a salty primer on surfing the third wave

March 22, 2007

Salty, why are you so defensive about your femininity? Why must you always be talking identity politics? Just shut up about this femme stuff, alright, and get on with the HPV vaccine and the Jewish feminism and the social justice!

So here’s the deal. I was/am a youngest child, also the only girl. Feeling small, unsure of myself, and defensive feel as natural to me as my own skin. On the flip side, I’ve learned to hone my arguments, to know what I’m talking about. I can’t afford a weak stance.

That’s why I’m defensive. Now if we want to talk about femininity specifically, it’s because I am such a feminist that I follow blogs that, if I didn’t know blogs were a phenomenon of the recent few years, I would have thought came straight out of the 1970’s. IBTP has a great many active readers in comparison to many other feminist blogs. (edited 3/26) Also, essentialize much? Now, if I stopped being so controlling about feminism, I would retract my hand from the mainstream feminist cookie jar and tell myself that those stale cookies are NOT the kind that I bake here in my third-wave queer femme kitchen. I always hope for more. Always, always hoping. And then my hopeful feminist wants to die a sad death. I knew as soon as I saw “I’m asking you to answer the question, “What is femininity?” that I would be disappointed if I read the responses. And posts like that, friends, explain why the salty is so defensive.

Here’s my secret: feminism is where it’s at for me. I really believe that. I also believe that feminism exists at the intersection of about 8 million other “isms” that we also need to pay attention to, without which a discussion of feminism would make absolutely no sense at all. I cannot discuss men, high heels, patriarchy (i.e. the BOOGIEMAN), footbinding, or lesbian identity without a) specificity and b) context. Open-ended questions can only get you someplace bad, and in feminist blogland, to me that means a place where you define yourself in written words, yet you have not used those words to their full potential: to actually describe what you’re really talking about.

If second-wavers are all “Damn the Man!” why and how do they express this by pitting women against one another and simultaneously assuming that somewhere deep down, all women just get each other? I don’t mind women talking about their own horrible and painful experiences with femininity – I think they should, in fact. I’ve had some of those myself. It’s the nonspecific ones that get me. Femininity is learned helplessness. Femininity is pain. Femininity is a pack of lies that the world tells about women. So here’s what I take from all this universalizing.

The beauty of consciousness-raising groups in the 1970’s was that (mostly white, mostly middle class) women who experienced their lives in isolation began to learn that others shared their experiences, and that power came from finding commonalities. I think there’s a lot to learn from that, I think we form our human relationships and communities based on this same notion. The danger, though, is in talking in categories like “women” and “Americans” – depending on the context, I can be talking “queer femmes this” or “progressive Jewish Brooklynites in our mid-20’s that” and then continue with my sentence. After all, if you’re sitting in CR group, chances are that the women around you are from your community and likely live in your neighborhood, putting you in the same social class and probably race as you – also in the same age bracket. Suddenly you have more in common than just being women. So let’s back off the universalizing for just a little bit. And forget about defining yourself according to this mystery man called “patriarchy.” I hear he has bad taste.

(this post, BTW, was inspired by Ren’s personal words on femininity. So thanks.).

tags: feminism, femme



  1. anytime!

  2. Wow, those comments made me crazy sad. From a selfish perspective, what would a butch like me do without femmes? And from a less selfish perspective… WTF?!? It’s sad that feminism is equated with hating femininity. Is trying to be as much like a man as possible (but not TOO much like a man, because they hate really butch women, too!) the only way to be an empowered woman?

  3. I’m definitely not that kind of a feminist so I don’t want to speak for someone else – but my understanding is that the aim is not for femininity or masculinity but some kind of androgyny (neither/nor). To me, that kind of androgyny feels bland, boring, and forced (this last one being the worst, in my opinion).

  4. well written and well said!

  5. Thanks, friend!

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