Some thoughts on feminism.

Another opinion piece that’s worth a read.

There are many women in America today — liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat — who have truly earned the right to be public figures, in the same way as men. This cannot be said of Heinz Kerry… There are many women in America today — liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat — who have truly earned the right to be public figures, in the same way as men. This cannot be said of Heinz Kerry.

I mean, wow. Talk about scathing. There’s a part of me that thinks, hey, if you end up in a position to make your ideas and opinions heard, go for it. It’s easy to resent someone like Ms. Kerry: she’s rich and outspoken, and did I mention rich? But I don’t think this article is based solely on resentment. It’s also easy to fall into the hypocritical trap that “feminism” — so broad and unwieldy a term that I don’t even want to use it — so often seems to, where stereotypes about women are turned around, exaggerated, used as weapons. It smacks to me of becoming what you dislike in order to advance your cause.
Allow me to offer a more personal perspective: I attended an all-girls school for thirteen years, and nearly every assembly contained some sort of rhetoric, delivered to us by teachers and administrators who were our mothers’ age, about how women could do anything men could do and we should never let others stand in our way. But there was an enormous gap here: it had never really occurred to us that it would be otherwise, so why were these people shoving this down our throats over and over again? It seemed to me that these speeches were more likely to plant the seed of doubt than they were to inspire. Of course, the answer is that these women had dealt with sexism in ways we didn’t even understand. And while I believe that it was crucial for us to understand our place in history, I am pretty certain that our teachers had no idea how often their messages were falling on deaf ears. They failed to realize the differences between the world in which they had been raised and the world in which we were growing up.
My world did not contain boys until high school, and I learned pretty quickly that, in the classroom, they were mostly show and bullshit and hot air. In the end, I had to learn to deal with this new element on my own. If I had had a brother, or male cousins, things would have been different. Of course, the sad thing about this all is reflected not in the feel-good speeches about Women Doing Great Things of even in AAG’s stellar programs in math and science, but in the fact that, at the time, my school had no band, no science/math-related co-currricular activities, and a floundering theater program. Activities were, in the end, very girl-safe: MUN, Yearbook, Newspaper, Literary Magazine, Glee Club, Dance Workshop. And sports. I think there’s a disconnect here.
Feminism that tries to erase the differences between men and women is just plain wrong; feminism that emphasizes those differences in order to extol the “womanly virtues” seems even more dangerous to me. I loved my school, but what was really dangerous about it in retrospect was how we all felt like we were being molded into powerful women when in reality we were being shaped for studying the humanities or maybe science at nice, safe, nondescript Liberal Arts College X. (I was a weird statistical outlier.) As the author of this article says:

It’s a kind of feel-good retro-feminism that repackages old-fashioned sentimental stereotypes as feminist virtues and urges women to participate in public life as women, not as individuals. Heinz Kerry represents a similar kind of retro-feminism: She defends women’s independence from a podium where she stands because of marrying into power.

Even if you put the marrying-into-money bit aside (which has its own hypocrisy, I suppose — that’s the point, right?), it’s an important statement.


7 thoughts on “Some thoughts on feminism.

  1. Hunh! I could have sworn you had a brother … oversized, about twelve years old, about 6’2″, 232# (at that time), full of opinions and advice, pushy, solicitous, a bit nutz on the off moment; but perhaps I got it wrong, and he was just a figment of my imagination. Dagnabit! I get a lot wrong.

  2. From your linked article: “But how many people in America, in 2004, do not believe that women have a right to speak their minds? Or that women cannot be smart and well-informed?”
    I agree. Most people, both men and women believe that women have the right to speak their mind and can be smart, etc.
    What I have felt and seen though, is that very often if women show these traits, men get intimidated very quickly. I don’t mean in the elite and relatively gender ballenced college setting of MIT–I found very little sexism there, only once in a while in the shop–but in people who are engineers where 90-100% of their class was guys.
    These people who don’t have experience with smart women, aren’t used to the racket we make if we think something is wrong. Though I don’t know if I have been referred to as a “bitch” before because of that, I know that (not specifically at my place of work) women commonly are.
    That is what I thought Teresa was complaining about during her speach. When men who aren’t used to strong women first encounter them, they usually refer to them as “bitch.” Men may “believe that women have a right to speak their minds” but saying or thinking the word “bitch” when I women is being outspoken shows that they don’t practice what they preach.
    I like Teresa a lot better then Hilary. I think she is stronger, and a hell of a lot less politically motivated. She still wants to work when John is elected, and, I am sure, will. She is not a shrill (Jason likes that a lot), and I, frankly, trust her a lot more.

  3. I can’t say I’ve been following her closely, but from what I’ve seen and heard I get the sense she’s really sharp and smart, and, yes, she doesn’t seem quite like Hillary.
    And, yes, I know what you’re talking about. My rant was probably tangential, but there is this problem of a disconnect between what people believe in theory and what they practice. As it was put to me yesterday: Feminism has already attacked the big problems. The problems we face now are more subtle, more dangerous, and far more difficult to solve.

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