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Feminist chest-beating - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 21st, 2011

10:46 am - Feminist chest-beating

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On Saturday we had a call from Housing NZ. You see, when the earthquake happened we realised that the house in Tawa is empty and here was something we could do that's actual real help, so we offered it up as free temporary accommodation for the displaced. It's taken a month, but they finally got to us with a person who needed a house. Unfortunately it seems they are going through on a needs basis and since there are probably not many houses here that are actually empty, they're not looking too closely at matching people to houses appropriately.

The person recommended is a single Mum with 5 kids. Our house only has 2 bedrooms and isn't exactly spacious. While it would be an improvement on her current shared accommodation, when we spoke on the phone she sounded really disappointed as it seems unlikely she'd be able to fit her family in there, never mind the 2-people sized hot water cylinder and other small-house practicalities. She is arriving in Wellington on Thursday and if she still has nothing better she'll probably take it while she looks for a bigger one, but realistically we are all hoping something more suitable will turn up for her and our house will be useful for someone who can actually get some relief by living there.

Speaking of the house, I spent all weekend there doing the garden. It looks very pretty now. My hands.. don't.


Women drivers no survivors

I don't know how universal that saying is. Maybe it's only a New Zealand thing. Maybe it's a 'point in time' thing. But having been in New Zealand at a point in time, I heard it a lot. My first recollection of this was in primary school, the first one I went to, and I would have been about 5. It was a thing said by the boys to get a rise out of the girls. I don't know if anyone actually believed it or even really understood what it meant at the time. But by the time I was 10 or 11 we sure did - and by then it'd been added to with other insults:

"You throw like a girl"
"You run like a girl"
"Boys are strong, like King Kong, girls are weak, throw them in the creek"

etc.

These were accompanied by the things boys used to insult each other - sissy, girl, bitch, cunt. While I know and understand that these were things that were intended to hurt, to get a rise, and that it didn't necessarily imply that the insulter believed them, What it did was give me the impression that girls were somehow 'less than' - being a girl was a bad thing. We were the ones that killed people in cars because we can't drive, we're the ones that get thrown in the creek, throw badly and can't do maths. We get used as an insult. Girls are not strong, clever and capable like boys are.

This didn't get serious until I wanted to do Agriculture in the 4th form and got told I couldn't and that I had to do Home Economics instead. It wasn't expressly stated that it was because I was a girl, but, well.. there were only boys in Ag. It was 1984, 13 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act.

Meanwhile, like most families we had a TV and we watched it in the evenings. When I was a kid, The Six Million Dollar Man was big. Also, Lucan, the story of a boy raised by wolves. Later, we got Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Robin of Sherwood. I could do a comprehensive list of 70s and 80s TV shows, but instead I'll just make my point - they all had male protagonists. They all contained women of course. They were love interests, sidekicks, people needing rescuing. Every show had a token woman. Some of them were even quite feisty - Maid Marian anyone? The thing these women had in common was that there was only one in each show and she was fairly obviously there to further the plot for the male protagonist - pretty much without fail. I can't think of a single TV show I saw as an older kid/young woman that centred a female protagonist as a hero who had adventures.

So there was me in my formative years being given the message that as a girl, I was weak and not capable, that my role was to support the men who did the stuff. I would not be a doer of stuff because of my lack of a penis. But I had been raised by parents who did not make such divisions and I wanted to have adventures and do stuff and so far my body parts hadn't made a lot of difference to my ability either physically or mentally. The main difference seemed to be in other people's willingness to let me try. And this, for me (this is my blog damnit, I'll navel-gaze if I want!), is where it gets interesting.

You see at 14 I was growing breasts and getting adult hormones and exploring my sexuality and I should have been watching all these male protagonists having adventures and developing huge crushes on them. I wasn't. I thought they were awesome and hot and all the things you're supposed to want, but instead of wanting to be with these men, I wanted to BE THEM.

Because they had adventures and did stuff. I would imagine myself not as Maid Marian but as Robin, running through the forest with my bow and arrow, leading groups, communing with Herne the Hunter. And in my fantasy I wasn't a girl dressed in men's clothing doing all this - I was a man. Likewise my mega-crush on various band members - I wanted to be them, not fuck them. The stories I read of high-country musterers - that was me walking the hills with my dogs.

That's right folks, as far back as I can remember, my adventure fantasies contained Tats-As-A-Man. Because men got to do the things I wanted to do. Like Agriculture.

Yes, I was aware of the existence of feminism, but this was 30 years ago and Marilyn Waring was in parliament, the backlash was in full force and being a feminist was considered to be worse than being a girl. I opted out of both these because neither seemed like an attractive option, and set about Being A Man. I learned to shear a sheep. I learned to drink and swear and dress in a completely asexual way. I learned to fence and drive a tractor and use a chainsaw. I learned to Keep Up With The Men, to keep quiet when men said derogatory stuff about women, and to displace my feelings about this onto other women. Because other women really weren't like me - they couldn't shear a sheep and reverse an articulated trailer and Keep Up With The Men - they were secretaries and wives and the people who told their men I couldn't work for them because I was a woman and they didn't want their man alone with me all day.

They were objects of derision because that's what women are. I avoided the derision through Being A Man. Only I was better than that because I could Keep Up With The Men despite the obvious disability of being female, and I could do it without being all bra-burning-feminist about it. I was special and Not Like Other Women. I had the respect and admiration of men, and all I had to do to get it was to deny being a woman. Because being a woman was still bad, but I wasn't one, right? Right?

Fast forward a few years and I have nothing left to prove. I know that my gender makes absolutely no difference to my ability to do stuff, and I've proven it consistently throughout my life. If someone starts with the bullshit about being inferior through being female, I have choices for refutation - I can outshear them, I can outthink them or I can outdrive them. And weirdly, now that I have nothing left to prove, I also have little call to prove anything. So instead I started looking around at the world.

Those of you who've been on this blog a while will remember that I was still denying being a feminist at age 35. I still believed that feminism wasn't necessary because anyone could do what I did and that I'm not special in any way - just, other women were less driven or less inclined or less capable or less strong.

And here comes the confession - that was flawed logic. I still maintain that I am not special. What I don't still believe is that the reason other women don't do what I did is anything to do with 'other women' as a group being anything that adds up to 'less than'. What I do believe is that I'm stubborn as fuck and had the good fortune to have feminist parents. They didn't burn any bras or shout about anything. They just quietly went about letting me know I could do anything I wanted, in the face of everything I was being told to the contrary. And I owe an apology to all of the 'other women' that I have spent most of my life having a low opinion of. Because being a woman is a constant battle against the pervasive message that you are naturally inferior and that your existence is purely to support men in their pursuits, not to have any of your own.

Don't believe me? I have a challenge for you. For the next week, make a note of what media you watch. Doesn't matter what kind. Just make a note of who the main protagonist is. That's all.

I took the easy way out by copying the protagonists and doing my bit to maintain the status quo - making myself Not A Woman to get respect. Awesome. The people I really admire are those who have retained their identity as Woman, as Feminist, and determined their own selves - because that is way harder. I'm nearly 41 and it's only in the last couple of years that I've been ok calling myself a feminist. That's nothing to be proud of. Being a feminist at 14, 18, 21, 25 is something to be proud of.

Just saying.


I've nearly finished the Sooper Sekret Project of Doom. Like, 2 more evenings' work nearly finished. After that I want to make a dress like this:



I have no idea where I'd wear it but I want one anyway. I want the front to be nicer though and I don't like the blocky look of it. Actually the only thing I do like is the back, which would be awesome for my scar. I'd kind of like something a bit swirlier though - suggestions welcome?

Comments:

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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)

Here you go

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So, um, which of your recent crimes is the one against humanity?
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From:pombagira
Date:March 20th, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC)
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i so wanted to be Nasir hmmm.. assasin with two swords, most awsome!!

err yeah.. hehehe..

anyway... frabic for the above dress.. probably some sort of cotton/lyrica stretchy fabric.. just cause it will fit the body better and hangs nice... *ponders this*

hmmm Nasir yeah.. he was awsome!!
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2011 10:09 pm (UTC)
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I wonder how common it is, this thing where young girls want to be the male heroes in the media because the female characters aren't the ones that have adventures?

Also, the ideal fabric would be that shiny stuff that's got rubberised metallic on one side, it's stretchy and heavy enough to hang beautifully. But it's AWFUL to sew and I swore I'd never use it again. I am considering the possibility of making something that's either entirely glued together or held together with buckles.
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From:rivet
Date:March 20th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)

I didn't want to fuck them, I wanted to BE them

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I suspect that response is more common than you think. I wanted to BE Buck Rogers, Starbuck, McGuyver, a member of the A-Team, etc. US TV was very macho in the early 80s--the token women on those shows we not to be admired, except for their 'spunk'. OTOH, I was also watching Wonderwoman and the Bionic Woman, so I was not devoid of action heroines.

My best friends through childhood were boys. We played active games, scraped knees, and fell out of trees. I've been known to tell people that I was the only boy-child in a family full of girls. Girls were items of contempt and/or disinterest, and I just didn't think of myself as one.

I think I'm lucky that my mother mostly left me to it because she was so busy being a single mother during the Reagan recession. Occasionally, she'd try to do some gender role policing, but it was not consistent enough to stick. I was about 10 or 11 when my mother said that I'd have to stop playing football with the boys because I was going to go through puberty and my body would be more delicate. She never really explained what that meant, so it left me with an anxiety that the eggs in my ovaries were crushable like the ones in the fridge. More than anything, she feared that my unfeminine nature meant that I was growing up to be a lesbian. We went a few rounds in high school about my man-ish clothes, and her not wanting me to spend time with my boyfriend's lesbian mother (I would catch teh geh!!)

I have layered over my underlying poor opinion of women in general (aside from the specific ones I like because they're 'not like other women') with years of social science. I can talk for hours about the stuggles and victories of women as a class, but if I'm honest it's the same way I talk about peasant farmers or proletarians--they are things I know outside of myself. They're 'women' but I'm an individual. When I do things for their cause, it's often an act of principled, rather than felt, solidarity. Or pragmatism because others are liable to lump me into that group, whether I think of myself like that or not.

Edited at 2011-03-20 10:43 pm (UTC)
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From:rivet
Date:March 20th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
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I became a feminist through observation, though I didn't think of it as 'feminism' at the time. My mother was the most capable and self-reliant person I knew, because as a single woman she had to be. Men moved in and out of her life, and we moved frequently, so I learned that it didn't make sense to rely on others for much of anything--they wouldn't be there next time around. Interestingly, she was not a feminist and probably would have been horrified at the time to see how I was interpreting her 'gender transgressions by necessity' as self-determination. I never understood the way she went belly-up when a man was around, letting him do things I knew she was perfectly capable of.

Edited at 2011-03-20 11:00 pm (UTC)
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure I've always been a feminist in the 'radical notion that women are people' sense, and also in the lack of willingness to allow prescribed gender roles to apply to me personally. But the message that feminists are evil man-haters was well internalised along with the one that women don't get to do stuff, so I have spent a lot of years distancing myself from that label. It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't thing and it's only recently that I've felt able to come from a place of power in my belief that those who think feminism is about hating men are talking bollocks.

I also think that becoming aware of the amount of crap that I internalised as a kid has made me very aware (now) of the times I find myself thinking stuff about 'women' - it causes me to check myself and go "Wait, that doesn't apply to me so why should it apply to those women over there?" I suspect this is helping a lot to overcome the assumptions that seem to come naturally, and hopefully making it more real and less principled.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:25 pm (UTC)
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I would be much more impressed if she were using her eyelids.
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From:dreadbeard
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
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"Because being a woman is a constant battle against the pervasive message that you are naturally inferior and that your existence is purely to support men in their pursuits, not to have any of your own."

Not to take anything away from your argument, but I would also note that being a human is a constant battle against the pervasive messages and roles explicitly and implicitly targeted at us from birth that have nothing to do with who we are and what we need to do to find fulfillment and joy. We are born into a context, system or machine that forces its use for us on us in order to maintain itself. (This, of course, if we are lucky enough to be born somewhere where food and shelter are not our main concerns.)

I am a feminist to the extent that the revolution that interests me is freedom and equality for everybody, and feminism is a useful lens and critique of how half of us are manifestly unequal. But like any lens its view is ultimately limited.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)

Thing wot I lerned in CRIM323 on Friday

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Hegemony is an amazingly effective way of manufacturing consent to subordination. The type of subordination isn't really relevant to the efficacy of this.

I focus on feminism because as a woman my being 'manifestly unequal' colours everything about my life, therefore to write from my own experience means writing as a feminist. And this particular post sprang from my realisation that teenage-Tats actually wanted to be a man.
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From:dragonvyxn
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
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i didn't have crushes on protagonists either, i definitely wanted to be them or be like them. i used to have this crazy dream that i had a penis... it was super odd. i even read the boy coming of age books and not the girl ones... i didn't really understand nocturnal emissions. it was a little strange, i guess. as i got older, marion zimmer bradley was one of my favorite authors for her excellent female protagonists.

i don't know that i ever thought to much intellectually about gender growing up, but i know i'm something of a feminist for sure... i think gender is no boundary on ability and that i can certainly do anything i want to do if i choose it, as can anyone else. what's hard is the doing and staying in that place of confidence throughout, sometimes. but i've never really been outright told i couldn't do a thing because i'm a girl, at least i don't remember it if it happened. my parents were certainly of the mind that i and my sister could and should do whatever we wanted to do, so that was that.

about the dress, excellent, i would suggest spiral cutouts around the waist areas, and a neckline of some sort...
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From:whatifitworks
Date:March 21st, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
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I think I've been through a similar journey - different context/work but same outcome. This makes me simultaneously happy and tired.
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From:whatifitworks
Date:March 21st, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
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& that dress would look awesome on you :)
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:March 21st, 2011 12:10 am (UTC)
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Okay, here comes my conceitedness...

I have a underlying poor opinion of a lot of people regardless of gender. Probably from always having to help people in school, due to having to fix people's problems, or just clean up their mess.

The flipside to this is that I rarely ask for help from anyone except my close friends, because otherwise I become one of them. And I don't actually trust people to do things right until I've proof that they can.

...

By the way, I'm quite glad you're not a man. :P
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From:tatjna
Date:March 21st, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
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I am also quite glad I'm a woman - now*.

Have you spent any part of your life wanting to be a woman?

* you are in part responsible for this, with your Y chromosome and my desire to *censored*
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 21st, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)
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I had a very similar journey (substitute computer programming for shearing though).

I was a lot luckier in that the real revolution in YA had just started when I hit my teens so I got smart pro-active heroines like Alana and Laura Chant.

I also had a feminist mother (who apparently used to edit the famous five on the fly when she read it to me to remove some of the worst of it.

I credit internet feminism for showing me just how much misogyny I had internalised in spite of all of these things. I still don't do most of the "feminine" things that I'm supposed to like wear dresses, makeup or high heels(possibly George from the Famous Five is the source of all this, maybe my mother should have done more editing).
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From:anna_en_route
Date:March 21st, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
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Whoops the above was me sorry.
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From:khaybee
Date:March 21st, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
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I still wish I was a man fairly frequently, as I get so damned fed up with double standards and forked expectations. If I but had a penis I could follow my dreams and become successful in business without continually having to prove my worthiness to try. Due to my unfortunate lack, by determination is seen as bitchiness and I have to be better to be perceived as equal.
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From:tyellas
Date:March 21st, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
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I modified a Vogue "Very Easy" evening dress to be near-backless for a friend, to show off her body modifications. It has a V-neck/halter front.

http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v8358-products-5828.php?page_id=859

Modifying the straps was the easy part, the hard part was getting the lower back facing to sit nicely. You could probably make it shorter if you liked. The length had a nice flow on my friend, who was tall. We made it out of a quality stretch velvet but a smooth viscose knit, especially a doubleknit, would also do nicely. Fabric Warehouse has this doubleknit I speak of.

After discussing a dress pattern I feel obliged to say something about the feminism thread. But after spending a day with my father, if I think about feminism enough to get some comments together, I'll spontaneously combust with rage. Please ma'am may I be excused...
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From:tatjna
Date:March 21st, 2011 01:35 am (UTC)
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That is totally more like what I'm after - thank you!

And on the feminism thing, you are excused - although my current interest in this thread is in the way most of the women who've replied have said yes, they too wanted to be the male protagonists in media as teenagers. And most of the men who've replied have said something about their worldview that implies that they would like to disregard gender.

So now I want to know if you have ever wanted to be a man, and if all the men on my blog have ever wanted to be a woman.

No expansion necessary. ;-)
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From:anna_en_route
Date:March 21st, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
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Interestingly, I've become aware of a whole bunch of recent YA books featuring heroines who do stereotypically feminine things(i.e. cheerleading) but also kick arse and take names and are often explicitly feminist and I can't help but be happy about it.

There are also a huge rash of YA books focusing on strong female friendships and relationships rather than just romances and that makes me really happy.

I don't know whether it's a trend or whether it's just that I've only started noticing it but I can't help feeling that these authors (who are often in their 20s-40s) are reacting to the same kind of attitude you describe.
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