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Reposts on Feminism

6 March, 2009

I had started a new blog on feminism in January, but discovered that I simply could not add another project to my already overwhelmed life; it was difficult to let it go, but I took it offline. The blogosphere (especially those about “women’s issues”) are busily humming away and drawing my attention back to the subject.  The disagreement about who is a feminist and what we should focus on “fixing” has continued to grow, and yesterday I found an article in THE NEW AGENDA [which I truly enjoy reading] and then one at PEACOCKS AND LILIES [who I truly admire] expressing the dissent and the confusion about “feminism.” [read the comments.]  So I decided I had to jump back in – at least temporarily, and reprint two entries from my now-defunct blog. I’ll occasionally come back to this subject, but I promise not to stray from the misrepresentation by media (print and electronic) and by our government on the direction our country is headed.

Here is what I had to say at The New Agenda:

The fact that the pilot thought your friend Lynnwas a hookker says more about his view of women than about Lynn’s view of herself. Are working women only supposed to dress in loose fitting dresses, or even pants, and tie their hair in buns? Why should a girl get a baby doll but not a barbie doll? Don’t get caught up in the image argument it is a big distraction. Wear, do and be what you feel comfortable doing.

It isn’t appropriate for a male or a female to be “sexy” or “use sexuality” at work – but that is a different issue.

And here are the two posts from my now defunct blog:

In the beginning… (30 January, 2009)
…there was this itch in my brain which I obviously could not scratch; something nagging at me that I couldn’t articulate. I’d write a post for my other blog or a comment on someone’s blog, and there it was like a whisper or a faint scent that I could not identify.

Then one day I knew.

It was this word, “feminism” and its other form “feminist.” These words were included in so many discussions, so many questions that were being asked around the blogosphere, questions about women and their men, about the difference between us and them, about why they treat us as they do and why we let them treat us as they do, and about why we treat men and other women as we do? The words were like “pop-up” windows, catching my attention and quickly disappearing until finally I held the mouse down and stared at it. Then I knew; it was a question: What is feminism?

I put all my academic training to use (in other words I “googled” it) and here is what I found on my first try. Absolutely no help at all, except that it explained that nagging feeling: the word has no meaning that I can count on when I see it. I know exactly what I mean when I use the word “female” or the word “woman” and, better still, I know what you mean when you use them. I don’t know what you mean when you say “feminism” unless you give me your definition of it. Unfortunately, that means that when I take part in a discussion of “feminism,” I have to know exactly what the other parties think it means and I certainly have to know what I think it means.

The problem is that I don’t think it “means” anything anymore; it’s a mirage that takes on one shape and then disappears only to take on another shape in a different place or time. It has so many meanings it is useless for our everyday needs. I’ve spent too many years studying and teaching* linguistics and the development of language (as well as its every use as a communication tool) to see the value of a word that conveys whatever meaning its users want or sincerely believe it conveys.

So here I am and probably will be for a long time, sorting out how we got to the place where another word disappears from use because it carries too many meanings, which like that last bit of straw on the camel’s back…

I added a Google Book link to my BOOKS tab today… (4 February, 2009)
because one section of the introduction struck a chord while I was browsing. It was a discussion of Italian feminism and how it developed as a movement of “liberty” for women not “equality.” Feminists in Italy did not want to be the same as men; they wanted to be free to be women on their own terms, which among other things acknowledged their differences, but differences defined by women rather than by men. According to this way of approaching feminism, men had defined the terms by which women viewed themselves and what equality would mean in every aspect of their lives; it would be necessary, therefore, for women to discover and define their own sense of what it means to be a woman, as sexual and cultural beings – different from men not just because of our body parts, but because we are women. What that means when it is not defined vis-a-vis men opens up a whole new line of inquiry and freedom for women.

It probably seems a bit absurd to begin a discussion about feminism based on a few pages in a book I have not yet read. The reason I was drawn to the selection, however, has something to do with a discussion I had with my daughter. I had asked her what she and her friends thought about the term “feminism,” because, as I stated in my first post, I was troubled by its lack of clarity as a term that I could use to define myself. One of her friends had given her this answer the night before: Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies is a perfect example of feminism, not because she’d learned to fight and shoot but because, as a woman, she had become the best version of herself for the situation. She was still very much a woman, but when she needed to defend herself, and then her son, she had found a way to do it. As she defined the term, it is not so much about what a woman chooses to do, but that what she chooses to do is appropriate to the situation.
Obviously, my daughter’s friend does not advocate that we all learn to fight in case of an alien attack (although that might appeal to some of us), but many of her friends had the same response – they do not see themselves limited so much by another’s choice as they do by their own choices; again, will a woman become the best she can, given the circumstances? They tend to believe that they should make their own choices about how to live as a woman, rather than to have the term defined for them. That is why the passage online struck a chord. It sounded so familiar.

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