This is another one of those head-spiral posts.. another that I started originally some time ago and decided needed some exposure. I guess you could consider these my concession to the idea that my life shouldn’t have to be politicized for me to contribute to social justice.
Several months ago, I was reading blogs and came across this post from Bitch, Ph.D. and as I was reading it I kept coming back to the idea that this isn’t just stuff for a guy to do to show his girlfriend he supports her in “her feminism”. Most of the things discussed in the post aren’t about gender; they’re about basic respect for someone as a person. And while I know that at least by some definitions, that’s what the feminist movement is – respect for persons regardless of gender – taking that idea and labeling with one gender – *femin*ism – strikes me as disingenuous.
I resist being labeled a “feminist”* because I don’t think that there’s anything particularly gendered about human decency, and it rubs me the wrong way when one group tries to advocate for universal equity but then slaps a label on it to brand it as belonging to one gender (or race or creed or what have you). And I have to admit that I’ve wondered on more than one occasion about whether respect for people would increase if we stopped trying to make it about someone’s gender expression or their sexual orientation or their race or ethnicity or religion or, or, or.. Again, this ties in with the idea that if the point is equality, why should anyone have to emphasize who they are or what they’ve been through to be seen as part of the fight? Shouldn’t it be more important that they can hear and understand what others have been through, to acknowledge the injustice, and work to counter it?
*sigh* I’m tired of having who I am become a political statement. I am a person, just like every one of you. The fact of my personhood should be the end of the decision tree about how to interact with or think about me.
However, as Sociological Images illustrates so well on a daily basis (they are quickly becoming my new favorite blog), we as a society are obsessed with gender roles, with instilling them from a very young age and inundating ourselves with reinforcements of those roles at every waking moment. It’s insidious and frightening and all too often, completely overlooked. For example, the practice of using blue hats for boys and pink hats for girls in newborn nurseries may seem an innocent visual depiction of whether a child is male or female, but.. why? What does it matter what biological sex a child is if it’s in need of care or attention or love?
If it really were innocent and a matter of classification purely for the sake of sense-making (which.. well.. it isn’t.. can’t be, really) it might be a different matter. But we also go one step further and turn it into a question of power and control. Both the subliminal and direct sexualization of advertising (this one has images that may not be work-safe) are just two of the many ways in which we instill the idea that sex equals status and sex equals power. The idea that if a woman appears attractive must mean she wants to be objectified is so complicated it’s maddening – we’re raised in a society where beauty is overtly equated with success, so it’s ingrained into our heads from the very beginning that we should want at all times to be beautiful, but at the same time, in attempting to play that role, we’re portrayed as capricious, teases, or whores. And goddess forgive we may be both beautiful and intelligent.. (And no, it’s not any better being male..)
So.. to bring this back around.. I simply can’t justify the inherent contradiction in being a “feminist” when that label is used to mean equality for all. I want something better, something that doesn’t used a gendered label to try and epitomize a struggle to stop a persons gender from being used to evoke a pre-determined power structure or status hierarchy. Practice what you preach.. if it’s about recognizing the individual differences in each person and acknowledging their worth, don’t make that the province of one gender or another.
* In truth I resist being labeled at all. I understand the psychological need to be able to categorize our experiences to make sense of the otherwise completely overwhelming set of external stimuli we encounter on a daily basis, but there’s a difference between sense-making in your head and smacking someone with a label that you then use to determine how you interact with them.