I have been on a bit of a blog hiatus. My parents were here all through May and it all just got too much – the blog was something that had to slide. Been feeling a bit burnt out these last few weeks. But anyway. Here I am again.
I’ve been reading some feminist and female-focused stuff lately. Well, I guess I’m always reading this but somehow it’s all come together, as things tend to do. I read Viv Albertine’s autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. And Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist (followed by her novel An Untamed State). And a million online articles (headlines at least) about the Stanford rapist, the Cincinatti gorilla, Johnny Depp & Amber Heard’s breakup and the fucking US election. All of them seem to relate to the topic.
I don’t know. I feel a bit hopeless and helpless with all this stuff. We’ve come so far and yet we’ve come barely any distance at all. I look at my two little boys’ willies in the bath at night and think – how can these mini-Elephant-head-looking bits of the human body be responsible for so much crap in the world? I don’t even need to say “Why do men think they have a right to women’s bodies?” because I sort of know why – because it’s been like that for a very long time.
Why do we tend to believe the male story over the female? Because we’re so much more used to male-led stories, it’s familiar. It’s the authority we know. The norm.
I loved Viv Albertine’s book because it was a female perspective on a time and movement I’ve read so much about (the London punk scene circa 1976-79). I loved her insights on music – that women often focus on the lyrics rather than the instruments because you didn’t see many females playing instruments (still don’t, really) but words are relatable – I totally get that. It’s something often said in feminist and anti-racist discussions but I’ll repeat it: it’s so much easier to do something when you can see an example like “yourself” already doing it. I was somehow disappointed when Albertine disappeared into motherhood and domesticity – someone so obviously talented — (although she’s back on the scene now).. And that she was so concerned with appearance – clothing, her weight, hair removal – but then that’s also me. Completely. So I appreciated the honesty. And it’s not like being a mother or doing domestic stuff is non-feminist… is it? I guess maybe a part of me kind of does believe that. Probably a post for another day. And don’t even get me started on the struggle between motherhood and artistic endeavour…
This leads me to why I read Bad Feminist. Because the synopsis struck a chord – about how the author, Roxanne Gay, strives to be a “good feminist” but lives with the contradictions of things that are considered anti-feminist, such as wanting someone to look after her and loving music that’s horrible to women. In her case, rap à la Robin Thicke and the Ying Yang Twins et al. In my case, hair metal à la Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Motley Crüe etc. (I’d say Steven Tyler is a feminist in many ways but that’s a whole other blog post again). I liked that she was so articulate about not having to be a perfect feminist to still be part of the cause. And how there’s still this lack of… stuff… for women — so few examples where you see “yourself” as I mentioned earlier — so we kind of want everything to tick all the boxes and fill all the gaps, which is impossible, of course. I was also enlightened by her words about how women of colour have so often been excluded from the feminist movement over the years. The book takes the form of a series of essays. Some of her arguments, particularly early on, were a tad patchy, but towards the end, some chapters are searingly on point: concise, cutting, powerful. Her essay on reproductive freedom, The Alienable Rights of Women, nailed it. Really worth reading. You can also watch Roxanne Gay’s 11.5-minute TED talk.
Heard/Depp and Gorillas. Well… you read my poem Over Heard and Cincinatti (didn’t you?!) We enjoy judging, feeling superior, BEING superior. Watching and jeering from the sidelines. It’s human nature. It’s nature-nature: survival of the fittest, red in tooth and claw. I guess that feeling of superiority and entitlement that’s so appealing is something like being a top-of-the-foodchain white, heterosexual alpha male? Maybe I’m oversimplifying. Maybe I should just stop reading my Facebook news feed. All this stuff really has nothing to do with us – it doesn’t really change my life one iota knowing, or not knowing, that, on the other side of the world, a child was endangered and a zoo animal died, or the state of two strangers’ marriage.
The US election probably does affect things. Although maybe not as much as America, or the world’s news organisations, might like us to believe! This week it officially became about Hilary-first-woman-everything and Trump the bigoted alpha male. It will be both fascinating and, I fear, horrific to see how it plays out.
In some ways, feminism, and perhaps even the wider equality movement (if you can call it that), is trying to do something completely radical, get us to go against the grain. Use our brains first, instead of our bodies. Ignore and/or embrace difference rather than fear it and/or seek to oppress. But then we’re too much in our heads they say, we need to live in the moment, be instinctive, feel ourselves breathe. I wonder if that Stanford rapist was “in the moment” for his 20 minutes of action? Ugh. I feel sick thinking about it.
When I break up playfights between my boys, I’ve been trying to explain to my five-year-old that it’s not cool to push or take advantage of someone younger / smaller than you. In fact, that it’s not OK to physically take advantage of anyone ever. That disputes can be solved in different ways and that violence and using your larger body to push down a smaller body is not one of the acceptable methods. But he is still small (except compared to his brother). I want him to be able to defend himself. I hope I can give him non-violent tools to achieve this throughout his life.
I’m sad. I’m not writing this very well nor expressing all the stuff I want to say properly. I don’t have any insights, others have said it better (see above). It’s a statement that will surprise precisely nobody but I still feel the need to say this: I am a feminist. I am a feminist. I am a feminist. Everyone should be. I’m not sure I even want to know you if you’re not one. I don’t feel a lot of joy in the world right now. I really hope things get better.
Sorry you’re running on low. hope this doesn’t make you feel worse, but I remember having a stark realisation in uni that I really preferred male lecturers to female. They held a different authority. I tried to fool myself into thinking that it was specific lecturers I preferred over others, but it wasn’t true. It was just the men. And I felt totally disgusted with myself! Since that moment, I became truly aware of the importance of the feminist movement, not just in places and spaces that didn’t apply to me. I was there, perpetuating it, not as interested in whatever an equally intelligent and articulate woman had to say. Sad. And here I am, trying to BE that intelligent and articulate woman, and wanting people to pay attention to what I have to say! I also still prefer fiction with male protagonists, and I even bloody write with a male protagonist. It’s going to take time to fix me.
Great post Claire. I also sometimes feel hopeless about women and girls in the world, as if the forces we are fighting as so strong and inbuilt that the struggle is doomed. The fact that rape happens in every society no matter what elaborate schemes we try to come up with – cover from head to toe, go around devil-may-care in bikinis drinking shots, empower women, lock wayward women up in institutions Irish-style – is horribly depressing. If it is so f-king inevitable that a proportion of men cannot truly respect women, what the hell are we supposed to do?
My friend told me a terrible story today about boys in her 10yo daughter’s class making rape jokes that makes me tear up in rage and despair. It’s a battle we can’t afford lose though, we have to keep fighting!
I kind of choose not to think about it too much. Equality is not happening, not between men and women, not between black and white, not between SAHM and working moms – everyone has to find their place in the world and try to lead a good life within a realistic range.
That probably makes for a happier life 🙂
This was great. I struggle with this too – surely we all do? – and although I’ve no answers either I love, love, love the reminder that we should have the conversations anyway. About all the things, because the do all intersect, as you’ve emphasised. Even if they’re frustrating and sickening and tiring and feel fruitless. Because I don’t want my girl growing up not thinking about it and talking about it either.
(I’m also totally going to read Bad Feminist, thanks!)