The culture I'm in sets up feminism as poison ivy in rose petals. Many culture spigots idealize women as sex objects or figures with endless compassion and capacities to nurture. Feminism cuts through these thick expectations for females. Feminists set a mirror to current and past social actions, and they require justice for all regardless of age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender. Still, someone alluded to me as feminist a few months ago, and I bristled. I avoided calling myself a feminist. In fact, I first started this post by typing, "I struggle with whether to self-identify as a feminist." I didn't want people to think of me as an overbearing tyrant -- a caricature that I privately associated with feminist. Sigh. I am a part of this culture, and I view the culture as flawed. I see my own flaws, too. I see how I value the truth and being honest about who I am, and I see how I shy from the adjective feminist even as it's accurate. I'm feminist. I hesitate to say it, and that's understandable when you take into account the culture and role models with which I developed. It's important to voice choice regardless of hesitation.
I'm reading a book that illustrates how the mass media frames feminism as outdated and air sexist and racist perspectives characterized as acceptable. In The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild, Susan J. Douglas presents an analysis of news and entertainment media and juxtaposes it with statistics and facts about the states of affairs for women and ethnic minorities. She writes about common threads in prime time and late-night television in the late 1990s and early 2000s: setting up feminism as a joke, something irrelevant and drab.
Young women were not supposed to identify with feminism; instead they were supposed to actively dis-identify with it" (p. 103).
Reading her book, I'm reminded of many times in my life when I've heard the messages she describes -- from friends, coworkers, family members, other females, myself. The ideas are so engrained that they sometimes flow through minds and out of lips without pause. For instance, I once believed in self-sacrifice as the epitome of virtue. Was this because I saw my role as female to serve others? Perhaps. A message I received from my primary female role model: Children are a mother's greatest burden. A message I received from another female role model: Men are the head of the family, women are supposed to listen to the man. I took the self-sacrifice virtue and I ran with it. I ran right into situations that allowed abuse. I accepted situations that allowed abuse because I didn't understand that the situations were hurting me. I didn't understand how to identify my own hurt. I had ideas engrained in my brain that allowed other people to manipulate and abuse me, and I thought I was doing the best thing for myself.
I remember once wondering how I could carry on a conversation with multiple people. At that time, I felt a lot of anxiety when I met with a group of people, and I grasped at subjects in my mind. I thought a lot of thoughts, and I struggled with how to connect them. It took (takes!) time, practice, and confidence to figure out how to phrase ideas. In my family, we interacted with primarily nonverbal or aggressive messages regarding behavior and expectations. I developed into a young adult prepared to spar with an armor of knowledge and ideals, and I didn't know how to talk through a conflict or reach resolutions in which all parties benefited. I knew primarily how to do my own thing or acquiesce and talk myself into being OK with my decision to think the way the other person thought. I'm glad I kept learning about different ways to look at life. I'm glad women like Susan J. Douglas voice their opinions and offer facts and a cohesive thought process through which I can read. I like her writing style. As she details irony and unfairness, she doses with wit.
Despite the many boy bands, who successfully sold androgyny and an imagined sympathy between boys and girls, there was also a growing sense in these years that men and women have a basic, innate essence that is utterly distinct and unchangeable. Well, except that men can't and won't change, so women must accept this and accommodate to it -- another building block of enlightened sexism. This throwback credo was most effectively popularized in the 1992 book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray of Uranus" (p. 105).
I laughed out loud at the bit about Uranus. So dry! What a great way to make her point. I think my primary female role model had that book on her bookshelf. She also once quoted Dr. Laura to me. Gah. Still, I make her a part of my life in the ways that I am able. Feminist theories opened my mind to perspectives that differed from those in my family and culture of origin. I'd like to meet more people who practice with justice, equality, and respect as their foci.
Well hello there.