Part 1 of this post was published yesterday. Check it out, ’cause it’ll probably make this post make more sense.
3. A life lived in stress is a life half-lived
Let’s assume, for this section, that one completely rejects the notion of “reclaiming” or “subverting” patriarchal norms, that all sexiness is collaboration and all nail polish is Giving Aid And Comfort To The Enemy.
It is pretty fucking difficult spending all one’s time enraged at the strictures and oppressiveness of kyriarchy. It is pretty fucking stressful, at least for me and I have no doubt for others as well, to be constantly analysing my every thought and preference and decision against the context of social narratives.
Do I like these shoes just because patriarchy says I have to look pretty for men? Do I enjoy Game of Thrones just because I’m presented with no other options in terms of racist, sexist medieval fantasy tropes? (I’m going to come back to this shortly …) And let’s not even start on my sexual preferences.
I like a lot of things that are problematic. I dress in a way which is very patriarchy-approved, albeit in a fat body so I can’t really win there (I’m either wrong for daring to look conventionally-sexy while fat, or I’m wrong if I stop trying to l0ok conventionally sexy despite being fat). I enjoy medieval fantasy, the Saw films, corsetry, etc etc. I know these things are problematic, and I know that a lot of the reason I like these things is due to being raised in a white, Western, patriarchal society.
(There’s a hell of a lot of other contributing factors, but let’s not let the complexity of human existence get in the way of judging people now.)
But, and here’s where y’all can start selectively clipping quotes to back up your stereotypes of a “choice feminist”, I still like those things.
I still like those things despite being aware they’re problematic, despite knowing that a lot of my choice is not fully of my own free will. Because none of us are making choices of our own free will.
Put it this way: if you’re a radical feminist who hates society’s treatment of women as a sex class and never wears high heels? In a world where patriarchy completely desexualised women and demanded they be entirely unnoticeable, $5 says you’d be breaking out the mascara and fishnets.
Mascara is not, in of itself, patriarchal. Our ingrained responses to it are.
Here’s my main point: I choose to not fight against every single patriarchy-approved preference in my head. I choose to prioritise other things to spend my mental energy on.
I understand how my conforming choices can benefit me, can make my life easier, can allow me to pass under the radar in some aspects of my life.
I acknowledge that it’s utterly shitty that our society demands such choices of us and rewards us for going along.
But my mental energy is my own to spend. My stress is my own to decrease or increase. And if I choose a type of activism which isn’t about standing as a personal refutation of patriarchy, if I choose to balance up the number of areas where I will challenge my programming and decide that I can’t live a full and happy life worrying about every last little thing I do … that’s how I will survive. That’s how I will make the best fight I can of this, and achieve a hell of a lot more than if I worry myself into a death-spiral of self-criticism.
And you can fuck right off judging me for that. You can fuck right off dictating that I put stress and pressure on myself to conform to Real Feminist Approved non-conformity. It’s simultaneously tragic and fucking hilarious.
4. Guess what, conforming doesn’t make life easier
Because, and this might be a slightly off-the-wall idea, we live in a patriarchy. So as women, we’re already the lesser, the other, the object. (Extend to kyriarchy and other oppressed identities as necessary.)
So even if we pucker up and make up and dress up, we’ll still be at the bottom. Even if we’re given a modicum of influence/status (see every painfully poorly written article of the past year entitled something like Why I’m A Smart Enough Girl To Reject Silly Feminism And Love Men), there’s still no getting around the fact that we only hold influence/status by the grace of The Man. And that can be taken away with the merest flick of a Leaked Nude Photos magic wand.
Conforming does grease the rails. And for those of us who can conform (remember, the majority of women are never going to be equally considered sexy or attractive or permitted a little autonomy as the most privileged, white/cis/hetero class) things get a lot less stressful. Bully for us. It’s still patriarchy, it still dumps on all of us (though, yes, less so on some than others.)
Sure, choices aren’t feminist just because a woman chooses them. The act of choosing isn’t inherently feminist and isn’t distinct and exclusive of kyriarchal programming.
But. Hate the game, not the player. Kyriarchy/patriarchy puts us in these positions and gives us these non-choices and labels all our actions in line with its own priorities. And it’s pretty much just massively uncool to take a superior attitude and judge individual women who for all you know are navigating life as best they can in the face of massive pressures to conform.
Even when – no, especially when these “choices” aren’t just about lipstick and heels, when we’re talking about sex-selective abortion or surname-changing or participating in sex work, how fucking cruel do you have to be to tell a person, “you have to suck it up and take whatever violence or deprivation is going to be thrown at you, it’s your job to represent our entire struggle against [insert problem here] because choosing anything else is UnFeminist”?
Fight sexism. Fight discrimination. Fight the norms and standards and assumptions. Don’t fight the people who you’re presuming to defend, and try not to act too fucking smug about how much better you are than the rest of us.
Related reading: amandaw at FWD/Forward.
This post got a little long, so tune in tomorrow for part 2, in which I reserve the right to manage my own spoons, we note that a life conforming ain’t perfect either, and I get to the point. Kinda.
I always end up describing the concept of “choice feminism” to other people in two ways: if someone’s using it as a serious term they probably mean some variation on “people who pretend every choice they make is feminist because they make it.” If it’s me arguing against that idea, it’s “let’s stop shitting on other women from orbit just so we can prove that not shaving our legs makes us Superior Patriarchy-Fighting Machines.”
Because no choice is perfect in a society which narrates and interprets our actions against an evil spirit level of power dynamics and biological essentialism. We can never win; all our choices are, on some level, wrong because we are women making them in a patriarchal society.
Wearing high heels? You’re just superficial and obsessed with shoes, like a woman (and sucking up to the patriarchy to boot) (and are probably stupid because omg who would ever like shoes which hurt your feet unless they were brainwashed???) Wearing “sensible” shoes? Prepare to be marked down as a dyke, as a square, as “not well-presented”, and all the attendant harassment and employment discrimination that comes along with it.
And that’s one of the most trivial examples (albeit one which I, as a very-privileged heel-wearer, take a little to heart).
What the anti-“choice feminist” people want to say, though, is that my wearing of high heels might be fine and dandy, oh, they might be magnanimous enough to tolerate my collaborator’s footwear, but don’t I dare claim that wearing high heels is a feminist action.
Because you know, I do that all the time.
And of course I’d better be okay with being called “stupid”, and I’d better be okay with people questioning my feminist credentials because I’m obviously too selfish/superficial to understand that High Heels Are Tools Of The Man.
To me, this is not only demeaning, and a tad misogynist, it’s also a refusal to even consider that the spectrum of our actions and choices is a bit more extensive than (a) Conforms to patriarchal standards ergo Is Bad vs (b) Doesn’t conform to mainstream patriarchal standards ergo Is Good.
So, a couple of points about why I’m frankly just fine with the label “choice feminist”.
1. Patriarchal standards aren’t uniform.
Sure, high heels are a great go-to for Things Approved Of By Patriarchy. If the only role women were ever forced into was that of “sex kitten”.
But there’s also “mother” or “teacher” or “nurse” – the unsexy woman held up for her Nurturing Qualities, her understanding of Her Place, her utter lack of autonomy and an identity focused entirely on being a helpmeet to others.
Betcha she wears “sensible shoes”.
This is one of the ways patriarchy gets us coming and going (well, not usually coming, boom boom!). There isn’t a perfect choice, even if your one goal in life is to conform (a goal which, I’m going to address later, does not actually make you an evil person.)
2. That whole “reclaiming” thing
People can, and do, do things which are surface-level conforming, yet present a challenge to kyriarchy/patriarchy.
It is a challenge to conventional beauty standards when a fat person dares to dress, and act, like a sexually-aware being. It is a challenge to people’s assumptions when a woman changes her name after marriage – and lets them know it’s only because she has no emotional connection to her “maiden” name. It is a challenge if a sex worker chooses to call herself a whore.
A lot of people take issue with the notion of reclaiming. I simply submit that shaking up the assumptions of others and causing them to rethink their immediate impressions of things is a form of activism in itself.
Part 2’s up tomorrow. Tune in then, or comment now, as you like.
1. Jordan Carter and Scott Yorke both post about Trevor Mallard’s historic “Tinkerbell” comments, targeting Stephen Wittington, ACT candidate, and David Farrar, National pollster, for raising said comments following the announcement of Labour’s policy on same-sex adoption.
2. Apparently neither Jordan nor Scott read No Right Turn, which is a shame. Or it might have just got in the way of the “this is a nasty rightwing plot against us” meme.
3. Jordan thinks the big issue is that we must be very clear that Trevor Mallard isn’t a homophobe. He just says homophobic things, which is … better, and also completely different.
4. Scott thinks the big issue is that National are full of homophobes anyway so stop paying attention to Labour’s. I am possibly coincidentally reminded of when a few of the secondary school teachers in my family pondered voting National in the early 00s, on the basis that “at least we expect to get fucked over under National”.
Moral of the story? Firstly, as I said on Jordan’s blog, in a country with NZ’s suicide rate amongst queer youth, I have no time for “but just saying a homophobic thing doesn’t make a person A Homophobe” hair-splitting.
Secondly, when an outspoken, openly gay MP like Grant Robertson is reduced to saying of a senior MP, and of a homophobic attack against one of his colleagues, “It’s a silly statement“, when you’ve already had another MP’s homophobia defended because Oh Well Those West Coast Rednecks Will Like It, when it takes two fucking years for someone to admit calling a gay man “Tinkerbell” was “probably unfortunate” but oh, oh, he’s totally not homophobic? I feel quite happy assuming Labour has a serious problem with homophobia.
Alternatively, I suppose one could argue that it’s just a context-free political ploy to unsettle Finlayson, they would’ve called him Four-Eyes if he weren’t gay … but if you’re seriously happy with your political party playing off other people’s homophobia and a culture of queer-bashing for their own gain and still want to defend them, hey, you go right ahead, I’ll be over here with the people who have basic ethics.
And yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees, Scott, National are probably 1,367 times as homophobic as Labour so why am I trying to destroy the Left again??????? But you know what, when it comes to the left, I expect more.
As a friend tweeted, remember the time I got trashed because abortion was a dead issue and no one really cared about it and our laws weren’t going to change any time soon so why didn’t I get back into the kitchen where I belonged?
Now it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Judith Collins thinks young pregnant people’s wishes are less important than enforcing their parents’ ownership rights, given her support of similar provisions during the 2004 Care of Children bill debate, nor that a finance minister of Catholic faith agrees.
But I have to give props to Dr Paul Hutchison for acknowledging, even in the most tempered terms, that this isn’t actually an automatic-moral-outrage issue:
We have to tread lightly, doing everything possible to have the parents involved. But having worked in places like National Women’s, where I saw women who had been beaten by their families because of an unknown pregnancy, that’s why the law is there
The alternative proposed, that young pregnant people should be able to see a judge in chambers within 24 hours, sounds fine and fucking dandy if you’ve got privilege shining out your ass. What if the judge is an asshat and agrees with Collins and English that you should be forced to tell your parents unless you have written documentation to establish they’ll beat you? What if the judge is a douchewad who believes in bullshit ideas like only “forcible” rape really counting?? What if you live in godforsaken Gore and the only judge willing to do teen abortion decisions is in fucking Rangiora but will only see you on a Wednesday? (Oh look, I’m drawing on the actual current abortion situation for some pregnant people). What if your abusive parents demand to know where you’ve been? I’m sure they’d react really well because obviously teenagers only refuse to tell their parents because they’re just “mental“.
What if we pass this retrograde bullshit and within two weeks the Sunday Star Fucktimes decides to run another panic-mongering article about School Counsellors Arranging Secret Judge Visits?
Because what this issue comes down to is some parents thinking they have every right to control every moment of their children’s lives. The specific current story is about a parent who did find out and insists she would have been totally supportive of her child getting an abortion, but is outraged because she didn’t get to find out before the fact and because she didn’t get to exercise control in granting that “support”.
It is not about health. It is not about supporting teenagers through a difficult time. It is about control. Scary, patriarchal control.
And Sunday Star-Times? Hire a fucking journalist with some basic ethics and numeracy, would you? Because that shit scare-statistic at the bottom about How Many Teens Had Abortions!!! would be a lot less damaging to your rep as a publication with integrity if you noted that all the abortions performed on over-16-year-olds wouldn’t require parental consent under this shit law anyway.
Of course it would also make the Big Scary Number a lot smaller, and that would ruin the panic-mongering, wouldn’t it?
More awesome rage from Boganette.
It’s okay, ladies, we can stop now.
We can put down our keyboards and go back to our kitchens, tie a picture-perfect bow in our polka-dot pinnies, and get to baking some cookies to reward a man who truly deserves them.
You see, we were wrong about Chris Trotter.
He’s a deep, sensitive man with a luxuriant moustache that we are too silly to admire properly. His boner, I have heard tell, is of tremendous proportions as befits a noble, wide-stanced member of the sainted dinosauria.
He wrote us a song, you see. Before many of we poor ignorant “confident young women” were even born, he wrote us a song about how much his feelings are actually the most important thing to focus on when we fight (in an appropriately timid fashion) for the right to control our fertility.
On a grey afternoon,
In an old waiting-room
He said: “In this circumstance
She’s a fifty-fifty chance.”
On a grey afternoon.
And I don’t know how she feels.
And I can’t know how she feels.
But I want her to know
That I feel for her, oh
I want her to know that I feel.
What Chris Trotter wants us all to know, comradettes, is that he and his verdant moustache care about us.
Isn’t that enough, really?
But it’s not enough for Chris. Saintly, magnanimous, divine-manhood-bearing idol that he is, he has also taken precious time out of his grooming schedule to write up a history of abortion reform in New Zealand. Truly, consider what we might have done, sistren, without this great service. Surely it is not becoming a lady to access the unfettered “Google” and subject herself to all manner of strange, thought-provoking search results in a selfish, egomaniacal quest to Educate Herself.
We never need educate ourselves so long as Chris, moustache at his side, is there to tell us about the history of a movement we fancy to call “ours”.
Do you think his great work ends there?
No, gentle acolytes. Chris also lets us know exactly how things stand right now – praise him! For without such cogent analysis to hand some of our number may have had to sacrifice dignity, self-respect, and honour by straying out of our father’s or husband’s doors to explore the World Outside for ourselves, to sully our soft, pale hands with the filth and degradation of Modern Politics.
Yet still he is not satisfied in his quest to make sweet, romantic intellectual love to our brains. He gives us the way forward, as only an artistic yet acutely-honed political mind can.
Yes, my sisters. We must focus group. We must conduct market research, for so it has always been done when people alienated from the means of production and denied their fair share of the nation’s wealth desire to learn more about what they themselves are thinking. Following in the footsteps of Kate Sheppard, we shall employ public relations consultants to tell us what to do.
But not yet, neonates. No, now is not the time, for it would go against the timetable laid out for us by the tragically unbearded Messiah before us. We must wait. I know there are those of you out there, you foul-mouthed and uncouth so-called “women” who may cry “What convenience, comrade, that you insist our revolution wait until after this coming, perhaps pivotal, election!”
I do wish you would not say “revolution”, my pitiable ones. It is not seemly.
I merely beseech you. Look to the moustache. It could not lead us astray, for truly, above all else, it wants us to know that it has a lot of feelings.