Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Policing Femininity, and the Right to Be Wrong

This started out as a comment on Kate's post, but it got really long, so…

One of the real problems with feminist policing of expressions of traditional femininity (among many problems, which also include looking suspiciously like a thingy that polices from the other direction), is that it effectively ignores the reality that many feminist women (almost like real humans! wheeeeee!) tend to go through stages where they have different personal relationships with the accouterments of traditional femininity as they move through life accumulating experience and knowledge, and their feminist philosophy changes, deepens, broadens.

Many years ago, I rejected certain expressions of traditional femininity because I was a misogynist, raised in a misogynist culture to hate women (including myself). I was socialized to have axiomatic contempt for the feminine and all its associations with weakness and frivolity and being less than.

I was born into a world in which, given my particular set of personal circumstances and privileges, I was told that I was equal to men from the day I was born—and it was a real shock to me to find out that not everyone agreed. In theory, I was equal. In practice, I was decidedly not.

And the way I first learned to navigate that ego-rattling disparity was to assert myself as an Exceptional Woman. Not like those other women. Certainly not like those radical feminists. I wasn't like them. I laughed at dirty jokes and didn't take three hours to get ready and liked baseball. I was practically one of the boys.

Ugh. Embarrassing stuff.

I thought I was a feminist, but I only understood feminism in the most cursory way.

Then I was exposed to proper feminist theory for the first time—and suddenly I started REALLY LIKING being a woman, and other women, and all things feminine, in a way I had never liked any of those things before. It made me voraciously desirous of feminine things, many of which I'd always liked, deep down, but had rejected, shoving my affections to dark vaults at the bottom of my psychological sea. There they could be forgotten, or at least denied.

But feminism gave me permission to love the feminine, which I'd never had before. And I wanted to wear pink—not ironically—and to be pretty.

I lived on—and my perspective on the world changed, and I changed, and my feminism changed. Some of the expressions of traditional femininity I had embraced started to seem problematic to me. I didn't exactly ricochet back in the other direction, but I certainly felt less disposed toward, less fond of, certain expressions of femininity. Some of them felt, when on my body, on my skin, in my mouth, in my thoughts, like an artifice behind which I was hiding.

I lived on. Change. Etc. My life is not static. My thinking is not static. I interact with new people who introduce me to new ideas all the time. I am influenced by the world around me, which itself changes in ways that affect my thinking. I am influenced by the parts of myself that continue to emerge, and sometimes surprise me.

There has not been any point at which my personal feminism is/was "right" with regard to my expressions and/or rejections of femininity, according to every other feminist on the planet. It is a moving target, even for me, finding some balance between my feminism and my femininity.

All I have learned is not to judge, not to audit—because I have no idea where any other feminist is on her journey. I don't even know where I am on my own.

I don't want to be the police, and I don't want to be policed. What I want is the presumption I'm fumblefucking my way through this thing in good faith, that I don't want to make life any harder for any other person during my time on this rock.

What I want is the freedom to fuck up, and the right to be wrong.