This is what this feminist looks like

[Author's note: this post was originally drafted two days ago.  Since then similar topics have been explored by Deborah and Maia has posted further on her thoughts on this issue.]

You know, I think Maia had one tiny point in amongst the letting us all know that blogging about cupcakes is Diluting The Great Feminist Message.

Posting something frivolous to a feminist group or blog does imply/assume that thing is feminist or should be treated as a feminist issue.

Where we disagree* is that she thinks that means we have to explain why that thing is explicitly feminist or refrain from posting it.  And I think the very fact of a thing being discussed on a feminist blog puts it in a feminist or wider progressive context.

So just what is a feminist issue?

Are silly boutique clothing stores which cut clothes to fit bigger-busted women a feminist issue?

Of course they fucking are because we live in a patriarchy that demands conformity to an incredibly narrow set of standards of beauty.  The fit and fashionableness of clothes have implications for women’s lives from the ability to meet professional or corporate wardrobe standards to being able to feel comfortable in their bodies to presenting a challenge to those beauty standards by the merest fact of being a non-standard body shape wearing edgy, new, well-fitting or fashionable clothes in public.

Are “aesthetics” a feminist issue?

An alternative title for this post was “Because wearing lipstick can be a feminist act”.  I just said it a paragraph above:  beauty standards.  Daring to be visible in public.  Add to that gender performativity and people’s choice to challenge norms or desire to blend in to make their lives that little bit easier if they need/want to.  Add to that the entire area of human attraction and romance and celebrity crushes or appreciation of the physical form and our ability to challenge those things without scrapping the notion of finding other human beings fucking hot.

Are cupcakes and knitting feminist issues?

Obviously not, I mean, duh, there’s no room for reclamation of traditionally “feminine” roles and crafts.  No space for a discussion of the pressures of modern life depriving people of time to really engage with the food they eat or maintain old customs or challenge that big evil capitalist system by taking charge of the means of production even in small home-cooking cottage-industry ways.  We definitely don’t want to break down orthorexic messages about “bad foods” and we definitely shouldn’t prop up our mental health and self-esteem defences against the constant criticism of patriarchy by taking pride in creating things.

But what if we don’t spell out why these things are feminist issues?

Plenty of conversations about cupcakes or clothing stores don’t actually involve posts saying “I have baked cupcakes in accordance with my personal desire to bake uninfluenced by notions of proper women’s roles, for a bake sale at my children-who-have-my-surname’s school because my male life-partner was too tired after a hard day’s respecting my reproductive choices.”

Do we seriously fucking have to?**

I am a staunch fucking warrior for the feminist cause, people.  I will rant at the drop of a hat or the merest sighting of a Cosmo cover, I will march, I will campaign.  But sometimes I have to take a break.  Sometimes people who work even harder than me, like Sady Fucking Doyle, need to take a break, and build up our reserves of stamina and anger in order to continue the fight and not burn out.

Sometimes I just want to have a fucking glass of cider with some friends, and talk shit about baking and weddings, and it’s really fucking awesome to be able to do that in a group where I am guaranteed not to encounter casual racism or homophobia or transphobia or classism or any other gratuitous exercise of privilege.  It’s really fucking awesome to know I could post on a forum about hating fucking Valentine’s Day and not run the stellarly high risk of having someone fucking bingo me with “oh but you’ll feel different when you’re in a relationship” or “oh you just need to drop your man and find one who’ll treat you right.”***

And I can imagine someone coming across Emma’s, and thinking “who can I share this with without getting a dozen “oh I had that problem but then I tried X diet” or “tee hee I’m so lucky I can just buy straight off the rack at Glassons” or “do you ever try wearing your bra as a hat?”**** responses?”

And maybe they just fucking thought hey, this group of women who I know are all in Wellington and who I can probably assume will all have some understanding of basic feminist critiques of beauty standards and the fashion industry will totally want to know that there are other patriarchy-busting resources out there for those of them with this particular problem.

But fuck, I guess they just weren’t being real feminists.

~

*And oh my god can you BELIEVE that we might be able to disagree without me declaring Maia has lost 10 Feminist House Points?

**Statement of the fucking obvious:  some places have narrow commenting policies.  Some places explicitly spell out what qualifies as on- or off-topic.  The owners of those places get to make those calls and as always, it’s fucking rude for anyone to declare that those policies must be changed because all feminist conversation must follow a, b, c rules.  Which is why I’m a lot less cussy elsewhere and anyone trying to rehash fucking over-cooked topics is getting no linguistic mercy.

***True story.

****Also true story.

23 comments

  1. Armchair Critic

    Great post QoT. Worst thing is, all i can think to say is “Fucking cupcakes – hell yeah!”
    Must have been a long week.

  2. Octavia

    Not a Wellingtonian, so will speak related to this post.

    Personally, a large part of my personal feminism and gender performance *is* related to how I present myself and things that might be considered frivolous by others. This is because due to one of my medical conditions there are things about me that some people consider grounds for getting into ‘not a proper woman’ misogyny (similar to you I have a lot of “true story” moments). As I play with how I am presented, and fuck with how people perceive my femininity, I am accepting this medical condition and gaining agency. For me, this is a feminist issue. It is tied to my experiences with disability, and helps me to gain some peace with aspects of my body that negatively impact on my quality of life and that I cannot control.

    Similarly, my experiences with disordered eating behaviours, and my related triggers, shape my conversations about food. Talking recipes with other women who don’t engage in diet-culture talk, fun eating, making and eating foods that are considered ‘bad’, are empowering for me because it is a direct challenge to previous negative experiences. It is a part of my personal feminism.

    As I am a whole person, in the sense that I cannot and will not partition my life and experiences, all of this – including obviously my privilege and oppressions – impacts on my feminism.

    I have always found in past situations that when someone starts talking about certain things being frivolous and perhaps inappropriate to a cause, they often haven’t considered the people for whom these things are not. Which is human, none of us can think to every person’s experience automatically, but still alienating. (As somewhat of an aside, this is also why I’m a big fan of trigger warnings and related disclaimers. I want to speak to my experience without hurting others.)

    Related to reclamation of traditional ‘femininity’, reading blogs of (American) women of colour really shaped and challenged my thinking in this, in that for many WoC this reclamation is a big f-u to a racist culture that considers them not ‘womanly’ for not being white, and which devalues their life experiences and familial love/home life.

    This is huge so I owe you a gin.

  3. Boganette

    This whole debate has really confused me. I found I had the strongest reactions to the comments and not Maia’s post. I hate seeing what seems like personal attacks from feminists who all live in the same country and frequent each others blogs. But reading this has actually made me realise what the beef was all about. I totally agree with what you’ve said. I often wait until I’ve read a heap of different views on something before I make up my mind. I’m a flawed feminist – a lot of the time I JUST DON’T KNOW. So i’d never, ever want to be pushing some message that something is ‘not feminist’ just because it’s something I’m not into.

    Still I hate how some of the comments have gone the way of personal attacks & re-framing the whole issue as Young Vs Old Feminist. It’s so not about that. And people need to quit that shit. We are all on the same ‘side’. You can disagree without being a asshole about it.

    That being said – I wouldn’t want to silence anyone who was really fucked off by Maia’s post.

    Meeeeh I can’t even figure out what I want to say. Just, thanks for the post.

  4. Cervixosaurus

    I love this post. Because what the fuck *isn’t* a feminist issue in our supremely dichotomised society?! I hate dichotomies.
    As I wrote on my blog, it’s no big deal that I love clothes and dressing up and wearing skirts and also consider myself a feminist. And no big deal that I can act silly and still expect to be respected and taken seriously. I don’t have to choose between being frivolous and feminist!
    I just posted photos of a crochet blanket I made. I think crocheting is fun and I’m not going to stop just because all feminine coded activities are consistently devalued. For me, that is one big reason to not stop. But I didn’t explain that, and you’re right, I shouldn’t have to. I mean, having to constantly justify your behaviour, appearance, actions etc because they deviate from a set norm is something that feminism should be fighting against. Rather than creating a new norm to conform to!

  5. Cara Marie

    Thank you for this. Maia’s suggestion that someone excited to find a store that catered for larger busts should have to temper that excitement with concern for people with smaller busts actually really hurt me. I already have fewer and more expensive options than people with smaller breasts, and I have to worry about excluding them? Before I had a breast reduction I couldn’t even buy bras in this country. So thank you, thank you, for articulating that this matters.

    • QoT

      Thanks Cara, though I think Maia was specifically advocating/thinking about plus-size people – whether bigger-busted or not – who wouldn’t be able to fit the clothes at the store which was recommended. Which is a slightly different area of clothing-lack-of-privilege. My take on it is that surely the fatties and the straight-sizes-but-different-shapes crowds can totally help each other out and thus together vanquish ridiculously narrow beauty standards.

      • Cara Marie

        Yeah, I totally agreed with that aspect of her post. If a shop is catering for larger breasted women, it shouldn’t just be catering for the ones who are under a size fourteen, no question. It is just her first point hit something I am obviously really sensitive about *sigh*

  6. Mindy

    After reading an article the other day about androgynous men modelling women’s clothes my workmate commented that fashion designers now have it all – feminine looking models who don’t have any of the nasty curves and shapes that get in the way of the lines of the clothing. Never mind that these clothes are designed as ‘women’s’ clothes. I just can’t understand why someone hasn’t realised that there is a niche market in clothing that actually fits real women out there just waiting to be tapped.

  7. V

    I think what really offended me the most about Maia/Grace’s post was the fact that she was policing what should and should not be said in a ‘feminist space’.

    Fact is, she doesn’t run WYFC, she’s not even an admin. She does not get to decide what is and is not appropriate content for the WYFC page.

    Now, I’m sure she is aware of that, so the only conclusion we can draw from her post is that she was policing what feminism IS.
    She may have back-pedalled and claimed that she wasn’t doing this, but unfortunately she did this, whether she intended to or not.

    Considering the amount of back-pedalling she did overall, I’m not even sure any of the original points in her blog post even still stand or make sense, making the whole blog post a big pile of nothing.

    Again, her major bone of contention was “you should only post feminist stuff in a feminist space” – to which I say “Why?”
    Why, why, why?
    Are feminist spaces so fucking super-duper serious that I can’t drop a non-feminist related comment somewhere? Is “how’s the weather?” patently unfeminist and BANNED from discussion?
    Frankly, that just fucking stupid.
    And I don’t do stupid.

    • QoT

      Maia’s continuous emphasising that she isn’t a collective member and “doesn’t take responsibility for the collective’s decisions” was … definitely interesting.

  8. jennygadget

    I think the moral of the day is: cupcakes are never off topic!!! yay cupcakes!!!!!!!

    But seriously,

    I especially love this part:

    “Where we disagree* is that she thinks that means we have to explain why that thing is explicitly feminist or refrain from posting it.”

    Because, I get the need for self-examination and generally have lots of fun digging into the hidden meaning of things, but isn’t part of the point also that women in particular are made to feel like we have to explain why people should care before we express our thoughts and desires? And that maybe we should practice not requiring this of ourselves all the time?

    Also, a lot of her stories in the second post seem more to be about people (who happen to be feminist) being…not socially savvy. Her solution to which appears to be that the social and the feminism should not mix.

    • QoT

      That’s a really good point, jenny – women are so often expected to have reasons for things and justify their actions or choices to people (sadly, especially if they’re outspoken feminists who nevertheless choose “traditional” “feminine” things, i.e. CUPCAKES!).

    • Octavia Spitifire

      “Also, a lot of her stories in the second post seem more to be about people (who happen to be feminist) being…not socially savvy.”

      Exactly. And when has people’s not-nice comments/assumptions resulting in certain topics being off limits ever been good for a social movement? These people need to learn to watch their privilege, rather than others be made to pay for their failings.

  9. Katherine

    I agree completely with your post except for one tiny point: I do not believe that there is anyone who has ever encountered a bra in their lives that has not at some point tried to wear it as a hat. If it’s black it looks like you’re wearing Mickey Mouse ears XD

    On a more serious note, if I had a blog that encompassed feminism as well as other stuff I’d probably link your post as a disclaimer on all my cupcakes posts. :P

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