Friday, September 29, 2006

5 Things Feminism Has Done For Me

In response to the cuts by the Conservative federal government to Status of Women Canada, folks over at the Progressive Bloggers have started a meme in which members list five things that feminism has done for them. I sometimes find the excessive focus on party politics by many at the PB to be wearying -- frankly, I don't care who the next leader of the Liberal party is -- but I think this idea is a pretty good one, so I'm going to jump on board.

I'm actually tempted to go through all of the posts that result from this meme and do some kind of analysis of them. In the few I've read, I've seen things like strong feminst women who have felt they have to write things that are pre-emptively defensive in anticipation of hostile comments, which says something about the blogosphere environment. And I've seen at least one anti-feminist rant by a supposedly progressive male blogger, which I suppose says the same thing. However, I don't think that kind of analysis is my role, and hope that perhaps one or more of the feminist women in the PB might do that and post their thoughts. Instead, I will post my own answers.

  1. Feminism has created material and ideological infrastructure (still too little, thanks to constant backlash, but some) to support women I care about if they experience physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a man -- something almost all women that I know well enough to know this sort of thing about have already experienced at least once.

  2. Feminism has given me an opportunity to deal with the ways in which socialization into masculinity has damaged me (as it does to all men). Of course, as Robert Jensen has recently written, "As feminists have long pointed out, there's a big difference between women dealing with the possibility of being raped, beaten and killed by the men in their lives, and men not being able to cry. But we can see that the short-term material gains that men get are not adequate compensation for what we men give up in the long haul -- which is to surrender part of our humanity to the project of dominance." The work of dealing with this injury belongs to men, but the space to make it possible to do so, or even to name the need to do so, exists because of feminist challenge. Feminists have named the problem. Feminists have demanded men deal with it. Feminists have opened some social space to make dealing with it more possible (though it is never easy). An example: Past feminist struggle (plus privilege we hold along other axes) means my partner has a good, professional job and I am able to stay home with our preschooler, which has been one factor that has contributed to partially dealing with one particular sort of masculinity-induced injury. Another example: Any hope of men (hetero or queer) developing theories and practices of liberatory sexuality is because of work done by feminist movements and writers (as well as queer movements and writers). A few queer men who identify as gay aside, most men seem largely uninterested in this project, but when we take it up, it will be possible in part because of feminists.

  3. Feminist movement fed into progressive change more generally in the era of the New Left, in the '60s and '70s. I have come to see that social movements in diverse geographical and social locations can feed into each other, momentum building on momentum. Whatever gains other movements made in the New Left era was in part because of the energy feminist movement added to the struggle (and vice versa, of course).

  4. Feminism has taught me about the complexities of power -- not as a participant in that movement, obviously, but as an observer, and in some ways more effectively than any space I have ever belonged to myself. It has shown me that nothing is pure, nothing is untainted. I have seen feminist women challenge male-dominated movement spaces and male activists on their sexism time and again, despite men resisting and refusing to listen and forgetting. At the same time, I know feminist movement spaces struggle with other axes of oppression in their own functioning, from second wave foremother Betty Friedan's fear of the "lavender menace" in decades past to the ongoing racism faced by radical women of colour in the feminist blogosphere and in real life feminist spaces. I have known some straight, white, middle-class feminist women (by no means all!) who live keen, keen theory-and-practice from their experience of oppression, and whom I absolutely know I must listen to when they speak up on sexism in me or in shared spaces, but who seem almost entirely devoid of theory-and-practice based in their experiences of privilege, and seem blind to things like racism and class oppression and colonialism -- from little things like not seeming to notice that the only feminist women in the community they consistently designate as "hard to work with" just happen to be Black women, to big things like implicitly defining victory as middle-class white women becoming equal with middle-class white men in a system that continues to oppress indigenous women and men and women and men of colour at home and abroad, and depend on the exploitation of working-class women and men of all backgrounds. And yet the biggest lesson is that, for all the ongoing struggles in feminist spaces over these issues, I know that feminist movements, or at least parts of them, have dealt with these challenges more seriously than any male-dominated movement I have been a part of, seen, or heard of. From feminist struggles over power and privilege, we all can and must learn.

  5. Feminism gave me the tools to understand certain events earlier in my life (to which I was peripherally connected but by which I was still affected) in political and social terms rather than as purely isolated and individual.

So what's your answer?


Scott Tribe said...

Nice list, Scott.. thanks

In reference to some of what you said about "party politics". To be fair, the majority of those posts you're seeing - specifically about the Liberal leadership - are from Liberal bloggers who are on the Prog Blog blogroll... they're naturally going to talk about it. There also are plenty of other good bloggers writing non- Liberal Party blog stories.. they just need to be voted on so they can make it to the frontpage of the site.

skdadl said...

A really thoughtful list, Scott. Many women will appreciate it. Thanks.

Scott said...

Hi skdadl...thank-you!

Hi scott...thanks to you too!

And re. my comments about party politics: Sorry if that came across as unfair to you and others who do the hard work necessary to keep the PB up and going. I definitely appreciate that! I do know there are stories in the forum that have nothing to do with the Liberal leadership race or with party politics more generally, and I definitely don't do all I could to get the interesting ones on the frontpage, so thanks for the minor kick in the butt in that regard. That said, the frustration at the root of my offhand remark is really not just about the PB but rather about the political climate in Canada more generally, and I stand by that frustration...but hopefully I managed to express how I feel without being too snarky or sectarian! :)

Ricia said...

excellent. best list i've read yet. thank you!

(yes, i'm back - in a fragmented and occassional sort of way... will link up to this in the next days)

Scott said...

Ricia! Welcome back!!

And thank-you!

Anonymous said...


Scott said...

Hey Anonymous... :) right back at you!