Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Your Feminism is Showing

To start this rolling, I would like to show a Facebook status from one of my male acquaintances that I came across today:

Right... because using real swords and killing each other is a definite plus.

I bring this up because I have this acquaintance to thank for probably causing me (whether directly or indirectly) to exhibit my views on gender equality to a greater degree than I would have before. Yes, I'd care about feminism regardless, and yes, I am getting a degree in a major in which feminism plays a major, vital role. But after you care for someone who doesn't care about you and also happens to believe that women doth protest too much and might just happen to have stated that a woman's place is in the kitchen... well, women's rights suddenly takes on a much deeper meaning.

Also, my job as an assistant building manager in a campus apartment has made these issues a lot closer to home. I have an inkling that my roommate (who is the main building manager) and I are being payed less than the previous manager, because he was male and we are female. And there's been slight, subtle tenancies for people to question our abilities at repairs and maintenance because we are female. It's not blatant, but I can feel there; an undercurrent of awkwardness and slight rage, just like status above gave me. It's not enough to call someone out on it, but it's enough to piss me off.

Which is what this post on my personal blog picks up on; involving the awkward situation of being upset with women themselves showing sexist tendencies - and not even knowing it. After this incident of seeing how my own friends from class could be doing things that, to me, read as hurtful to themselves, I started thinking about fangirls and feminism and if there was a connection there.

And then, because the world is an absolutely wonderful place, my classes started giving me material exactly when I needed it. We began discussing gender politics from the 1950s in my television class. Gender and performance came up in Music as Discourse. And then I read Helene Cixous for my Comedy: Text and Theory class. And I got incredibly happy.

If you've never heard of her before, Helene Cixous is a French feminist writer, perhaps best known for "The Laugh of the Medusa." In this essay, Cixous describes how women, especially in writing, must find their own way of expressing themselves, away from the way men do. "Women must write woman. And man, man," she states (877). Prior to this she says, "beauty must no longer be forbidden" and describes how, in her desire to express herself:
so full of luminous torrents that I could burst - burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing: I didn't open my mouth, I didn't repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What's the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient, infinite woman, who, immersed as she was in her naivete, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism, hasn't been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a... divine composure), hasn't accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn't thought she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble. (876)
The italics above are mine, highlighting my favorite part of this rather long quote. What Cixous discusses is an immensely important issues in discussions of feminism and femininity: the female body itself. Somewhere in the past (the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the myth of Medusa, the fear of the pregnant woman - wherever you want to pick a starting point) men became slightly terrified of the female form. At some point in time, men realized, "Holy shit, women don't have penises." For some reason, woman became man's opposite. And then men encountered the age-old fear: "if I lose my penis... I'll be just like a woman." Because women represented the opposite of men: nature, the bodily, the very grotesque itself (meaning anything that makes us animal and bodily; this deserves further description, but it involves bringing up Descartes and that'll take another hour at least. For simplicity's sake, we've split up the mind and body into two separate entities, and we're always trying to control the urges of the body (think Freud ego/superego/id split if you're more familiar with that)) woman became something shameful and all that comes with it (pregnancy, menstruation, breast feeding).

Sounds ridiculous, right? It is - and yet it's the basis of what's been called the patriarchy. You know, the society we all live it where men still make more than women. Sucks, doesn't it?

Of course, this is all theory, not real-world application. So, to make it a little more clear, I was going to show you this clip from About Schmidt. I've never seen this movie, but we watched this excerpt in my Comedy class the other day. Except when I watched this video, I realized that it doesn't allow me to make any of the points I was hoping for (which is a message in itself). There's supposed to be a shot of Kathy Bates, standing totally nude, before she climbs into the hot tub. But for whatever reason, this scene has been deleted from the posted video. Why? Probably because of what my Comedy professor was saying the other day. When this movie was released in theaters, people flipped out at seeing Kathy Bates nude. No one cared that, at the end of this scene, you see Jack Nicholson's ass as he peels off his swimming trunks (which is not in the clip as it ends too soon). But Bates' middle aged form drew shock and admiration at her "bravery" for undertaking such a role. Despite the fact that Kathy Bates sees and lives in that body EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE.

Think about all the issues with the female form - in regards to self-esteem and weight (something I will becoming back to later). In representation. In establishing strength. There's not a solution for these problems and there's no right answers, but there are definitely some wrong ones. Like this:
I have one thing to say about that:
Exactly. Wrong. So, so wrong. It doesn't get more backhanded than: "Yeah, feminism, but once things get tough, you're just going to turn into a sobbing mess." Because, you know, crying is a sign of the weak, not a totally human response to distress. And this:
Yep. Totally wrong. Just because you think you're for gender equality, doesn't necessarily mean you're getting it (and for some reasons, this photos keep coming up when I search images for "feminism" instead of more inspiring things. Shame on you, Google images!). Because when you're all for equality but you're still standing around, looking macho and trying to prove how much of a man you are and saying fencers "fight like men"... well, in the words of Inigo Montoya, "This word... I do not think it means what you think it means." Besides, who decided that there's anything natural and innate in how we think about masculinity? That's an assumption, that is. Think about that one for a while. :)

Obviously, loads more to say on the topic. But that'll do for now.

This hedgehog proudly supports women's rights.
Note: all citations are from Cixous, "Laugh of the Medusa." Journal of Women on Culture and Society, 1976, Vol 1 no. 41


  1. Thank you. A lot. Just thank you.
    It's kind of funny, sexism, because there are more woman than men. I thought democracy was majority vote.

  2. Excellent blog post. Love the use of the Wrong photo.

  3. The man from Facebook is a genius! I also think we should put mines on the hurdles to encourage them to jump higher and faster.

  4. There is no such thing as two equal human beings.
    You know, everyone is special.
    Also it's all work both ways! If you think, "this man is chauvinist", maybe he is not. What if a woodcutter tells someone: "I don't care what you think, I have a good work!"... to a President.
    It's not that he doesn't respect P-t. And even he don't, it doesn't mean he is a traitor..
    You get it?.. Sorry, I'm russian, live in Russia, always in my tiny vilage with bears and vodka, so my English is bad -(

    1. It's fine, English is rather tricky anyway :P I do get what you're saying; equality doesn't exist in the way that everyone is unique and different; however I don't think that means they should be treated less favorably because they are different. That being said, as you pointed out it is an assumption to say that someone who made the Facebook comment above is a chauvinist (which I'm rather certain he's not). It's just that my culture is a little bit blind to how much weight words can carry. But then, as I writer, I tend to put too much emphasis on them.

      I like your example of a woodcutter talking to a president; you're absolutely right, he shouldn't be considered a traitor for having different views. As long as there is equal respect between the president and the woodcutter, then I can understand this. I guess my reactions and views on feminism come from a feeling that there is not mutual respect and thus you get reactions like mine. They may not be the best way of dealing with it at times and I accept the fault for that, but deep down, I'm a tremendous idealist, which I completely understand not everyone is. Everyone has a different way of looking at the world. Sorry, this response is super long! But thank you very much for your comment, it's been really thought-provoking for me :)

    2. I agree with you right up until the men-losing-penis thing. That is just a load of bull Freud made up to try and cover up his own silly fears. But that's just my opinion...

      Personally I think all of the things you've listed as 'shameful' to do with pregnancy are beautiful in their own way and definitely nothing to be ashamed of! They demonstrate a woman's ability to do what a man never could - create new life! Its a fantastic and beautiful thing to be female and its a shame that today's society considers it anything else...

      Also, from the article, do you think that today we've achieved gender equality to its most feasible degree? Legally women are treated exactly the same, and I'm afraid the gender stereotyping (as you exemplified with the repair and maintenance work) will take at least 2 or 3 generations to get rid of (in an ideal Utopian world where we can re-educate all children for this purpose). Real world... it could take 5 or 10.

      I think the feminist movement has really achieved the goals it aimed for. Women are legally exactly the same as men. I'm not asking feminists to stand down (if feminism=equality, then call me one any time!) but I think its got to change tacks so that its aiming to get rid of the deeply inset stereotypes and prejudices that society has against women rather than focus on producing large quantities of whining that society is still sexist. Like you said, a lot of the time many women are still sexist when it comes to views on gender! Just as many women will raise eyebrows at a woman who does a stereotypically 'manly' job...

    3. I'm not so sold on the men-losing-penis thing myself. The problem with some psychoanalytic theory is that they make good points but it's all based off of Freud and, while I agree with some of their arguments, having it based on Freudian theory causes some major dilemmas, as you aptly point out. And I 100% agree with you about the things that are "shameful" in pregnancy are can be seen as beautiful. I took a psychology of women and gender class this summer and we talked a lot about the stigma associated with women's periods and childbirth and how these things are considered negative, even to women who consider themselves feminists, when really it might be more positive to embrace these aspects of being women and celebrate them.

      Your question about whether or not we've reached gender equality to a feasible degree is fantastic; I've been thinking about it all day and my answers is - I just don't know. I totally agree with you about how far we've come and how much we've achieved; I mean 100 years ago women couldn't even vote and they probably never imagined something like the Vagina Monologues being performed in public. But there's still so much more that could be done. However, you're right again - it would require generations of re-education and working to change stereotypes. Do some feminists need to update some of their rhetoric? Absolutely. Has the initial goals of feminism been reached? For the most part, yes. Of course there's always the fear that we could regress and move backwards, and while I happen to not believe things are that linear (it's wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey sort of stuff), I think it's important to keep pushing forward. And by that I mean accepting not just that women are equal to men but that all women are equal to each other - there is no right way to be a woman. I think maybe keeping that in mind would help things greatly.