Re: The Pursuit of Harpyness - Conversations About the Patriarchy
I mean, it’s awesome to be all, “I choose my choice regardless of the patriarchy!” or “I don’t think of myself as a woman or a man, I’m a person and I don’t engage with the patriarchy,” or “I do what I want because <i>I</i> want to, not because the patriarchy tells me to!”
But in reality, none of those distinctions are actually possible. You can’t separate your desires from your socialization in a patriarchy. You can’t develop a love of baking in a vacuum; or a weakness for heels in a feminist utopia; or a love of makeup in a world that doesn’t pressure women to not just alter their looks, but pressures us to want to alter our looks, and (even more insidiously), to <i>want</i> to want to alter our looks. Because vacuums, feminist utopias, and worlds where half-the-population-commonly-known-as-women aren’t pressured to perform the femininity required to make us women. And you can’t be neither man nor woman in a patriarchy, at least not without actively and vigorously and explicitly exempting yourself from normative society—and even then, you’ll just end up with a lot of first reactions from people being, “Is that a man or a woman?”
It’s just a fantasy to pretend otherwise, to act like you want to shave your legs because you like bare legs. It’s not possible to determine which desire is “authentic” and which is “just” socialized, because all desire is mixed up with socialization and all socialization is mixed with desire.
This doesn’t mean that your love of [insert femininity] is inauthentic because it’s been instilled in you because of your socialization, any more than my firm believe that onions have no place in cheese pierogies is inauthentic just because it’s entirely determined by the fact that my grandmother never put onions in her cheese pierogies. Desires that coincide with patriarchal mandates aren’t feminist or radical or special just because they seem more real than other mandates that you don’t want to comply with.
Feminism is hard.
Personally, I can recognize this without having a lot of cognitive dissonance about the seemingly arbitrary ways that I comply or resist. But I really feel that making the defining characteristic of feminism “desire” or “authenticity” or some other amorphous and impossible phenomenon is somewhere between dangerous, naive, and unthoughtful. (With respect to everyone on this thread, even though that sounds harsh. Maybe one of the concessions I won’t make to the patriarchy is letting (what I see as) unethical definitions of feminism get proclaimed without saying something?)
So anyway, the thing is that I think a better metric is harm. I want to comply with the patriarchy—almost every ‘instinct’ I have appears to magically align with patriarchal mandates. I prefer smooth legs, looking pretty, being thin, being liked, being smart but not threatening, being quite but not a doormat, being like the perfect mix of betty draper, the virgin mary, madonna, britney spears, and hilary clinton. I mean it’s an impossible thing, what I want, because I also equally—maybe more so?—want to be the perfect mixture of andrea dworkin, catherine mackinnon, hilary clinton (she’s always on my list), leslie knope, alanna the lioness, and Princess Cimorene of Linderwall.
So acting like pinning down why I want to be what is impossible—my “authentic” self that determines my “authentic” or “true” desires is inextricable from patriarchy telling me what I want, just like I learned how to think and speak in English as an American in the 20th century. That shit is authentic by now. “If I were a man” is a fantasy game.
So I just go, which of these things does harm? Letting rape jokes—I won’t let that shit slide, because I know that there are women around who’ve been raped who’ve heard the rape joke, and the harm it does (normalizing rape, and—worse—normalizing the casual dismissal of rape victims and their feelings and their ability to trust that the people around them aren’t asshole who won’t believe them, for example) is worse than any irritation, pain, frustration, exhaustion, or internal resistance I might feel to saying something.
Hiding the rites of femininity, rather than openly embracing “TMI”, makes the experiences of women seem isolating and makes us feel freakish, and since I don’t usually mind feeling freakish too much, it’s worth it for me to talk about lady-things that aren’t considered polite in front of men.
I don’t mind being a bummer, so I have no problem telling someone at a party that they said something sexist, or racist, or classist, or ableist, or otherwise fucked up. This makes me variously popular or very unpopular, depending on the crowd.
Makeup I go back and forth on—every time I wear makeup I normalize the mandate of wearing makeup and looking “feminine,” and I make it harder for someone who hates make up to not-wear it. But I also like to wear makeup sometimes. Same thing with shaved legs, high heels, and skirts.
I mean I freaking love skirts. They’re sooo comfortable. But it’s not impossible that I love skirts because they look better on me, because they’re more patriarchally compliant. But it seems so much less a big deal than letting someone say something sexist, for me, plus I don’t think that femininity is wrong just because it’s femininity—though it kind of is because any compliance is compliance, even thoughtful compliance.
Anyway the upshot of all this is that once I stopped calibrating that shit in terms of what I wanted for “real” and what I wanted because it was patriarchally appropriate, my life got about a thousand times easier. Making cookies for fun was not at all tainted, because it doesn’t matter. Shaving my legs doesn’t require me to suss out my innermost desires and thoughts (though it does involve environmentally-prompted guilt). Wearing makeup doesn’t <i>compromise my values</i>, because my values are contingent, and that’s okay. When I decide to resist patriarchal mandates, I know why I’m doing it, because I’ve considered the harm, and made my decision based on that instead of something that is literally impossible for me to figure out.
Probably this change coincided with me getting into a longterm serious relationship with a man, which required me to consider what I desire for real vs. because of society—compulsory heterosexuality, etc. If I’m only with him because society tells me to be with a man, does that make my relationship unauthentic? No. Does the fact that my relationship is authentic mean that it’s not influenced by heterosexism? No. Does that mean I should break up with him? Of course not! The harm my contribution-to-heterosexist-conventions (i.e., my relationship) does is not worth the personal harm ending my relationship would be. So I stay with him, even if I contribute to a system I hate. I just try to do it as well as I can within that system.