The Budding of a Feminist

16Dec09
So I’ve been reading Fugitivus, a brilliant blog by a woman who writes under the pen name Harriet Jacobs (in honor of this woman, the author of the autobiographical Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl).  Most of the entries I’ve been reading are about feminism, misogyny, and the abuse of women.  And I agree with every word I have read so far.  And it has been making me think.

I have been questioning the things that we consider acceptable in our society.  The things that, even if they offend us deep down, we train ourselves not to mind (because really, we should stop being so bitchy and lighten up).  The things that we have been taught to accept, even though accepting them is wrong.  And, perhaps most importantly, the way that we have been trained to act.

A great deal of this is illustrated in this entry.  To break it down, the entry pretty much states that women are taught behaviors that are submissive.  The examples she gives are as follows (and man, have I been taught this behavior):

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)
She goes on to illustrate the double-standard this creates when women are dealing with cases of abuse.  We are taught to act this way in all of our interactions, but expected to know to break all of these rules in an abusive situation.  And women are often blamed for what happens to them because they did not react vehemently enough.  “She didn’t try to fight him off.”  “If she really didn’t want it to happen, she would have screamed.”

I have seen this in so many people that I know.  And before I would look at it with slight disbelief, and employ the INPUWT device.  Because, despite the fact that I am subdued and follow all the guidelines in most situations, there are some aspects of my life in which I absolutely do not put up with any shit (mostly in the dating realm).  I’ve seen too much abuse to put up with much from men I am interested in romantically.  This does not mean that I expect them to be perfect.  It does mean that I expect them to respect me, to stop doing something if I tell them no (and by this I mean doing something to me, or doing something that they know offends me), and to not try to push me to do something I don’t want to do.  And I’ve hidden behind this part of myself, I’ve encouraged myself to think that if only other women did this, they wouldn’t be abused.  But it’s bullshit.  The behavior of the women is not the problem.  The problem is the behavior of those who abuse them, and by saying (with that tone of self-satisfied arrogance) that I’d never put up with that, I’m putting the blame on the victim.  I am encouraging other people to do the same.  And fuck me, have I been wrong to do so.

I’ve also been considering the things I brush off for the sake of not seeming bitchy.  Things like using the words “gay” and “fag” as derogatory terms in regular conversation.  Like “This game is gay.”  “You’re such a fag.”  Shouldn’t I be making a stand about this?  Because I cringe every time I hear it, but I never say anything.  Why?  Because it would be considered bitchy to do so.
And what about the way I handle guys whom I do not find attractive coming onto me?  I try to be as gracious as possible.  I try to gently give signals that I’m not interested.  I try to detach myself without seeming offensive.  I smile, and pretend I am flattered by the advances.  Quite often, I should instead be saying “Dude, you’re in my personal space, I don’t appreciate the kind of attention you’re giving me, and I would really like if you stopped considering me an unreal being that you might be able to take home with you, and instead as a normal human being with whom you can perhaps make a connection and form a friendship.”  But I don’t.  Because that behavior is bitchy, right?  Yes, but more than that…it’s both because that behavior is considered bitchy, and because I have learned that to say something like that will quite often place me in a hostile environment.  And I don’t want that.  And so I deal with my discomfort, because the alternatives are to be considered a bitch, to have someone become hostile toward me, or perhaps both.

Actually, let me elaborate a little more on this.  Many men that I know pursue girls for some type of sexual relationship, and nothing else.  This is SO. VERY. WRONG.  If you truly like a girl, you will want to be friends with her even if you can’t have a romantic relationship with her.  Guys who swear up and down that they like a girl as a person, but then drop all signs of friendship once they learn she isn’t romantically available, are dicks.  Plain and simple.  If I pursue a guy for dating, and he isn’t interested, I still want to be friends with him.  If he’s spending time with me, and expresses interest that I have to deflect, I still want to be friends.  If I have dated him, and decide that the relationship isn’t working out, in most cases I want to be friends (and if I don’t, I won’t say I do).  This isn’t a line girls just use when they are trying to let a guy down gently.  Obviously, there is a reason I spent time with you.  Perhaps you aren’t what I’m looking for in a romantic partner, but I DO still want to be friends with you.  Because I wasn’t spending time with you just to get in your pants.  I actually LIKED you.  As a person.  For who you are.  Sheesh.

And then there are things like this:

The problem isn’t just commercials that place all women in a little, shallow box (women must only want shoes and enough space to store them, right?).  It’s in movies.  In television.  Every single fucking movie in which the female characters are blithering helpless idiots.  Every television show where every wife is nagging and unreasonable.  Every video game (and you know how I love my video games) in which male characters are portrayed as normal human beings, but all female characters must be flawless, large-busted sex kittens in skimpy clothing.  Shit, it’s even more than that.  It’s every movie in which the male leads are allowed to be flawed, normal looking men, but the female leads must be beautiful and thin (The King of Queens is a particularly good example of this, but it’s pretty prevalent in media).  It’s every movie in which a woman is portrayed as crazy for being jealous over her husband or boyfriend.  It even extends to every movie or tv show in which the woman in the relationship is portrayed as doing all the “feminine” activities (cooking, cleaning, etc.)–or, sometimes even worse, when the fact that a man taking up this role is portrayed as a big deal.
This rant is long enough, but I expect I will be returning to this issue in the future.  In the meantime, read Harriet’s blog.  Learn some things.  Question yourself and your society.
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