Friday, August 26, 2011

on *deep breath* feminism

[Your healthy dose of "I'm an idiot, don't take my opinion too seriously" disclaimer has officially been administered]

ah, yes. I've always tried to avoid speaking on this subject publicly (I've talked about it a bit in private, with family and friends). While I was still in school, I had to take more classes on feminism than I'd cared to (let me finish). I was a liberal arts major who always registered late, and on more than one occasion after most classes filled up, the ones that were left had feminism as their themes. Some of those classes wound up being interesting and some ... did not. I felt some of the texts were too aggressive or anti-male in making their points (the teachers' interpretations varied), which made me want to raise my hand, but I couldn't. Put simply, trying to disagree with a pro-feminism lecture is a huge gamble that, if not executed properly, just makes you look evil. So most times the best option is to just keep your mouth shut. Out of school now, I have a bit more freedom to say what's on my mind (strangely), though people invariably disagree occasionally. On the other hand, this has been a pretty slow article month, and while I was playing Tomb Raider Underworld this was one of the more interesting things to pop into my head as I engaged in the zen of digital rock climbing.

Big, voluptuous rock climbing

Let me back up. I should have said earlier that I have no negative feelings or notions of gender-based superiority toward the female population, if only to clarify. I'm not a misogynist but think it's hilarious to sometimes joke as if I am one. If my sister is trying lift a box and asks for help, I might in some cases joke about how she had to ask a guy for help. I'm not truly making fun of her; my tone will clearly indicate that it's because I see an opportunity for a joke, period, and the joke itself is on stereotypes. It's also context-sensitive; she already knows I'm an idiot, and we exchange those kinds of jokes all the time. I certainly wouldn't make that joke around, say, a co-worker. I'm the type of person who looks at both genders (and everyone in between) as equally capable. I believe in gender roles by a magnitude of practically zero, and am fine with people who do and don't. So, if my attitude toward this sort of thing is "whatever", what's the big problem I had with some of these classes? Let's get to it.

One of the classes I mentioned before was on romance novels. My teacher was a fairly young woman who declared, as part of her introduction to us, that she was a feminist. It struck me a bit that she'd include a socio-political-whatever descriptor as part of introducing herself, but she did link it to the course; most of the texts she'd selected for the course would revolve around feminism. My snarky Cliffs Notes versions of these stories are as follows: Man impregnates woman and kidnaps her, Man doesn't excite his wife so she cheats on him, and Man keeps his mentally ill wife chained up in the attic. I didn't think men were given a fair shake in those texts is what I'm saying.

I would love (love) to see true gender equality some day. It is both true and shameful that women make 75% of what men do, and there are an almost infinite number of other, similar problems that need fixing if equality is ever going to happen. What bothers me is that I feel like some kinds of feminism and feminists are making the problem worse, and are (worse still) bugging me in the process. I feel like the best way to start fixing this problem is to get a constructive dialogue going, not to simply blame men for everything. It's not like I think the balls swinging between my legs make me anything special, so I don't really see how a vagina should do the same.

To be fair, a lot of the ideas I heard in other classes were good. I took a philosophy class with the same theme, and got way more out of it. We talked about how women who get divorced are really at a disadvantage compared to men (child birth causes more women to become stay at home parents, who lose their job skills in the process), or how lapel microphones are not designed to fit womens' clothing. So, if you're looking, you can kind of see that the world as we know it has been designed and built for men by men. That's good stuff; it's critical in a fair way, and we got some decent discussions going as far as what should be done, because at this point it's not as "simple" as rallying for the right to vote. We're there now, and the problem is still here. Acting on it now requires "microsolutions" and a lot of reasoning and small decisions about things like quantifying biases, and this class gave those matters real thought. Then I had other classes like the romance one. There wasn't much of a point beyond this:

No constructive dialogue, no interesting perspective, and frankly no compelling ideas. I have my own writing style (it's a wonderful method I invented called "being a shitty writer"), and it showed up in my academic essays along with the formalities of essay writing; I got a good mix going and it served me well enough every class I had. The teacher here gave me Cs or Ds on the essays that I wrote in this style. At the end of the class, fearing for my grade, I wrote an effortless female-sympathetic piece that you would expect someone like her to like, and she loved it. I got an A or B (I don't remember; I only kept my own digital copies, not the graded ones). I tried hard on the other essays I wrote for her but always had wound up disagreeing with her views. The half-ass but agreed-with-her essay won out easy. So it was clear that this woman wasn't interested in hearing what I actually thought; she just wanted to hear what she wanted to hear. I can say that the essay I gave her was poorer than the rest, it was just on a topic she wanted to hear about. Her mind was made up, basically. Man bad, woman good. And it is this kind of argumentative style that takes the whole push for equality a step back.

Comic relief!

People like this might have good intentions. They probably just want what I described eariler: True equality. Problem is you can't hope to achieve that by drawing a deeper line in the sand. I understand that you've been treated less than poorly in the past, but like any decent push back against inequality, you can't pull any punches. You can't encourage "Us vs Them" and expect it to take you anywhere. I could tolerate Jane Eyre pretty well, but stories like The Awakening are just ... not good. The woman in the story has a good husband, but wakes up one day to find a magic tickle between her legs and we're supposed to accept her as a hero for cheating on him. And that's not just me talking. I had a much more insightful teacher later on who, incidentally, mentioned that she (she) hated that book. She brought us some material that achieved the same end of portraying women in a positive light and also made some feminist points (women don't need men to be happy, women are as capable as men, etc) without making me feel like a dick just for having a dick. They were genuinely good media and I liked them.

There are modern examples that do this too. Aliens, Terminator, Kill Bill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Men, House of Flying Daggers, Zombieland, Dogma, and Firefly (and that's just what's physically in front of me on my shelf) all not only treat women as equals but empower them in a way that The Awakening could not hope to. And you know what? I never gave it a second thought. To me, I was watching movies about badass people not badass men or women. And somehow that tells me that theyre the ones doing it right. I think media is a good place to start if the problem is now just as social as it is legal. Even if you tie up every legal end, it's worth nothing unless people change, and you'd be surprised how much people follow examples. If our media  is gender-blind, it can at least help. If it's not, and if female-sympathetic media is lazy and content to just say "men suck, that's the problem every time" then it will just make things worse; it will cause resentment from men (including the ones who want to help) and take us all a step backward.

Media that aims to help needs to first come to terms with the idea of talking to people, not just men and women. And you can create media that directly brings up the issues that women have to deal with (as blunt as saying "the system is against women") whilst maintaining artistic integrity and class. Case point: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. The 3rd in the Girl trilogy, it's the one that combats those kind of legal and social issues most directly (The first one tackles rape, the second is a Bourne clone) an it did not suck. Behold.

[Edit: This is where a clip from Hornet's Nest used to be. It was thought-provoking and well-paced and I thought it helped illustrate what I had written. It's since been removed from YouTube, so here's a clip of Uma Thurman killing 88 gangsters]

 That's how it's done. It's an important issue, and it needs to be discussed, but jeemenie chreemenie show some class. I want equality just like everyone else. What really bothers me is watching the disadvantaged side make its own struggle harder, and then blame someone else for it.

Oh and Matt Hayes has nine toes. Matt, if you make no challenge to this claim's validity, agree with me when you comment on my piece


  1. Completely agree, brilliant piece mate

  2. Wow. I'm impresssed by your understanding and empathy for women. But God made us the weaker sex for many reasons. That's why our "junk" is on the inside! Men have it tough as well. Responsibility for the family, lifting heavy shit, knowing how cars work, and heaven forbid he can't "get it up"! Everyone has a reason to complain about something. Instead we should ALL help us ALL out every chance we get. Were HUMAN. That makes us all the same!

    This was great to stmble upon Jer. What else you got?



Can't find it?