Tag Archives: the personal is political

On femme shame and feminist solidarity.

6 Feb

This has been my summer of femme: I’ve been fairly consistently made up, dressed up, and chatted up as a super girly supergirl. And I love that, I love playing princess and twirling my skirt and drinking tea with curled pinkie. I think I make it clear that it’s not all I do, but I do love it.

But I’ve met a fair few people through kink in the last several months, who’ve never known my history of more eclectic gender display, and with whom I haven’t really discussed politics at all — which might not sound so shocking but really it’d been years since I’d met any substantial number of people outside of activist circles, with whom I couldn’t readily assume certain values. Instead I’ve been trying to assume the best of people, and mostly I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

There have been instances where I’ve been uncomfortable, though, and realised that my arguments aren’t prepared for dominant culture, that I rely on the terrain of a particular discourse. When I launch my rhetoric leaps without this, they start shaky. Sometimes I don’t start at all — without a community to back up calling someone out, without recognising that as a specific cultural intervention and being able to call on all the strategies and wisdom that involves, it’s just too scary.

Being a young, thin, femme woman who fucks men means that men talk to you like you might agree with what they think of other women, who they think aren’t you but who you know may as well be you — who you will be, one day. It’s not enough to call yourself a feminist, to provide your alternative viewpoint somewhere further down the conversation. You can be horrified, but most likely your horror isn’t palpable, because that’s not what’s on his mind. You have to say it: This upsets me, this is unacceptable to me. But often I don’t.

It’s not just men, either — I’m no less devastated by women who deride all the ugly/old/fat/butch women on the scene. But either way it’s a feminist problem, because people rarely talk about men like their only worth is their fuckability. Not that men don’t have to grapple with that, but that there’s something outside it for them. And obviously (again again) I don’t have a problem with people having physical preferences, but there’s a difference between saying what you like and saying how you think other people should be.

[ Aside: I find it strange (and frankly, hilarious) that people assume that I’m only attracted to women who look like me, especially when those people are men trying to get into my bed. (If that theory holds, it won’t work for you, mister.) I have fucked people double my age, double my weight, a foot or more taller, and with hair in entirely different places. But also my femme identity depends on that being an option, not a requirement — if you take away the intentionality, you take away all my pleasure. ]

So maybe I should say here, because someone might read it: I will always, always take the side of the woman you scorn. I will always empathise with her, even if it seems we’re categorically different, because I know we’re serialised the same. Even if I’m silent, even if I sleep with you anyway, I will mourn the moment later, and feel ashamed.

Afterthought (10 April 2010)

I just read this interview with Jaclyn Friedman, ‘Fucking While Feminist’, which seems pertinent. She says some really transphobic things, but I do like the idea of the various tests, like applying the Bechdel test to internet profile interests.

On eating meat, and politics versus ethics.

27 Dec
Indirectly inspired by this (linked by Claire) and some thing Liz linked a while ago about vegetarianism and eating disorders.

I started being vegetarian, ostensibly for environmental reasons.0 I’m not vegetarian any more. I avoid meat, like I avoid buying things with excess packaging or riding around in cars – that is, I still partake in it fairly often. I certainly don’t worry about gelatine or rennet. Seeing people count calories and carbs every day has made me never want to read the back of a label again. I’m sure it’s fine for some people, and the motivation makes all the difference — whether it’s ethics, religion, allergies, weight loss or other reasons. But even though it was based on ethics, I found my vegetarianism embodied the same values and practices that I associate with eating disorders: Purity. Discipline. Guilt. Bargaining: Drinking soy milk for a week will make up for noodles with fish stock. Counting: It’s been two months since that beef pho.

It’s been over ten years since my last confession. And maybe I could do with more discipline, more purity. Maybe I’ve revelled in chaos, dirt and sin a little too much since I stopped being Catholic. Perhaps it’s my attitude to anxiety that’s the problem, and I should appreciate being stopped in my tracks before a potentially important decision. I know sometimes I deserve to feel bad.

But I’ve also stopped believing that everything matters. Sure, the personal is political. That doesn’t make everything revolutionary. It definitely shouldn’t make it publicly accountable. (It’s a topic for another discussion, but I hate how radical politics can shrink your sovereignty1 to your physical skin. I need more space than that and I can’t negotiate bodily agency without that space, maybe not a room of my own but at least a minute to myself and a fistful of secrets.)

Sometimes, every little bit counts. Certainly, the body count. Maybe every styrofoam cup, every minute of a coal power station’s operation. Maybe not. For me this is the difference between the spiritual, the ethical, and the political. They often overlap but they’re not collapsible.

Spiritually, every instance matters. Every sin is on that scale, in your unbeating heart, hoping to float so the feather will be heavier. Maybe there’s atonement, redemption, forgiveness. But nothing is subtracted. The fall is constant and cumulative.2 Obviously this makes sense for meat-is-murder vegetarianism, but it’s compatible with any practice that includes dimensions of sacred and sinful – whether it’s using “womyn” and not “bitch”, or buying fair-trade and boycotting Coca-Cola.

Ethics is in the middle. Maybe you bargain with yourself. If you have a utilitarian approach, maybe you do some more maths. And your criteria will change. But things are still basically ethical or unethical.

In politics, majorities matter. Having a critical mass matters. And it’s possible for a difference to be negligible. We’re talking about seismic structural shifts. Entire societies and cultures. The mathematics is at its core — naively, people * power * desire + x = change, with x being some combination of creativity, timeliness, strategy, system-vulnerability-scouting-skill, etc. Everything you do contributes, perhaps, but it’s not cumulative. Things reverse. Or stand still. It doesn’t matter, politically, whether you’re a customer of Safeway, Starbucks or Microsoft as long as they’re turning a growing profit.

I used to think ethics and politics were more or less the same thing — politics as collectivised ethics. But collectivising something changes its nature entirely. And for a long time I had so many conversations trying to convince people that they were already political that I just kept broadening the term. Now I’m pretty sick of the proliferation and profanation of politics, seeping into every thought, practice and field. I’ve been rethinking a lot of my behaviours as ethically rather than politically motivated, and enjoying their spiritual value. When I want to eat meat, and don’t, I feel pained, pure, hungry, potent, and foolish. Heady with the moral high that’s always accentuated by a bit of masochism and denial. And that exquisite feeling, that tenderness, of not getting what I want.

0. Really it was social and practical.
1. Maybe by sovereignty I mean privacy.
2. Okay, that last bit was too specifically Christian, and where there’s reincarnation it’s a bit different, but I think the distinction holds that spiritually everything you do matters.