«

»

Sep 01 2008

Spinster aunt clarifies concept

How can I talk about femininity and murdered women in the same breath?

It appears — due, no doubt, to some fault in my blaming skills — that some readers don’t know what I mean by “femininity.” Apparently it is assumed that I’m just talking about rhinestone lipstick and pink hairdos. However, the concept of femininity extends to the full set of unique behaviors performed by the sex class to appease its oppressor, where failure to appease has unfavorable repercussions. Among these behaviors is the tendency of women to marry men, and particularly, as in the case of the murdered Pakistani women to whom I allude in yesterday’s post, that women should be so submissive as to willingly become receptacles for whatever husband their fathers select.

My position is that the construct recognized as “femininity” represents the dominant social order’s successful attempt to otherize an entire class of people for the purpose of oppressing them. Because feminization is among the first steps taken to socialize children, and because it is so readily accepted, deeply internalized, and staunchly defended, it is the primary foundation of patriarchy.

Unlike the murdered Pakistani women, many Western women have privilege enough to repudiate femininity without suffering life-threatening consequences. My crazy idea is that they should if they can, because women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized.

130 comments

4 pings

  1. other orange

    Agreed. It’s in the same vein as “women’s rights are human rights.” But society will never see women’s rights as human rights until they see women as human. Right now we’re dolls or shrews or microwave/dishwashers that you can have sex with. We barely exist as people. I happen to agree that shedding femininity wherever we safely can is a first step.

  2. AnnaArcturus

    Agreed. Nine-tenths of femininity sucks anyway. Now how about “women’s culture?” Patriarchy approved femininity in Womens’ Studies drag or a phenomenon we can feel good about? Example: quaint little tea shops. My preference is for the rustic community style versus the frilly femme ones, but come the revolution, there had damn well better be tea houses and they’d better be essentially women only. (The frilly tea houses, use their aggressive pinkness as armor against male intrusion.) Or “women’s spirituality?”

  3. slythwolf

    Come the revolution, AnnaArcturus, my instinct is that nothing will be women-only, because concepts like “men” and “women” will cease to have meaning.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to not shave my legs and armpits.

  4. Catherine Martell

    Andrea Dworkin sez that femininity is “the apparent acceptance of sex on male terms with goodwill and demonstrable good faith, in the form of ritualized obsequiousness.”

    One of these days, I’d love to see a discussion of this in which everyone resisted the temptation to talk about herself.

  5. Chiroptera

    AnnaArcturus said, The frilly tea houses, use their aggressive pinkness as armor against male intrusion

    I am going to ponder that for a bit. I never thought of it that way while I was gagging at the sight of such frilly places.

  6. phio gistic

    And then there are movements such as http://www.nerdgirls.com to try to convince women they should be “brainy AND sexy.” Just to make damned sure we never get out from under the oppressive thumb of forced femininity, no matter how smart and good at engineering and computer science we are. Don’t scare the boys with your big huge brains! Continue enforcing all rules of femininity, wear tons of eyeliner and bustiers to class, and maybe they won’t notice that distasteful brilliance! (And maybe they will just sexually harass you instead of stalking you or threatening to rape and kill you like they traditionally do to women who dare to be smart at “boy” things.)

  7. Cassie

    Heya blamers,

    I’ve been reading “Women don’t ask: negotiation and the gender divide” http://books.google.at/books?id=8V2I3SC_zmgC&dq=women don’t ask&pg=PP1&ots=f2pd0NnDqO&sig=_kKPzSfeA9JMux3IVmf0px9PoDc&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
    sorry for the long link. It’s awesome, despite its focus on economic gains and lack of revolutionary ambitions. Go read it and go make everyone you know read it kind-of-awesome, and no you can’t have my copy, I’m not finished with it yet!

    That book really brings home, with multiple studies and data and perspectives, how ingrained the “ritualized obsequiousness” that C. Martell brought up via A. Dworkin. It shows how women are trained from birth to devalue themselves, value others above themselves, be hesitant, put up with all kinds of shit and not even think or dream to ask of a better world. That’s what Twisty’s femininity concept made me think of. I’ve been recognizing myself and other women’s behavior in every single section of the book.

    And here’s what I want to know: I can now recognize the conditioning, I can see the patriarchy more clearly. But what can I really do to get out of the brain-washing? I’ve tried quite a long time, but it seems like I’m still in the wading pool, and I still have to cross the ocean. How DO we get free?

  8. JA

    a very long time ago, in a book whose title i have long ago forgotten, but it was concerned with breast feeding the infant i had at the time, there was a short discussion of biological femininity versus cultural femininity. the passage disdained ALL the cultural hype as being completely unconnected to being a biological woman.

    for me it was a small pebble thrown into the vast pool of my growing sense of consciousness concerning the lack of fairness in the cultural devaluing i received at the hands of what i now recognize as the patriarchy.

  9. ::Wendy::

    succinct and clear

    “the construct recognized as “femininity” represents the dominant social order’s successful attempt to otherize an entire class of people for the purpose of oppressing them”

    “women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized”

    I am all for de-otherising.

  10. rubysecret

    I tried the rhinestone lipstick, but there was a weird clicking noise when I said “partiarchy” so I gave it up.

  11. VinaigretteGirl

    Getting free is a bit like practising the Alexander Technique: changing tiny bad habits every day and countermanding them until they stop being habits and become has-beens.

    Start where you can: don’t stand in the middle of the grocery store saying “What kind of cheese does he like?” (if you have a Nigel). Get what you like. If other people don’t like your choices they can do the work and make *their* choices. Look at your life, bit by bit, from the fridge to the shoes to the office and say “Do I *want* this?”. If the answer is “Actually, no” then find a way to get rid of it. If the answer is “Yes, at least for now” fair enough, keep it and revisit the decision.

    The way to be free is to BE it and deal with the consequences: start small, little and often, until that becomes your nature. The big stuff will accrue.

  12. Frumious B

    Unlike the murdered Pakistani women, many Western women have privilege enough to repudiate femininity without suffering life-threatening consequences.

    Do we? We have privilege enough to repudiate Pakistani femininity – that is, we don’t have to marry the guy our father picks out for us. (Actually, many Pakistani women also have that freedom.)

    But we Western women don’t live in Pakistan. We have our own version of femininity to comply to, and murder of non-conforming women happens in the West, too. I’m not so confident about the life-saving power of Western privilege that I would recommend to Western women that they start crossing lines of feminine behavior.

    I’m sure the women of Pakistan are heartened by my hairy legs, however.

  13. goblinbee

    I have never seen so many glorious, femininity-repudiating lasses in my whole life as I have seen the past two years while living in Portland, Oregon. Strong women in charge of their own destinies and living with and loving other women. (Too bad about all the strip clubs here, or it would be just about perfect.)

  14. Lisa

    funny you mention Portland, Goblinbee. My sister visited me here in Portland last weekend and lets just say it looked like the patriarchy threw-up all over my bathroom in the form of hot rollers, make-up, big “sectioning” hairbrushes and blow dryers and other smelly lotions and potions.

    Meanwhile, she was appalled, APPALLED! at how many Portland women she saw without make-up and with hair functionally pony-tailed (or buzz-cutted.) And no WONDER women never get far in the world when they look like that. I tried to tell her that she was doing it wrong–thinking about feminism that is. And that what these women were doing was helping women. But her thought processes don’t go too far beyond CNN headline news, so I’m not quite sure I made an impact.

  15. liberality

    “we do what we’re told
    we do what we’re told
    we do what we’re told
    told to do”

    from some British musician that was raped as a boy by other bigger boys in his all boys school otherwise known as Peter Gabriel.

    I started wearing dresses because I liked them in my early 40′s. Long flowing dresses. I felt freer because guys couldn’t look at my legs and I didn’t have to shave them all the time. I am a hairy woman so it gets really tiresome shaving all the time. It amazed me that I really liked wearing skirts and dresses rather than pants or shorts. In the winter I wear long underwear under my skirt to keep warm. And people stare at me like I’m some freakazoid, imagine that. I wear boots in the winter and sandals in the summer, all flat heeled. I want to be able to run if I need to.

    And yes, I am making it personal because I am a woman and I live in this culture. It is about me.

  16. goblinbee

    Lisa (quoting her sister): “And no WONDER women never get far in the world when they look like that.”

    But they do get far in Portland! I keep meeting women who look like MY idea of attractive and fabulous, and who are learning professional trades–getting their electrician’s or plumber’s license, or starting their own businesses–landscaping, carpentry, bicycle repair, etc. They’re creating their own little bitchfest oasis right here in these United States!

    Come one, come all!

  17. Cara

    Unlike the murdered Pakistani women, many Western women have privilege enough to repudiate femininity without suffering life-threatening consequences. My crazy idea is that they should if they can, because women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized.

    Thank you, Twisty.

  18. denelian

    thank you for the clarification; i know it’s annoying when someone doesn’t get it and you have to stop and explain it. hence my large amounts of appreciation.

    de-othering is definitly the goal. and, like many goals at the end of large social movements, there are lots of roads that one can take to get there.

    at least we all agree that we DO have a goal, and that it IS to get everyone to accept everyone as equal people.

  19. Dr. Psycho

    When I hear men complain about “unfeminine” women in their profession, I always blame the patriarchy to them, pointing out that those women chose “masculine” clothing and habits because men wouldn’t take them seriously when they wore frilly things and spoke with a lilt instead of a growl.

    It’s an open question whether a woman chooses something “unfeminine” in dress or grooming or deportment because she feels more comfortable that way, or as protective coloration. Either way, it’s her choice, of course.

  20. Natalia

    One of these days, I’d love to see a discussion of this in which everyone resisted the temptation to talk about herself.

    Catherine, how? What would such a discussion look like?

    I believe that everyone approaches this issue with their own individual background in mind, whether they articulate this or not.

    No one is Every Woman.

  21. Virginia

    Natalia and Catherine I agree with you both. There is little point to a thread that is simply a list of anecdotes but it is equally difficult to have a debate of this nature without using personal experience as a starting point.

    This debate (and the one on the previous post) has helped me understand the difference between feminity the behaviour and feminity the uniform, and that just as wearing combat pants doesn’t make me a soldier wearing a skirt doesn’t make me feminine if I’m still acting like my bad-ass self.

    It is difficult talking about appearance in feminist circles because it’s one of the most patriarchally acceptable things for women to do, but personal presentation is a political action and I believe merits some discussion. Feminine behaviour in a personal context will probably generate even more, just as some women feel pressure to wear make-up at work I expect others also feel pressure to behave in particular ways – beyond the call of professionalism.

    One of the most incredible insights into all of this I had was when at age 19 I decided to have blonde hair for 4 months, during my pre-feminist abuse boyfriend phase, and shamefully it brought out the worst of my feminine behaviour. The worst part was how accepting people were when I made mistakes, as if it was natural for a hawt blonde chick to fail, but that I was most deserving of their help because I was so sweet with it. For example: I broke my brother’s bike lock in town and needed to essentially steal my own bike to get home. Not only did an auto shop just give me a massive wire cutter no questions asked, not only did a dudely cyclist notice my attempts with said wire cutter and cut the lock for me, but a police car drove past as we were cutting the lock and although taking a good look they didn’t stop. I made it home relatively easily.

    I conclude that feminity would be useful if I ever need to go on a crime spree but until then it’s staying on the shelf.

  22. Ant

    Phew, needed that. I’m particularly grateful for your words of good sense today. There’d be brain on my ceiling by now otherwise.

    In line with the Dworkin quote can I point some blamers over to this rape apology article? xttp://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/mick_hume/article4656225.ece
    I’ve been trying to send a letter to the editor for an hour, I hope that the technical problems are because their inbox is full of complaints, but I doubt it. There’s a rather empty comments section on the web page, but I can’t read or write about it anymore right now without getting too annoyed. I seem to have lost track of where online discussion is, so thought I’d throw it in here.

  23. other orange

    One of these days, I’d love to see a discussion of this in which everyone resisted the temptation to talk about herself.

    Catherine, I think I understand- and if I do understand correctly, then you and I are in agreement.

    Because the “shedding femininity” thread always becomes the “I like wearing makeup and I do it for me and if you don’t like it you’re oppressing me” thread. There are definitely plenty of us who participate in some aspects of patriarchal culture because hey, we live here; but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an honest discussion about opting out of that culture where nobody acts personally offended.

    Sharing stories and tips and strategies can get very personal, on the other hand, and that’s a good thing.

  24. Helen

    Great clarification, Twisty — this is what it’s really about.

    Toss out marriage? Check.
    Toss out jobs whenever employers attempt to assign me to support roles? Check.
    Toss out any attempts to define my career choices according to traditional roles or rebellion against them? Check.

    People give me a LOT of crap for all that, but not much in the death threats, so I deal.

    So when I see a response like this:

    I am disappointed that patriarchy-blamin’ women think it’s OK to dress up in the trappings of servitude and second class status, just because they “feel like it”.

    and realize that my anti-frostbite shoes might not be anti-girlie enough for someone, I get a little WTF?

  25. Helen

    I’m curious — how many others here receive huge amounts of crap for having repudiated marriage?

    I run into ditherspaz freakouts from men every time it comes up — evidently I’m one of “the good ones”, and there aren’t enough “good ones” to go around for every man to keep one as his own personal slave and they have to settle for inferior slaves, so taking one of “the good ones” off the domestic slave market amounts to Horrible Tragic Wounding of All Men Everywhere. Or something.

  26. goblinbee

    Natalia: “Catherine, how? What would such a discussion look like?”

    I think she means keep it academic instead of anecdotal.

  27. saltyC

    OK, totally un-apropos of this topic, please indulge me.

    can I say I am sick of the sexism of Obama supporters?
    OK, I hate Palin’s politics and won’t vote for her ticket, but the woman-hating on the part of Obama supporters against her isn’t making me feel like voting for him either.

    I feel like a stay-at-home voter. Which to me means voting for McKinney.

  28. Dr. Steph

    I’m feeling pretty sad about these last threads. Not only for the women in Pakistan, but for the feelings of futility that come through everyone’s comments (including my own).

    Really, men and most women don’t give a damn about patriarchy.

    Sigh.

    And really, hairy legs is pretty minor compared to other aspects of prescribed feminity, the stuff that I find a) hard to even identify and b) hard to change.

  29. B. Dagger Lee

    I have a useful rule of thumb that I apply across the board when it comes to femininity — from the minutest item of clothing (to pink barrette or not to pink barrette?) to the largest of abstract questions (to gay-marry, or not to gay-marry?):

    It’s called the “Fuck, No! Rule.”

    It’s also useful when you can’t even bring yourself to think about it, or need to make a decision in a hurry.

  30. B. Dagger Lee

    This rule has served me well.

  31. Natalia

    I think she means keep it academic instead of anecdotal.

    I understand that this is what Catherine essentially means, but I would argue that even when we’re having an academic discussion on the subject, we’re all still talking about ourselves. I’ve written *a lot* about femininity in these last few years, and the one thing I come back to is: MY background, MY upbringing, MY relationships, MY beliefs and how they feed into this discourse. This is why I don’t make any sweeping across-the-board statements on the subject, I feel that my own perspective remains subjective no matter what.

    (We could argue that this could be the case for pretty much everything under the sun – that femininity is no special, but I think it is. Just because its invocation automatically means different things for different people. Whereas, for example, we as feminists can usually agree on what the definition of, say, the word “racism” is.)

  32. B. Dagger Lee

    Meta, for Catherine Martell:

    “Yes” is feminine, “No” is feminist.

  33. BigFish

    This post is right on target!

  34. Windstorm

    VinaigretteGirl, what a good idea. Thanks!

    Twisty, agree completely. Well said.

  35. Twisty

    Not to make it all about me or anything, but I’d appreciate an academically-oriented discussion myself. I doubt very many of us are interested in keeping score on how many blamers have hairy legs.

    I agree, Frumious B, and have said so in numerous previous posts, that a repudiation of femininity is not possible for all western women; that’s why I used the word “many” instead of “all.” The number of women upon whom this species of greatness might reasonably be thrust — women of independent means — is admittedly small. Really small, if you use John McCain’s definition of “rich.”

    I don’t really expect anyone to go around repudiating anything, though; as I observed above, femininity enjoys insurmountable popularity, even among feminists. I’m only saying if people did, it would really give patriarchy a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

    BDL: word.

  36. rootlesscosmo

    I’d appreciate an academically-oriented discussion myself.

    I think what we’re looking at is the problem of how to turn “the personal is political” into reality. That can take the form of individual decisions (and anecdotal experience) but unless it can also (not instead, also) become the foundation for organized action, it will tend to get diverted into “psychological” ways of understanding, and institutions, which don’t lend themselves so easily to anecdotal treatment, will be undisturbed. An African-American writer named Kali Tal recently posted on the Afro-Am Literature listserv, where someone else had mentioned “Post-Slavery Stress Syndrome;” here’s an excerpt from her comment:

    Yes, of course, oppression
    is psychologically damaging, but the call for “healing” is at best
    uninformed and at worst disingenuous, since healing is provisional and
    fragile in an environment where ongoing trauma is the rule rather than
    the exception. Though the relief of having a label for a problem
    (i.e., “this is PTSD”) is initially strong, in most oppressed
    communities it soon becomes evident that naming the stress caused by
    one’s oppression as a disease or disorder is not only unhelpful, but
    perpetuates a sense of helplessness and victimization, rather than a
    sense of political agency and urgency.

    We need to find ways to express solidarity with individual accounts of injustice without getting stuck at the level of individual solutions. Hard to do.

  37. Shaina

    lol at pink hairdos.

    Yes, I agree. The point isn’t whether it’s some religious custom, it’s whether it’s a crime or not to kill and torture someone. Which it is. Though I guess a lot of countries have those paradoxical laws allowing criminal deeds in the name of religious practice. This totally reminds me of that Isaac Asimov book that I Robot was based off of, you know, the one about the logical contradictions between the 3 robot rules.

    Anywho, I digress.

  38. Frumious B

    I don’t really expect anyone to go around repudiating anything, though; as I observed above, femininity enjoys insurmountable popularity, even among feminists. I’m only saying if people did, it would really give patriarchy a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

    It’s the poke in the eye with the sharp stick that I’m not so confident in. In every culture there’s femininity-repudiation which means fuck-all and there’s femininity-repudiation which gets you killed. Here in the US at this moment in time remaining unmarried means fuck-all. I have the education and the means to remain unmarried, but as a rebellious statement that seriously means fuck-all. I have the choice to marry a woman, I do live in a state where that’s legal, and that would poke a stick in the patriarchy’s eye. It would also cross me over into potentially getting me killed territory. You appear to posit that there is some middle ground between fuck-all and get-yourself-killed which is called poke-with-a-stick. I posit that poke-with-a-stick is just another name for get-yourself-killed. I guess people who live in Oregon just have to bear the repudiation burden for the rest of us.

  39. unree

    You appear to posit that there is some middle ground between fuck-all and get-yourself-killed which is called poke-with-a-stick. I posit that poke-with-a-stick is just another name for get-yourself-killed.

    Middle territory for poke-with-a-stick: Be a role model; that is, be the kind of woman whose existence gives an adolescent girl (in your environs) a sense of wider possibilities beyond the version of femininity that prevails. I grant you that’s nowhere near get-yourself-killed, but I don’t think it’s fuck-all either.

  40. another voice

    The large numbers of (american) women choosing not to marry *are* having an effect on the patriarchy. Poking it with a stick, so to speak. If more of us chose that path or other paths that untoggle expectations (femininity) from reality, the idea that women are human will continue to gain ground. I’m hardly an optimist, but demographic shifts like that are noted. And as unree suggests, when I tell my 6 yr old niece that I do not wear make-up because it would waste valuable time to apply, it reminds her that make-up is a choice, not an automatic.

  41. AngryJules

    Thinking politically & beyond personal experience…

    Identifying subtle feminine behaviors and casting off femininity is much, much easier when women form feminist communities. We could all use at least one or two friends concerned enough about our well-being and that of women around the world to call us on our feminine bullshit. We’re bombarded with so many negative sanctions when we abandon feminine rituals that some positive feedback and nudges in the other direction would be a breath of fresh air. Imagine how much easier it’d be to stop wearing make up or prioritizing the needs of men over our own if we all had women behind us saying “Hey… why do you REALLY want to wear that? What does it imply when you do?” or “How much time do you think he spent considering your feelings and preferences?” Just a few women rejecting femininity in small locales can inspire and give courage to others.

  42. Cathy

    Thanks for these posts, Twisty. I had been conflicted about reconciling femininity with feminism, and now I realize that the two are diametrically opposed (also thanks to BDL’s succinct clarification of “yes” vs. “no”). I had found, probably referred from IBTP, some disgusting website of some creep talking about femininity and wrote him to complain. He wrote back, saying I should buy his book if I wanted to “learn more about feminism.” Gag.

    One really troublesome feminine behavior drilled into so many girls, is that we must not take up any space. We must squeeze ourselves into the tiniest space so the menz can sprawl out. We must not take charge, make requests (much less demands), complain, speak loudly, or take credit for our own work. We are supposed to giggle at their jokes which are often sexist. And as phio gistic wrote, above all, we must not scare the boys with our huge brains.

    It will be much harder to ditch the behaviors taught since birth than the clothes/makeup. It is much harder for those who were thoroughly brainwashed than for those where were taught self-respect. Give us time, Kira. We’re working on it.

  43. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    While trying not to favor the personal over the political, I gotta say that it’s far easier to stop shaving one’s legs or wearing lipstick than to stop dropping one’s eyes deferentially while saying “Thank you!” when one is extended a “courtesy” such as having the door held open for one.

  44. another voice

    I’m working on not smiling at men and looking them in the eye when they start the whole I can stare at you and you just have to “drop your eyes deferentially” act. Looking right at them with an impassive face and just a touch of how dare you in the eyes actually makes some of them look away. Of course, it may shove some women back into the likely to get killed category in other places / situations.

    Also working on not laughing uncomfortably to ease tension either. It makes me nutty to hear my brilliant assertive (female) colleagues do the giggle thing to appease conflicting people / ideals in conversations, and I know I do it too. Less laughing and more assertive talk. That’s what I’m trying to work on.

    And word to feminist communities. It helps.

  45. chingona

    While trying not to favor the personal over the political, I gotta say that it’s far easier to stop shaving one’s legs or wearing lipstick than to stop dropping one’s eyes deferentially while saying “Thank you!” when one is extended a “courtesy” such as having the door held open for one.

    I was thinking along these lines and wanted to add that it’s interesting that the things we seem to focus on in these femininity discussions are precisely the things that are easiest to change and would provoke the least consequences for most of us. They also are the things that may provide a certain amount of pleasure to the performer of the act. By pleasure, I mean merely that people have always engaged in adornment. Some of the forms of adornment that are feminine in this time and place were male in other times and places (I’m thinking make-up and high heels). Some forms of adornment are pretty painless and easy to engage in, etc.

    It seems we rarely talk about (or even consider) the things that don’t provide any pleasure, other than maybe preventing us from coming to harm, but in many cases even that is questionable. For me, it’s the always putting other people ahead of myself and apologizing even though I don’t have anything to apologize for. A very small example: If I have an unexpected day off from work in the middle of the week, I usually will spend at least several hours cleaning the house so I don’t have to do this on the weekend, and we can do something fun together on the weekend. My Nigel is pretty good about doing his share of the housework, but if he has a day off, that is not how he spends his time. He does something that he wants to do for himself and by himself. No harm would come to me if I stopped doing this. I don’t live with a man who considers housework my job and mine alone. I don’t live with a man who hits me or threatens me or who would leave me high and dry with the kid and the bills over something like that. This is a very ingrained behavior whose benefit to me is pretty minimal, but I continue to engage in it. I am trying to think how my life would change if I did change it, what else might shift.

  46. Helen

    The discussion has taken a very helpful turn — when people list these deference behaviors, it makes it a lot easier to do something about them because we have something specific to work on.

    Here’s one that I’ve long struggled with: Walking in crowds. I discovered in my teens that if I walked in a crowd clearly paying attention to where I was going, people would veer into my path and expect me to dodge around them. Often they would bash into me at the last second.

    I found that in order to walk in a crowd without being constantly shoved, walked into, and stepped on, I had to put on a big show of not looking where I was going. So long as I looked like I might be looking where I was going, people decided I was fair game for the “dodge me if you can, I’ll “accidentally” hurt you if you can’t” game.

    They still didn’t give me the amount of space they give men though. Men especially would veer close to me when passing.

    My latest change to the game is carrying a large keyring bristling with heavy objects, always in my hand, swinging it by my side. I’ve discovered this is the minimum necessary for people to give me the same amount of space they would allot to a man. Some men still wouldn’t, but in most cases I’ve learned to spot them and give my keyring an extra swing, sometimes with a look that says I will be only to happy to hit you with it if need be.

  47. Tupe

    This lipstick blaming vs. lipstick cheerleading is getting just too wishy-washy for words. People seem to take the line that “the personal is the political” to mean that feminist politics must be discussed it in terms of personal belief systems, experiences and anecdotes.

    I would like to remind folks that while sharing strategies and relating to each other as people is important — people are social creatures, after all — we are fully human and thus entitled to all modes of thought that human beings have ever utilized. Personal issues must also be discussed on a large political, sociological and philosophical scales…. the same removed, analytical systems of academic thought that every other human matter enjoys when it’s not considered a “special interest issue” like Things That Happen To Female People.

  48. Carolyn

    I doubt very many of us are interested in keeping score on how many blamers have hairy legs.

    I know what you mean–sometimes reading comments on issues like this sounds like people bragging about how nonconformist they are–but on the other hand those of us who do have hairy legs are encouraged to know there are plenty of others, even if we don’t see them, and those of us who don’t might be more willing to consider taking that step when they read how many other women already have.

  49. LCforevah

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqhxNMIGum0

    The thing about the feminine is that it’s never enough. Women in Saudi Arabia dressed in purdah still get harrassed, and there’s plenty more youtube videos to prove it besides the one I’ve cited.
    In other words, your compliance doesn’t save you from negative consequences–whatever they are in the culture you belong to.

    Bagging compliance to femininity must be part of the endgame if we and our daughters are to carve out a safer world. It’s just that in the middle of bagging it, it’s dangerous for those doing it. I don’t know how to make it any better, and I think many of us here feel the same way.

  50. chingona

    I guess this is where the noviceness of my blaming comes in, but I’m really struggling with how to talk about this without talking about ourselves. It’s hard for me to work on this in a purely theoretical way without specific examples. I understand why the shaving and make-up examples are not too exciting, but naming some of these deference behaviors has helped me, for one of the first times, really get beyond the more superficial aspects of femininity.

    I wanted to talk about this a little more: It’s the poke in the eye with the sharp stick that I’m not so confident in. In every culture there’s femininity-repudiation which means fuck-all and there’s femininity-repudiation which gets you killed.

    Are you saying that anything that doesn’t get you killed is meaningless, spitting in the wind, etc.? And if that’s true, how do you change anything? I have a lot of respect for women who publically repudiate feminity because they are confronting patriarchy head-on but also because they make it a lot easier for those of who come behind them. And making it easier for more and more women to leave behind aspects of femininity without risking their lives seems like a pretty big stick-in-the-eye to me.

  51. BigFish

    Chingona, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I’m not sure how a lot of women come to the conclusion to accept or repudiate femininity. The word is actually quite strange to me, but what I’ve noticed in every culture I’ve traveled in, is that however women bahave, they are forced to act in a deferential or interior way to men.

    So a rejection of femininity, is really a conscious rejection of second class status. Now women seem to fear this. They fear rejection, and are often afraid to confront men, when they only thing men do understand is blunt confrontation.

    I reject all forms of femininity, and always have, even when I was a child. I find the clothing women wear absolutely ugly and expensive, for example. I find most of the jobs women put of with absurd.

    Do I suffer as a result of rejecting femininity. Actually, I make more money, I have LESS trouble with men harassing me — I bash them when they do, and this shuts them up fast.
    Women freak out often at the thought of this mean Amazon class of women alive in the world, but I don’t see the point in simpering to get along. Live free or die, and men hate women no matter what they do, so you might as well be as free as possible.

  52. Catherine Martell

    Apologies for my previous Delphic pronouncement, and thank you, other orange, BDL, Twisty and others, for clarifying what I meant. Jezebella said something similar on the first thread. When a post on women being murdered for their failure to conform to prescribed feminine behaviours degenerates into grooming tips for western women, we’ve missed the point. When it degenerates into ungrooming tips for western women, we’ve missed the point again.

    Feminism is rooted in the fact that the personal is political, and the political is personal. It’s inevitable and positive that our opinions will spring from our own experiences. But I want to see those experiences broaden up into a global consciousness, not narrow down into me-me-me individualism.

    I couldn’t care less whether anyone here shaves her armpits or not, and I’m sick of these discussions getting bogged down in such minutiae. Filling threads like this with the individual experiences of mostly privileged (at a guess: young? straight? white? cis?), western women inevitably excludes diverse voices, however much it may intend to do the opposite.

    I’m greatly enheartened by some very interesting responses above, many of which aim to take a wider and more empathetic view of the effects of, and solutions to, feminine gendering.

    What is femininity? What different forms does it take, and why? Why do so many women conform to and perpetuate it? By what processes may we surpass it? Is it even possible to surpass it, or only to subvert it? Does it help to chip little fragments off the edifice bit by bit, or is the only real solution to focus on a much more drastic revolution? How might such a revolution be fomented, carried out, and sustained?

    These are the kind of questions we could discuss without recourse to the first person singular at any point.

    (In fact, while we’re on feminine behaviours, women’s writing is supposedly characterised by our tendency to couch statements in eyelash-fluttering, weakening constructions: “I personally think”; “of course, that’s just my opinion”, etc. Try writing something without any of those in it. I’ve just gone back and deleted three from this post. It feels uncompromising and exposing. It will probably piss some people off. Acting unladylike often does.)

  53. Ant

    Hmm. I think there’s two different things to attack:

    First there’s the drain on women’s time, energy and self-respect that practising femininity demands. That does get chipped away bit by bit and seeing other people doing it helps.

    Secondly there’s the fact that everything is interpreted through this femininity/masculinity filter anyway, so that whatever we do, however it is motivated, is going to be judged in light of our gender. That I can’t see the way round, just pointing it out and explaining why it’s wrong I guess. It’s not fun, but sometimes it works, slowly. But trying to second guess how other people are going to interpret your behaviour all the time can become as draining as the most painstaking make-up routine, so sometimes I think you have to just ignore other people and act for yourself.

    Like how people tease male vegetarians more, but at the same time they do acknowledge that they’ve made a reasoned choice. Female vegetarians are more often considered either cutely girly about animals, or to be secretly preoccupied about calories. I used to try never to bring up my vegetarianism, but now, if it’s relevant I do. And people do think it’s feminine of me, and there’s not much I can do about that, but it was useless spending time minding that.

  54. Octogalore

    I think the idea of extending the idea of what’s helpful to reject beyond personal decoration to behaviors is useful. Ultimately, the largest weapon the patriarchy has to keep women down, in the world we live in, is superior economic power. It’s not body hair or differences in clothing. It’s certainly worthwhile to consider eliminating any sartorial or other physical accomodations that cause us personal, professional, monetary, or time-loss sacrifice.

    But none of that will really create significant change in our power to say FY to the Pat if we hold on to what I would view as other femininity behaviors with more ecnomic impact. Such as sticking with female-associated jobs or caretaking, or avoiding avenues of ecnomic or political power as more male-identified or somehow corrupt. If those behaviors cannot be rejected in high enough percentages to bring us closer to equal in economic power, then the sartorial/physical steps are merely removing drops from an ever-replenishing bucket.

  55. Jessie

    I think it’s a mistake to think that femininity is ONLY (as Charlotte Perkins Gilman once said, I think) a reflection of what men are or want–it’s also a container that certain objects and traits are put into, just as certain traits and objects are sorted and put into the masculinity box. Many traits/objects of femininity are things that someone is always going to want or want to do regardless of status or classification–there are always going to be people who want to play with (nonviolent) dolls, for example, and people who want to wear jewelry or makeup even when they’re alone. There will also always be behaviours attached to high status and low status, although they don’t need to be labelled as masculine or feminine.

    I think what I’m trying to say here is a paraphrase of what Ashley Montagu said about race: that gender is an omelette composed of nothing in nature. Dozens of disparate unrelated “ingredients” have been thrown together into one category, mashed & mixed, and “blended” to form a superficially seamless unit. The difference with gender is that there are only two types of omelette allowed, and every possible omelette ingredient has been assigned to either one or the other recipe. Should we stop using peppers and onions and goat cheese because someone assigned them to the omelette recipe that also has cotton candy, wax lips, and strawberry syrup? Or should we just, you know, make a new omelette with only the ingredients we want in it?

  56. rootlesscosmo

    @Catherine Martell:
    Feminism is rooted in the fact that the personal is political, and the political is personal. It’s inevitable and positive that our opinions will spring from our own experiences. But I want to see those experiences broaden up into a global consciousness, not narrow down into me-me-me individualism.

    At the risk of Pedantic Assholery, I think it’s worth recalling that the basic principle you cite here was first developed in the context of an organized movement for real change. Women left CR groups and went and sat-in at New York publishing companies to demand equal pay and opportunities; women connected around shared individual insults and decided to organize the Flight Attendants’ Union; women shared experience of pig conduct in the male-dominated “Left” and declared that a Left that oppressed women was just the same old patriarchal bullshit in Marxist, rather than Judeo-Christian, drag. What seems to be missing from the present situation is that kind of organized action to politicize the personal (and personalize politics.)

    Nobody likes being oppressed, never mind the stories they tell themselves for consolation. I think–though I’m nowhere near certain–that movements against institutional oppression make their greatest gains when, through circumstances the oppressed don’t control and can’t foresee, their goals happen to coincide with major social (and economic, as Octogalore points out) shifts. Black people didn’t suddenly discover, in 1955, that they were relegated to second-class citizenship; they’d been raising hell about it all along. But the government got nervous about the Soviets making hay in Africa and Asia with glaring examples of US racism and hypocrisy, and whoopsie, we got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights act; thus far and no farther, as Dr. King learned to his sorrow, but it was the confluence of resistance from below with maneuvers on top that led to some, limited, contingent, but real changes. (Philip Klinkner’s The Unsteady March is the best source here, I think.) Similarly, after WW2, the US economy needed fewer blue-collar, strong-back-and-a-weak-mind jobs (as I was told when I hired out as a construction laborer in 1967) and more sedentary, indoor jobs that could be done by low-paid women workers; that brought women out of the unpaid domestic workforce and into a situation where–once they began to see their lousy conditions in political terms–they could begin to organize and exert collective pressure.

    Are we there now? I don’t see it. Will we get there again? I dunno. I’m 66 and I probably won’t live to see it if it happens. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, like the wave of confidence and exhilaration and pride that sweeps through people when they realize they’re part of a real movement; there’s nothing so dispiriting as the gloomy realization that the other side has once again turned the tide against us. Onward, I guess–where else, after all?–but at my stage of life it does get weary.

  57. AngryJules

    Entering positions or fields that are considered men’s domain isn’t going to help women get ahead. Social research shows that the more women moving into an occupation, the less pay and prestige the occupation has. It’s not simply that men work the jobs we value most– it’s that we value the jobs men have simply because it’s men doing them. Remember the days when men were administrative assistants? Before women moved into those same jobs and lost status and pay as secretaries? I’m not arguing that economic power is unimportant, just that entering male fields isn’t the way to get it.

    One another note… Although many writers have dismissed beauty rituals as a relatively superficial topic of conversation, I’m not convinced. The physical differences between men and women are the basis for our differential treatment in the public sphere. If it was more challenging to distinguish male from female strangers, imagine the decrease we might see in, say, street harassment. Because we all know how horrified most dudez would be to mistakenly sexualize another dude!

  58. SoJo

    Well I feel like a wanker for talking about leg hair now. I’m sorry for that. I’ll try to think more before I post next time.

  59. atheist woman

    Unfortunately we know that relying upon male homophobia isn’t fool-proof either. Think of ancient Rome and Greece. Free Men (slaves would not have been able to do this) moved from bottoms ‘women’ to ‘tops’ men as they became older and respected in the community. Women of course were always still fucked. The issue is that straight men can’t ‘fuck’ those who they respect, they can’t treat men as they treat women. But most men do not respect younger men, because they ‘still have the stench of women’(not sure where that quote is coming from) upon them. If you think I’m nuts think of the power dynamics in abusive families. Fathers will often beat the wife and the children (including the boy-children) until the boy either turns on the father, fighting back, or he leaves. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that with more androgyny the straight man will just sexualize all the younger women and men, and women who still look feminine. Erm, I think anyway. There’s no way I can be inside their minds.

  60. atheist woman

    And I realize now that the last little add on there went in direct opposition to this
    “(In fact, while we’re on feminine behaviours, women’s writing is supposedly characterised by our tendency to couch statements in eyelash-fluttering, weakening constructions: “I personally think”; “of course, that’s just my opinion”, etc. Try writing something without any of those in it. I’ve just gone back and deleted three from this post. It feels uncompromising and exposing. It will probably piss some people off. Acting unladylike often does.)”

    But I don’t believe that bravado and false assumption of authority are the best way to go either.

  61. mia

    AngryJules wrote: “The physical differences between men and women are the basis for our differential treatment in the public sphere. If it was more challenging to distinguish male from female strangers, imagine the decrease we might see in, say, street harassment. Because we all know how horrified most dudez would be to mistakenly sexualize another dude!”

    This may be true. But it is also possible that it comes very close to regarding assimilation as the only way we will be safe, to clothe ourselves as males to confuse them somehow (a perspective that comes very close to victim-blaming: oh, if only they looked more like Teh Menz, they wouldn’t be harassed) Are we to seek to adopt the presentation of males, to conform to their way of looking and acting? In that case, we are saying that the Male Way is the default way, and that we must blend into that set of appearances in order to achieve personal power.

    How ironic. We are to allign ourselves with male:male grooming behaviors in order to reclaim our personal sovereignty as women.

  62. PoMo

    Recommended reading!

    The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis

  63. Lizard

    This has been touched upon, but there are different kinds of submissive/feminine behaviors, and different women repudiate different elements — and they’re not always mutually compatible. For some women, being economically self-sufficient and dropping the “nice girls don’t know/care about earning/managing money” stuff that some of us are brought up with is crucial. But dropping that particular set of values may require dressing in a certain way, tolerating various kinds of misogynistic behavior, and embracing certain values that are looked down on in progressive feminist communities. But, that’s one way to ditch some of the femininity, and I certainly know women who have done that, and in the process, wound up living somewhat unconventional personal lives (not getting married and not having kids; getting married but not having kids; not getting married and adopting.) I don’t know if that’s radical. I also know women who are gay/queer/trans and anti-capitalist and opt for “dropping out” more; that involves giving up one part of femininity, but keeping others. And those two groups don’t always exactly love each other: in fact, looking at groups of women who’ve given up different parts of femininity, there are often quite different values and not a lot of love lost. For instance, I’d say that women in male-dominated fields have dropped some part of femininity, but so have queer women, and so have some of the sex worker/’sex-positive’ crowd. But, different parts of femininity, and with different sets of values.

    I bring this up because a) some behaviors are, on their own, unquestionably feminine: not taking up space, deference, lipstick — but even these may be required for some of us, in some contexts, in order to be able to shed other parts. Also because, b), I think there are lots of women who do reject certain elements of femininity, but we may not look at them and immediately realize that, and there are all sorts of ways that can manifest itself — because the beauty rituals may be the most obvious ways of manifesting femininity, but being subservient is a whole lifestyle, and we pick and choose which parts we want and which we don’t.

  64. Noshoes

    “Femininity” is a survival/defense mechanism used by women worldwide. Of course it’s bullshit and means so much more than physical appearance, yet I first became aware of what it meant as a tender young onion of four or five, as my mother implored me to be a bit more “ladylike.”

    “But I am a lady,” I explained to her a few years later. “So everything I do is ‘ladylike.’”

    Oh, naivete! Later, in high school, I became jealous of the guys and how they could just “be” “guys,” as in showing up to school or a party dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, whereas I, possessing a vagina, was expected to make a spectacle of myself in stupid, uncomfortable clothing. It horrified me to have grown-ups tell me what an “attractive young lady” I made. I wasn’t sure why this made my flesh crawl at the time; I had no Twisty-blog in those days to put a voice to my clueless patriarchy-blaming.

    Nowadays I have my hair buzzed off and I wear white button-down shirts and slacks to work, because it’s a comfortable way to dress. I don’t give a fuck if men find me attractive enough to take “seriously.”

  65. slythwolf

    A metaphor has just come to me.

    Femininity is something we are herded into, not the way a dog herds sheep, but the way a group of predators herd their prey. Always we are finding ways to run away from the danger of not being acceptable to the patriarchy, and as we flee, the requirements get stricter. And we think, because the patriarchy makes us think, that each new turn we take, each new form of compliance we adopt, was our own idea, when in reality the pack has left the prey no other choice but to turn just this way. So that (and my timeline may be off, but bear with me) twenty years ago young women were shaving their “bikini lines” so the disgusting evidence that they were adult humans didn’t poke out around the edges of their bathing suits, and today they are shaving all their pubic hair, or paying others to rip it out with the aid of hot wax. And if you talk to them, they will say, “Body hair is so gross. I wish men got rid of theirs too.”* Or they will say, “I remove my pubic hair because I like the way it looks,” or, “I like the way it feels.” Never realizing, as I once could not allow myself to realize, that they wouldn’t have even thought to do it if the patriarchy hadn’t herded them in that direction.

    They will say, “I thank dudes who open doors for me because I’m genuinely grateful.”

    It’s a hard thing to spend the time and energy examining your choices all the time to see if you are choosing on your own or being herded. But if you figure out that you’re being herded, and you think you can handle it, you have the option to turn and fight. I think what Twisty is saying is, the more of us who do so, the more we can slow down–in hopes of someday stopping–the herding of other women, the new torments foisted upon them year after year as the patriarchy, like any porn user, grows bored with the old degradations and seeks ever worse tortures to use against us. But of course that doesn’t mean that women should turn and fight who are genuinely running for their lives.

    *In my experience the women who say this tend to mean, mostly, armpit hair, and sometimes go on to complain about dudes in sleeveless shirts and crusty deodorant crumbs dangling in the breeze. But of course these men know these women find that stuff gross. The difference is, they actively don’t care whether women find their bodies gross; the expectation is that women will put up with it, and in fact being gross is part of masculinity in the local branch of the patriarchy ’round here. Being something women find disgusting is supposed to be a point of pride, and of course there is much insistence in popular culture that women secretly love the things we claim disgust us.

  66. Cassie

    I’m really glad the discussion has veered off from the feminine appearance to feminine behavior (taking up space) and expression (deferential, diffusing tension, giggly, etc).

    I am working more and more on the taking up my own space part, although I find it is difficult: I am a small person. I make up for my size by scowling a lot when necessary, also putting my stuff around me on buses or subways (bags, books, keys, etc).

    The feminine expression is paradoxically harder to fight. I work in academia; I come from the culture of physics, which is peopled by pushy macho assholes, and their’s is the normal mode of expression. If you think someone is wrong, you tell them, no ifs ands or buts. I am in a new domain where I tend to come across as abrasive, so I have found that using feminine expression tools can take the rub off my criticism. I am also learning that it seems to give some people the feeling they can dismiss my communications and requests.

    Lizard, thanks for the comment on conflicting aspects of non-feminine behaviors. It crystalized some vague perceptions I had before.

  67. Natalia

    I have a lot of respect for women who publically repudiate feminity because they are confronting patriarchy head-on but also because they make it a lot easier for those of who come behind them.

    Do you have the same respect for women in conservative cultures and communities for whom wearing lipstick is an act of rebellion?

    Rhetorical question, I know.

  68. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    The estimable Catherine M:

    “Why do so many women conform to and perpetuate it?”

    Because not to do so = death (socially, economically, and for some, physically.) Until you realize that doing so is an even slower, more suffocating death: that of your personal ethics and its corresponding code of conduct. For most of us, ethics tastes very good, especially with meringue on top. So, hello, path of least resistance. It’s a crappy excuse, but most of us have to make our way in a crappy world.

  69. Octogalore

    AngryJules said: “Entering positions or fields that are considered men’s domain isn’t going to help women get ahead. …Remember the days when men were administrative assistants? Before women moved into those same jobs and lost status and pay as secretaries?”

    Sure, entering fields in which one is basically still subordinate to a man isn’t going to change bupkis. With more women entering law, Wall Street, full professorships, politics, consulting firms, etc., I don’t notice those fields paying any less. IMO, preaching the evils of nail polish while living of Dad or Hubby is much more damaging, femininity-wise, than being independent and enjoying personal decoration.

  70. Sidonzo

    Where does feminine deference and simple politeness part ways? I was first thinking maybe it was when a woman does above and beyond what a man does to be polite, but then a lot of men are rude (as many posts here have reiterated). Why I ask is because I want to teach my very outspoken and verbal ten year old daughter to be polite, but not to be feminine. Do I let her say what she wants and tell others exactly how she feels (like a man would) or do I teach her to be polite instead? I know the point of being polite is to not hurt others’ feelings, but then this is a lot of the very basis of femininity…to always put others before yourself and never to hurt others feelings if you can help it. What would any of you do in my shoes?

  71. Ron Sullivan

    Natalia’s “rhetorical” question:

    Do you have the same respect for women in conservative cultures and communities for whom wearing lipstick is an act of rebellion?

    How does that make it easier for those that follow? And what does it make it easier to do? Wear lipstick? Does it really do anything to give those who follow enough power to make wearing lipstick (or not) entirely their option?

    Hell, I wear lipstick a few times a year myself, but come on, it’s just consumption.

  72. Shabnam

    Quoting Natalia:

    “Do you have the same respect for women in conservative cultures and communities for whom wearing lipstick is an act of rebellion?

    Rhetorical question, I know.”

    While such an act is indeed an act of rebellion, it is not an act of feminist rebellion (although the woman in question might have feminist intentions). It is more of a feminine rebellion, because such a woman whilst rebelling actively against e.g. Eastern/Islamic notions of femininity, which entails things such as modesty and chastity, she is simultaneously embracing rather whole-heartedly Western pornocracy’s version of femininity (excessive female adornment). This is not an improvement. If an Iranian woman were to repudiate femininity by, for example, shaving her head and refusing to veil, that would be far more subversive than donning lipstick and a blow to both sorts of patriarchy.

    Being the child of muslim parents (although very moderate ones who never advocated veiling of any kind), and who spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, I found it really irksome that whilst grown women were forced to be covered up and keep out of public places, they were simultaneously pornified for their husbands – you can quite openly buy lingerie in Saudi Arabia. You can also buy everything that is sold to Western women in the name of beauty, from cosmetics to frivolous designer hand-bags. In Islamic countries women are privately owned – they are subject to the Male gaze of their husbands alone. In the West according to the law women are no longer objects owned by individual men – e.g. women don’t need permission slips from their guardians to travel. However, women are, through the strong encouragement of beauty rituals in the name of ‘femininity’, made into objects for the collective enjoyment of men – we have a communism of sorts. There exists a plethora of freely available porn for the Male Proletariat to enjoy at the click of a button. The West used to be more like the East – just go back a hundred years or so. In the eyes of the law, women were chattel in all the Western countries, the way they are now in Saudi Arabia – c.f. Coverture.

    Anyway, my point is – it’s simply no good to fight one form of patriarchy whilst simultaneously embracing another.

  73. josquin

    Help, Twisty.
    I’m down and blue today after listening to Sarah Palin speak last night – she of the “pro-life”-spouting venom, the cutesy, flirty, spunky appeal to the whooping, fawning men, the creationism-in-science-class-promoting idiocy, the whole freaking awful package of poison against animals, women, gays, lesbians, getting gobbled up with glee by that pack of slavering maniacs –
    Help, commenters – tell me there are people out there, lots of them, who aren’t buying her shiny crap.

  74. sonia

    I think I posted a comment the other day saying that the issue of femininity was irrelevant here. what i meant was, I get frustrated when people start blaming women in heels versus the douchebags who murdered those women in pakistan. I was saying, Blame the Patriarchy. I don’t know if that comment was related to this post, but I hope it didn’t sound critical of the discussion. I loves ya, Twisty.

  75. butterflywings

    Agree with mia. Some of this can sound like “damn feminine women, being feminine stopping us achieving a feminist society!”

    Also, many women do not really have the privelege to repudiate femininity. As has been said, it *can* be life-threatening not to perform femininity. Even if not, the consequences can be the disapproval of family and friends, social isolation, ridicule, harrassment, difficulty gaining employment or being promoted. That is not trivial.

    As someone said, “hey, we live here” – you just do what you have to to survive.

    Most women do some sspects of femininity but not others. It’s really more important to be financially independent, in control, not to engage in toxic relationships with unfeminist men, and not to get married (ugh, marriage.)

    I do understand that “femininity” does not just refer to appearance. The discussion of behaviour e.g. giggling is interesting and I know I do some of those.

    All I’m trying to say in my comments is that whether women wear heels or lipstick is really quite low on my list of priorities.

    Denelian: “at least we all agree that we DO have a goal, and that it IS to get everyone to accept everyone as equal people.”

    Exactly. So how about less arguing about freakin high heels? I really don’t care what other women do or don’t wear. I would like all women to extend the same courtesy to others.

  76. butterflywings

    And also, yes I agree that where women do things they would really rather not to conform to patriarchy whether that’s get married, wear heels, giggle, whatever, we should admit it and not pretend “I’m doing it for ME!” cos no, we’re not.
    But equally, women should’t judge other women for giving in sometimes.

  77. another voice

    Real question: why is avoiding marriage the most important step in rejecting femininity? In butterflywing’s list of financial independence, eschewing non-feminist men (or women i imagine), and marriage; marriage gets the “eeww.” Others up-thread have suggested that chucking marriage is the most important step as well. Why is that?

  78. phio gistic

    Walking to work this morning, I played a game with myself, trying to see how far away I could be from someone and identify them by gender. I was able to determine gender about as soon as I could see the person at all, 48 out of 50 times. The gendering is remarkably rigid. It starts at the top of the head, with the hairdo. Men, short, women, long. Makeup – men no, women yes. Jewelry – men no, women yes. Neckline – men in round-collared T-shirts. If you can see any of the upper chest, you are looking at a woman. If the top is fitted, it’s a woman. Pants – men are in baggy shorts, khaki pants or jeans. Women are in tight shorts, cropped pants. Every single woman in shorts or skirts has completely hairless legs, many with tanning-booth-tinted skin.

    The male compliance is just as rigid – I saw many women in jeans, round-collared t-shirts and flip-flops or sneakers but no men in anything but the uniform described here. The professional men are all in the pleated khaki pants and button-front shirts, with long sleeves and a tie if they being particularly formal. Not a single professional woman that I saw dressed that way. All the office-worker men tuck in their shirts and belt their pants and every one of them has muffin-top, and none of them would know what the hell I was talking about if I pointed it out, nor would they care.

    Dis-man-tling this rigid structure goes much further than merely modifying surface adornment, but the surface is a visual promise, a public gauge of how well an individual is playing her role. It’s a great object lesson in how every thing you do is demarcated by gender rules.

  79. Octogalore

    another voice: “why is avoiding marriage the most important step in rejecting femininity? In butterflywing’s list of financial independence, eschewing non-feminist men (or women i imagine), and marriage; marriage gets the “eeww.” Others up-thread have suggested that chucking marriage is the most important step as well. Why is that?”

    I think these three are intertwined. To me, marriage is problematic only to the extent the other issues — financial independence and eschewing non-feminist men or women — are not resolved in a particular case. Without those two in place, marriage will be compromised and patriarchal by definition. With those two in place, it doesn’t have to be, IMO.

  80. Tupe

    Catherine – I have been asking the same question. Why is this so hard to give up?

    Eliza gave me an article to read this summer called “Betrayed By The Angel: When violence knocks and politeness answers.” It’s a very good personal essay reflecting on how early gender training for girls involves a high degree of self-blame even in the face of extreme violence. I was reading this at the same time that I was making the personal decision not to care for an abusive brother with an over abundance of needs from his family. It struck me that as a woman I am defined by who I care for and how well I take care of them. When forced into a position where I take care of a man and experience direct harm to myself, refusing femininity means refusing my gender identity. So long as I retain the training that Woman = Doormat/Victim/Submissive/Stupid/etc., when I act otherwise I feel I am losing or betraying a part of myself. This experience is painful and useless and founded on bullshit, but it’s a deep foundation. Internalized sexism is the engine driving femininity; culture is the fuel.

    For re-building the engine I offer this:

    In his book Becoming a Visible Man, Jamison Green defines a woman (or a man, respectively) as follows: someone who is comfortable in a woman’s body, understands what is expected of a woman in any given moment and choses whether or not to meet those expectations. I really like this definition because it is the first one I’ve heard that necessitates a feminist consciousness. It encourages a new kind of “femininity” that is based on self-knowledge, introspection, empowerment and patriarchy blaming. Basically, everything we’re discussing here.

  81. Natalia

    How does that make it easier for those that follow? And what does it make it easier to do? Wear lipstick? Does it really do anything to give those who follow enough power to make wearing lipstick (or not) entirely their option?

    You didn’t answer the question, but I’m guessing the answer, from you (I posed the question to chingona), is “no.” I sincerely find it disheartening to see both you and Shabnam stand in judgment of millions of such women.

    You think you have people like that (or anyone else for that matter) figured out. I say you don’t. They, like you, me, and every other blamer on this thread, are individuals.

    Anyway, my point is – it’s simply no good to fight one form of patriarchy whilst simultaneously embracing another.

    You and I will never agree on that one. Because I don’t think it’s as simple as that. At all.

    The very idea of an appropriate “revolutionary look” for women as it were makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Because I believe that it merely replaces one standard with another, and further sets up a false dichotomy between the “right” kind of womanhood and the “wrong” one.

  82. Natalia

    Furthermore, reports of women literally murdered for “dressing like whores”? A father killing his own daughter for laughing and flirting with a boy? Those are “traditional feminine behaviours” the victims were participating in – and saying that those unenlightened women may have been saved by reading Dworkin as a way of getting them to fit into our neat little dichotomy of “right” and “wrong” womanhood isn’t a good and just thing, in my humble opinion.

  83. speedbudget

    Another Voice:

    I think, too, the reason marriage should be the first to go is that it is rooted in a loooooooong tradition of women-as-chattel. It’s the state’s way of sanctioning your personal ownership by a man who is not your father. It’s okay for that man to take over ownership of you because the state says it’s okay (state read: patriarchy). If you’re unsure, just listen at the beginning when the official says, “Who gives this woman to be married?” Gah.

    I honestly can’t think of any good reason to get married, aside from the fact that I can’t get health insurance and maybe whomever I would be considering marrying has good benefits. That’s about the only reason I can think of.

  84. Lizard

    I’d suggest we ALL fight certain kinds of P while simultaneously embracing other sorts. How could we do anything but?

  85. Ron Sullivan

    Natalia:

    You didn’t answer the question, but I’m guessing the answer, from you (I posed the question to chingona), is “no.” I sincerely find it disheartening to see both you and Shabnam stand in judgment of millions of such women.

    You posed the question publicly, addressed to Chingona, and I said what I pleased in response to it. Imagine——a woman not fulfilling your expectations even when they were explicitly aimed at someone else. Take that as example; practice only after you’ve figured out what actually happened.

    My “answer” is precisely what I said; no guessing necessary. No attempting to put words into my mouth either. Also no need for sweeping presumptions of “judgment” apparently based on the words you pretend I said. If you insist on being disheartened, you’ll have to find another reason.

    Nobody is saying that “those unenlightened women” would be saved by reading Dworkin. You’re making this all up. I think Shabnam’s response up there is sufficient to the question of costumes and paint in differently oppressive societies.

    Whether “flirting” or refraining from flirting is locally “feminine” is irrelevant. It’s the deadliness of the expectation of femininity, whatever its local dance-diagram is, that’s evil; it’s granting men/”society”/women’s owners the right and space and ability to have those expectations, and further the means to enforce compliance and get away with it, that’s what we’re talking about.

    Some of us, anyway. (Am I talking down to you? Yes. And if you persist in piling generalizations on me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Respect earns respect.)

    Analogize with, oh, the long-running Nestle boycott, or the one against iceberg lettuce years back, in solidarity with the UFW. Hmm, I suppose Bud Antle’s oppressiveness has led to us arugula-eating snobs and the presence at table of frisee; how’s that for unintended consequences? Goodness knows what would happen if we stomped on those expectations of femininity.

    I will say that arugula’s a lot easier to grow at home than even red-leaf lettuce.

  86. Carolyn

    In that case, we are saying that the Male Way is the default way, and that we must blend into that set of appearances in order to achieve personal power.

    In this particular case, it actually is the default way–not shaving legs, not wearing makeup, not spending inordinate money and effort styling or colouring hair, not investing in body modification through diet or surgery–it’s not always the case, but it’s often the case that the masculine way is the easy, efficient ‘default’ way and that feminine people are expected to distinguish themselves by doing something differently (and perhaps not so incidentally, as Naomi Wolf points out, diverting time and effort from more useful or desirable pursuits).

  87. narya

    1. I still contend that frisee is the work of satan. Or someone much like him. (I got no beef with arugula, however.)

    2. Carolyn, Germaine Greer predated Naomi Wolf on that one; IIRC, “the Female Eunuch” makes the same point, and was, in fact, critical in my early blaming.

  88. Natalia

    Am I talking down to you? Yes.

    I honestly don’t care if you’re talking down to me or not. I didn’t say that no one but chignona could answer my question, but the fact is, you still don’t really wish to give me a direct answer.

    Nobody is saying that “those unenlightened women” would be saved by reading Dworkin. You’re making this all up.

    Am I? You implied that you are unimpressed with the idea of a woman who, for whatever reason, expresses defiance or bends an expectation by, say, wearing lipstick where lipstick is forbidden or frowned upon. One needn’t even look to an extremely conservative religious community where this would be the case either. There are plenty of American females who are disrespected and worse based on a narrow set of criteria of what is considered “appropriate” for a woman of their position or background.

    Yet the drastic example of someone being murdered for engaging in behaviour we’d deem “traditionally feminine” is as real as anything else. I think it’s important and must be taken note of, in any discussion of femininity and what it may mean.

    Because as much as we may detest these me-me-me discussions, our lived realities are always going to be different.

  89. phio gistic

    Our female bodies and minds are marked and colonized from head to toe. Reject the marks that only exist to show that you agree that you are an inferior being.

  90. chingona

    Well, I don’t want to be accused of not answering the question (that I wasn’t hear to read).

    I would respect the courage it would take to defy such absolute authority, but I would not consider wearing lipstick a feminist act, per se. As an act of rebellion, it’s hard to imagine it even occuring to someone without cultural colonialism offering up another way that women “should” be.

    I do think that context matters, including cultural context. But that’s not the same as saying any act of rebellion by a woman against a cultural norm is feminist. Let me turn it back around: American women are pornified. Is it a feminist act to don a veil? It’s a rebellion against a cultural norm of proper femininity, and arguably much more dangerous than not wearing make-up or high heels.

    Debating this points up the ridiculousness of centering arguments about femininity in issues of personal appearance. If I’m surrounded by a bunch of frat boys yelling “Show us your tits!” and I comply out of fear and/or a desire for approval, that’s one thing. If I live in a traditional culture where all woman (and men) are topless all the time, that’s a different thing. That doesn’t mean I would be more free if I walked down the street topless or that this other woman would be more free if she put a shirt on.

    I suspect that’s why some women’s rights activists in Muslim countries get frustrated by Western obsession with the veil. Yes, the veil is a patriarchal custom. But for a lot of women, it’s the least of their problems.

    In Natalie’s examples of the girls who are killed for flirting with boys, let’s remember that “flirting” has certain connatations of ultra-feminine behavior for us, but what those girls were killed for was talking to boys. They weren’t killed because they giggled and batted their eye lashes. They were killed because they acted as if they were human beings with the right to interact with other human beings of their choosing.

  91. chingona

    As for this: “Yet the drastic example of someone being murdered for engaging in behaviour we’d deem “traditionally feminine” is as real as anything else. I think it’s important and must be taken note of, in any discussion of femininity and what it may mean.”

    What it means is men exert control over women through violence. Men get to set the rules, and women get to follow them or face the consequences. What the rules are is arbitrary and malleable over time.

    But I still don’t think wearing lipstick or wearing hijab is inherently feminist, just because it goes against any particular culture’s custom of the moment.

  92. Spiders

    @another voice: the thing with marriage is, it sucks the life out of us because it’s all stacked against us. A union between non-equals can never be an equal union.
    Statistically, married men live longer than unmarried men, but unmarried women live longer than married women.
    Marriage is bad for our health; fact. This is no coincidence either. Marriage as an institution is designed that way, it’s all part of the oppression plan.
    Assign each dude his own woman to take care of his needs and perform a shitload of unpaid labour within a mostly private domain. This keeps us on a treadmill and partially isolated from other women.
    It works for patriarchy, it works for capitalism. That’s why the dominant culture work overtime to convince us it’s really what we want, with all that promotion of romance,and wedding culture and “family values” shit.
    This is why marriage is “eew”. This is why we should be giving it the big finger.

  93. Natalia

    American women are pornified. Is it a feminist act to don a veil?

    Well, first of all, not all American women are pornified. But besides that, I think if someone wants to don a veil, they should don a veil, and not tie themselves into knots as to whether or not a passing patriarch may interpret their veil in the wrong way. Is it a feminist act? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Depends on the person.

    I’ll tell you what I am fairly certain of across the board: policing a woman’s looks, whether through force or through suggestions handed down from on high (“but if you examine it for the 100th time, you’ll see how it’s a bad thing”), is definitely not a feminist act, in my opinion.

    But I still don’t think wearing lipstick or wearing hijab is inherently feminist, just because it goes against any particular culture’s custom of the moment.

    Well then, what is an “inherently feminist” outfit or, for that matter, behaviour? Honest question.

  94. Natalia

    I would respect the courage it would take to defy such absolute authority, but I would not consider wearing lipstick a feminist act, per se. As an act of rebellion, it’s hard to imagine it even occuring to someone without cultural colonialism offering up another way that women “should” be.

    Oh, and while, talking about whether or not something is a feminist act is almost certainly pertinent, what I wanted to know is whether or not you would have the same respect for someone in such a position. Would you?

    Also, the notions of make-up, dancing, flirting – they’re not colonialist inventions by a long-shot. I’m assuming, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that by “cultural colonialism” you mean Western ideals being imposed on someone who does not live in the West. Yet Hamas banning belly-dancers, for example, is a whole other conversation, rooted, once again, in the idea that there is a “right” and a “wrong” kind of way for women to present themselves.

    Furthermore, I would caution you against assuming that the sort of murders I have described occur simply because a woman spoke to a man. Rand Abdel-Qader is only the most prominent recent example of a woman killed precisely because she had an innocent flirtation, or friendship, with the wrong man. The women Twisty was discussing? Killed because they wanted to marry men of their choice. Marriage, once again. That “wrong” thing.

    They weren’t killed because they giggled and batted their eye lashes.

    Well, also, I think we can both agree that if a woman is killed for something like that, it doesn’t make the crime any less heinous.

  95. chingona

    Well, now you’re putting words in my mouth. That seems to be your specialty. I, too, think that if someone wants to don a veil, they should. And if someone wants to wear lipstick, they should. That doesn’t make either one, in any cultural context, a feminist act. There is no “inherently feminist” outfit. That, if you would read honestly instead of playing gotcha, was my whole fucking point. My whole point is that it’s ridiculous to make superficial questions of adornment the be-all, end-all of discussions about femininity. In fact, that was the point of my original comment that you called out with your first “honest question.” For someone with “honest questions,” you sure seem eager to jump all over an honest response and point out every point of hypocrisy you think you see.

  96. chingona

    I’ll tell you what I am fairly certain of across the board: policing a woman’s looks, whether through force or through suggestions handed down from on high (”but if you examine it for the 100th time, you’ll see how it’s a bad thing”), is definitely not a feminist act, in my opinion.

    Congratulations. You’re right. You’re the best feminist. All the rest of us here want to police women’s looks and you’re the only one who gets how that’s not cool.

  97. Natalia

    I’m sorry that I seem to have irritated you, but it wasn’t my intention to put words in your mouth. You stated that you have respect for women that publically repudiate femininity and make it easier for others. I do too. I know how hard it can be to say “I don’t want to do x, I don’t like x, and screw you guys for trying to force x on me” – especially if you’re female.

    But what I was also getting at is the idea that x is malleable. Twisty, in her original post, believes that rejecting x will de-otherize women. I not only disagree, I also think that such efforts would fail spectacularly, as evidence by the fact that different women have different x’s to deal with, and the catch-all of “femininity” doesn’t begin to cover this. And that this doesn’t just vary by geographical location or religion or upbringing, but that it varies on the very basic level of individual. We can bring up a killing in Iraq, or a law in Saudi, but these issues are much closer to home, if one is an American. If anything, I think we should be rejecting the “right” and “wrong” dichotomy of what it means to be a woman, particularly a reasonably happy woman, or even a feminist woman. I think it’s a better start.

    And no, I don’t think you are a hypocrite.

  98. Natalia

    There is no “inherently feminist” outfit.

    Please forgive me, but these conversations really do make it seem as though there is an “inherently feminist” outfit. Though as to what it could possibly be – your guess is as good as mine.

  99. Natalia

    Congratulations. You’re right. You’re the best feminist. All the rest of us here want to police women’s looks and you’re the only one who gets how that’s not cool.

    But do I get a gold star? A gold pair of stilettos would be nice too…

    Seriously now (and I apologize for the triple-posting, but my browser didn’t load properly and I didn’t see this comment before), I don’t see how identifying a generic catch-all such as femininity and then proceeding to encourage fellow feminists to eradicate this generic femininity doesn’t end up as subtle (or not) policing, with the best intentions or otherwise. That’s the logical conclusion I arrive at every time I consider the issue.

  100. Elaine Vigneault

    The trouble comes from the fact that “femininity” includes many great things, such as emotion, passion, peace, care, cooperation. I’m not willing to eradicate those aspects of femininity. However, I’m perfectly willing to attempt to eradicate the idea that there is such a thing as femininity.

  101. chingona

    I’m making a distinction that perhaps you are not making when you read my comments. When I say that something is not feminist, I’m not necessarily saying it’s anti-feminist. I’ve said since my first comment that I think questions of adornment are really secondary or even tertiary to the question of femininity. You just seem to be reading a lot into my comments that is not in them.

  102. Natalia

    You just seem to be reading a lot into my comments that is not in them.

    Perhaps I am. The thing is, I didn’t think that you were saying that if something’s not feminist that means it’s anti-feminist. I actually employ similar thinking. My favourite question when something like this comes up is – “is eating a piece of cheese feminist?” I think almost anything can be construed as feminist or as anti-femininst, if you think/try hard enough, but I guess what I thought we were talking about was the idea of what is, ultimately, a good thing; what should we be repudiating? Is it generic femininity (I think that sexist men have done a good job of that already)? Or is it something more specific?

  103. Natalia

    OK, you know what? I’m doing a really bad job of explaining what I mean, so let me give you an example of what I’m trying to say:

    Let’s say there’s a young woman who grows up in a household in, I don’t know, North Carolina (lots of love to my tar heel state, and no venom intended here). Her parents expect her to dress all frilly, like it is “done” in their family, and then they expect her to settle down with a “nice young man” and be a housewife after college, because, once again, it is “the done thing.”

    But she never wanted this. She doesn’t like going to their church. She doesn’t like nice young men, in fact she rather fancies women. She’s secretly jealous of women who plan on getting jobs and wear boots instead of kitten heels. And she’s always wanted to shave her head.

    So she says to herself that she is going to change her life. And she does. She draws a big line in the sand and tells her parents, you know what? This my life. Not yours. Oh, and meet my girlfriend.

    (The above is a true story, but that’s beside the fact)

    What exactly is she repudiating here? Is it femininity? Or is really the idea that as a woman, she has no right to choose her own lifestyle, her career, her partner, her wardrobe? Does it get any less heartening because this woman in question also coos over babies in the street and listens to a lot of Madonna?

    What exactly is being fought here? I don’t think it’s femininity at all.

  104. Lizard

    *The trouble comes from the fact that “femininity” includes many great things, such as emotion, passion, peace, care, cooperation. I’m not willing to eradicate those aspects of femininity.*

    I think this is interesting and worth talking about! I think part of rejecting certain parts of femininity, for me, has been focusing less on taking care of others and more on taking care of myself. It’s meant standing up for myself more, being more willing to get into arguments, being less cooperative, being more of what’s viewed as “rational” and less emotional. And I’m really ok with that. But I hear the comment above, and I think it’s accurate and definitely worth listening to, as well. So not sure what to do with that.

  105. Amananta

    A little late with this because it took me a while to find it – it’s suppressed byu being ignored, of course – but a study that shows women’s lower salaries aren’t simply because “they just aren’t as aggressive in negotiating”.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/29/AR2007072900827_pf.html

    “In this study, Bowles and her colleagues divided 119 volunteers at random into different groups and provided them with descriptions of male or female candidates who tried to negotiate a higher starting salary for a hypothetical job, along with descriptions of applicants who accepted the offered salary. The volunteers were asked to decide whether they would hire the candidates — who were all described as exceptionally talented and qualified. While both men and women were penalized for negotiating, Bowles found that the negative effect for women was more than twice as large as that for men.”

  106. other orange

    The trouble comes from the fact that “femininity” includes many great things, such as emotion, passion, peace, care, cooperation. I’m not willing to eradicate those aspects of femininity.

    I’d say the trouble comes more from that fact that these are considered “feminine” values rather than human values.

    Rather than eradicating them, why don’t we hold men to the same standards ? Why don’t we stand up and say that the future is going to be compassionate and cooperative ? We’re assigned those values (peace, care, sweetness) because society doesn’t value them. I’d rather demand those values from society and from men- as a culture, we can’t turn our backs on “boys will be boys” behavior and reward aggression and selfishness. We can’t tell girls that their only value in the world is their passiveness and gentleness.

    I’m talking total restructuring, not boyfriend-cut jeans. No more “girls are nice and boys are rude.” No more sex-specific social mandates.

  107. Ron Sullivan

    Natalia, you’re not getting a “direct” (by which you seem to mean “yes or no”)answer because you’re asking a question that’s in the same bag as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” By the way, have you stopped beating your wife? I won’t settle for anything other than Yes or No, of course.

    That women get killed over trivial things——in this case, a particular and clearly arbitrary set of things you are labeling “femininity” (you have seen other people’s definitions of femininity in this thread and the last one, and I suggest re-reading them)——does not make those things less trivial. It means that women are being killed over trivial things.

    Some of us, upon noting this, have begun looking for the real crux of the matter elsewhere than in any actual significance of lipstick, “flirting” (which, it has been explicitly noted, means only what the locally powerful want it to mean) and similar time consumers or whether we ourselves, who are by and large not the people in power, practice or “approve” of them. We’ve also noticed that when we stop practicing whatever local signals of submission we care to stop practicing, that has had consequences. Some of those have been very good consequences. Some of us get hassled, on the other hand.

    The signals themselves are a distraction. The issue is the power. Obviously, we need to challenge that power when and where we can; that’s what the “making it better for those who follow us” (meaning in time; not as disciples, just to clarify that beyond misapprehension)is about.

    How to challenge it? I doubt anyone here is dictating that, however much you try to extract that meaning. We do, however, feel free to make fun of our local appeasement signals, especially when they get more and more laborious and silly, and to cock a skeptical eyebrow (unplucked?) at anyone who carries on about how no, really, this time it means independence.

  108. other orange

    Natalia,

    What exactly is she repudiating here? Is it femininity? Or is really the idea that as a woman, she has no right to choose her own lifestyle, her career, her partner, her wardrobe? Does it get any less heartening because this woman in question also coos over babies in the street and listens to a lot of Madonna?

    What exactly is being fought here? I don’t think it’s femininity at all.

    Unless the expectations her parents set for her are identical to the ones they set for her brother, then yes, she’s repudiating femininity.

    Like Twisty said, it’s not just the frilly dresses and the wedding ring- femininity includes the fact that, as a woman, she’s expected to be subservient and obedient. It includes the assumption that she will serve men, marry men, answer to men all her life. The young woman in your story is taking control of her life and her destiny- admirable- and in doing so she’s reacting to the pressure and control of the patriarchy’s standard for women: good ol’ femininity.

    And cooing over babies just means she’s got an eye for the cute. I’ve seen guys go gaga for cute babies and puppies- while we as women are expected to love motherhood and domesticity, loving cute babies doesn’t have to be thrown out with the femininity bathwater. We just need to restructure “cute” as a non-gender-specific thing. (If only we could do that for everything !)

  109. Natalia

    We just need to restructure “cute” as a non-gender-specific thing. (If only we could do that for everything !)

    You can sign me up for that.

    I also think that the definition of femininity is much wider (why else would men, specifically men with highly sexist agendas, keep attacking it?).

  110. Elaine Vigneault

    “No more sex-specific social mandates.”
    hear, hear!

  111. ma'am

    Tupe: YES!

    Focusing on what we look like is incredibly uncool. I don’t want to look like a man, even if that makes me an “other”. Because when you decide to conform to the man look, you acknowledge that the man look is correct and the woman look is not. Each woman should be making her own decisions about how to look. That is all that is required.

    The thing that we all have to do as feminists is to dare to dream. To dare to figure out what you want to do, and to follow through without being intimidated into backing off. To ask questions. To be a leader. To not be led. We can all take the baby steps to start and we can all do this. Consciousness comes first, and action comes second. Start at home. Then move outward.

  112. Amananta

    “Rather than eradicating them, why don’t we hold men to the same standards ? Why don’t we stand up and say that the future is going to be compassionate and cooperative ? We’re assigned those values (peace, care, sweetness) because society doesn’t value them. I’d rather demand those values from society and from men- as a culture, we can’t turn our backs on “boys will be boys” behavior and reward aggression and selfishness. We can’t tell girls that their only value in the world is their passiveness and gentleness.”

    Yes, yes yes.
    One thing that feminism gets stuck in – and again, I blame the patriarchy for this double bind, not feminists – is that women are told “Oh the reason you can’t succeed is because you can’t do things the way we do.” Women then break their backs pushing against all the oppression they experience to prove they can adhere to the demented, sociopathic business/career world standards that the patriarchy so values, and when they do prove they can do that are told they are “bitches” or “unfeminine”. It only seems to be when women take on the same sick amorality that men traditionally have displayed in the business world that people begin to notice that this behavior is troublesome. But as long as women are trying to just be one of the guys and not change the system, their presence is reluctantly tolerated – when women come in to the business world with a fresh perspective and say “Wow, this is screwed up, let’s change things so everyone is more comfortable and the situation is more fair” men sneer. “Oh honey look you just can’t take it, why don’t you go back home where you belong.”
    In other words, women who will at least assimilate themselves to the old boys club rules are allowed – occasionally – to “succeed”. Women who try to shake up the comfortable system they have set up to benefit themselves and themselves only are mocked and despised, even when the changes they make would benefit men and women alike.

  113. saltyC

    I think women are allowed to succeed by delivering the heads of other women to the patriarch. The more heads, the higher they climb.

    Or I’m just feeling down from the rain today.

    Or both.

  114. sam

    “I think women are allowed to succeed by delivering the heads of other women to the patriarch.”

    I think you’re right and Portland is radiant today, but I quibble that it isn’t exactly other women’s heads being sacrificed to the patriarchs.

  115. saltyC

    Hyuck! Trudat!
    Heads are a tad androgynous, eh?

  116. Cathy

    I’d say the trouble comes more from that fact that these are considered “feminine” values rather than human values.

    Rather than eradicating them, why don’t we hold men to the same standards ? Why don’t we stand up and say that the future is going to be compassionate and cooperative ? We’re assigned those values (peace, care, sweetness) because society doesn’t value them.

    Right on, other orange! It really pisses me off that in order to approach equality, we have to dress and act like them, when they should be acting more like us. Kindness should be valued, but no, they say, “Nice guys finish last.”

  117. Cathy

    And Amananta, you took the words right out of my mouth (but phrased it better than I could). I used to work in a very male-dominated field, and that is exactly what they did to me. They were so threatened by my education, youth and femaleness, they tried to make me feel unfeminine by pointing out all my beauty flaws. Naive Sucker that I was, I fell for it and “gave the P a blow job” by wearing makeup and more feminine clothes. At the time, I rationalized that I was doing it to make it very clear that feminine females most certainly could do the same brainwork as men, and we were not mathematically challenged.

    When it comes to assertiveness, it has become very clear that behavior which is considered acceptable for them suddenly becomes unacceptable if I attempt it.

  118. kate

    Hear hear!

    And, if I see one more damn picture of McCain and Palin hugging in public I swear I am going to start writing to someone, somewhere or start complaining to someone somewhere.

    It is sickening.

    Am I now, when in my professional role, expected from this point forward, to hug every male patron and colleague that I do business with or come into contact with?

    Because I am a woman its just fine and dandy to touch my fucking body anytime, anywhere and anyway one wants and contrary to my personal inclinations, something I am supposed to want or god forbid, need?

    I’ll shake your friggin’ hand and no, lady with the claw fingernails and hot red lipstick and perfume and that snarky way you look at me cause I just damned the entire feminine side of humanity because I don’t lavish my earnings on the cosmetic industry, don’t hand me a goddamned wet fish in my hand again ok? Give me a handshake like you mean it, cause I ain’t giving you NO GOD-DAMNED HUG!

  119. speedbudget

    GAH! What IS it about women and the weak handshake? Or the worst one: The fingertip shake? I know some people have arthritis or whatever that causes hand pain, but I don’t think that’s the case with all of this. GRAB THAT HAND AND SHAKE IT! You know, it’s funny the reaction I get when I shake a man’s hand. Their eyes widen and they kind of take a step back. And I just grin and grin.

  120. Lauredhel

    Gah, the hugs. Have you seen the way he fiddles compulsively with his wedding ring whenever he’s watching Palin speak?

  121. em

    Thanks. I come over here and read whenever I need to settle down a little. This:

    My crazy idea is that they should if they can, because women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized.

    is a breath of fresh air in a stanked up atmosphere.

  122. Cathy

    Thanks for these posts, Twisty. I had been conflicted about reconciling femininity with feminism, and now I realize that the two are diametrically opposed (also thanks to BDL’s succinct clarification of “yes” vs. “no”). I had found, probably referred from IBTP, some disgusting website of some creep talking about femininity and wrote him to complain. He wrote back, saying I should buy his book if I wanted to “learn more about feminism.” Gag.

    One really troublesome feminine behavior drilled into so many girls, is that we must not take up any space. We must squeeze ourselves into the tiniest space so the menz can sprawl out. We must not take charge, make requests (much less demands), complain, speak loudly, or take credit for our own work. We are supposed to giggle at their jokes which are often sexist. And as phio gistic wrote, above all, we must not scare the boys with our huge brains.

    It will be much harder to ditch the behaviors taught since birth than the clothes/makeup. It is much harder for those who were thoroughly brainwashed than for those where were taught self-respect. Give us time, Kira. We’re working on it.

  123. Cathy

    I’d say the trouble comes more from that fact that these are considered “feminine” values rather than human values.

    Rather than eradicating them, why don’t we hold men to the same standards ? Why don’t we stand up and say that the future is going to be compassionate and cooperative ? We’re assigned those values (peace, care, sweetness) because society doesn’t value them.

    Right on, other orange! It really pisses me off that in order to approach equality, we have to dress and act like them, when they should be acting more like us. Kindness should be valued, but no, they say, “Nice guys finish last.”

    And Amananta, you took the words right out of my mouth (but phrased it better than I could). I used to work in a very male-dominated field, and that is exactly what they did to me. They were so threatened by my education, youth and femaleness, they tried to make me feel unfeminine by pointing out all my beauty flaws. Naive Sucker that I was, I fell for it and “gave the P a blow job” by wearing makeup and more feminine clothes. At the time, I rationalized that I was doing it to make it very clear that feminine females most certainly could do the same brainwork as men, and we were not mathematically challenged.

    When it comes to assertiveness, it has become very clear that behavior which is considered acceptable for them suddenly becomes unacceptable if I attempt it.

  124. zooeyibz

    “For some women, being economically self-sufficient and dropping the “nice girls don’t know/care about earning/managing money” stuff that some of us are brought up with is crucial.”

    While it is entirely self-explanatory that financial autonomy is a pre-condition to any kind of autonomy in our nasty, greedy, Social Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, money fetishising capitalist culture it is vital to remember we live in a nasty, greedy, et cetera culture.

    A vast proportion of the human and especially woman suffering in the world is caused by us buying into the whole evil money-making regime. Learning to critique rich/poor, successful/unsuccessful paradigms is as important as learning to read between the lines of the feminine/masculine paradigm. Maybe instead of trying to learn how to make as much money as a man we should try to find ways to live that minimise our enslavement to consumer culture…

  125. jael

    zooeyibz – the problem with that is it’s a very middle class, western aspiration, to detangle ourselves from consumer culture.

    What about women who are denied control of money all together? Or those women for whom control of money would mean being able to purchase such cleaning products as to aleviate 50% of their labour burden, or care for their families?

    while huge amounts of suffering is indeed caused by buying into the money-making regime, huge amounts of suffering is also caused by not having access to money. To pay for your child’s education. For your medication. For food to put on the table. To pay the bills. One of the three cheers for microfinance is that it gives women control of income and this is spent on the family (yes, I know the failings, I’m just making the observation).

    While you’re right – taking more than we need, and getting on the rat race of consumption – is hugely detrimental, perhaps your call would be better targeted at the very small minority of women worldwide who are in a position to step back from said culture. To put it out as a blanket call is to encourage millions of women around the world to remain poor and without access to minimal financial resources that would make them self sufficient and adequately fed.

  126. zooeyibz

    hugely detrimental, perhaps your call would be better targeted at the very small minority of women worldwide who are in a position to step back from said culture. To put it out as a blanket call is to encourage millions of women around the world to remain poor

    Apologies if I wasn’t clear — I do mean that as a message for the well-off, first-worlders… our privilege is inextricable from the poverty of the second and third world. Our consumption is only made possibly by their disempowerment, so I do believe that challenging acceptance of consumer culture is vital to improving the lot of women everywhere. Until we give up some, they can’t get none.

    As you say, Cathy, “huge amounts of suffering is also caused by not having access to money”. Unfortunately I don’t believe the solution is to continue to pursue the morally and fiscally bankrupt notions of ‘free market’ economy — which is anything but.

    Capitalism is predicated on selfishness and nurturing inequality to the advantage of the “haves”. Until those of us who have more than enough stop craving goods which are only freely available thanks to radical global inequalities we aren’t making a very honest effort to get to the root of the problem.

    (Incidentally, this sounds like I’m blaming women, not the P. I’m not. Those chumps came up with this whole ‘capitalism’ business… still, something has to be done)

  127. jael

    i don’t disagree with your premise, which is well grounded – we need to stop consuming excess. it’s damaging and causes pain.

    regarding the rich v poor world, there are very rich people in the poor world, and very poor people in the rich world. I’ll assume you’d not pin this on the poor people in in rich world, either, right?

    question is, what constitutes too much? Once your food and medical needs are met? What about enough for education? How much clothing is enough? What about energy needs? Is an electric fan ok?

    See where I’m going with this, don’t you? I agree that too much is too much. I don’t think what you’re objecting too is capitalism per say – it’s human nature. To take more than we need. The majority of us. Most of the time. Capitalism is a mechanism that facilitates that (and exacerbates it), but the underlying malaise (the seeking fulfillment, seeking happiness in things)is the problem, not the system that’s symptomatic of the malaise.

  128. zooeyibz

    How much clothing is enough? What about energy needs? Is an electric fan ok?

    It’s like the whole to-wear-lipstick-or-not-to-wear-lipstick discussion: personal choice and circumstance largely dictate. I’m not going to dig myself a pointless hole by saying ‘x should only ever have y…’

    it’s human nature. To take more than we need. The majority of us. Most of the time. Capitalism is a mechanism that facilitates that (and exacerbates it), but the underlying malaise (the seeking fulfillment, seeking happiness in things)is the problem,

    If I understand that correctly you think because humans are fundamentally selfish we shouldn’t blame capitalism? Surely capitalism is the economic engine of the patriarchy and therefore fair game.

    It’s like saying ‘well, most men are misogynists. The patriarchy is a mechanism that facilitates misogyny, but let’s not blame the patriarchy because the underlying misogyny is the problem.’ It doesn’t work like that. We can’t change other people’s internal beliefs or impulses, for good or ill, but we can attack social structures which enshrine the worst of human nature as virtues.

  129. jael

    No.

    What I’m saying is to fix the capitalism is only to fix the manifestation of the problem.

    To fix the problem of domestic violence is only to fix the manifestation of the problem.

    To resolve patriarchy, inequality and the whole other range of nasties that spring from them (including capitalism and patriarchy), we need to go to the root, which is the pathology of humanity.

  130. Valerie

    Other Orange/Amananta/Zooeyibz:

    Word.

    Natalia:

    You seem to have constructed this idea of “conservative cultures” as anti-sex when in fact they often just move it into the private sphere so as to make it easier to control by individual men. You seem to think of these societies as existing in a tragically culturally impovershed backwater in which nobody is capable of acquiring porn or wearing lingerie/lipstick. This is untrue, subtly racist/classist, and fits in neatly enough with predominant Western media’s ideas of Islamic societies as inferior because of the lack of our particular form of capitalist-display-femininity. I also find it really really worrying that when someone who is actually familiar with and from that world tried to disabuse you of your xenophobic notions by pointing out that women in Saudi Arabia know exactly what our version of femininity entails and engage in it all the time in private, you got irrationally angry.

    Do I think that wearing lipstick in public in very conservative areas and cultures can be a feminist rebellion? Yeah, sure. Establishing the right for women to wear what they want rather than being controlled by men can be described as feminist. Acting as if women have the sexual agency required to make decisions about where and when and whether they will flirt is feminist. And I do believe that women who do so under threat of death are brave.

    I’m also relatively sure that fighting for the right to wear lipstick in public will eventually lead to the type of oppression we have in the US, where women are allowed all the sexual agency and freedom they want so long as they use it to the sexual and hierarchical advantage of men. Feminist revolutions which get sidetracked into brand new versions of patriarchy make me sad, so I find these ladies to be a much more promising beacons of liberation than a statistical increase in the wearing of miniskirts across previously conservative areas.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7068875.stm

    In short, I get what you’re trying to say and have sympathy for your position, but you’ve really turned me off by the manner in which you tried to say it. I hate to agree with a jerk.

    Jael:

    Blaming shitty stuff on “human nature” is a cheap trick used to rationalize inaction and capitulation to the status quo, as changing “human nature” is a nearly impossible goal.

    I’ve also met plenty of people who aren’t middle class westerners and still want to be liberated from consumer culture/capitalism. Where did you get the idea that this aspiration is somehow middle class and consumeristic? I’ve met plenty of women who were denied access to money and financial decisions, correctly saw capitalism as a tool that was being used to keep them down, and decided that they wished it didn’t exist. What exactly has you so convinced that women oppressed by capitalism really just wish that they were in charge and not that the system was abolished? Why do you think that people suffering terribly as a result of “not having access to money” is somehow not a problem of a capitalist system?

  1. feminist reprise :: the blog

    [...] Twisty’s latest post expands, if succinctly, on her post from the day before connecting resistance to femininity with the beginning of the end of women’s oppression: Unlike the murdered Pakistani women, many Western women have privilege enough to repudiate femininity without suffering life-threatening consequences. My crazy idea is that they should if they can, because women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized. [...]

  2. A Mere Woman « Natalia Antonova

    [...] femininity debate always brings me back to the summer of 1993, spent at my grandparents’ old dacha outside [...]

  3. season of the bitch » Reclaiming femininity

    [...] see, this is the thing. Natalia wrote in response to Twisty’s comment that women should repudiate femininity if they can, because they will never have [...]

  4. ceshi » Blog Archive » I see it’s time for another skirmish in the femininity wars

    [...] Twisty’s latest post expands, if succinctly, on her post from the day before connecting resistance to femininity with the beginning of the end of women’s oppression: Unlike the murdered Pakistani women, many Western women have privilege enough to repudiate femininity without suffering life-threatening consequences. My crazy idea is that they should if they can, because women cannot be liberated from men’s oppression until we are de-otherized. [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>