Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Accidental Feminist

by Agent 99

Squint at this picture of a Dali.

There’s been a problem here my whole life. Somehow I wasn’t conditioned properly, or just innately impervious. Something. I’m always getting in trouble with other women. They take umbrage and mention stuff that seems unworthy of complaint to me. They used to burn their bras, and whine for me to join them. I did not own a bra. And they did not see the hypocrisy of my buying one expressly to burn. That women have had to fight so hard for equal rights I do not dispute, but it has always seemed more than a little ludicrous to me. I’m forever wanting to clap my hand over a sister’s mouth so I can drag her off to rethink.

All humanity is a seething ball of sisters and brothers, but my sisters so often seem so alien that I’m likeliest to seek refuge with my brothers... when refuge with others is in order, that is. And I can’t seem to fall down on one side or the other on just when that is, and why, either. Solitude/company? What is solitude and what is company? How peopled and unpeopled can you get one or the other of these to stay? Who is the right company? Who is peopled solitude? Why, really, would I spend my money and my lunch break on burning optional underwear? I’d so much rather spend my life growing into myself, coming equal to the real. What does that have to do with gender?

It’s just never seemed viable to me to ignore the differences in strengths and weaknesses between men and women. I’m still appalled that any women would be interested in military service. We should be able to count on women being above that particular human frailty, and yet this point is subsumed in the fake equality imperative of our times. No wonder history never stops repeating.

Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib, and scapegoated for the abuses there, still fumes over General Sanchez’s unwillingness to treat her as a real general, his slights having something, in her mind, to do with her failures there. I’m pretty sure she would have performed much better if given the support she needed, but that is also true for the male commanders there. So. That nuance is lost on me. And I don’t want to see it come up in Germany’s prosecution of Rumsfeld, et al. for war crimes, where she will be a star witness. Bad enough the war crimes, without dragging battlefield sexism into it. Bad enough the warring, without such bickering serving to dignify it through the back door, through the servants’ entrance.

But I digress. It can’t have been any later than fourth grade when I learned that we use the masculine form when referring to people in the generic sense. “Mankind” is not exclusively male. Yet bra burning seems to have trained my spellchecker not to balk at terms like, say, “Congressperson” and “chairperson”. Sheesh. Unwieldy. And worse. It seems retroactively to have made the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, into documentation of male supremacy -- white, owner-class, male supremacy -- and I do not think that was exactly the intent of the framers. It was maybe a mental default of theirs, but not their intent. Language is too slippery. And I think it was better when everyone was lumped into the term “man”.

It really is self-evident that all men are created equal. It seems not to be self-evident to many that “equal” does not mean “same”. If we are to wrest a livable world out of this mess we have created for ourselves, egalitarianism in its every nuance needs to be explored fully. While women, ultimately, can be vastly more formidable enemies than men, that does not make them fit for military duty. Military duty is not a fit occupation for anyone, but there really is too often a need for warriors. Strength and stamina are essential in warriors. Most women lack them to the degree needed, even when buff, but few of us shrink from the violence essential to preservation of life when it is on the line. Modern weaponry has equalized things somewhat for military service, but this only leads us further from the true equality of men and women, of all humans, of all sentient beings, not closer.

No, girls. Neither victimhood, nor imitation confers the equality not missing from the jump. Acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it, not the entire life of the point of contention. I’m sure I would have been killed by the time I was thirteen if I’d been born somewhere else, but the truth of equality lies in the living of it, despite conditions. I happen to think it is worth dying for, and so certainly worth living outside the box for. Most people seem to think it’s something popular opinion can resolve. Pfeh! If it is so, and it is, what in the hell does opinion have to do with it? Why are people out there role-playing it into submission? It isn’t submitting! It’s just amplifying the problems of patriarchy... which... oh, brother... don’t need any more help.

Lest anyone wrongly conclude I favor matriarchy over patriarchy, I better press on with my rant... see if we can see it through... see if we can start seeing all the way through to the heart of real causes of human suffering.

When I read of female police officers having cows about pin-ups in evidence at the station, I could just scream. Get over it! Deal with it! You’re going to make them deal with your maternity leave, and stopping to powder your nose before entering the interrogation room. So what, so what, so what if men objectify babes? Women objectify alpha males, and mercilessly scar for life beta males. We humiliate the living snot out of ninety-eight-pound weaklings. We want the he-men to protect us, or support us, or as trophy husbands, as impervious to their human needs as any men are to those of the women they objectify. What the fuck is the difference?

Is, say, Hillary Clinton as Commander In Chief in this filthy aggression of the strong toward the weak any better than her husband in the same role? No. Dammit. No. It actually is worse. Just as it was worse with Meir and Thatcher and Indira. Add the motherly instincts to the heightened sense of entitlement that never ceases to be conferred with the office, and war and oppression and murder are strengthened in their usefulness to injustice itself. The chance of the feminine hauling the masculine back into a living balance is squandered. The abounding weakness of human resort to such squalid matters of State is obfuscated the more by womanly application. Even minus the problems inhering womanly vanity put up next to male egos -- women emulating men in positions of power, perhaps particularly when they are completely unaware of it, when they actually believe it is womanhood at work -- minus all that -- the mere entrance of women into this kind of men’s club is fundamentally more dangerous.

The pollsters asking me if I think it is time for a woman president drive me wild. Beside knowing they’re asking for Hillary or for those wanting to oppose her, it has never not been time for a woman president. We just need to put one up for the job who isn’t going to fall for “presidenting” American style. Who would that be? Not Hillary. Probably not any prominent women politicians we have. Maybe Cynthia McKinney. It would be a lot safer if we got serious about identifying the real problems with feminism, with sexism, before we go another step. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could stop, put everything on hold, while we get clear on what is self-evident and what is completely contrived?

It’s going to be particularly galling to Wasichu, but, er, there were in fact Native American civilizations that had this one licked before Europeans landed in the New World. Chiefs were conscripted without regard to gender, but your willingness to lead was seen as something that might disqualify you for the job. It was seen that the ambition for such a position was a bad attribute in leaders. And, in these very same civilizations, able-bodied husbands saw to it that widows and spinsters were protected and fed. No pity. No patronizing. A basic human need handled. Europeans seemed to think these people savage because their manner of dress was, shall we say, strippier. Odd how people not given to bathing, but given to scrupulous adornment would look down on scrupulous bathers who saw no need for restrictive clothing. Their term for the President of the United States, The Great White Father, is still seen as a form of supplication, recognition of white supremacy, when it translates simply into “leader of the white people”. A certain crucial kind of clarity was trying to communicate, and it still has not penetrated. I think the path to the realization we lack, and they did not, lies behind the door of the true meaning of egalitarianism, of equality, of self-evident truths beclouded by endless games of dress-ups going on in our heads as well as on our bodies.

Ms. Jeans and Sneakers, here, recently was bowled over by a picture of a dress for the first time in at least thirty years. So much so that it occurred to me that I would even wear heels if I could just have it. I might even buy a bra to wear under it. I might even need two of it so that one could be at the cleaners while I wore the other twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five. Helen Mirren in a red gown that is utterly modern, but Victorian or even Elizabethan in form. Everyone saw it in the New Yorker. I can’t get over it. It’s a work of art that suits me in a rare sense, appeals to me where I am completely me. Yipes! That dress rocks. Maybe will have to find a frame for the picture if this keeps up. A dress for my pulchritude has not so much as crossed my mind in a hypothetical in decades, and here it is, about to get framed if it can’t frame me. Friends ask me where the heck I have to wear such a thing. Everywhere. Nowhere. Where is wearable art appropriate in my view? The grocery store. The doctor’s office. At my desk in the Oval Office. At the breakfast table. I don’t think my indian grandmothers would have seen it any differently, though my European grandmothers would have been outright appalled.

Where we choose to attach significance makes all the difference. In this case, the head trips about appropriate attire are seen to be completely contrived, and lethally consequential, whereas wanting to wear something for the sake of art is completely uncontrived and of no consequence beyond esthetic. A Great White Father could be red and clad in one dress for her whole term of office and yet be wiser than one in a suit, performing the function as well, or even better. We also glimpse how our conditioning by our own contrivances can prevent our ability to even fathom what is being said to us, and even who is saying it. The content of our heads -- victims and oppressors alike -- conceals what is in front of our noses. Our confusion about equality, about true egalitarianism, about how to bring into being a world fit for all beings, is so dangerous in action because crucial distinctions remain utterly unexamined inside our heads. What causes humans, all with so much more in common than not, to be at such odds, to be so fragmented in purpose, to remain unmoved against so much evil for so long? Could it be our unexamined resort to affectation in place of actualization? Our preference for victimhood over risking our lives? Our ideas about proscribing differences rather than prescribing for each other’s survival?

Has it not got the most to do with our fundamental inability to see all the way into one of the great truths we only suppose we hold to be self-evident?

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