Monday, June 18, 2007

The Feminist Mystique?

I was wandering around the blog-o-sphere today and stumbled across this post from mom-101 regarding that dreaded f-word, feminism. Generally speaking, I consider myself fairly shallow, or in the immortal (?) words of Glinda from Wicked, "deeply shallow." Very deeply shallow. But her post resonated with me, for a variety of reasons.

It resonates lately because I have friends who have girl children. Have you tried buying clothing for girls lately? OMG. I have two friends who do not know each other who have resorted to making clothing to keep their girls from looking like two dollar whores. Last week, at the grocery, I watched a nine-year-old girl parade around the store in hip-hugger jeans, nearly 3" high platform heels and a tight crop top that said "tease" across the chest in glitter. The same day, I was shopping in a large department store and found a baby t-shirt, in the girls department, that had a cartoon cat on it with the words "bad pussy" underneath - in the GIRLS department. We sexualize our children practically from the time that they are toddlers, inundate them with sex and images that portray a female's worth solely on the basis of her looks, glamorize violence and crime against women, and call catty bitchiness entertainment (in everything from the news to "what not to wear" - it's pervasive in the media today) and then profess shock at teenage girls' angst over their body image, and their relative inability to support one another.

So on one hand, we have the images that are seen every day of gorgeous women who appear perfectly content to spend their lives obsessing over every lettuce leaf they consume, and buying diet water for god's sake, and never having an intelligent thought in their heads as they bounce from store to store in their beemers... and on the other hand we have the stereotypical "feminist" - strident, unattractive manhaters. Yes, I know it's not every feminist, not even the majority, but there's that vocal minority... so who do you think that a girl would chose as a role model?

Let's flash back to my college days for a moment. My experience probably (hopefully) isn't typical, but it's because of that experience that I still hesitate to call myself a feminist. In college, while attending classes for my engineering degree, I worked in the school of dance, theatre and arts administration. The Theatre women (Ooh, sorry, forgot. Womyn.) were the worst of the lot by far. They wore their feminist uniform of dark, shapeless clothing and ugly shoes, shaved nothing but occasionally their heads and lounged around the school office for a great part of the day whining about how oppressed they were and quoting really bad lesbian poetry at each other. They were not activists. They weren't trying to improve anyone's situation, not even their own, really.

I, on the other hand, was struggling through classes where I was the only female and the only one not invited over to the frat house on Saturday to play football, drink beer and collectively do the homework assignments. I had one professor tell me straight to my face that he didn't believe women belonged in engineering and he was going to find a way to fail me. I aced that class through sheer grit. I was never late to a class or an "optional" study session, I spent hours on his homework assignments and never missed a single question on the tests or the quizzes - and he still gave me a "c" - I had to bring all of my classwork to the dean of the college and pitch a fit to get the grade I deserved.

I was a member of SWE (Society of Women Engineers), and we were active in the community - tutoring inner city kids, mentoring girls in the area high school and visiting other schools in the region to talk about options in technical careers.

At the same time, I went to one of the meetings for some college version of NOW and was scorned because I wear pretty shoes, paint my toenails and wear sparkly jewelry. I couldn't join their club if I wasn't willing to conform to their standards of what a woman was. I left after telling them that I felt more oppression from THEM than from most of the men I knew. (And a rant for another day is why it seems to be okay these days to portray normal heterosexual men as complete idiots. One more of those commercials where some smarmy little bitch rolls her eyes at the camera over the behavior of her man and I may toss the set through a window.)

After one particularly grueling morning in the trenches, I went for a walk at lunch. I ended up stopping at a florist's and buying myself a small bouquet of spring flowers. When I returned to my desk, I put the flowers in a vase on the corner. The professor who was the head of the little feminist gang in the department came over and wanted to know who had bought me flowers. When I told her that I'd bought them myself, she trilled on about how brave I was. *blink* Excuse me? The florist was not a particularly scary person. She meant that she felt I was brave for not giving in to "society's norms" and waiting for someone to buy me flowers. *headdesk*

So, the people who should be leading the fight to stop the spread of this disease that tells girls that they should start dieting by age 12 and that they're useless to society if they aren't a size two and that good girls (or grrls) are the ones that cheat to steal someone else's "man" and so on and so forth have been marginalized by these whackos who think that all men are the enemy, but not as much of an enemy as the women who shave their legs, wear makeup or, may the goddess have mercy on your soul, have the audacity to be happy at home with their children.

*sigh* Just my opinion...


Mom101 said...

It's interesting hearing this perspective, which is not all that unique as you know. Women like this turned a lot of other women away from what's otherwise a really great movement.

But I think it's good to keep in mind that militant feminists are only a sample--the way not all Catholics want to bomb abortion clinics, and not all steak dinners are Peter Luger's. But then, as Christian Slater once said, "the extreme always seems to make an impression."

By the way, I distinctly remember my doorman in my first post-college apartment being blown away that I bought myself flowers every week for the same reason. He thought it was so unusual. So maybe the woman who made the comment was onto something!

Good thing things have changed since then. And I'm glad you shave your armpits.

Suldog said...

"And a rant for another day is why it seems to be okay these days to portray normal heterosexual men as complete idiots. One more of those commercials where some smarmy little bitch rolls her eyes at the camera over the behavior of her man and I may toss the set through a window"

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am so glad to hear someone (not a heterosexual male) say that! You just made my day, seriously!!!

David Sullivan said...

Thank god I have boys because I would be an ogre to my girl if I had one.
There would be no makeup, no frilly dresses, no short skirts or god forbid thongs sticking out of the back of her jeans. My wife is absolutely beautiful and has only worn makeup maybe five times in her life.
Sexualization of young girls is sickening and at the rate we are going they'll be putting "stripper poles" on school playgrounds instead of swingsets.

Floridacracker said...

Very interesting post. Good for you for sticking it out against the bias of others and achieving your goals.

And yes, it does seem like the hetero male, especially the husband hetero male, is fair game for ridicule in the popular media.