of feminism: I don’t fit many of the established “rules.”

There are some who look at Clinton and see a woman defying femininity, and others who look at the role she’s in and think she’s too feminine – they think that only a masculine man will do. Does she appease the first half with a show of tears? Does she cater to the others and refuse to weaken, not apologizing for her Iraq war vote in 2002, or drop out of presidential politics altogether? Either way, she’ll do it as a woman. But everybody seems to want to pinpoint what kind of woman she is.

Perhaps former vice-presidential and presidential candidate John Edwards said it best in his Obama endorsement speech: “There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change that you have to build from the ground up. There is one man who knows in his heart there is time to create one America, not two… and that man is Barack Obama.”

He could have said “one person” or “one candidate,” but he said “one man” and thereby left the window ajar for mighty Clinton to throw open. The quote means to me that, while Obama might know these things, there may be a woman out there who knows them too. The question has always been a definitive one: will the U. S. elect a woman to our highest office?

While Clinton kept forging ahead in the primary campaign, speaking forcefully into microphone after microphone, other women on the trail did something different: Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, wives of Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain respectively, posed for the camera. They appeared in issues of Vogue magazine. (Where’s Bill Clinton’s fashion spread, I wonder?)

Clinton is loud; she’s tough. Often, she comes across as a bit abrasive. But that’s probably because up against these other two, the one’s who’ve embraced the supportive, eye-candy wife archetype – as she once did, or at least tried to do – she can’t help but appear to be rough around the edges. Mrs. Obama is wearing pearls; Mrs. McCain’s golden locks are blowing in the breeze. Clinton, meanwhile, has thick legs and a cropped coif. However will she compete with this idealized version of femininity?

I guess I’m the kind of feminist who would say that she shouldn’t have to compete. I would say, “No rules!” I support the personal choice to be a housewife, househusband, female president or whatever-we-call-the-husband-of-the-female-president.

And who am I or Clinton to tell Obama or McCain that they shouldn’t model for magazines? I just hope that it makes them happy.

That school acquaintance of mine didn’t like it when I said there shouldn’t be any rules. He threw up his arms in protest saying, “Well, if women can do whatever they want…”

I’m glad he didn’t finish that sentence. I would have had to ask him, “Why can’t women do whatever they want?” And I don’t know how to win an argument with a feminist who has rules for women just like everybody who isn’t a feminist has rules for women.

THAT kind of feminism – the feminism with all the rules – just doesn’t sit well with me.

8 Responses

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  1. newfeminist said, on September 17, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Awesome ending – I love it!

  2. femspotter said, on September 18, 2008 at 12:26 am

    Thanks, New! Which kind are you…or, like me, do you dance to your own beat?

  3. newfeminist said, on September 18, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Leaning towards liberal, but in a cherry-picking sort of way, I guess.

  4. [...] The Fem Spot, Femspotter writes So what kind of feminist are you anyway?. It’s her ruminations on the different branches of feminism, tied into a discussion of Hillary [...]

  5. factcheckme said, on September 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

    i am more of a radfem, although it took me awhile to realize it. for some reason i always had the impression that the radfems were essentialists. that may or may not have been true at one point. but today, i think its the radfems who are doing the heavy lifting towards what is (in my mind) the goals of all feminists: the advanement of women as a class, worldwide; and the eradication of rape, domestic violence, and birthing injuries/unwanted pregnancies that affect only or primarily women as a class, around the world.

    i always ask myself what the different “brands” are bringing to–or taking away–from the table in regards to those goals. and the same questions should be asked of all of our policies, both domestically and internationally–perhaps particularly things are thought to be gender-neutral but arent (if they impact those goals in any way, either positively or negatively, they arent gender-neutral). if the above arent all feminists’ goals, then i am unsure where that leaves us, and whether there is even a feminist “movement” at this time and place. there might not be one, considering the vastly varying agendas of many feminisms today (trans- activists and sex-pos for example). if we arent trying to advance women as a class, and if we are completely ignoring women in other (less privileged) countries, then what are we doing? this is not a rhetorical question.

  6. femspotter said, on September 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

    I am probably closest to the radical feminist identity too; I have a couple of differences in general. 1. I think prostitution should be legal and safe for men and women who want to utilize their bodies in our capitalist – read: supply and demand – economy. 2. I think “domestic engineer” is a perfectly legitimate profession. What could be more useful than educated feminists raising their children – girls and boys – to be educated feminists when they grow up?

    Fact, you are totally correct in my book about the U.S. ignoring the global status of women…in fact, we are ignoring the global status of people in general. We ignore starvation, genocide and disease. Specific to women, what are we doing about a recent U.N. report (bottom citation), which found that nearly 90% of Afghan women suffer from domestic abuse? What, President Obama? The Olympics in Chicago? Who fucking cares!

    That question too, Mr. President, is NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION!!!

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/09/23/afghanistan.women.abuse/index.html

  7. factcheckme said, on September 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    fem–when you support the legalization of prostitution, do you also support the porn industry and those who participate, which is already legal? or are they fundamentally different, so that you could oppose one and not the other? just curious. most radfems are against porn too, in that its not exactly voluntary for the female participants, even though there is some “choice” involved. economic coersion etc.

  8. femspotter said, on September 30, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Well, the basic principle I support is that people should be allowed to do with their bodies what they will as long as they don’t harm others. Ergo, any consensual sex acts filmed in the pornography industry are (per me) legal. But of course, I likewise condemn the application of force or bodily harm to people who are not consenting to the acts…as in rape or smut porn.

    I realize this may be too heavily based on theory and not a practical legal scenario: like “gun control” or “the war(s) on drugs/terror.” In all of these cases, there are varying degrees of what may be considered acceptable and what can be enforced. After all, a rape is a rape – according to our legal system – when she can prove that she told her rapist “NO!” If there’s any question as to the consensual nature of the sex act, it is usually not declared to be a rape. It cannot be proven that somebody who owns a gun meant to use it for hunting and that it was therefore a legal ownership of said gun after that gun has been used to kill a human being. It cannot be proven that somebody meant to keep their private stash of legal marijuana to him or herself after he or she illegally sold it to a minor. It cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iraq did not play some role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks…or so Republicans would have us believe. It also cannot be proven that a sex act in porn was NOT consensual if women are smiling and faking orgasm. Intent is difficult to prove.

    And so, my principles might make for shitty laws!

    I think it makes no sense to have a free market and then impose restrictions on bodies, apart from passing legislation that allows people to protect their bodies. What if a woman doesn’t have the start up costs for the American dream: small business? Well, she can sell her body in Nevada and Rhode Island. She might have to move, but… That’s the gist. Her body is HER BODY!

    And I think you can’t look at the prostitution/porn issue without acknowledging that our long upheld understanding – or rather misunderstanding – that women don’t like sex or can’t achieve orgasm (easily) is part of overall gender stereotyping that would keep women barefoot and pregnant in their ignorance and men miserable at 9 to 5 day jobs with no freedom to choose different paths. People who assume that all women who participate in sex trades don’t really like sex, assume too much!


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