For My Readers: In Gratitude

On September 27, 2012, I woke up excited. It was so early in the morning it was still late at night. My dear sweet husband was out of town on business, and so I grabbed this laptop, took it into bed, and launched this blog.

I had personal blogs before, but it had been a few years. By that morning, I was winding down a leadership stint in an old-guard feminist organization. Ironically enough that experience meant I quieted about a number of issues within feminism about which I had previously been vocal; having a space at a microphone stand is not the same thing as fostering a functioning set of vocal chords. Finally, I felt, I was more free to help advance and shape a much-needed dialogue about the status of women in society, the importance of activism, and the evolution of modern feminism as I see fit. (Something I encourage others to do from their own perspectives.)

And so, with my hands shaking with excitement, this blog was born. I almost threw up in the bed. What was that about, I wondered? How bizarre. Some days later I would realize I was pregnant.

So this blog has a very special place in my heart. The existence of it, period, is something I associate with the importance of having (and using) our own voices. It also reminds me of this wonderful new daughter of mine and how, even with the way her presence has redirected my daily activities and existential moorings, it is so energizing to participate in a broader effort concerning the status of women and girls.

Most of all, I enjoy being part of a conversation with all of you. So as this year comes to a close, I just wanted to give a simple but heartfelt thank you to those of you who read my blog. It means a lot to me that you care about feminism, and I so appreciate your thoughtful comments. So thank you. Thank you so much for coming to this little corner of the web that, in ways I intended and ways I did not foresee, represents my labor of love.

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Policing Personal Lives Is Not The Point: Dos And Don’ts Feminism Must Die

Do you wear lipstick, or high heels, or short skirts? Have you, during the course of a heterosexual marriage, changed your last name? Regardless of whether you hold a job, do you find yourself taking care of your kids while other moms are “leaning in” to the demands of a boss in the paid workforce?

Honestly, who cares?

The nitty-gritty details of your personal life do not influence whether you can be a feminist, nor do they influence your ability to be a cause-advancing member of Team Gender Equality.

Still, the media continues to advance a false and worthless narrative of what we can call Dos and Don’ts Feminism, which posits that criticizing a woman’s personal life is a feminist act and further that one woman’s choices set an example that all other women must follow. Both practices are offensive and not feminist. Let’s look a little closer.

First, feminism is a movement that holds at its core the ideals of respect for the self-determination of individual women, as well as compassion for the lived experiences of women more generally. Accordingly, attacking, criticizing, and needling women for the way they live is not an expression of feminist ideals.

Further, the practice of criticizing women’s personal lives — for even thinking that women’s personal lives belong to the public domain — is rooted in a centuries-old pattern of sexism where men are supposed to get the public sphere, and can be disagreed with on the level of their ideas, and women are supposed to get the private sphere, and can be disagreed with on the level of who they are.

Second, one woman’s choices do not set an example that all other women must follow. In no legitimate feminism is there one ideal woman who we’re all supposed to be. I say no legitimate feminism because actually there are feminisms, not feminism (and any feminist who tries to assure you there is only feminism like what she says is probably fairly dictatorial, pretty insecure, and whether self-aware or not benefiting from some unhealthy dollops of unearned privilege, be they race, ethnicity, ability, religious status, gender conformity, sexual orientation, and/or marital status).

An outcome of feminism for women is agency, or the ability to direct the course of our own lives, and the proper placement of perspective with regard to women, that say, our bodies are actually about our bodies and not God’s will to be interpreted and enforced through (primarily male) theocrats. It’s not far by extension that a woman’s personal life is actually about that woman’s personal life and not about what potential should exist for all other women’s personal lives. In the context of a social movement that works for the ability of all people, and especially women, to truly express their own free will, it’s fine to draw inspiration from the lives of other women, but that does not mean that each woman must set an example for others. Men are not subjected to this, not this way.

Picking apart a woman’s personal life is not a feminist activity, nor does it reveal whether or not that woman can be a feminist. Feminist behavior lies in how we treat others, and how we work to ensure others are treated. Scrutinizing women’s personal lives is a waste of time, it’s not feminist, and let’s be real — it’s really mean. Dos and Don’ts Feminism can die now.

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Feminism Doesn’t Need A Savior, But It Does Need Leaders

The media loves to search for the next Gloria Steinem, as if what feminism most needs today is an iconic leader for everyone to follow. But we don’t need a singular icon, we need the actions of multiple leaders. The solution is reflected in the words of a Hopi elder: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some argue that feminism is best served without any leaders at all. The reason for pause is understandable.

Ironically enough, some of the worst instincts of second wave feminism yielded into a small but noisy sect of hierarchal, top-down leaders who lost sight of the anti-dominance ideals that are at the core of the movement. Further, leadership circles tend to reflect privilege: white, able-bodied, gender-conforming, class privilege. Diversity is not just about who is at the table, and who sees that table and believes they are welcome to sit, but also which perspectives get centered. Finally, speaking for all women, as iconic leaders are wont to do, is a ridiculous urge. Whether it is an individual or a group of people, speaking for ‘all women’ is more harmful than helpful to the modern feminist cause. I’ve written about that before here.

All those disclaimers said — feminism needs more leaders. The great news is that we are all right here. You and me and everyone we know can and should step up to be the feminist leaders of today.

One of the most important places to take leadership is outside the feminist movement. Back when I had a hierarchal title within a hierarchal feminist organization, younger women used to say to me all the time: “I want to do exactly what you’ve done. Tell me how.” And my honest answer is: Don’t. Don’t limit yourself to taking leadership inside feminism, particularly in a movement job that probably isn’t going to pay you very well or provide much mobility (especially at the entry levels).

Feminism doesn’t need a queen or a savior. But looking more broadly, more feminism and more diversity in leadership is sorely needed. Disturbingly, the world is still largely run by white guys doing it by themselves.

So yes, organize and wave your feminist flag everywhere you can (including inside the movement). But go forth and be a feminist leader in government, in business, in your family, in your faith community if you choose to take part in one, and in non-profit organizations that aren’t focused solely on women.

Do not be afraid to take leadership ever. It is incredibly feminist to take leadership. Feminism needs more leaders, not fewer leaders. The modern feminist leadership is action-oriented rather than iconic or symbolic, collaborative, diverse, dynamic, and external, not internal, in focus.