What The Fuck Is Feminism?by Ali Weiss
We live in a time where there is no longer one concrete set of traits that make somebody a “woman.” How is it, then, that we have no qualms about telling each other what “feminism” is and is not? Despite what the dictionary might say, I think the shooting range that is the internet has obliterated any one definition of what it means to be a “feminist.” In fact, it’s discouraged me from fully believing in the word.
Let me start by acknowledging my own basic circumstances: like many of the women writing about this topic on the internet, I am white, have received a liberal higher education, and come from an upper-middle class background. In other words, I am privileged. Born and raised in New York City and spending my life in the theatre, I am very sympathetic to and supportive of the plights of queer women, trans women, and women of color, but I still have no idea what it is like to live in those circumstances, and I can only write about what I know.
What I do know is that I, as an anatomically traditional woman, am proud as hell to have a vagina, and all of the hormonal and emotional complication that entails. I also have no embarrassment about publicly announcing that I can be hormonal and emotional. I believe that there is absolutely no reason why all women should not have political, social, and economic equality. To be a woman is complex and complicated, a challenging puzzle that I find fascinating to no end. More often than not, I feel empowered. But I am embarrassed to say out loud that I identify as a feminist because it has become rooted in criticism, and I do not believe in women putting anyone down in the mission to help us — individually or as a group — rise up.
So long as women are open-minded, self-assured, proud of who they are, and nonviolent, they should be able to do whatever they want. We cannot decide to apply the phrase “my body, my choice” to selected situations and not others; however women go about trying to achieve their goals with regards to men is entirely acceptable. It’s no secret that our society is male-dominated, and I am not ashamed to play on that fact to get what I want.
I’ve been catcalled — or worse — day in and day out since I was 11 years old, and to this day am paranoid when walking down the street. It’s become a given of my life. But whether it’s wrong or right, my appearance has made me more desirable, in and out of an office setting, than my mind alone would. Knowing this, I make the decision to open my wallet to get my hair straightened every week and purchase overpriced tubes of lip-plumping gloss before I go to meetings, where I will probably bat my eyes at a man as I slide him my 5-year business plan or explain why I deserve to get paid a very respectable salary to work remotely. Perhaps the fact that I am more comfortable with myself when I’m wearing mascara is directly due to how unwavering the patriarchal views of beauty are in our society, but cosmetic industry numbers talk far louder than any ‘feminist’ Twitter feed. I am the most powerful version of me with a full face of makeup and a firm butt, and $160 billion worth of women around the globe feel the same. This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. According to the Economist — and who doesn’t trust the Economist — “in medieval times, recipes for handmade cosmetics were kept in the kitchen right beside those used to feed the family.” Sure, there’s a lot I could say about how modern journalism is negatively affecting women’s body image, but there are plenty of “feminists” that call out their supposed sisters for being too obsessed with aesthetics, and then have no qualms about purchasing an issue of US Weekly with a cover slandering Demi Lovato or Kim Kardashian for being “fat.” Plus, men aren’t the ones posting Photoshopped selfies with bowls full of fruit and the tiniest of Brazilian-cut bikinis on Instagram.
The world as a whole is a terrifyingly strategic place, with goods of all sorts being exchanged at unfair prices among all genders. If it’s not our bodies, it’s our minds, and if it’s not our minds, it’s our money. Think about the small percentage of humans on this planet that can afford to buy nutritious food. Think about how many people work crazy hours at “good jobs” for “The Man” (ha) and receive far lower pay than they deserve, or the kids that get into college thanks to family money, leaving students with better grades in the dust. So how, then, is it perceived as “un-feminist” to pay one’s bills through the sex industry? Feminism is about choice, and should a woman make the decision to have anal sex on camera in a video aimed to please men, rather than becoming a lawyer, there is nothing degrading about that. In fact, there’s probably more money in it for her. (Fun fact: Jenna Jameson owns all of her own content, and sold her business to Playboy Enterprises for an estimated $40 million in 2006.) A woman publicly enjoying sexual acts that our society perceives as “dirty” or “unsavory” is not ‘setting us back’; if we are going to insist that women have the same intellectual capacity as men, we need to not only support them in their outspokenness, but believe that they know how to remove themselves from situations in which they might be taken advantage. (Warped sex industry standards and health regulations are an entirely different topic.)
Furthermore, speaking to physical and mental health risks, I see money as the only difference between using Seeking Arrangements and sleeping with a stranger one met at a bar. In terms of conscience, how is emotionally-detached sex for career gain any different from having emotionally-detatched sex simply because one was lonely and/or bored? Yes, I acknowledge that in certain office situations, this can feed the cycle of outrageous competition between women. Career opportunities are finite, and we are all aware that many factors, including both biology and our hyper-sexualized media culture, can lead men to unashamedly pick and choose women based on sexual desire. But disregarding the unfair advantage which woman A may now have over woman B, who may technically be more qualified, there is nothing “un-feminist” about what woman A did. And technically, woman B could have done the same thing if she wanted to. I also see no problem with getting married for security purposes, if the woman perceives that as her best chance at a good life for herself.
Let’s face the facts — we live in a world that has purchased over 100 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. The majority of that demographic looking to read about Anastasia’s “inner goddess” is not men. Our sex industry is worth nearly 100 billion dollars, and the massive amounts of women that went out to purchase a limited-edition, $100 Fifty Shades dildo certainly contribute to this statistic. That’s a great thing.
Now, let’s turn the tables. What IS problematic is the extreme anger and hostility that comes with the nu-feminist movement happening on the internet. Yes ladies, we have a goddamn right to be angry, but I’ve seen opinion-based articles with more fucks than Fifty Shades itself. As it would be in a conference room or in front of a jury, this is distracting from your highly researched and otherwise articulate argument. Calling other women out for supposedly being “un-feminist” is un-fucking-feminist. Pushing your ideals, even if you believe that they are for a greater good, onto other people in an aggressive manner, is un-feminist (this also applies to men). Using your computer screen as a shield while you participate in thinly-veiled cyber-bullying is un-feminist (ditto). Being hypocritical is also un-feminist (double ditto). Then there are women who, by day, bash other women for trying to “ease” men into feminism, yet by night and after a few drinks have successfully texted a prior bootycall six times asking why he no longer calls. Is this not supposedly un-feminist? Being clueless about the culture of racial inequality within gender inequality is perhaps the most un-feminist, but there is no need to point fingers. Some people are simply uneducated, not just ignorant. A guiding hand towards the many easily accessible sources of information would do a better job of changing that.
I’m considering buying a bulletproof vest as I write this, but despite having a group of cherished female friends, I actually prefer the company of men. I always have. Their advantageous circumstances allow them to live presently; to be less socially anxious and emotionally competitive than women. In platonic cases, men are less intimidated by my being self-assured, yet have no qualms about telling me straight to my face when I am prioritizing the wrong things or acting out of line. They are loyal and fiercely protective. And among my group of male friends or romantic pursuits, I enjoy being a caregiver in cooking, fetching beers, and other such stereotypical feminine tasks (but not cleaning)…when I am not quoting hip-hop songs that call women bitches or watching the US Open partially for the fashion. I really see no problem with being submissive, in any definition of the word, so long as men fully respect me as nothing less than an equal human being, albeit one who is capable of birthing their children should she want to. And I still identify as a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man, or whatever.
So, yes: “feminism is for everybody,” but only if you let it be. And if you can’t find it in your heart to share it, the kitchen is a great place to blow off some steam.