Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ruining It For the Rest of Us

These are my new shoes. They're surprisingly comfortable. By which I mean, they're more comfortable than they look. I thought I wouldn't be able to walk in them, but I can, and easily. But let's be clear. Surprisingly comfortable does not equal comfortable. 

A week or so ago, I posted this picture on Facebook, asking if they looked like stripper shoes. Today at church, my friend Susie asked me if those were the shoes, and I told her they were

While agreeing they were fabulous, she whispered, somewhat skeptically, "So...are those post-feminist?" 

I was glad she asked, because I'm not being sarcastic in the least when I say I had wanted to have this discussion with someone. Not over the shoes, per se, but in general. 

"No," I whispered back, "they aren't feminist."

"I was thinking, post-feminist, or sexism?" 

"Sexism," I answered confidently. It's probably technically a matter of opinion, but I know where I fall. 

"But you're participating in it!" she argued. Not angry, just a bit perplexed. 

"Yes," I answered. She looked at me quizzically. 

Unfortunately, it was the middle of the service, not a good time to talk. 

"I definitely want to have this conversation with you," I told her, "so let's catch each other when we can." 

There is no need for anyone to say she did anything wrong. I wasn't bothered by what she asked, did not feel judged in the least, agree with her 100%, and our Unitarian Universalist church was exactly the right place to do it. If I'd had enough time to formulate my thoughts, I could have explained it to her quite succinctly. 

"I'm wrong." 

Doing whatever the hell you want is not feminism. Feminism is a movement - it's about lifting up a group of people. Decisions that align with a movement aren't about doing what you feel like, not even necessarily about what's best for you at any given moment. By wearing uncomfortable, impractical shoes, I'm not doing myself or anyone else any favors. I'm creating both short and long term problems for myself, and I'm creating just a little bit of pressure on other women to do the same. 

I wear these shoes because I think they're fun. Fun looking, not fun like shoes with trampolines at the bottom would be. Like makeup, shaving my legs, and probably some other things I'm too brainwashed to notice, I do it because I think it makes me look better. If I lived on a desert island and had never been exposed to mainstream media, and you approached me with these shoes and suggested I wear them, I'm pretty sure I'd think you were out of your damn mind. 

Is it unfeminist to want to look good? I'll just say it - kind of. Men want to be attractive, but don't spend the time, money, or energy women do on it. They don't wear shoes that aren't actually much good for walking. "Attractive" is fine, if it means clean, healthy, and not stinky. The effort women put into it, the physical and psychological damage we subject ourselves to? The level of importance we place on it? It's sexist. It just is. 

I'd suggest most women make some concessions to the patriarchal system we're a part of, and when we do, we are both victims and perpetrators. I get to pick out my own shoes, and nobody has tried to say I can't. However, over the last ten or twenty years, third wave feminism has created an environment that allows me to get self-righteous if anyone even dares to question. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. 

In an attempt to have it both ways, women often argue vehemently in favor of things that would make any feminist from, say, the beginning of time until 1990 roll over in their grave, or, if they're alive, vomit. We have to stop subjecting each other to manipulations like this or this. Yeah, I think Elizabeth Wurtzel is a particularly loathsome individual. 

Occasionally, I'll hear women say they do these things "for themselves." "It just so happens that the things I want to do for myself and all my aesthetic preferences mesh exactly with what I've been told to like and want and think are attractive!" A) You might not want to take so much pride in that, and B) No. 

I wear makeup, which is, in my mind, possibly the most fucked up of all my choices, because it means I hand my money over to a corporation that absolutely, inarguably relies on women being insecure. I think it's fun, but again, context. I live here and now. I believe certain things because I'm supposed to. 

There are some concessions I've opted out of. When that gets hard, I'm somewhat resentful of the women who conceded. So, by the same logic, the woman who doesn't want to wear makeup to her job interview, but is afraid she won't be hired if she doesn't, has every right to resent me. Because what I've done isn't cool, and it isn't nice. 

I'm a mother. Literally, yes, but also figuratively. Not to be too grandiose - it's not personal. Other people influence me, and I influence other people. I can say I shouldn't have to worry about it all I want, but that won't make it any less true. As feminists, as women, as members of the human race, as earthlings, as sentient beings, we owe each other. 

So, without further ado...

Stuff I Do That's Bullshit

  1. Wear makeup.
  2. Shave my legs.
  3. Shave my armpits.
  4. Wear uncomfortable shoes. 
  5. Exercise I don't like (a gray area, since there's a health element, but that's not really my motivation). 
There's more, but it gets more volatile. I don't want to lose any friends over it, and I truly believe that if I listed some of it, no matter how carefully I tried to explain, I would. I've also chosen not to do some things I think are sexist bullshit, but for obvious reasons, that's even more of a "don't go there." So maybe I should add at least one more thing to my list: 

    6. Be a coward. 

The very least I can do here is not twist us all up in mental gymnastics by explaining why trying to make myself acceptable for men/society/male society is empowering. It might sometimes feel empowering, but it's not. I'm not going to pretend all my choices are feminist just because they're being made by a woman. I'm just going to have to admit that sometimes, being a feminist isn't my top priority. Even when it probably should be. If you question me, you are right. 

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