« A tale of two cities and two lies: some thoughts on Las Vegas and D.C. | Main | Thinking about women, sports, and hazing »

May 17, 2006



I think we've seen several times, though, that people do get into arguments about who's the real feminist - think of arguments about prostitution or pornography or staying at home to raise kids. The difference between environmentalism and feminism is that feminism is only about people and theoretically, you don't have any limiting factors to your being the perfect feminist. Environmentalist theory is necessarily tied to our concrete surroundings and the place where we live - feminist theory doesn't have to be that way.


Yes, we do get into these arguments, Sara. And as you know, I hate litmus tests. On the other hand, what I don't like about what I've been doing is that by jokingly discussing the probability that my feminist credentials (which don't exist) are going to be pulled (by some sort of nebulous Feminist High Command), I end up making those who disagree with me appear intolerant and inflexible, which is not my goal. I can make my point just fine without this particular trope.


Bravo, Hugo, for taking Stentor's on-target criticism to heart.


"I still stand by my position that taking one's husband name can be as feminist as keeping one's own"

But do you have a better argument for it this time around?


It also occurs to me that apologizing for something is, similarly, a good way of making yourself look reasonable and distracting attention from the substance of your posts. Or lack of substance.


Z, you and I disagree on what makes a choice feminist. When a woman chooses in accordance with her own desires to do something that is not ipso facto harmful to other women her choice is feminist. Feminism is not about adherence to any particular set of ideological beliefs, it is about honoring the extraordinary range of choices, wishes, and desires that can exist in individual women. Of course our desires are informed by the culture. Patriarchy pushes us one way -- but organized feminism pushes another way. When we make a choice that goes against our conscience, that certainly isn't feminist.

Z, if you're not going to accept a mea culpa at face value, and instead perceive it as a slick way of changing the subject -- well, then, I grieve your cynicism. I'm not sure what benefit you find in participating in a discussion with a host blogger of whom you think so little.


In my opinion, what's offensive about your first post is not your wife's choice, but your un-self-conscious gloating about it. In comments, you said:

> Help me out here -- how can I accomplish the following:
> 1. Express my real and sincere happiness that my wife has taken my last name
> 2. Give no offense to my feminist colleagues or to those women who have chosen not to do as my wife has done?
> Those were my goals, and I apparently barely succeeded in number one and flopped in number two.

Imagine if goal # 1 had been to express "real and sincere happiness" that your wife had her breasts enlarged. Or even, to choose a less problematic (though far less significant) example, attempting to express "real and sincere happiness" that your wife chooses to shave her legs. I think we can all agree that shaving one's legs is not inherently incompatible with feminism, but for a husband to publicly delight in his wife's decision to shave her legs would still be unseemly.


That's an interesting analogy. On a gut level, comaparing name changes to breast implants seems so different. The former marks -- to me -- spiritual unity; the latter a crass capitulation to a loathsome physical standard. But that may be an indefensible distinction.


Your emphasis on individual choice feminism is dispiriting. It glosses over that fact that women make choices based on context and external factors that constrain those choices. By saying that "Feminism is not about adherence to any particular set of ideological beliefs, it is about honoring the extraordinary range of choices, wishes, and desires that can exist in individual women" you seem blind to the systemic constraints that limit those choices. Of course this puts the onus for change not the people in power and prevailing institutions but on the women themselves. In your world women who choose to stay in abusive relationships because their consciences tells them that it is the right thing to do, are making a feminist choice.

And certainly my individual choice to keep my last name DOES influence other women. It makes it just a little bit easier for my sisters, daughters, coworkers, family, and friends in this generation and the next to make that decision. My decision might see a very small immediate ripple effect but the aggregate effect if more women made that decision would be huge.


Certainly, the decision to change one's name is very different from the decision to alter one's physical appearance. But in either case, a person in the privileged position of benefiting from such a decision (without having to make any sacrifice himself) shouldn't gloat about it.


My point, Hugo, is that changing one's name perpetuates a sexist norm and therefore is ipso facto harmful to other women.


Sara: I disagree that we can be perfect (pro-)feminists but are structurally constrained from being perfect environmentalists. Patriarchy is as much about our social and cultural structure as it is about personal behavior. Amanda Marcotte's posts about how you can't have a perfectly equal household division of responsibility when your household is embedded in a patriarchal society are a good example, I think. Feminism and environmentalism both require making the best of the suboptimal menu of choices we have, while trying to change the menus people will have in the future. (Also, I think how we construct gender relations *is* dependent to some degree on our nonhuman environment, but I won't get into a digression on feminist political ecology here.)


Good for you, Hugo. Comments about "feminist police" and such bug the shit out of me. Like Stentor says, disagreeing on one issue isn't an indictment of a whole person's life, and complaining about perceived slights to credentials that don't exist comes off as a personal attack when the subject being discussed is what should be stuck with.

As someone who constantly gets accused of calling other feminists "bad" when debating prostitution, I was tempted to reply to Feministing's Jessica recent taunt that I think she's a bad feminist with the sentence, "I think you're a good feminist who's wrong about prostitution" but deleted it in exchange for "stop trying to make this about me when it isn't." Perhaps I knee-jerked into a sentence more abrupt than it needed to be, but the struggle to keep the debate on the topic and not let it devolve into questioning anyone's overall dedication to women's equality is a tiring one.

I don't want to respond to slurs on my supposed "anti-sexuality" by going off about my personal sex life to prove I'm a sexy woman when it has nothing to do with the matter at hand and is an intentional diversion, and I don't want to respond to imagined insults about 'feminist credentials' with compensating compliments when it has nothing to do with the matter at hand and is an intentional diversion. Because of the way morality-tinged words are employed in debates on sensitive sexual topics I put extra efforts into not using loaded terms like good and bad, so seeing them attached to me when I go out of my way to avoid them is especially galling.


How is perpetuating sexist social norms not hurtful to women? How is it not just perpetuating sexism?

Radical feminism (imo) recognizes that even feminist choices that attempt to subvert, defeat or escape sexism will always come to be co-opted and undermined by the incredible depth and breadth of the patriarchy, and thus they require continual imagination, energy, and renewal. How you can argue that a choice that actually respects, legitimizes, and perpetuates patriarchal norms not only does not affect other women but is actually feminist is pretty much beyond me.

Lis Riba

Coming to the party late, but on a related note I'm trying to collect as many personal definitions of feminism as I can.

My goal in this is to move away from litmus tests to find shared consensus.

I'm no academic, so you probably have better sources than I. Anything you can contribute, including links to old posts of yours I may have missed or quotes from books or articles.

Thanks a ton for any help you can provide. [I'm hoping to blog my conclusions/compilations before the next Feminist Carnival in hopes of sparking further constructive discussion.]

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004