Monday, January 21, 2019

The city walls of feminism

We need the word "feminism" back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist — and only 42 percent of British women — I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of "liberation for women" is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? "Vogue," by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF SURVEY?
I feel somewhat conflicted about How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran. There are several things in it I don't agree with or can't relate to; yet, I am recommending this book to a lot of people because it is highly readable. It's light, without making light. And it's angry-making too, shedding light on all sorts of ways patriarchy insidiously stains my life.

I know several smart women who hesitate to call themselves feminists, and I really want that to change.

Moran tackles — with varying degrees of depth and seriousness — puberty, body hair, body image, pornography, workplace sexism, love, sex workers, marriage, the fashion industry, motherhood, abortion, and Lady Gaga.

It's all framed chronologically, autobiographically, according to how Moran encountered these issues in her own life. So it doesn't take long to realize that, even while she speaks in generalizations, however gingerly and with some disclaimers, she is describing a very singular experience. That is, Moran's relationship to her own breasts is different than mine, because we have very different breasts. The decision whether to have children or not, whether to have an abortion or not, is a highly personal one, and Moran cannot speak for all women. To be fair, Moran makes no such claim, but the more personal her writing is (and therefore more narratively compelling), ironically the more alienating it may be to readers and thus more divisive in the realm of what does it mean to be a feminist anyway and why should feminism address Moran's first-world problems when in developing countries "real" political and social change is still so far away.

Moran has some interesting things to say about hardcore 21st-century pornography and its availability. Porn constitutes a large part of our sex education, informing our understanding of the mechanics of sex but also our imagination. So it's problematic when "the vast majority of the porn out there is as identikit and mechanical as refrigerators rolling off a production line," and there's no joy in it, so little joy for women, where is the joy in pornography!?

Moran observes that overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and thus primarily of women. "It's a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to," and "slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone."

I like how Moran shows the economic impacts of patriarchy, in everyday terms, to drive home the unfairness of it all, how women spend fortunes over a lifetime on tampons and waxing and reproductive care and ridiculous underwear.

Moran makes Lady Gaga sound like our redemption, I want to listen and dance and learn more and change the world.
Any action a woman engages in from a spirit of joy, and within a similarly safe and joyous environment, falls within the city walls of feminism. A girl has a right to dance how she wants, when her favorite record comes on.
I'm torn about sharing this video clip, because it's not particularly funny (I mean, it's somewhat funny, but not OMG-I-have-to-share-this funny) and it's not entirely representative of the book and you may get the sense that it's dismissive of "serious" feminist issues, but it gives a taste of how feminism is part of the day-to-day and should not be restricted to the purview of angry academics.

Say it with me now: "I am a strident feminist."

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