Monday, June 11, 2007

The Accidentally Good Feminist

This gigantic thread at Feministing about name-changing and this Pandagon post about marriage had me thinking about the "feminist" things I do, and what separates me from the people who don't do them.

For instance, I'm not hugely into shaving. I wear skirts almost daily during the summer, but only shave a few times a week at most. I don't pluck my eyebrows, and I don't really think about it much. You might think it's transgressive to live happily with my stubble and my unkempt brows. On the other hand, I'm of Scandinavian stock, and not very hairy to begin with. For someone whose body didn't comply so naturally with the standards for female hairiness, it would probably be a bigger social challenge to keep the shaving schedule I do. And for that matter, I'm also lazy. I do consciously try to only wear enough makeup that I don't think I look terrible without it, but it's more likely that I come in to work without makeup because I was more interested in 2 minutes of sleep than putting on makeup. In other words, these "feminist" grooming habits are only partially something I work at - the rest is really just me doing what's easiest.

And a lot of the "feminist" things that I do are really no problem for me. Keeping my maiden name really hasn't caused me any trouble. I've always been encouraged to pursue my education, in the field of my choice. I happened to fall in love with a strident feminist. Sometimes I pat myself on the back for these things, but it's really not fair to. All this basically is the result of being in the right place at the right time.

As for the not-so-dogmatically-feminist things I'm attached to, sometimes it's random and sometimes it's selfishness that determines what gets past the feminist filter. I wore a white (well, cream) strapless wedding gown to my formal wedding. I loved it. I still love flouncy formal wedding gowns, and I love them more than I hate the sexist symbolism around them. Is that influenced by a sexist culture? Sure, but it's also not a manifestation of some secret desire to be dominated by patriarchy.

I've also defended the sexualization of breasts in American culture. But I've got big ones, which are dude-approved. And I've never tried to nurse in public. So while I still maintain that the more potential for arousal out there the better, I understand that my perspective may be a little biased.

All this is not to say that I'm some sort of feminist hedonist - I make some conscious and uncomfortable choices because they fit into my moral view of the universe. It's everything from tearing myself away from displays of diamond engagement rings to telling my Grandmother why I stand up for abortion rights. But if I'm going to be honest in my assessment of other women - other feminists - I need to realize what influences the decisions I make, and think about what I'd do with my unibrow or flat chest.
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