An article, linked below, was sent as a reply to one of my posts. I don’t think it fits, so I’ve discarded it as a response. But the article itself is interesting, and possibly a space for establishing common ground. I invite the author, Cathy Brennan, to engage with me here.
The last thing Females want to be called is “Feminist” – because that might mean “Man Hating.” That’s bad for Straight Ladies, because then someone might think them Lesbian. Even though Lesbians don’t want to couple with Males, Lesbians are “supposed” to be socially available to them and not “Man Haters.” (I know I‘ve been called “Man Hater” before!) So heaven forfend if you’re Feminist!
Yes, heaven forfend! I certainly agree that there is a great deal of feminist-baiting — and -hating! — in this culture. And, yes, Lesbians not willing to avail themselves to every man must be “man haters” in that same-old view. I love the old Lesbian duo comedy skit where some guy in the audience heckles them for being ‘man-haters.’ One of the duo stops, looks shocked then skeptical, and asks, “So *you’re* the alternative?” I love it, not because I see Lesbians as alternatives-to-the-norm, but because it bolsters the framing of Lesbianism as a logical, sensible choice. Hate? Maybe, but not always, because even that level of energy and attention to men puts other women last. Nope; ignoring the fools, and then shaming them if necessary to back them off is fine. Or, if you need a stand-in man-hater, send me. I volunteer.
I also agree that patriarchy socializes us to distrust one another. And to devalue our own. And so, yes, feminism is full of male-apologists. (There’ve been times I wanted to propose that mixed-sex conferences ostensibly about feminism have dual name tags for het couples: Her Name, and Her Name’s Nigel; I wondered if that’d get men to not dominate ‘feminist’ discussions quite so much.) And son-enablers. And men-firsters or patriarchal apologists (which is what the lines, ‘What about the men?” and “But women do it, too!” seem to mean). I agree, as a het woman, partnered, that to give energy to males beyond what is received in return is too much. Way too much. We can do an even share in this human exchange of my participation — and know my extra energy goes to women and to female children. In part because way too much extra energy is being demanded by boys and men. Way too much is given.
Because of our socialization, Females resist coming together, or even identifying, as a class. Accordingly, Females are the most dissolved, invisible ingredient in the Great American Melting Pot. We hear of White, Gay, Black, or Poor People. When discussing Poor People, nobody asks whether they are Male or Females (even though – as a class – the Poor are Female and the Rich are Male). Only when discussing Females do concern trolls come calling to ensure you discuss Poor Females, Brown Females, Vegan Females, Gay Females, and (fill in the blank) Females. That’s no coincidence. Patriarchy places these filters in front of Females to prevent us from perceiving each other as members of the same oppressed class. These obstacles destroy the need for further derails by Patriarchy because Females don’t talk to each other as members of the same class. It divides Females.
I even agree that it is important for us as women to see ourselves as a class, the sex class ‘female.’ I simply disagree on how this vision is to come about. I don’t believe that we can mandate that those we oppress just shush and join us, because we claim we’re all the same, we’re all just women. Some of us are not just women. Some of us are Lesbians, Radical Lesbians, even proud and honorable Lifetime Lesbians … and this complexity of womanness brings its own rich and textured history, its values and ideals, a depth of love for women that is boundless and without equal. To lose this in the flattened het-washing of the dominant culture would be devastating. Some of us are Latinas, with gorgeous, proud and colorful cultural traditions that we would never wish to lose, in the bland whitewashing of the dominant culture. Some of us grew up working class or working poor, and before we’d shed our directness and plain speech, our integrity, our ability to laugh at the ironies around us, and our roots in the warmth of community, we would fight to retain these proud markers of this part of our identity. To simply name us all women denies the rich tapestry of female existence we weave when we connect with one another as we are.
Actually none of us is ‘just a woman.’ We are women, individually, in a complex weave of privileges and dispriveges — lived oppressions and the lived ability to actively oppress other women. And so I concur, then, that the poor we need most to concern ourselves with are the female poor. There are poor men; there are oppressed men. And yet in most cases it is the females of the group who are overlooked. Females first: here I do agree!
And yet, is this what divides females, really? Obstacles of ‘difference’ thrown down by patriarchy? Isn’t it actually done by other women — isn’t it the insistence that we ignore the characteristics that mark us as different from class-privileged, white, het, moneyed, college-educated, comfortably “normal” women? Isn’t it the expectation that we will behave by their standards, speak and write and negotiate by their standards, and meet their standards in our appearance as well, when we are together? Isn’t it the expectation that we wish to be like them, that we could, if only we tried appropriately hard, be just as awesome as they are? And isn’t it the expectation that the issues of multiply-oppressed women are not really women’s issues, unless they also impact white, privileged women?
So why the need to demean us with the label “concern trolls”? We are your sisters; we’re not trolls, and connection, building community, is a hallmark of women’s ways of being. Concern is not a bad thing.
Cathy, I don’t feel arrogance from you in this writing. But I would say that this is the cost to those parts of my identity not privileged, when I buy into this argument: I find arrogance and entitlement and abuse, put-downs and dismissals. I am not welcomed in as ‘female-and-whole’ but rather as ‘female — conditional (and please try to speak unemotionally, and please dress conservatively so as not to offend the more middle-of-the-road women we seek as members).’ I can be a movement workhorse, I can be passionate and full of activist joy; I can be persistent and persuasive. What I cannot be is anything other than my whole, complicated self. I’m not ‘female-but-‘ … as in ‘female-but-working-class.’ I am ‘female-AND-working-class,’ and in being so, I think I bring a depth to feminist perspectives that is lacking without this ‘difference.’ It is certainly lacking in welcome for women like me! Ditto for feminists who are also Black, also Latina, also Lesbian, and so on: we are oppressed as women, yes, but our oppression is not at all identical to women who are not-Black, or not-Latina, or not-Lesbian or any combination of these and others, legitimate others.
I don’t feel arrogance from you, but rather a longing for a strong sisterhood, a feminism united and moving forward. I share this longing. I agree that this is a noble goal. I even agree that identity groups are more safety-ensuring than change-making. In the long run. But don’t we need to ask ourselves why women who are marginalized still form into identity groups first, and repeatedly? Don’t we have an obligation toward creating safety before we demand coalition? And it’s in the long run — forever forward — that I want radical feminism to endure, to thrive. The only way I see to get to there is to build comfort enough here so that we can build that coalition, and move us — together, equal, and as we are, whole — forward. We still retain our full identities — and we can work together within an atmosphere of acceptance of these differences. I cannot see a future for feminism unless we honor each woman as the whole, wondrous being that she is.