Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's been over a week since work started back up, but my body still has a serious case of vacation time. I never did grow out of that adolescent need for ridiculous amounts of sleep, so the day I get out of work, I go back to sleeping for 10 or more hours at a time. What this means, though, is that I end up going to bed much later that I would ordinarily. Now that I'm back into the full swing of things, though, I'm waking up super early, but still going to bed around midnight. This leads to Not Enough Sleep.....boo.....

Anyway, that's entirely not the point of this post, so I'll get on with it.

I had a really fascinating and interesting conversation with my best friend the other night. She's working on an "assignment," if you will, though it's not for a class or academic pursuit.

She asked me if I have an experience, or thought process, or set of goals that I think are integral or quintessential to my existence as a woman.

I have to admit, I was stumped.

I am going to turn this question over to you, readers, to answer or otherwise chime in on your thoughts on the subject.

I eventually came to the conclusion that no, I don't think I do have anything that I think of as quintessential to the experience of woman, because I honestly feel that as soon as we start to assign things as the very definition of a whole group, we will alienate those whose experiences differ. I think that the spectrum of human life is so great that we can't accurately pin down one thing (or a couple of things) and call it universal.

An older lesbian couple at Molly's synagogue responded to the question with "Well, we all have to pee sitting down. That's pretty universal."

Much as I'd like to sit and sulk that I didn't come up with such a funny quip, I'd like to hear from you all.

The other problem that I see is that many of the existing definitions of womanhood are very much tied to patriarchal ideals. The definitions of mother, caregiver, supporter, whatever, have been imposed on generations of women. Either that or we have been defined, again by patriarchal society, as objects, things, communal property, lays or otherwise LESS THAN.

The inception of feminism sought to throw all that out the window, level the playing field and allow us to be fully independent and individual. We can choose whether to define ourselves as creators, givers of life or nurturers if we choose (no, Rebecca Walker, feminism does not think badly of these things), but if we choose otherwise, that's our prerogative. The feminist movements have attempted to achieve the goal that Martin Luther King set out: to be judged by the content of our character.

I've been thinking about this conversation for several days, now, and have been compiling some reading material for Molly. I've been trying to put together a list of blogs and sites that might help sort out the desire for a sense of personal worth and belonging versus an imposed set of roles and regulations.

The first thing I thought of was, of course, The Woman Identified Woman. "Molly" is straight and married, so the life experience identified within will not immediately recall her own life, but the document is important and significant nonetheless. Besides which, I'm not sure how many people our age are familiar with The Woman Identified Woman (outside of women's studies departments, which neither of us attended), and so I feel a duty to keep it in the collective conscious.

One phrase that really resonates for me is this:

As the source of self-hate and the lack of real self are rooted in our male-given identity, we must create a new sense of self. As long as we cling to the idea of "being a woman, '' we will sense some conflict with that incipient self, that sense of I, that sense of a whole person.

I have encountered enough confusion in trying to define myself that trying to fit that definition into a group identity has been nearly impossible. But that may not be the case for everyone, and so, again, I urge you to share your thoughts.

Many people are working to define themselves in a way that is more real and inclusive than what society expects of them, and they have some really interesting things to say:

First, a vocabulary lesson and round-up of frequent questions from the folks at "Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog:"


Next, a stop at one of my blog favs, Bitch PhD:

"My feminisms:"

A big challenge of all of your ideas of surrounding parenthood (not really a propos, but interesting nonetheless):

Moving on, we move over to body issues....(ugh, I know, do I even want to go there....)
I have lots more to say on that topic, but for now, I'll just link to Wimn's Voices (from the organisation Women in Media & News), which shreds several articles in mainstream publications about how plastic surgery makes everything better. Except it doesn't, and the articles are misogynist and misleading.

Again, not entirely on topic, because I'm not linking to a specific post, is What About Our Daugters. Focusing on issues faced by African American women, and featuring a section called the "Michelle Obama Watch" (which calls out all the dehumanizing crap flung at her), this blog is a really great addition to the internet universe.

Last (for now) is a little gem known as Dinosaur Comics. Yes, that's right, dinosaurs. In comic form.....Okay, shut up back there! I can totally hear you calling me a nerd and a dork. Stop.

The Male Gaze is a phrase flung around quite a lot, which has come to mean anything in the life of women that gets viewed from a male perspective. It originated as a film theory, though, and Dinosaur Comics explain that to us.


So, dear readers, (if I have any left after my crazy long post christmas stupor hiatus) please chime in, if you feel that you have a "quintessentially woman" experience (any mention of menstruation, however, will be met with sarcastic eye-rolls and imaginary bonks on the head with wet lettuce). If you have other resources to recommend, please do so.


shadocat said...

what about pregnancy, and all that surrounds it---stages, chilbirth, abortion, birth control, even just the ability to do it...just a thought...

Maggie Jochild said...

I'm up from my extended sickbed, where I had a chance to think about this post of yours. Hope this is coherent.

I believe (I do believe, I do, I do) that gender is a construct, like race and class, and what makes us distinct as wimmins (as Allie would say it) is how we were raised to be wimmins. In that particular place and time.

I think the miracle of how humans have used evolution to leap so far ahead of other species on this planet is because of our choices toward flexibility, including the use of handed-on culture to jump-start the next generation. Of course, there's a downside to that jumpstart, which are all the evils of racism, sexism, etc. We've learned the lie that these "inborn" attributes are unchanging and therefore it's okay to treat certain groups of people like shit. So mothers teach their daughters. Everybody believes the lies to some extent, we can't help it.

But there is no hope in this version of reality, this notion that having more or less female-appearing genitals means you're more inclined to do (fill in the blank, depends on when and where you are born, there's NO universal answer no matter how much the sociobiologists would shriek there is). And we have a kajillion exceptions to this so-called rule, extending back into the mists of time.

I do think lived experience shapes you, alters not only your narrative but the configuration of your brain and, to some extent,your very DNA. And that's where the hope (real and imagined) does live: That we can raise a child to be utterly different, with an expanded horizon, and she will not only occupy that new territory and pass on the expectation to her offspring, but also pass on an altered genetic capacity. Yep, we are that flexible.

Before epigenetics came along (very recently) to prove all this, early second-wave feminists recognized it as truth. My sisters and I were extremely focused on defining (well, re-defining i.e. stripped of "male gaze) Woman, but every one I was close to, listened to, followed, believed the definition was dependent on conditioning, not biology. We believed men could also redefine themselves to rid themselves of the straight jacket of masculinity, and knew a few men who took that on. (Precious few.)

But to change the conditioning of an entire generation would require the compliance of almost everybody, particularly the power elite who are life-and-death invested is us NOT cutting away our chains. Thus, now, biological determinism is being crammed down our throats again with the rise of the Right, at least with regard to gender, and it has been especially disheartening to see those within our own imagined communities embracing the idea of inherent masculinity and femininity, the inherent biological impact of genes over identity (the whole "wash of hormones" fantasy), the status-quo supporting fallacy of "subverting" a system by continuing to maintain its basic definitions but saying you can switch around who plays what role and call that liberation, and, in particular, the painting of our generation as "man-hating" when what we hate(d) is the patriarchy and those who enforce its death-dealing limitations.

No, I don't think there is an innate difference between men and women. I count on that being a lie. I counted on it when I was a lesbian separatist, I count on it as a woman who has helped raise many beloved boys, I count on it now as an activist and writer whose purpose is to raise the energy. I think we can, each of us, choose the human attributes we find most admirable and adopt that was "natural" to our gender. Eventually, of course, it will become apparent that gender is meaningless in that case, which will be fine with me.

Until then, however, I won't deny or refuse to see the profound differences that conditioning does leave on each of us, with regard to culture, geography, class, race, gender, and a host of others. Such pretense is self-defeating, not liberating. As long as I make it clear that I am, for instance, prone to empathy because I was raised to believe that women are supposed to be that way and I happened to be born with female genitalia, then that's an honest evaluation, not oppressing anybody. If it raises your hackles to hear it, well, think about why before you attack me for explaining the parameters of my perceived (and entirely conditioned) female identity.

(Not you, Kat. I know you're the one asking the right questions.)

Okay, I just used up all of my post-fever energy for the moment. Maybe I'll do more later, or write another post of my own on this issue. In which case, I'll credit you for the spark, something too many "feminist" blogs out there are not doing regularly. Bless you for the good work you do here, I read you religiously.

kat said...

I think that what I'm trying to get at is that beyond biology, there's not much that can be called a universal experience.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not too comfortable defining people solely on their biology, and I'm certainly not comfortable claiming a common experience with someone based on that either.

I'm reading a book at the moment called "The Friendly Young Ladies" by Mary Renault. There was a really interesting paragraph that reminded me of this discussion:

"There came over her, like a kind of sickness, the conciousness of being a woman, detached for a moment from all accompanying thought. She could feel it, even before she spoke, invading her voice, and the way she stood."

I liked the thought that one doesn't need to think about oneself as belonging to one or another category. I think we'll be much more interesting people if we work on being the best, most interesting individual, rather than "Am I being the perfect WOMAN?"

I think we'll be much healthier for not trying to squeeze into the clothes of gender that probably won't fit.

the next logical question, though, is what to do about all of those trappings of "femininity" that have been foisted upon us.

For that, my dears, I have absolutely no answers.....

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