Jan 22 2007

Radical Feminist Literacy Program, Part A: Firestone


It’s been semi-announced already, but for those who prefer a structured warning to subtle intimation:

It is written that there will probably transpire, at this here blog, on or about March 1, 2007, a discussion of sorts on a pre-ordained topic. While the future is, ultimately, unknowable, that topic is foreseen to be Shulamith Firestone’s gripping 1970 classic, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution.

As even the semi-conscious reader has already deduced, Firestone’s book has been no small influence on the whole Twisty dealio. In it the author suggests, to my unbounded satisfaction, that Freud and Marx may have been on to something, but that their own sexist pig dudessentialism doomed them to failure. She makes the astonishing claim that kids are human. She notes that women will never bust out of sexual slavery until the traditional method of reproduction, with its attendant “family chauvinism” and caste system, is eliminated. For the finale, she winds up with an appealing sci-fi speculation on the love-fest nature of post-revolutionary society. To wit:

“A cybernetic communism would abolish economic classes, and all forms of labour exploitation, by granting all people a livelihood based only on material needs. Eventually work (drudge jobs) would be eliminated in favour of (complex) play, activity done for its own sake, by adults as well as children. With the disappearance of motherhood, and the obstructing incest taboo, sexuality would be re-integrated, allowing love to flow unimpeded.”

A peerless confection.

For 30 years Firestone’s oeuvre consisted of this single book. In 1997 she published a work of fiction, Airless Spaces, which is also fair game for purposes of discussion. According to the lore, there also exists a 30-minute pseudo-radfemumentary, “Shulie.” I ain’t seen it, but it might add some pungency to this whole Shulathon, if it could be gotten hold of.

By the way, it has been suggested that participants in the reading party put a sock in it until the official Discussion Date. I regret it is unlikely that I will be able to go a whole month without some sort of Shulamithian allusion, reference, or pirated idea. I never have yet.

Also by the way, to those who complain that thinky stuff like utopian speculation and patriarchy-blaming don’t offer immediate gratification in terms of “a solution,” here’s a suggestion for subversive activism that will have an instantaneous and profound effect on you and everyone who encounters you: how’s about you personally eradicate your own crippling dependence on femininity from your own individual selves? Revolution begins at home!


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  1. Sylvanite

    I will have to acquire this book, though I don’t know if I’d be able to read it fast enoug hto make the discussion (I’ve been super-busy of late).

    As for reduction of reliance on femininity – I never wear anything but comfortable, non-sexy shoes and generally don’t wear make-up. A small start, I guess.

  2. Shy Girl

    For anyone who is interested, the first chapter can be found here: (apologies for the cut an paste link)


  3. Carol

    To do my part in personally eradicating my crippling dependence on both the consumer culture AND femininity, I’m going to begin by throwing away all my douches, feminine wipes, fresh scent tampons and FDS.

    (Kidding. That shit is gross.)

  4. Twisty

    FDS! Ho boy, that takes me back. I had no idea they even still made it. You haven’t smelled despair until you’ve smelled a blooded-up Kotex pad befouled with that cheap drugstore pussy perfume.

  5. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    My crotch doctor put the smack down on that FDS crap a long time ago. Remember the old TV and magazine ads? If you listened to that stuff, you’d think there was spanish moss flourishing wildly in our collective clams. Yowza.

  6. Varnish Eater

    I have already given up bras, make-up, salon haircuts, and frat boys. But it’ll be a while before I’ll be able to give up pretty dresses! They’re pretty.

    I have put in a request for the book at the library, hopefully I’ll get it sometime in early February!

  7. B. Dagger Lee

    Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

  8. octogalore

    Revolution definitely begins at home. But it’s also up to the individual what aspects of ones own femininity are “crippling,” methinks.

    Re Dialectic, Amazon has used paperbacks online, BTW. Very interesting read. I do hope I’m not the only one cringing at the mention of breaking the incest taboo, and, less shockingly, not doting on or providing toys to kids, however. A childless 25-year-old, however ingenious, is not to my mind qualified to make such pronouncements.

  9. PhysioProf

    “[H]ow’s about you personally eradicate your own crippling dependence on femininity from your own individual selves?”


  10. teffie-phd

    This was one of the first feminist books I read (along with Woman Hating by Andrea Dworkin). I’m not totally convinced by her arguments, but I will pick it up again and join in.

    In all the academic feminist theorizing, the first principles of patriarchy and liberation due tend to get forgotten sometimes.

    And, in the meantime, I’ll do my homework (though the dog might end up eating some of it).

  11. balom

    I found your blog by mistake and I read some articles. Now regarding the Cybernetic comunism and “eradicating dependence on feminity”. These ideas like many others are clearly beautifull yet impractical due to bassic human nature. Sistems that promise perfection ultimatly are the ones that fail the worst. Doesn’t anyone remember that comunism cannot function without a represive state sistem. I guess the cybernetic refers to the Big Brother tipe of surveilance necesary to stabilise such a sistem.

    Now the abolition of motherhood. This idea although tehnologicly dificult is feasible and I believe will be aplied posibly in the next 50 years especialy in advanced nations with low birth rates and who are wary of massive imigration (Japan comes to mind). Such a technology of factory babies could be usefull especialy by promoting genetic enhancements and superior performance. Of course there is the risc of a Gataca society but only while the genes filter down in the general population.

  12. Sylvanite

    Also, while I wear my hair long, I don’t know how to do anything with it, and just tie it back with a scrunchie. This is apparently a dating no-no. It shows the guy you just don’t care enough about him to look your best! Darn!

  13. Antelope

    Antoinette – Actually I’ve always thought that Spanish Moss was insanely beautiful and underappreciated. Do you think there’s any way I could encourage it to flourish wildly in my clam?

    (In other words – that was a good one!)

  14. The Stranger

    Alright, according to Wikipedia (which has no disambiguation page for this), a “Fedora Directory Server (FDS) is an LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) server developed by Red Hat, as part of Red Hat’s community-supported Fedora Project. ”

    Somehow I’m guessing it also means something else? Bear in mind I’m only 21 (although I’m 22 next week!), so there are probably some memes I’m missing out on.

  15. Bitey



    Extra strength!

  16. esybron

    Excellent discussion. I’m currently writing my book on woman’s sexuality and the con job done on women by the patriarchs; not due out for a year though. I basically agree with Shulamith; however, she fails to mention the female sex standard and how it was deliberately repressed by religion and society and replaced by the male sex standard. Spanish moss not withstanding, a switch back will accomplish the mission.

  17. Twisty

    “Revolution definitely begins at home. But it’s also up to the individual what aspects of ones own femininity are ‘crippling,’ methinks.”

    Hey octogalore, I’ll skip the whole all-femininity-is-pro-patriarchy speech for now, and just mention that by “crippling dependence on femininity” I include male dependence. Like, for instance, porn addiction, or dudes who don’t split the child-rearing 50-50.

  18. jezebella

    The Stranger: It warms my heart to know that a woman of your age knows not what FDS is. Thank bog some things do change. It is Feminine Deodorant Spray, a product designed to mask the smell of your vagina. Yes: it is pussy perfume. It is unhealthy, misogynist, and revolting. In my youth it was widely touted as an essential element of the feminine toilette. Even in my clueless youth I managed to never buy their line, luckily.

    I find it interesting that shoes and cosmetics are the first – perhaps the only – things that seem to come to mind when Twisty advocates that we refuse to practice femininity. I can think of a thousand other things – soft high-pitched voices, submissive gestures, girl-talking (asking questions like “don’t you think…?” instead of making statements), allowing men to interrupt our speech, for example.

    I find these behavioral codes much more difficult to address and eradicate, having made my own peace with the clothing and makeup issues. The “feminine” behaviors I have tried to eradicate end up replaced with behaviors coded masculine (speaking up, lowering the pitch of my voice, stating-not-questioning, firm handshakes, and so forth). This is in some respects productive and in others, not so much. It is, however, much more satisfactory to, for example, call a pig a pig when somebody refers to me as a “girl” in a professional setting, than it is to let it slide out of a misplaced desire to seem like a “nice girl.” Speaking of which, when do we get to eviscerate the myth of the Nice Girl?

    Am off to find myself a copy of the book and check Netflix to see if they’ve got the documentary.

  19. Katelyn Sack


    Dr. Devra Davis of U-Pittsburgh and her research team recently released research suggesting that there is a correlation (causation not established) between usage of cosmetic products likely containing estrogen and estrogen-like substances in the African-American community, and higher breast cancer rates in the same demographic. Problems in establishing this as a causative relationship include the fact that the companies producing these products are not required to list their ingredients. Not required to research their safety. Not required to warn anyone about any of the ingredients they’re not listing and haven’t researched the safety of.

    Femininities are constructed to kill, to maim, to subjugate. So it stands to reason that femininity socially constructed for and by even less-valued women (i.e., women of color, whose flesh is literally worth less than white flesh on the sex market) is even more insidious, even more likely to kill.

    Cosmetics: bad. Cosmetics targeted to black women: probably even worse.

    Just a sidenote; I remembered reading about this research a few months back, and thought it might be useful information to someone here.

    Back to hunting for used Shulabiblios online. Note to self: Be more like B. Dagger Lee.

  20. Joanna

    The image on the cover of that edition is of a painting that my mother copied in an art class and had hanging on our wall. For years I thought is was her self-portrait. When I see it I get flashbacks of my childhood. I think I read this book about 25 years ago. It’ll be interesting to see what it tastes like now.

  21. Bitey

    While we’re on the subject of feminist literacy, I was wondering whether anyone might have some suggestions for baby-step consciousness-raising. I’m going to be teaching freshman composition next fall, and it will be my first experience teaching at the college level. I get to design my own class, and I want to use the opportunity to shed some light on our porn-sick, “post-feminist” culture. I need something serious but accessible, with good research and plenty of writing opportunities. I was thinking of Friedan’s _The Feminine Mystique_ and/or Faludi’s _Stiffed_ (this latter to show how the patriarchy damages men, too–like I said: baby steps). Thoughts?

  22. Ron Sullivan

    Bitey, can you get your hands on the first year or five of good ol’ Ms magazine? Also, let’s see what I’ve hung on to here: Tillie Olsen, Silences. bell hooks. Guy I used to work with some years back called my attention to Gloria Anzaldua, speaking of poetry. Joanna Russ — absolutely anything, including The Female Man, which is science fiction; and/or How to Write Like a Woman and How to Suppress Women’s Writing. For some history, Sara Evans, Personal Politics. Some of Robin Morgan’s early essays, for a sense of just how heady it could get. Some are in an old pocket-paperback anthology called Sisterhood is Powerful. I suspect its out of print.

    There’s a more recent anthology, Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, Beverly Guy-Shefthall.

    Oh damn, I can’t get to that bookcase now; I know there are more. That’s just off the top of my head, and some things I don’t see cited as often as I’d wish.

  23. josie my source of most frustration

    “I get to design my own class, and I want to use the opportunity to shed some light on our porn-sick, “post-feminist” culture. I need something serious but accessible, with good research and plenty of writing opportunities.”

    How about Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families by Pamela Paul?

    It’s accessible, interesting and focuses a lot on how porn influences people in their 20’s and 30’s and their relationships and worldviews, which should make it particularly relevant to college students.

  24. CafeSiren


    I know some people hate this book, but how about “The Beauty Myth”? Justifiable critiques aside, the idea that women need to be “pretty” in order to succeed in any endeavor is something that colloge-aged women might be able to relate to. Plus, it’s not theoretically heavy, so it’s a lot easier to get into.

    If you want an easy “in” with some of the economic issues that feminists talk about, and another light, undergraduate-suitable reading, you might try Barbara Erenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.”

  25. CafeSiren

    Sorry — that’s “Ehrenreich.”

  26. cycles

    I do hope I’m not the only one cringing at the mention of breaking the incest taboo

    I cringed. Then I realized, that’s what taboos make you do.

    I’m looking forward to reading her thoughts. If procreative sex ceases to exist, then I can see how the primary concern of genetically malformed children would no longer be a consideration; likewise for concerns about inappropriate sexual relationships between caregivers, progeny, and other family members. It’s interesting to try and observe my own reaction to the concept; I still gag and shudder at the thought of incest, but how much of that is cultural baggage and context? All of it, probably. I can’t get past it, though; I even feel a little icky talking about it on a purely hypothetical level. Which shows what a powerful taboo it is.

  27. octogalore

    Twisty — agree, male dependence on women’s bearing the brunt of the household tasks and child rearing is definitely crippling, to everyone: men, women, children. Keeping women economically subservient this way is one of my major blamings of the P.

    I’m just not sure that these activities are “femininity,” in the context of dependence on femininity. They are tasks that typically fall much more than 50% to women, but I think of femininity as a quality rather than a task.

    Leading up to: I just don’t buy in to the “whole all-femininity-is-pro-patriarchy speech.” These tasks really are gender neutral, or should be, and any male dependence on delegating them needs to go, yesterday. But consigning all femininity to the dustheap disarms rather than arms women with power. Men, for example, take various steps to enhance personal appearance, that make them feel good, attractive, whatever. Saying women should not take comparable steps that will get us societal and social and yes, personal self-worth bennies is making us less and not more equal. Certainly, at a point when the burdens on women are greater than those on men, like TOO MUCH dependence on various beauty or fashion regimes, it becomes pro patriarcy. But up to the point where the financial and time outlays are roughly equal to those men expend, there’s no added female burden. Cutting off all these efforts is not going to help women in any practical way in this current world we’re in.

    Which gets right back to the economic subservience issue: for example, telling a professional woman not to care about image issues that will help her advance — and I’m not talking about wearing a bunny tail, but a nicely tailored suit — isn’t going to optimize her economic rise and subsequent power to transcend the P. Hilary Clinton, for example, I’m sure, devotes some time to issues that would probably fall under “femininity” — she has a trainer, a makeup consultant, someone who does her hair. Her husband has all this stuff, too. Women who throw all that out with the bathwater may not have the opportunity to gain the economic power that will help us get to men spending 50% of the time on child-rearing.

    Not to mention that, more frivolously, sometimes it’s fun to have highlights, a new red dress, or a cute bag. Just like Rogaine, an Armani suit, or a designer wallet. Frivolous — but not necessarily pro-patriarchy.

  28. Gertrude Strine

    “You haven’t smelled despair until you’ve smelled a blooded-up Kotex pad befouled with that cheap drugstore pussy perfume.”

    The cunt deodorant wafting mixed with semen from the back seat of a taxi when you’re ferrying a zombie streetwalker home at daybreak? Past despair.

  29. Pony

    Sisterhood is Powerful may be out of print, but still available in most libraries. And still will blow your mind. And yes, Morgan, especially her poem “I am a Monster.”

    I’m waiting (library again) for Gail Dines book “Pornography: the Production and Consumption of Inequality”. And find myself again, catching my breath at Greer’s The Whole Woman.

  30. Edith

    Oh my god, Gertrude Strine, I could’ve lived, like, my whole life without that image in my head.

    In other words, a whole life not in the patriarchy. Imagine such a life. Shulie Firestone has. I am super excited for this discussion. One of my all-time favorite books. Can we do Kate Millet next? I’m just sayin’. Also, if anyone here has, by some chance, a copy of the documentary, you really need to come forth and say so now. And then you need to put it online, and then my quest for like five years can end. Although I assume Twisty has been questing way longer.

  31. JR

    Hi Octo. I know this thread isn’t really the place for it, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kind of argument you’re making in your comment. I think you’re trying too hard to reconcile feminism and femininity (at least mild femininity). I think I understand why you, and everyone basically, does this: it just seems too overwhelming, too harsh somehow, if feminist principles were really to demand (gasp) that we give up so much stuff that either (a) obviously helps one get ahead in life, or (b) seems fun and kind of innocuous.

    But I think the big fallacy here is the false, kind of hubristic dream that we’ll somehow manage to be perfect people in an imperfect world, living up to our feminist principles (and other principles) in all ways all the time. Can’t be done. We’re not perfect, and we live in a complicated world that demands many compromises. I would be really mad at Hillary Clinton if she started spouting a lot of the leftist, feminist things I believe (even if she believes them too, which I don’t know if she does). And in just the same way, I hope she keeps wearing makeup and insisting on the abhorrent “Mrs.,” and whatever else she has to do.

    The point is, I think we’ve got to learn to hold it in our heads at the same time that (a) yes, feminism means all femininity really is a problem, because it all reinforces the patriarchy, and at the same time (b) that doesn’t mean everyone can/should “personally eradicate” our “crippling dependence” tomorrow. Step by step, I think, we should try to move closer to not violating as many of our principles, as much of the time, while making our way in a messy world. We should somehow squelch the impulse to say, ‘if it’s hard to quit, then it must be OK.’

  32. Jane Awake

    Ah, pussy perfume.

    In other news, I clearly need to read Firestone’s book, because the truth is, I am very, very attached to the incest taboo, and I can’t imagine how my life would be improved if it suddenly disappeared from society. I suppose Firestone will explain thoroughly in the book.

    My experience is that male family members have trouble keeping their hands off of female family members anyway, and if there was no incest taboo, a girl wouldn’t have any hope at all of being safe in a family that includes men (to sort of paraphrase The Color Purple).

    I understand that Firestone is imagining the disappearance of the heteronuclear family as well, but unless the information is willfully kept from her, the child will learn from which woman’s vagina she came. Does Firestone suggest she should want to, oh, I don’t know, make out with that vagina as well? Or have sexual intercourse with any adult man, much less the one who also had sex with her biological mother? Isn’t that asking quite a lot of a child? (I just threw up a little in the back of my mouth.) I guess these are unfair questions to ask since everyone is gearing up to discuss the book at a later date. (And also perhaps the answers to these disturbing questions are elsewhere on this blog.) If I haven’t read The Dialectic of Sex by then, I’ll be sure to watch and learn when you all discuss it.

  33. Arora

    Seems that “Shulie” is being shown on Wednesday, January 31st at the MOMA in NYC. See Program 11.


  34. PS

    You can buy the “Elisabeth Subrin Trilogy,” a compilation with Shulie on it, here:
    For individuals “home use only” it is $29.95

  35. EE

    For baby-step consciousness raising I suggest Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and The Rise of Raunch Culture.” It’s a fairly quick and interesting read that has contained w/in it a sort of primer on the history of feminism. And it’s very accessible; for example, does not imagine the kind of utopian alternatives sans incest taboos which would probably be offputting to many non-radfems.

  36. Kelda

    The local library does not have it. The New Year’s Resolution was ‘I will not buy any more books until I have read the huge number still waiting to be read’. But how can I pass up an opportunity to join the Blaming Book Club? Arg.

  37. Frumious B

    how’s about you personally eradicate your own crippling dependence on femininity from your own individual selves? Revolution begins at home!

    Great idea for those who never leave the home. But sometimes women get stuck following those rules in order to work. We pick our battles, Twisty, and sometimes you have to wear a tailored blouse to stay on the gravy train. I, for one, prefer living inside and eating regular meals while bowing to the Man over panhandling in noble rejection of feminine trappings (deliberate use of that word).

  38. octogalore

    JR – I appreciate your addressing this. Certainly the practicality portion is part of my argument, but you’re missing the other part. Which is that – how can ALL femininity be a problem, if up to a certain point it is equivalent to steps MEN take from an appearance point of view. Let’s say men on average exert effort of, say, four out of ten – hair gel, possibly rogaine, lifting weights, shaving, etc. And maybe women on average exert effort of seven out of ten, as women’s “femininity” regimes tend to be more ornate. I’m just saying, if we stick with at or around the four level, we’re not taking on any added burdens based on being female. Making some appearance-related effort isn’t strictly female up to a certain point – it’s HUMAN. If women were to move to a zero out of ten level, we wouldn’t hurt the patriarchy – we’d simply be hurting ourselves. Feminist principles don’t dictate leaving all vanity at the door. Men don’t do that, why do we need to be superhuman to achieve parity?

    Also, do you see how the whole “all femininity is a problem” thing creates a sub-class of women who patronizes (note root of that word) another? Note your use of the word “gasp”; your “we’ve got to learn to hold it in our heads at the same time” (as if some of us may experience difficulty holding multiple, contradictory concepts – note: sequins don’t erode brain cells); and your kind admonishment that we mush “squelch” our “impulse.” I think an approach that doesn’t force us into a segment of all-female patriarchy, in which we are able to appreciate the nuance of “up to a reasonable point” without having to draw artificial black and white lines, is ultimately a more effective way to combat the patriarchy.

  39. jezebella

    Reporting back:

    As of yesterday, Half.com has plenty cheap used copies of “Dialectic of Sex,” while neither Netflix nor Greencine has a copy of “Shulie.”

    And, are we really going to go another round on hair, shoes, and shaving? Really?

  40. Sandy D.

    Those of you looking for a copy might check out addall’s used book listings (in addition to half.com & amazon’s used books), here. I sorted by price, but you also have to consider shipping rates (which vary widely), bookstore location, etc.

  41. Sandy D.

    Also, I took one copy off paperbackswap.com, but there was still another one there if you’re a member or willing to join a book swap site. I think you get a couple free selections when you join (you have to list 9 or so books you’re willing to send out if anyone wants your books).

  42. Ron Sullivan

    how can ALL femininity be a problem, if up to a certain point it is equivalent to steps MEN take from an appearance point of view.

    That wouldn’t be femininity, now would it? Femininity /= grooming. Come to think of it, I’d like to see most of what passes for grooming put under the ‘scope. The results might be fun.

  43. octogalore

    Ron — I meant, equivalent in terms of time/effort/discomfort, not that it’s the same thing. I’m curious as to how you’d address the substance here. The goal here isn’t, or shouldn’t be, constructing a hard line with the only significant result being patronizing those women who believe their brand of femininity stems from sources other than the patriarchy. It is, or should be, eliminating burdens on women that accrue based on being female. This can be done without tossing out the baby with the bathwater. Again, as I mentioned to JR, the “now would it?” type of language, as well as setting up a strawargument that can be easily dismissed rather than tackling the main thrust, simply serves to segregate a group of women, rather than overcome the patriarchy.

  44. Heather

    I have to tell you that waking up to a photo of my all time favorite book – The Dialectic of Sex – atop a pile of books that included The God Delusion, which I am currently savoring, really made my day. My partner and my pups will vouch for the fact that I danced all about the place nearly spilling coffee on the carpet. You are the best. Thank you.

  45. Jane Awake

    Mmm, The God Delusion.

  46. CJC

    Ok, while I’m sure that most of us are cheap asses, do we really have to support huge corporations when reading a book for the blaming book club? I encourage libraries, book swaps, and ye-old-faithful feminist bookstore. Whether there’s feminist bookstore in your neighborhood or not, you can always call one that is geographically closest to you, have them order it and get it delivered to you within about a week or so. Yes, it will be like $10 more expensive than amazon or whatever–but that’s $10 to a cool us-supporting feminist bookstore, instead of some anti-feminist big corporation. Just think about it…Support your feminist bookstore, she supports you.

  47. roamaround

    “Revolution begins at home!”

    I’m afraid I have to take issue with that idea.

    I was stunned to find (here!) a sentence that started with the exciting proposal of subversive activism end with a thud: it’s all my fault (again) because I don’t wear the right things and I act wrong.

    JR and octogalore, I’m following your discussion on femininity and I wasn’t here for the previous one, jezebella, so it’s interesting to me. But while I think talking about how piercing compares to tweezing is interesting in a theoretical way, basing your activism around lifestyle choices doesn’t build much except a sense of self righteousness.

    Revolution doesn’t begin at home, it begins with meetings and organizing and actions in the streets. Judging other women by what they wear is one of the oldest and most pervasive ways we stay separated! The decisions involved in self-presentation are so complex, as several here have pointed out; why would we waste energy and divide our ranks condemning how other women deal with their realities under patriarchy?

    To me, it’s like the endless debates over language: is “guys” ok? “ladies” (ick)? Lipstick? Hair dye? It’s pointless. The reality is these things *follow* power, not the other way around. If women come together around common concerns and make enough noise, or do enough real subversive actions, to change the balance of power, the manifestations of power (language and image) will reflect that change.

    Now, if I could just find my barricades outfit!

  48. kate

    I agree Roamaround that indeed action must start outside the home and with others. But action comes in many forms, from the presentation one makes, to the how one responds to certain oppressive acts of others to direct pro-action such as organizing groups toward an action.

    Sure Octo, one can say that men groom themselves as well, but do they wear hundreds of dollars of make-up? And if said men are a little shabbier are they completely discounted in all careers or fields of study?

    My father was a lawyer and he always said he had to dress well in order to make a good impression on the judge, jury and his clients. But did he have the nagging feeling that dressing less well would make him less of a man?

    Men have a choice. They can be a plumber and have their ass sticking out of their pants all day, be a mechanic and have grease stained hands, be an odd professor and wear bed-head and rumply shirts.

    But a woman be any of those things? Oh my god, she’s not a woman!

    Everyone likes to play dress-up, its fun sure. But being forced to is another story.

    I keep thinking of the time when men will have to hire the most qualified candidate and not the blondest or the prettiest because none of the women in front of them are taking pains to be attractive to him.

    There are many professional women who refuse to give in to the gussie-up and frankly, many who have found that by doing so they actually are taken more seriously in the business world.

    Now you talk about revolution.

  49. kate

    And as for myself, if I came to a meeting with a prospective client or to close a contract, all made up and sportin’ heels and a dress, I’d be laughed down the street.

    Or I guess I might get a compliment or a side-pass from the man in the house before they said they closed with a ‘real’ contractor.

  50. justtesting

    Shorter Octagalore: “the feminists want us to go round all stinky and covered in lice ! Stinky ! Lice ! The only escape from these horrors is MORE FEMININITY ! MORE I tells ya !”

  51. justtesting

    roamaround, the statement that revolution begins at home was in response to a commenter whining that talking about stuff serves no purpose and that “we” should be doing something more concrete. So a suggestion is presented: if you really want to be subversive, ditch femininity. And stop whining at people who are “only” having conversations.

  52. Ide Cyan

    Book rec: _Close to Home: A Materialist Analysis of Women’s Oppression_, by Christine Delphy. Highly recommended.

    She disagrees with Firestone’s biologism, and takes a materialist approach to the sexual division of labour.

    Joanna Russ cites her in _What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism_, but she doesn’t do Delphy’s analysis justice.

  53. hedonistic

    Random musings:

    1) “Collective Clams.” BWAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

    2) Roamaround: ” . . . basing your activism around lifestyle choices doesn’t build much except a sense of self righteousness.” Can I get a HELL YEAH? The birkenstocks and the backbacks are consumer choices that announce us as “club members” the same way high heels and purses do. Often these politically correct acoutrements are MORE EXPENSIVE than stereotypically feminine costumes, and signifying of a certain social class (i.e., the social class that can GET AWAY with turning up its nose at the feminine standard). This behavior is often consumerist, cliquish, kinda elitist in its own way, and it needs to stop. Just don’t ask me how because I haven’t a clue.

  54. Twisty

    Just an aside: “femininity” is not just makeup and Prada bags, you know. It’s porn, and prostitution, and BDSM, and marriage, and childrearing, and unpaid housework. And other stuff.

  55. nikkos

    Given the above, does this mean the blog will be redubbed “I Blame The Biology?” :)

    I look forward to eavesdropping on the book club conversation.

  56. B. Dagger Lee

    Damnation! I wanted to save myself for the ceremony on March 1st. IBTP for making me shoot my wad now.

    I haven’t finished the book, either, so I’ll probably get in hot water. And my Freud is rusty and cobwebby. But quickly, three important points (I think) regarding Firestone’s disposal of “the incest taboo.” I don’t want anyone to be put off reading the book because she thinks Firestone is an advocate for incest.

    1. Firestone’s book, like Andrea Dworkin’s Woman-Hating, and which also advocates jettisoning “the incest taboo,” was written in the late sixties, early seventies, when the extent of child molestation and abuse, incest (real, physical), rape, and battering, was not the public knowledge it is now (although the statistics are still heavily contested). It is one of the very real achievements of feminism within the last thirty-five or so years to uncover, analyze, document and publicize these crimes. I recommend Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery as one of the prime feminist texts regarding this issue—also a must-read for anyone who has been incested or partnered with someone who has.

    2. Even though she critiques Freud, Firestone is still largely writing about the ‘incest taboo’ from a Freudian viewpoint. According to people like Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Freud’s first theory was that there really had been seduction and incest in the family (“the seduction theory”), however, in order to make his theory more acceptable, Freud abandoned this idea (and semi-betrayed his patients), and reworked it into the Oedipus/Elektra complex—the child wishes to possess the father or mother, and fantasizes about it. At the moment in time that the Dialectic of Sex and Woman Hating are published (approx. 1970), both Firestone and Dworkin are critiquing Freud’s Oedipal/Elektra complex—in other words, as if the incest doesn’t really happen or exist, but is only a wish or fantasy, and as such, is a repressive mechanism on sexuality. I don’t know Firestone’s views after 1970, but Dworkin’s views on the incest taboo changed. Our ideas about the age of consent and power have changed considerably since 1970.

    3. The incest taboo (Freudian, and perhaps also anthropological) is jettisoned AFTER the nuclear family is dissolved.

    yrs, BDL

  57. B. Dagger Lee

    Dear Katelyn Sack:

    I’m so flattered! Three easy tips to being more like me:
    1. Lie flat on your back watching TV (preferably reactionary repetition-compulsion programs like Law & Order).
    2. Stuff piehole, largely with cheese or pie. Occasionally say adolescent-sarcastic things out of piehole to TV in egotistical effort to impress Miss Patsy.
    3. Sleep all night, every night, in pathetic heavy cloud of dog farts.

    yrs, BDL

  58. kate

    Hedon: “The birkenstocks and the backbacks are consumer choices that announce us as “club members” the same way high heels and purses do.”

    Absolutely and I don’t think anyone said that those are the only alternatives to appearance. I certainly can’t afford either the femmy drab nor the crunchy look and I’d also think that not only is such wear a class statement in and of itself, its also a bit confined to a certain age group. I don’t think either has anything to do with ‘revolution’ on terms of seeking freedom from the oppression of a patriarchy or the consumerism so much a part of it.

    Thanks Twisty for the reminder, but I think it is important to rebut statements that get all defensive about ditching the attire as it presumes something negative about a woman who does not dress accordingly, which frankly, is part of the oppression.

    The fashion vs. freedom conversation also continuously reflects the presence among women of a view that confines women to certain roles. There are a plethora of careers a woman could undertake that would require she not gussie up everyday. As long as woman see themselves as having limited roles, women will continue to have limited roles.

    Also, the defense that the acquisition of capital to survive relies entirely on entertaining patriarchal mores in dress does not hold water either. Many important careers exist that while not offering earth shaking enumeration, offer the opportunity for personal fulfillment and/or social recognition or impact. Although capital does equal power, if one claims to care about social change, to not consider the cost of the trade-off in such an exchange would be hypocritical and possibly no real exercise of subversion or power in the end.

    Which segues into the other larger issues, since ‘a woman’s destiny’ and all that other tripe spring from the assumption that women are engineered to subsume their own personal development for the satisfaction of others’ development and luxury.

  59. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Big dogs or little ones? Because my sister and I are having a running argument about which ones produce worse emissions.

  60. Arianna

    Sigh, What I learned from this so far is that while Shulamith Firestore was born in Ottawa, the entire Ottawa Library Network has only ONE copy of the Dialectic of Sex which is in-library use only at the big branch downtown, and exactly zero copies of Airless Space :/

  61. B. Dagger Lee

    One is 15 pounds and the other is 30 pounds, so you need 45 pounds of dog farts to be like me. If you feed their snout-holes with cheese you get away with less poundage.


  62. speedbudget

    nikkos: I am curious as to why you equate the list Twisty gave to biology? I mean, who said the possession of a double X chromosome means you must do all those things? Besides the patriarchy, I mean.

  63. hedonistic

    For what it’s worth, I took a pass on 16 years of child support in order to extract a 50/50 childrearing arrangement out my ex. We’re neighbors: Our daughter walks back and forth between us (and his MOTHTER moved into the neighborhood to “support” him, so now she’s my neighbor too). For this alone I believe I should be able to keep the stiletto heels! That’s how it works, yes?

  64. Frumious B

    And other stuff.

    Like smiling, saying please, being non-confrontational… Professional women who ditch these things get called ball-busting dykes and somehow manage to make it to the top of the lay-off list. Thanks, I’ll keep the femininity and my job.

  65. Calabama

    “take pains to attract.” That’s EXACTLY it! Why must women TAKE PAINS to attract? And once we achieve that object of our attraction, what’s the value of something that’s attracted by artifice and falsehood?

    I know that every culture has its own (usually unreachable by most) standards of beauty, and that thanks to patriarchy, ’twas ever thus, but it seems that here in the U.S., pornification is creating extra-surreal side effects. When 12-year-olds line up for Brazilian waxes, something’s seriously wrong.

    And to B. Dagger: SNOUT-HOLE!!! I bow to this exquisite coinage — which makes me suspect a pug in your vicinity; I sleep with three, and whichever cats squeeze in. Yeah, I know they aren’t REAL dogs, but their profound silliness is an incomparable tonic for whatever ails ya.

  66. hedonistic

    HAH, Fruminous, I typed a novel stating exactly what you just did, but the Spamulator kept on saying I didn’t know how to add, humpf.

    Believe it or not, moi, “The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker” makes it through my day-to-day without shaving, doing her hair, applying makeup, pulling on pantyhose, or even wearing jewelry. I can (and do) curse like a sailor in mixed company while on the job. I save my femmy fripperies for weekends and/or fancy occasions. That said, I know that I’m one of the privileged in that my profession/lifestyle/social rank/relationship status allows for this.

  67. hedonistic

    And, no, moi, I, she, we do not have multiple personalities. Sorry for the horrid grammar!

  68. nikkos


    I read chapter 1 of the work in question. Firestone asserts that the ultimate tool of oppression is neither class nor economics as Marx, et al suspected, but goes deeper to the level of biology.

    It is quite clear that Firestone’s stated objectives cannot be achieved until not only the patriarchy is overthrown, but the biology (i.e., female possession of wombs, the means of reproduction) is overthrown as well. (Via “cybernetic” childbirth, etc.)

    Thus, my attempt at a humorous comment.

  69. hedonistic

    Here are a few little things we can do, though:

    1) Refuse to allow our daughters to speak in babytalk, especially to their fathers.

    2) Adopt the voice of authority in our day to day interactions, both at home and on the job. Stop raising the pitch of our voices at the end of each sentence, or rephrasing statements in the form of quetions, i.e.,
    “don’t you think?” or “My name is The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker??????? (Like, I’m not really sure what my name is????”)

    My mother is a (southern) Steel Magnolia who, despite being painted into the corner of patriarchal expectations, managed somehow to prosper and thrive without coming off as a so-called “bull dyke.” She claimed her human status with a quiet dignity and simply did not give up. I’ve gotta hand it to her, because it was an uphill climb all the way.

  70. PhysioProf

    “It is quite clear that Firestone’s stated objectives cannot be achieved until not only the patriarchy is overthrown, but the biology (i.e., female possession of wombs, the means of reproduction) is overthrown as well.”

    This is true only if one accepts her premise that culture cannot overcome biology in the absence of technological replacements for biological reproduction and human labor.

  71. octogalore

    Kate – my point was not that women don’t currently have more societal “gussie up” expectations, but that the goal is not having additional burdens based on being female, not giving up all efforts whatsoever. There’s a time and a place, and the example you gave about closing a contract, vs meeting with legal clients, demonstrates this.

    Justtesting – ditching femininity isn’t subversive, it’s just another clique masturbatory behavior that, as roomaround and hedonistic point out, doesn’t do much besides make one feel superior. As roomaround so eloquently puts it: “If women come together around common concerns and make enough noise, or do enough real subversive actions, to change the balance of power, the manifestations of power (language and image) will reflect that change.”

  72. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Oh, hedonistic, that is a quality some Southern women possess from birth. Where I work we had a secretary (now retired, long may she run) who was an Artist at a) not allowing anyone to talk down to her and b) putting people in their place so gracefully they wouldn’t know she’d zinged ’em until they were walking away. It was a thing of beauty to see her in action.

  73. mearl

    Hmmmm… I never see men wearing heels or carrying purses, so that must mean ALL men are part of the radical feminist birkenstock-clad elite! Who knew.

  74. B. Dagger Lee

    Speaking of bull dykes, I had a long comment about Freud and Firestone and “the incest taboo.”

    Wha’ Happa?


    And I answered the anti-spam sum correction, too.

  75. hedonistic

    Mearl: HAHAHAHAH! Good one.

    PS: My purse is HUGE.

  76. mearl

    I avoid the handbag vs. backpack debate by carrying everything in my cheeks.

  77. octogalore

    BDL — darn! I would’ve liked to read it.

  78. justtesting

    Justtesting – ditching femininity isn’t subversive

    Oh dear, oh dear. So what do you think femininity actualy means then octagalore ?

  79. Mandos

    This is true only if one accepts her premise that culture cannot overcome biology in the absence of technological replacements for biological reproduction and human labor.

    This is a very important point and almost tempts me to read the book so that I can join in as something other than the peanut gallery.

    People are creative. You can’t create a static culture in which people think only virtuous and approved thoughts. As soon as someone notices that by controlling biological reproduction you can control social reproduction and thus gain material advantage, the jig, as they say, is up.

  80. octogalore

    Justtesting – along the lines of our esteemed host’s advice that revolution begins at home — or, right here right now — we should not allow ourselves to be patronized either by the patriarchy, or by women (a category to which I assume you belong) adopting the patronizing tones of the patriarchy.

    As Shulamith Firestone says about the women’s movement and its goals of internal democracy: “There is much more rhetoric than reality on the subject, often disguising hypocritically the same old games and power plays — often with new and complex feminine variations.” p71, Dialectic.

  81. Courtney

    For those squicking out about the incest taboo:

    Eradicating the incest taboo isn’t so much about turning around and advocating incest, but recognizing and dismantling what it’s founded in, namely the vast and unwieldy power dynamic between parents/children and the cultural disavowal of children having a sexuality. Marge Piercy does a good job envisioning what a society without different constructions of these notions might look like in Woman on the Edge of Time, which if I’m recalling correctly borrows a lot from Firestone.

    I know it’s a concept that runs deep and hits home hard, especially for women, but imagine molestation being a foreign concept because children actually have the right to issue consent (or conversely refuse consent) in regards to a sexual interaction. Something completely unfathomable in our current society, but in one radically (and I do mean radically) re-envisioned, perhaps possible.

  82. Bitey

    Hey, hey! Whoa up there, pardners! Let’s save it for the discussion. My copy hasn’t even gotten here yet!

    Also, thanks to all for the book suggestions. They’re a big help!

  83. B. Dagger Lee

    octogalore, It’s up now.-BDL

  84. nikkos


    To be clear, I’m not agreeing with the argument Firestome lays out; just trying to restate Firestone’s point as I undertsood it.

  85. butter


    …teaching freshman composition next fall … get to design my own class … shed some light … need something serious but accessible, with good research and plenty of writing opportunities.

    I’ve found that one place to get talking with younger women about bodies and control is – yes I’ll say it – girl talk, specifically talking about periods. If that topic is given authority and okay in your classroom, everyone has something to say about it, whether they’d rather phrase it as “my cunny tends to…” or “some women prefer”. E.g. whether you synchronize with the moon or with your roommates, and what products and behaviors go along with having a period. And from immediate experience you can move to structural power dynamics, rhetorical privilege, choice and voice, etc. Good times.

    The books you cite are great works in their ideas, but I’m not sure about being gems of composition. Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, or Joanna Russ (er, giving away my sf leanings there) are great storytellers as well as stylists. Post-feminist composition can bring awareness through and around stories as well as thru linear exposition and criticism.

    What an opportunity – enjoy your class!

  86. octogalore

    Bitey — I hear you. One quick comment on BDL’s post and then I promise to do my best to curtail any further discussion on SF.

    1. Not sure how the fact that incest, child molestation, etc. wasn’t as known to the public back in 1970 makes jettisoning the taboo against incest more justifiable.

    2. Not sure how adopting the Freudian view of incest as being a wish/fantasy and thus a repressive mechanism on sexuality makes the actual act OK. Also, not sure about how the age of consent shifting upwards would make much of a difference in whether it’s a good idea, in and of itself.

    3. RE: “The incest taboo (Freudian, and perhaps also anthropological) is jettisoned AFTER the nuclear family is dissolved.” Even if the child were raised in “units,” presumably it might have some sense of whom its biological parents were. And even if s/he didn’t, why would having sex with his/her guardians be OK?

    I realize that I’m still about 100 pages from the end and possibly am missing some of the issues here. But, my initial response to this portion of the book (while I’m certainly very taken by many other portions) is still in the “cringe” category…

  87. TallyCola

    I am currently second in the library hold queue for this book so it’ll be a while before I can contribute anything. But thanks for the heads up! I missed out on a bunch of feminism courses I could’ve taken at university, probably because they clashed with courses I thought I needed more. (I don’t remember now :p ). I do feel I could’ve benefitted from reading more books like this a few years ago.

    Sorry if this goes through twice, didn’t see the anti-spam device before!

  88. Kenny

    the book is on sale at bn.com for $4, if you’re willing to buy it from the corporate behemoth.

    i’m looking forward to a rousing discussion, and promise from my own en-masculined social position to lay off the porn pipe and do all my child-rearin’ etc at 50 % during twistylent. also no lipstick, which is a tool of the patriarchy whatever gender your lips.

    now on to that math test…

  89. roamaround

    So much good stuff has been said here. Hedonistic’s point about adopting the voice of authority is, like, totally, um, great, right??? ;)

    I probably missed some prior Twisty wisdom on this, but what would be the opposite of femininity? If I pretended I cared about football and participated in burping contests, I would fit in a lot better here in the Midwest. Big dogs are much more acceptable to most people I know than my little “frou frou” (as people say who underestimate her lion’s heart) dog. I feel subversive when I reject other people’s expectations and refuse to be ashamed of my choices, not when I ape masculinity.

    It almost seems self-hating for females to reject “femininity” per se, though I know Twisty means the conventional straight-jacket type and porn and that female-hating shit. But is authentic, positive femininity possible? Mine would include talking baby talk to babies (and my dog) and an aversion to violence, which some see as girlie behavior. I grew up around strong women who were both nurturing and fierce; I don’t see a contradiction, and I have no desire to reject their models (minus the bullshit they had to put up with).

    So what does femininity actually mean? Does rejecting femininity mean adopting masculinity? (types Carrie) I think in many minds it does because we have no other models. Do we create a new positive femininity? Or do we aim for androgynous? Or do we live and let lipstick? Whatever we do, I maintain that reverse anti-fem snobbery is just mean girls of a different (tattooed) stripe.

    Looking forward to Firestone, but I’m holding back. Scary that it’s so hard to find some places.

  90. octogalore

    roomaround –thanks, I think (re adopting the tone of authority)

  91. octogalore

    roomaround — what great points about “It almost seems self-hating for females to reject “femininity” per se,” and “Does rejecting femininity mean adopting masculinity? (types Carrie) I think in many minds it does because we have no other models.”

    I really do think there are “authentic” forms of femininity, meaning not traps or dictated by the patriarchy. Whether they are behavioral, likes/dislikes (your example of violence), or wearing a satin dress, for goshsakes. I ultimately think doing what you want to do, adding in a little practicality like wanting to keep a job you like, and doing your thing as well or better than the Ps, will crumble the P more quickly than adopting a non-“girly” look or preference that doesn’t feel right.

  92. scratchy888

    So what does femininity actually mean? Does rejecting femininity mean adopting masculinity?

    I think that, to some degree, abandoning femininity does mean adopting masculinity. This is meant not in terms of models, but in terms of practical behaviour. For example, it affords me great peace of mind to know that if I want to go running on the beach at dusk, I can probably knock someone out or at least seriously injure somebody with my keys held in clenched fist and effective left hook.

    Thinking in those terms above, and being prepared for trouble, are, I’d suggest elements of traditional masculinity.

    Beyond this kind of practical concern, though, do what you want. IN a strange way, doing what you want, rather than following rules or dogma is also an aspect of freedom which men allow themselves and women don’t.

  93. roamaround

    octogalore – thanks and yes indeed. There’s more than one way to crumble a P.

    It’s just sad to me when I see the judgment and mutual mistrust between women based on what they’re wearing, and I see it a lot in leftist activism. Personally, I think a wedding ring is the most oppressive item a woman can put on, much worse symbolically than a headscarf, but some of my favorite women wear them and we organize, laugh and learn together just fine.

    Shouldn’t we focus on what we do, say and change in the world, rather than what we wear and how we act?

  94. roamaround

    Sorry if what I said above sounds too earnest and pollyannaish. Re-reading I got a sudden image of Maria singing on a Swiss mountaintop. But it’s late here…

  95. Edith

    OK, people, STOP. Is it March yet? No, it is not. I’m gonna be hardline about this because I really want to join the discussion and I don’t want us all to be all burnt out.

    Although, are we burnt out on trashing femininity? Personally, I’m not. But then again, it’s my all-time favorite thing to trash.

    (By the way, I had to use my fingers for today’s anti-spam addition problem. I blame my feminine lack of math skills on the patriarchy.)

  96. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Edith — I actually had a math teacher (calculus, IIRC) pat my head and tell me, “You’re just not wired for it, dear”.

  97. PS

    Frumious B says
    “Like smiling, saying please, being non-confrontational… Professional women who ditch these things get called ball-busting dykes and somehow manage to make it to the top of the lay-off list. Thanks, I’ll keep the femininity and my job.”

    My place of work is about 50/50 f/m and no-one is confrontational, folks always say please and usually smile. I wear clothes with the minimum numbers of holes required to get them on my body. I’d be dumb to wear heels and a satin dress as I never know when I’ll have to get under someone’s desk. (Getcher mind outta the gutter! I’m a -professional- computer technician!)

    You couldn’t get me into a satin dress in any venue, anyhow. Does this mean I am not an “authentic” female?

  98. Lipstick-and-Birk-Wearing Momma

    Everyone seems up for this discussion. I hope that I can read the book in time.

    I’m a mom. IMHO, there is no act more brazen against the patriarchy than a woman using her breasts for their intended purpose. It is truly empowering to see the look of horror inspired when people realize that a woman can actually squirt breast milk at them. LOL!

    The idea of abolishing “motherhood” (whatever that is) is interesting, but what about attachment? There are enough people in the world with attachment disorders already. is it possible to create a society that eliminates motherhood and meets the attachment needs of individuals? Hmmm…


    Lipstick-and-Birk-Wearing Momma

  99. josquin

    I was curious the math problem spam filter.
    That’s all I have to say.

  100. Gertrude Strine

    “For example, it affords me great peace of mind to know that if I want to go running on the beach at dusk, I can probably knock someone out or at least seriously injure somebody with my keys held in clenched fist and effective left hook.”

    There’s a bit of truth there. You want to be all joggy and sand slapping on **my** beach crepuscularly – you need to knock me out before you can get away with it.

  101. anna

    On the subject of feminist bookstores, here is one that ships. www dot amazonfembks dot com.

  102. B. Dagger Lee


    I want to give Edith a break and hold off on my points until the big day.

    My main point was that there’s a difference between “the incest taboo” and incest. I’m sure everyone will have a lot to say about this whole subject. It would be nice if some anthropologists and ethnologists were prepared to explain this from the point-of-view of their fields. (Violet.)

    yrs, BDL

  103. slade

    Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate masculinity instead of femininity?

    This could reduce armed conflicts and the male unibrow.

    Just a thought.

  104. octogalore

    PS said “You couldn’t get me into a satin dress in any venue, anyhow. Does this mean I am not an “authentic” female?” My point was that “authentic” means, to me, doing what you want and what feels authentic individually. If that’s denim overalls, fine. If it’s a satin dress, fine too. If it happens to be something “feminine,” but feels right and isn’t impeding ones self-respect or progress in the world, why not. Doesn’t mean everyone has to throw on a satin dress. And it certainly doesn’t mean anyone should wear one for fixing a computer. But it’s just as inauthentic to avoid doing something that feels right, based on the dictates of an all-girl “patriarchy,” as it is to be forced to do it by the P.

  105. Shabnam

    I have tried twice to add a comment as Snk. Is this working at all?

  106. Shabnam

    Quoting Antoinette:

    `I actually had a math teacher (calculus, IIRC) pat my head and tell me, “You’re just not wired for it, dear”.’

    Ugh, I am so fucking pissed off to hear of your awful experience. I am so sick of evolutionary psychologist constanting shrieking about how girls are never destined to be brilliant mathematicians. I am a mathematician (female) in my late twenties, and it seems that I hear about these disparaging ideas far more in the 2000s than in my youth. Having grown up believeing that there was never any doubt that I was `wired for it’, on entering university (prestigious British place beginning with C) I had my confidence and self-belief shattered by fellow maths students espousing these new-fangled EP-ideas. This led to several years of beign stuck in the wilderness of depression, from which I am only beginning to recover, thanks partly to many websites such as IBTP. Thankfully I am still in the field, and am trying to revert to my teenage beliefs about myself. I guess I must be quite strange for having been more self-confident as a teenager.

    Sorry for going off thread for a bit – but now I’d like to enter it. Having read the first Chapter of Firestone, I agree completely that we have to understand how Patriarchy managed to evolve and become so pernicious. It is a question I have often wondered about. However I dispute her “fundamental fact” No. 1:

    `That Women throughout history before the. advent of birth control were at the continual mercy of their biology – menstruation, menopause, and ‘female ills’, constant painful childbirth, wet-nursing and care of infants, all of which made them dependent on males (whether brother, father, husband, lover, or clan, government, community-at-large) for physical survival.’

    This used to be considered unquestionably true, but recently anthropologists have discovered in studying modern day hunter gatherer societies that 80% of such a society’s nutrients are provided by women `gathering’ food and hunting on a small scale. Large scale hunting as favoured by men seems just for occasional treats and thus cannot be relied upon. (I think due to these treats, men throughout the ages have given themselves far too much credit for being a provider). So contrary to common belief, men don’t seem to be necessary at all for the day to day survival of women and children. This is why the evolution of Patriarchy really surprises me. Why for instance, did we not evolve a society based on friendship and alliances between women, who are central both in the production of children and the gathering of food, and nurturing of children, fundamental to all human society. There is also a theory that women also created language – as a means of controlling their infants without physical means whilst busy gathering food. A society where all people, being the children of mothers, are loyal to their mothers. I bet this is the reason we see a lot of matrillineal systems in traditional societies. I conjecture that perhaps in the past most societies were like this, and then there grew a few, lets call the “degenerate” militaristic patriarchal societies which then forcibly conquered the others. Perhaps Patriarchy is a horrible disease, akin to a damaging genetic mutation which is unfortunately dominant. Once it takes hold in a population it is very hard to eradicate. But we must find the cure! Since it is not an actual “genetic mutation” I do not believe as Firestone does that Patriarchy is an inevitability, and an inescapable consequence of our biology.

    More on the “women crap at maths theme” – I conjecture also that women invented mathematics. I have always thought that every woman has to be able to count up to at least 28! The link below confirms my suspicions:


    It talks of many ancient pieces of bone found with marking probably used by women to monitor menstruation.

  107. Shabnam

    Ah, so there is no longer any need to log in? What happened with registering? Sorry for being an idiot.

  108. hedonistic

    Octogalore,pardon me if you get this already, but I’m sensing crossed wires: The reason there can be no “authentic” femininity is that (IAW radfem theory) femininity is an artifical construct, same as masculinity. Those things you imagine are “authentically feminine” really aren’t. They’re just ways of being human.

    Authentically FEMALE is another thing entirely. I think this might be what you really mean to be getting at, though I’m not sure. To be authentically female OR male is to be human in any way you damn please – whether in a satin dress, dungarees or with a lampshade on your head. There is nothing intrinsically feminine or masculine about any of it.

  109. octogalore

    Hedonistic — ultimately, it comes down to semantics. If you look at my last post, I used “authentic” to reference “female” and put “femininity” in quotes.

    Whether there are qualities that tend to be more intrinsic to women than men, or vice versa, and therefore “feminine,” is something that is more in the realm of forms of science I have not studied. So all I can say is that my suspicion is that this is probably the case. If anyone here has run the appropriate studies, and can refute this, I would certainly be interested in learning more. But in terms of the basic thrust, and operation in our daily lives, of what we are both saying — I don’t see a lot of difference.

    Additonally, I’m afraid “rad fem theory says this so you are wrong” isn’t really an argument that makes me quake in my boots.

  110. Kelda

    Slightly off-topic: feminist bookshops have been mentioned. Are there any in the UK? I hear about them from US feminists, but I’m not sure they exist here.

    My copy’s ordered from Word Power Books in Edinburgh – not feminist, but reasonably lefty

  111. anna

    Slightly OT: In response to Kelda

    I found this site: http://www.foyles.co.uk/foyles/sm/default.asp

  112. Shabnam

    Well Foyles is a pretty wonderful bookshop in central London, but not a specifically feminist one. However one can find everything there, usually. It is the best.

  113. B

    Why ditch femininity? Why not ditch masculinity?

    What are we talking about when we discuss femininity and masculinity? Do we discuss socially constructed gender roles or just certain kinds of socialized behaviours?

    I believe that there are lots of positive aspects of femininity and I don’t se why we should want to discard those. Nor do I really believe that saying no to the feminine makes us feminists. It is just going along with patriarchal society values.

    What we should do is obviously to ditch qualities we don’t think are good and pursue qualities we deem good – regardless of their gender affilition. And we should encourage those around us to do the same.

    Smile at the guy with eyeliner and a handbag. Respect the woman with trainers and no makeup. Flirt with both. Admire the guy who bake wonderful cakes as well as the woman who argue her points. Play wild outdoor games with girls and boys alike and don’t exclude boys from the intimate conversations about feelings and why someone might be wounded because of something.

    We should all be free to pick what we find good without being restricted by gender but to mee the values we learn as girls often seem more, or at least equally, valid as those values and codes of behaviour

  114. TallyCola

    I don’t think we can ditch femininity without also ditching masculinity. They’re both rather arbitrary (and vague) groups of traits that any person can have in any combination. It’s a double edged knife meant to halve society neatly into two groups, for the benefit of one group (and only part of that group, even.)

    Shabnam- awesome comment. I’m looking forward to this discussion going forward which such smart people involved, even if I don’t get my copy in time!

    Kelda- I miss Edinburgh. :(

  115. TallyCola

    And *wow* I’m not very articulate. I have to stop posting from work. I also agree with B. The whole idea of there being “feminine” or “masculine” traits is what I would like to get rid of.

  116. scratchy888

    There’s a bit of truth there. You want to be all joggy and sand slapping on **my** beach crepuscularly – you need to knock me out before you can get away with it.

    Well I jog along an nude beach, wherein the naked middle aged male pervert roams in all his glory. It’s very isolated. Who would hear my cries?

  117. Edith

    Shabnam rocks it.

    Also, since when is giving out feminist bookstore information ever, EVER off topic?

    Since never.

  118. anna

    Thanks, Edith.

    More links for the interested…
    On the above link to Silver Moon at Foyles, I admit to having no firsthand knowledge of the place. I found the below description at http://www.thirdspace.ca/chora/bookstore.htm
    which is a worldwide list of feminist bookstores.

    “Silver Moon Bookshop (UK)
    The move to the third floor of Foyles has allowed them to stock up on many more recent and undoubtedly classic titles, especially in the areas of sexual politics and lesbian interest. Secure online ordering.
    3rd Floor of Foyles Bookstore, 119 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EB, England
    Phone: 44 (0)20 7440 1562; Email: silvermoon@foyles.co.uk

  119. kate

    Fruminous, what you speak of seems more about communication skills rather than simply gender relations. In my experience, an ass is an ass is an ass, whether male or female, no?

    Also, in my experience the ‘ball busting dyke’ stereotype has been used, with much success by those, whether male or female, to disarm women who have demonstrated assertiveness and gained power thusly. These individuals, armed with their own insecurities will tap into the vein of gender typed roles and slam and punish the woman into submission for their own gains, not necessarily out of any direct concern about the state of the patriarchy.

    I applaud your and anyone else’s ability to navigate the complex world of corporate/office politics and will be the first to admit that I for one, could not handle the delicate mechanizations myself and have found that, when seen as the leader of my own company, I am perceived differently by most.

    As an aside, may I also state that my being female and offering a contrast to the Big Balls Billy swaggering style of communication often gets me the prize contract as most people, male or female, find the aforementioned intimidating and irritating. That’s also not to say that I put on an effort to effect a more feminine presence, by being female with all its attendant associations, no special effort at contrast is necessarily needed.

    Sometimes I think that if and when my male competition gets a clue about their offensiveness, I might actually have to work a little harder to get said contracts:)

    Hedon: I applaud as well your original thinking on the child rearing issue. I tried, it didn’t work for me unfortunately. I also had a choice to chase my ex all around the country for the middling amount of support he was court ordered, or just use my energies to develop myself and raise my children. While I definitely think that monetary support from a non-involved parent is important, my ex, like many men, I believe thought that his withholding of such would somehow cause me to wither and die — or just marry and become someone else’s dependent. I did neither.

    Damn the torpedoes and damn the patriarchy, sometimes we have to move on.

  120. mali

    This has nothing to do with anything except Firestone and her book, but I just checked at my local gigantic university library for the book and “Shulie.”

    They have both: about 80 copies of the book, NONE of which are checked out (disheartening!), and a copy of “Shulie” (37 minutes, VHS) which is kept, bizarrely, in the Engineering Library.

    Can someone with more Shulamith Firestone knowledge than I have enlighten me as to why that location would make sense for this documentary? The logic of the university’s media librarians is escaping me right now, but I’m half-hoping there’s a weird but extremely interesting explanation behind the connection of Shulie-Engineering.

  121. Scratchy888


    Maybe someone told the archivist that the book was about social engineering?

  122. Kelda

    Thanks for the bookshop link!

    And I love the library filing. There’s a bookshop near me that files ‘International Socialism’ magazine under ‘business’. I’m never sure if that’s a political point or incomptence :)

  123. J

    “So what does femininity actually mean? Does rejecting femininity mean adopting masculinity?”

    Femininity gender. Rejecting it, as you would imagine, simply means rejecting gender. It does not mean re-creating a new gender, a new category of being. Negation is not interested in what’s left behind, but with what is removed.

    In that case, there is no masculine model to which we defer, nor an androgynous model, because if gender is really rejected, then there is no *need* for “a model,” since it is the ideological assumption that this model was ever *needed* that we have rejected. A model of what?

  124. roamaround

    “Negation is not interested in what’s left behind, but with what is removed.”

    I get you J, and I think you’re right. Saying masculinity is the only alternative to femininity is like saying atheism is just another religion. Dumb. That’s why I never said that.

    “A model of what?”

    The problem arises when the theory hits the mundane reality of human behavior and interaction in society where virtually everything has been gender coded one way or another. What is a gender-neutral outfit? What is gender-neutral behavior? Who decides? That’s what I meant by model.

    “…there is no masculine model to which we defer…”

    Who is “we” and do you know “we” when you see them? If so, there’s a model in your head somewhere.

  125. Mandos

    The idea that you could remain model-free is curious to me. At minimum, aspects of children’s behaviour seems to be modelled on what they see in their environment, although I don’t think that’s by any mean the *entire* story. If certain types of behaviours displayed to children are marginally more prevalent than others, I suspect they’ll quickly form up into models and stereotypes. Do you really think that the capacity for stereotypy is wholly constructed?

    As for Shulie-Engineering, maybe some librarian is involved in a radical feminist propaganda campaign directed at the predominently male engineering student body.

  126. roamaround

    By the way, when you’re on the picket line or at the demo I’m the loud one in the pink bunny outfit. Say howdy!

  127. Twisty

    I believe what j is getting at is that the truly liberated human’s behavior will not depend on or be molded by the degree to which she is judged successful in assimilating cultural traditions of any kind, including traditions of gender.

    This is conjecture, of course, since no truly liberated human currently exists upon whom to perform tests.

  128. Mandos

    Yes, but that presupposes (and perhaps even concludes, simultaneously) that a truly liberated society wouldn’t *have* cultural traditions in the first place. That the judgement of normative behaviours is *not* merely a part of the human condition, emerging from what I will call the laziness centres of the human mind (as opposed to the obstreperal lobe).

    This I find hard to believe for no other reason than the fact that young children are usually extremely judgemental conservatives in the literal sense of term.

    Conjectures are fine; discussing the likelihood of their correctness is even more fun.

  129. J

    “Yes, but that presupposes (and perhaps even concludes, simultaneously) that a truly liberated society wouldn’t *have* cultural traditions in the first place”

    Yeah, and that’s why I wouldn’t exactly characterize what I said as really denying that they exist. The point in rejecting gender (or cultural traditions, or ideology, or, in Lancanian terms, the Symbolic order) is not to escape it as much as see it for what it is: an empty cultural category that is *not* natural.

    It’s not that we deny that it exists, but that we deny that it is some sort of natural fact that has ultimate sway over how we exist. Forgetting gender has more to do with this de-naturalizing process, in the same way that Kant’s notion of Enlightenment had to do with dis-enchanting the world, than with an impossible escape from discursive thought.

  130. roamaround

    Speaking of femininity and/or activism, this all reminds me of why the anti-war-women-in-pink thing has always bugged me. At first I just thought, “What do bustiers have to do with the war?” Then I decided that it’s a way to soft-pedal seeing loud, angry women marching: “Don’t get threatened! We’re just girls!”

    I acknowledge their hard work towards an urgent goal. But the sexypink part is problematic for the same reasons we’ve discussed here.

    J, I actually think we agree and I don’t really wear pink bunny suits, so am I “we”?

  131. J

    “Do you really think that the capacity for stereotypy is wholly constructed?”

    I think that stereotypes are entirely constructed, and that any sort of “natural” disposition to recognize certain ones does not naturalize the stereotyped. The capacity is not the stereotype, and it is debatable whether any vision of such “capacity” isn’t just a hind-sight service of the patriarchy or whatever flavour of ideology you’re cooking with.

  132. Mandos

    I am not presupposing any given particular “natural” stereotypes. But I am suggesting that the creation of stereotypes, whatever they may be, is *as such* “natural.” This is not a problem if you are only interested in eliminating *existing* role-enforcement and stereotypes. But if you think that roles and stereotypes AS SUCH are oppressive, I am suspecting that you have a much more intractable problem. Not that eliminating existing roles has been proven to be easily tractable, of course.

  133. hedonistic

    Mandos, I believe human beings’ urge to gain advantage at others’ expense means we have an intractable problem.

    ‘Cause we’re lazy. Stereotypes and assumptions make it easier to do, especially the ones that allow us to pretend that it’s “natural” for “lower” beings to serve us. (SARCASM ALERT!) Women are just neater and more caretaking than men. Women just looooooove dressing up to please the random male gaze. It’s FUN! Blacks are also genetically better at picking cotton and playing sports (some guy actually said this to me with a straight face), and Mexicans just loooooooooove construction work and landscaping, especially at less than minimum wage. Cause we’re all just wired that way, ya know.

  134. hedonistic

    One more thing: I just cut a bow off a vintage full slip I scored off EBay. I wear vintage slips under my secondhand wrap dresses (also off EBay) to prevent accidental displays of boobage or leg while at the office (my new work environment is very casual and almost 75% female). BTW, wrap dresses are versatile, adjustable and look chic over pants. They’re a part of my new daily uniform. I highly recommend them as a lifestyle choice.

    Anyhoo back to the slip. I just NOW realized women shouldn’t wear bows. EVER. They look ridiculous and announce to the world “I’m just a silly girl, don’t take me seriously!”

    I’d even be willing to posit that with the exception of bows on presents, bows are OBJECTIVELY OFFENSIVE. There, I said it. In the context of Patriarchy, bows are objectively offensive and should not be applied upon any human person, ever.

    (Now there’s gonna be a flamewar in defense of bows, I just know it! HAH.)

    I took a scissors and cut this one off. Now I have a hole in my slip! IBTP.

  135. Famous Soviet Athlete

    There’s a bookshop near me that files ‘International Socialism’ magazine under ‘business’. I’m never sure if that’s a political point or incomptence

    That caused me to spew liquids and roll on the floor laughing, among other internet clichés.

  136. J

    “This is not a problem if you are only interested in eliminating *existing* role-enforcement and stereotypes. But if you think that roles and stereotypes AS SUCH are oppressive, I am suspecting that you have a much more intractable problem. Not that eliminating existing roles has been proven to be easily tractable, of course.”

    The roles unto themselves, as roles, are not really the problem. It is the naturalness that is in-bedded in practically all of them that is what makes them dangerous, since the paradigm of the last 200-300 years has been one of a “if it is natural, then it must be okay” persuasion. The trickier twist of mind to perform is that it isn’t even about whether these things are natural or not, but about whether in articulating any role or social expectation we are able to speak from a place outside of discourse.

    In rejecting femininity, like i said, you are rejecting gender, or you’re not rejecting femininity as much as promoting something that’s not feminity– masculinity or something else. In getting past the problems of gendered relations, gender must go out the window as something we rely upon as that inner-core to who or what we (or anyone else or anything else) are. This means seeing through gender, and arguably all discourse, as empty of any essentialness or “naturalness.”

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