Feminism 101

Monday, June 13th, 2011 · 41 Comments »

In a patriarchal society, men are the default humans. Women are the sex class. They are defined in terms of their relationship to the default humans, the men: whether as daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, or potential mates. This definition is automatic and fundamental. A woman’s femaleness—and thus her sexual potential—is, in a patriarchy, always uppermost. A man can be a doctor, but a woman is a lady doctor. A man can be a lawyer, but a woman is a lady lawyer. A man can be a student, but a woman is a coed (which by definition means “a female student,” from the coeducation of the sexes). A man is addressed as Mr., regardless of his marital status, but a woman’s title is dependent on her relationship to a man: Miss if unmarried, Mrs. if married. No matter what else a woman might be, she is always first and foremost a member of the sex class.

This remains true to a large extent even in a late-stage transitional patriarchy like our own. But to get a fuller flavor of how it works, watch old 1960s TV shows. Watch Star Trek, with the miniskirt-clad “female yeomen.” Whenever a female character is introduced, notice how the saxophone music starts up and the camera goes kind of gauzy. Oooh…sex. Because she’s not just a technician or a doctor or an officer or whatever the story calls for: she’s a female technician/doctor/officer. And if her character is the star of the episode, invariably the plot will be about her sexiness and how Kirk is totally going to prong her, or about how her womanliness conflicts with her mannish desire to be a career professional, blah blah blah. She can’t just be a human going about her business, because she’s a woman. The sex angle isn’t optional. Women are the vagina animals, and one way or another, their vaginas are always the story.

Feminism is about saying to hell with all of that. “The proposition that women are fully human” is one way feminism has been summarized, and it means just that. Not the sex class, not the breeding stock adjunct of the default (male) humans, but real, full members of the human race. And feminism calls for a world where women can go about being doctors and lawyers and technicians and students and normal citizens without their sexual characteristics always being the story. The way men can.

As a feminist, I demand a world where I can apply for a job without being propositioned by the guy who’s interviewing me. I demand a world where I can go to the bank without being flashed by the loan officer. I demand a world where I can engage in stimulating intellectual discussion with my professor without suddenly being invited to join him in a hot tub. I demand a world where I can walk down the street to my job or the store without being hassled by men for breathing while female. I demand a world where I can contact my congressman without being emailed a picture of his wang.

I demand a world without the saxophone music.

That’s why what Weiner did is bullshit. That’s why it’s anti-feminist; that’s why it’s profoundly disrespectful to his female constituents. As Sherry Wolf writes:

Weiner is a posterguy for misogyny in its postmodern form. What else can we call a man incapable of sustaining a serious political interaction with a woman without steering the relationship toward the sexual?

Women to him, and millions like him, are reduced to objects of desire, potential receptacles for his dick and presumed admirers of his sex.

I’m writing this post not because I’m trying to double down on my disgust with Weiner. He’s a colossal jerk who’s destroyed his credibility (infuriatingly so, since he was such an effective liberal attack dog), but I don’t think sexual harassment is the worst offense in the catalog of creepy things politicians have done.

I’m writing this because I’m sick of people pretending that sexual harassment isn’t any kind of offense at all. As a feminist, I want women to be able to walk through the world as something more than just fuck receptacles accompanied by a bluesy sax track. And I’m sick of alleged “progressives” dismissing that as prudery or fainting-couch hysteria.

It’s not. It’s feminism.

Filed under: Feminist Theory, Recommended · Tags:

41 Responses to “Feminism 101”

  1. Swannie says:

    Brilliant Violet. Basic and brilliant. This was so very blazingly clear to me and many other women and men at least 30 years ago. Many of the more subtle manifestations of this mindset, cultural norm, patriarchal paradigm, whatever you label it, have been worked out as well. I guess what astonishes me is how many people still either don’t get it, deny it exists, or pseudo-intellectualize around it. No amount of condescension, political partisanship, obsequiousness, or ignorance, gets anyone a way out of this truth. The only way out is through.
    And you know, Weiner is now a textbook example of how patriarchy harms men too.

  2. votermom says:

    It’s worrying to me that this is not obvious to our so-called educated class.
    In fact I am seriously worried now about my soon-to-be HS daughter when she goes to college — not only about how to pay for college and her getting in, but helping her pick a college where she is not going to be re-educated into thinking she and other girls exist just to cheerlead the wonderful dude heroes.

  3. Darragh Murphy says:

    votermom, I have one daughter in college and another graduating from high school next year, so I share your worry. It’s a real problem — my oldest will be majoring in finance and the sexism in that field is even more intense than the average. It’s depressing. I soo wanted her to consider attending Smith, where I think they bypass a hell of a lot of the “cheerleading wonderful dude heroes” but she was having none of it. The real world seems esp depressing these days.

  4. lorac says:

    Very well written article!

  5. Sweet Sue says:

    Violet, you have written a whip smart, perfectly reasoned article which should be required reading for all feminists.
    Unfortunately, some third wavers are so invested in being “sexaaay” to all-er-comers that they resent any cockblocks as much as the dude-bros do.
    “It’s my right, duty and pleasure to be sexually harassed twenty four seven! Now watch this pole dance!”
    Giving the side-eye to riverdaughter.

  6. Shadowfax says:

    Violet, your post hit the nail on the head.

    As a child through menopause, females are open game for the Weiners of the world.

    Every girl and woman needs to learn self defense, if not physically, mentally. To run like the wind or to always be aware of her surroundings.

    Women are the sexual beings in all societies, so when their breeding days are over, they are seen as worthless.

    That is why when ever a women is talked about in the media, generally following her name is her age. That way, the dudes know if she is worthwhile meat or someone to be discredited.

    Take Hillary Clinton for example, how many times have you seen articles there where her political time-clock is mentioned? Will she be too old for 2016 or beyond? It doesn’t matter what a fantastic job she is doing, or how she works harder than most men on earth…no, soon she will be worthless…

  7. Violet Socks says:

    It doesn’t matter what a fantastic job she is doing, or how she works harder than most men on earth…no, soon she will be worthless…

    Oh, I think she’s already worthless in their eyes. She’s no longer fuckworthy, which means she’s worthless.

    Remember how her supporters in 2008 were referred to as the “dry pussy brigade”? You really couldn’t ask for a more succinct demonstration of patriarchal thinking.

  8. Another edition of . . . « Blue Lyon says:

    [...] What Violet said. I’m writing this post not because I’m trying to double down on my disgust with Weiner. He’s a colossal jerk who’s destroyed his credibility (infuriatingly so, since he was such an effective liberal attack dog), but I don’t think sexual harassment is the worst offense in the catalog of creepy things politicians have done. [...]

  9. Carmonn says:

    Applauds. I don’t understand why this simple concept is so hard to grasp, I honestly don’t.

  10. Cleaver says:

    THANK YOU, Violet! And thank you as well, Sweet Sue, for side-eyeing one who feels “disempowered” by a fucking T-shirt but thinks Weiner’s unsolicited wang in a woman’s Twitter feed is exactly the same as an unsolicited catalog from Ann Taylor in her mailbox.

  11. Violet Socks says:

    Typical asshole: Peter Beinart. According to Beinart, sending unsolicited pictures of your dick to citizens who have contacted you on political matters is just “crude flirting.” Hey, you’re a woman, them’s the breaks. You can’t ever, ever stop being a sex receptacle. You wanted to talk politics? Great, here’s my wang.

  12. Sameol says:

    It’s all so retrograde, I don’t want to think what would happen if the Anita Hill hearings took place today, but Clarence Thomas was closer to Thurgood Marshall, liberal champion, health care advocate. It would be beyond ugly. Equal treatment is out and oh what’s the big deal anyway, boys will be boys and if you don’t like being subjected to an extra layer of sexualized bullshit at every turn, you’re a prude/victim is in.

    Coming soon: What’s with this minimum wage bullshit? If you don’t like being paid 5 cents an hour, use your agency to negotiate a better deal or get another job! will make its triumphant comeback with the third wave, fresh from it’s successful run in 1832!

  13. Adrienne in CA says:

    Well said, Violet!

    I demand a world where my daughter, graduated Saturday with her degree in Political Science, can express admiration for a member of Congress without him cyber-humping her leg.

  14. Ugsome says:

    Cleaver, I *do* feel disempowered by a T-shirt, it’s part of the “constant moral conversation about which people deserve to be hated, and therefore destroyed.” * I *also* feel disempowered by Weiner’s behaviour.

    http://morgansjoke.blogspot.com/2011/06/cant-you-take-joke-on-tracy-morgan-and.html?spref=fb

  15. Cleaver says:

    Ugsome, I know what you mean. What feminist wouldn’t?

    But there’s something hypocritical, stupid, or both about decrying that T-shirt while also dismissing the connections to be made with Anthony Weiner’s dick shot and saying that Violet is wrong about what Weiner did.

    I think that some women who are brought up by Christian fundies get stuck in their necessary rebellion and develop a rather spotty understanding of healthy sexual boundaries. Maybe that’s one reason for all the Pole Dance Feminism.

  16. Ugsome says:

    Cleaver, I know who you’re characterizing and I believe you’re going a bit far. Riverdaughter’s priorities and point of view are *different* and I don’t agree with it, but I do not agree with your speculation. She is way far from a Pole Dance Feminist too.

  17. Cleaver says:

    Ugsome, I don’t think Violet wants us to discuss another blog and blogger at any length here. We could take this discussion to the blog in question, but we might never get out of moderation!

    So let me just say this: I gather from her arrogant, dismissive, oddly angry comments on the topic that the blogger in question thinks Genette Cordova should just get over it, and so should anyone who sees a problem with that view. To my mind, that attitude from a self-described feminist betrays a certain confusion about appropriate boundaries.

    I didn’t say that the blogger herself is a Pole Dance Feminist, though I understand why you think I did — and actually I think she deserves the insult just this once for characterizing Violet and others as “Red Tent Feminists.”

    As a cultural and political matter, however, I do think some of the Pole Dance Feminism cited by Sweet Sue upthread is due to fundie-derived hangups that make it difficult if not impossible to develop an understanding of appropriate sexual boundaries.

  18. Carmonn says:

    I don’t think Violet wants to create a referendum on riverdaughter here, but does riverdaughter actually consider herself a feminist? She doesn’t seem particularly ideological and I’m not sure feminism is a huge part (or even a part) of her declared identity. I’m not defending her and her stance is extremely hypocritical, but it’s unfortunately also pretty ubiquitous.

    Clinton supporters are twisting into knots to defend weiner and slam the women because he’s a clintonista, Obama supporters are bending over backwards to support him and slam the victims because he’s a Democrat, Republicans are condemning him but would be defending him if he were theirs and many of them are slamming the women involved anyway, there’ a lot of blame to go around here.

  19. Cleaver says:

    Hey, never mind. I was wrong. It’s not that Genette Cordova should just get over it. Turns out she must have been asking for it:

    I want to see the email exchange. I find it very hard to believe that someone would send a pic of their privates without some measure of confidence that the pic would not be unwelcome.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/5sfnkw3

    Four words. I believe her. Sheesh.

  20. Swannie says:

    heck, I am just glad I don’t live in someones neighborhood. They would have to look down on me, as I am quite certain I would not be good enough for them.

  21. Violet Socks says:

    I don’t think Violet wants to create a referendum on riverdaughter here, but does riverdaughter actually consider herself a feminist?

    No, I don’t want a referendum on riverdaughter. And no, actually, I don’t think she does. She’s indicated to me numerous times that she is very hostile to feminism as a movement. She thinks it’s something about being a woman first instead of a person (!), and about focusing everything on our femaleness, and gathering together to bake bread and wear skirts or something. It’s weird, because to me she’s describing patriarchy. And yes, I’ve said that to her before, and it doesn’t make a difference.

    So whatever. It’s her opinion. Go talk to her about it on her blog if you want to.

  22. Cleaver says:

    I think Carmonn nails it (#18). I had not considered that angle, but now it makes perfect sense: it’s all about the Hillary-love. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Hillary Clinton, or with admiring Hillary Clinton.)

  23. Sameol says:

    Cleaver–yeah, I’ve seen plenty of that (to be clear, I’m NOT referring to riverdaughter). It’s really repellent. Back when Cordova believed Weiner’s hacking story and was defending him, she was under attack by the right-wing press, even the right-wing UK tabloid press, as a liar. Now that Weiner is proved to be the liar, his defenders have turned on her and without missing a beat, they’ve taken up where the right-wingers left off.

    It just goes to show that there are so few who actually care at all except as a political football. Everyone’s happy to say all the right things and exploit some other faction’s behavior if it helps them, but when it affects them negatively they’re more than happy to pull their “opponent’s” script out of the trash where they dramatically tossed it and read it verbatim.

  24. Richard Johnson says:

    Andrew Sullivan just said:

    Can we please accept he was just texting while male?

    And the answer, of course, is no. We can’t. First, because it’s still harassment. Second, because it’s a blatant lie.

    And third . . . well. I usually avoid talking on the topic of how patriarchy hurts men, because compared to how it hurts women, it’s stubbed toe versus broken bones. But we don’t need to send the message to fifteen-year-old boys that, because they don’t want to send out pictures of their penis, they’re defective, not really male, and (therefore) not really human. Nor do we need their peers to hear that message and believe that the boy who doesn’t want to send out penis pics is not really human.

  25. paper doll says:

    Sameol says:

    It’s all so retrograde,

    You know I DO blame” Mad Men” etc somewhat. I always felt that and other shows back then were there in part to help Obama get in…create idea his early 60′s woman as door mat JFK shit as cool …..and here we are

  26. Violet Socks says:

    But we don’t need to send the message to fifteen-year-old boys that, because they don’t want to send out pictures of their penis, they’re defective, not really male, and (therefore) not really human.

    Coincidentally, here’s a snippet of my conversation with my mother tonight:

    Mom: Well, supposedly he’s going to get treatment now.
    Me: Treatment! Treatment for what I’d like to know.
    Mom: (growing unusually excited) Treatment for being so goddamned obsessed with doing ridiculous stuff! Like some silly teenage boy!

    My mother usually doesn’t swear. Only when she’s really disgusted.

    Maybe teenage boys get a bad rap. On the other hand, they do hump pies.

  27. Violet Socks says:

    create idea his early 60′s woman as door mat JFK shit as cool

    There’s no question that Obama deployed sexism in his campaign, and he’s got a definite DudeBro vibe going, but I would not compare him to JFK in that respect. The Kennedys consumed women like party snacks. Obama is personally very reserved and his sexual rap sheet is non-existent.

  28. HeroesGetMade says:

    It’s so good to be off the internets for an entire week and come back to find Violet doing actual feminism again! That’s the difference between feminist-friendly blogs and actual feminist blogs. Viva la difference!

    My crazy-talk detector went off at the phrase late-stage transitional patriarchy, as of late I’ve been thinking all this hysteria over women running for president, or even thinking about running for president, is indicative of the patriarchy jumping the shark. There are many other indicators, like non-stop vicious backlash and narcissistic congressional dudes confounded by the notion that most women really don’t wanna wang-chung with them tonight or any other night, even if they’ve been properly introduced.

    I see transitional patterns emerging of late in recent dudes falling of their own weight. There’s Chris Lee (mirror, mirror) being replaced by a good woman who’ll actually stand up for Medicare, that being such an unpopular stance these days amongst austerity-struck dems. Then there’s the rapist who wasn’t much of a socialist clearing the way for women who’d actually be socialist presidents of France and probably not ‘inject their libido’ into their negotiations at the IMF. One unintentional positive side-effect of DSK’s over-the-top fuckery is that he cleared the way for women to take over his current and future jobs. Then there’s Little Anthony …. who knows what could happen there, but I say his job now belongs to a woman who would be better at it than he ever pretended to be. It’s simple and poetic justice.

    Is it rotten to use the politics of personal destruction to clear the path for gender balance and real change, the sea change, at long last? I mean, what else is it good for? The personal really is political, after all. Queue up the next pervy congressman, I say. Let’s get the 52% Justice Party rolling.

  29. lorac says:

    Heroes – Uppity Woman had a great idea – every time a male politician screws up like this, their wife gets to take their job. We’ll be up to 52% representation in congress in no time! lol

  30. paper doll says:

    but I would not compare him to JFK in that respect. The Kennedys consumed women like party snacks. Obama is personally very reserved and his sexual rap sheet is non-existent.

    oops…I meant the JFK mind set era more than the man. not person , but persona

  31. JeanLouise says:

    This is wondeful. I feel like I did during the election campaign when I didn’t like Sarah Palin but I found the sexism deployed against her deplorable.

    It’s such a relief to be around others who get it.

  32. Teresainpa says:

    Is it rotten to use the politics of personal destruction to clear the path for gender balance and real change, the sea change, at long last? I mean, what else is it good for? The personal really is political, after all. Queue up the next pervy congressman, I say. Let’s get the 52% Justice Party rolling.

    Heroesgetmade, amen amen amen!

    Louise, I don’t like Palin’s politics, but I have always liked her. Mostly I like her because she makes the TV media blowhards so mad.

  33. HeroesGetMade says:

    I’m totally down with with Uppity Woman’s great idea of automatically replacing pervy congressmen with their wives, if the wife is so inclined. The austerity crowd should love this as well since it avoids the costs of a special election to replace the pervy congressman with a person who isn’t prone to confusing female constituents with sexual furniture. In Little Anthony’s case, Huma’s a big step up for his constituency, but I doubt Madame Secretary would want to part with her. Huma should have dibs on either the job itself, or naming her husband’s successor.

    On the other hand, there’s the case of Clarence Thomas. There’s gonna have to be exceptions to The Wife Has Dibs rule. Maybe the job goes to the woman they’ve fucked over the most with their fuckery? In that case, we’d get Anita Hill on the Supreme Court. I’m liking this whole 52% poetic justice thang way too much!

    And hey, if we’d already had The Wife Has Dibs rule, Hillary would’ve already had two terms as Madame President, and a whole raft of fuckery would never have occurred in the first place. I know in the Age of Obama, lots of people have canonized Bill, but I see too much similarity between how he disrespected Hillary and Weiner disrespected Huma. In the end, Ms Karma will no doubt sort it out.

  34. Kyria says:

    I’m late to this, but the post and the comments clarified something for me. No, we don’t gather together to bake bread or wear skirts. Because we are considered human to the extent we resemble the default human.

    And the “default human” — not a real person, but the patriarchal ideal — is something very much like a working pit bull, stupid, brutal, and obedient, convinced of its dominance and yet completely abject. This is what we get to be if we want to be considered human.

    Beauty, learning, sensuality, compassion, nurturing, generosity, all these fall by the wayside — they’re part of “femininity”, which even a feminist can hate. Do you squirm a little just reading that list? I do, and these are values that matter to me. Not to mention my favorite, what Valerie Solanas called “grooviness,” a value now totally lost in the mists of time.

    And the joke is that the default becomes yet more stupid, brutal, etc, in order to distinguish itself from the hated Other. Biology does much to keep women in line. Misogyny keeps men in line. Look how cruel we’ve become in the last 35 years. There are other reasons, of course, but this is part of it.

    So I do rather feel for Amanda, standing up for pleasure in a completely misguided way. I miss pleasure, and grooviness, and, well, bread. And as my aunt Emma said, if I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.

  35. Violet Socks says:

    And the “default human” — not a real person, but the patriarchal ideal — is something very much like a working pit bull, stupid, brutal, and obedient, convinced of its dominance and yet completely abject. This is what we get to be if we want to be considered human.

    Beauty, learning, sensuality, compassion, nurturing, generosity, all these fall by the wayside — they’re part of “femininity”, which even a feminist can hate.

    Well, no. I think you are confusing males as the default with a very narrow ideal of masculine behavior in modern western patriarchy.

    As the default humans, indeed as the only full humans, men encompass all possibilities. From Buddha and Jesus to Napoleon and Hitler. Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein. Michelangelo and Mussolini. Sexual and asexual, intellectual and passionate, nurturing and demanding, geniuses and fools, anything and everything.

    It’s women under this scheme who are severely restricted. They mostly get to be one thing: female.

  36. Rosie says:

    wow. Amazing post. So succinct.
    *Lostforwords*

  37. Kyria says:

    Sexual and asexual, intellectual and passionate, nurturing and demanding, geniuses and fools, anything and everything.

    Yes! This would be worth having.

  38. djmm says:

    Wonderful post, Violet. People should be treated as people.
    djmm

    djmm

  39. Connie says:

    Damn, you’re GREAT, Violet. I’ve missed your reasoned, succinct & powerful posts. You’ve captured my feelings & philosophy to perfection.

    In response to some commenters who don’t understand why others don’t see this truth, I think most do. However, they are protecting their power, the patriarchal social structure that keeps them in power. Power, once gained, will be fought for with any means necessary: war, rape, torture, lies, misinformation and denial. The “boyz” have created their world and they like it just fine. Any change to the status quo takes away some of their privileges and entitlements bestowed upon them because they have a penis.

  40. Ciardha says:

    Re: The original Star Trek series stuff- and can you believe that was actually considered “progressive” attitudes toward women in 1966-69? I haven’t watched the rereuns of original Trek in many years. I much preferred Next Generation, and still think it was the best of all the incarnations of Trek (the revamp had less overt sexism than original Trek but quite a bit more than Next Generation- I find it symptomatic of the fauxgressive backlash against women- sexual objectification of women with next to no simailar sexualizing of male characters. Next Generation’s version of progress was a close to equal sexualizing male and female characters, not exactly what I was hoping for, but an improvement over overwhelmingly sexualizing female characters over male characters… and the sexualizing did tend to be less overt.

  41. Bill Jones says:

    I’ve been telling my wife this for a decade, her response is usually the, look how far we’ve come, argument.
    I’d be interested to hear of any existing society where this didn’t apply.