Q&A, Part Deux

I signed up for another five question interview, but probably shouldn’t have. This one took me over two weeks to answer. Terrance asks some tough questions.

1. What, or who, inspired your feminism?
Lots of influences inspired my feminism. My older sister was a big one, talking about marriage and the politics of changing one’s name upon marriage. She also told me I should play a sport instead of being a spectator, pointing out the fetishization of cheerleaders. Those were my first exposures to feminist thought.

My other older sister gave me a copy of Susan Faludi’s Backlash long before I was old enough to understand it, and though I don’t know whether she would call herself a feminist, she certainly qualifies in many ways.

Playing sports, softball specifically, was another factor, especially as a young teen noticing that my male peers had a far better field than we did. Ours doubled as a soccer field and had divots in it the size of dinner plates — not conducive to softball playing.

My mom and dad raised us girls to be independent thinkers, sometimes by example and sometimes by negative example. I often think that I turned out to be their worst nightmare: a liberal hippie (in Dad’s words) more concerned with art and social systems than commerce. Then again, they inspired me to love the arts like I do. Dad, in particular, reads upwards of five books a week and is highly politicized. I certainly take after him. Furthermore, education was of the utmost priority in our house. As we know, in certain areas of the world demanding quality education for your daughters is a feminist act.

My young pregnancy was the final factor. Staying in Michigan with my sister for almost a month near the end of the pregnancy, I perused the bookstore and found a copy of a Germaine Greer book that literally changed my life. Like I said in the feminist influences post, “Giving birth as a teenager will do two things to a girl: send her into a neverending spiral of destruction or turn her into a politicized machine.” I took the latter path.

2. If you could change one thing about feminism today, what would it be?
Internal fighting is one of the biggest barriers I feel that all progressives face, in part because so many of us are ideologically driven. When I picked up Don’t Think Of An Elephant and read the first page, I found myself critiquing Lakoff’s use of language in one of the first sentences and was immediately put off, by myself for being so stiff and by the book for making certain assumptions about voters.

At this point I realized: Do I want to be right or win elections that are likely to benefit my personal politics? Well, both. But it’s difficult to be so ideologically driven and have to compromise our ideals for political gain. This, I think, is one of the downfalls of feminism as well. There are so many rifts. While I think these differences are what makes inter-feminist conversations so compelling, it also makes it easier for our detractors to divide us and paint us as political debutantes.

3. If you could permanently change one thing about the U.S. right now, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. My first answer regarded the political tone. Then I thought about more tangible, concrete issues and wished for world peace. Perhaps I should run for Miss America.

4. What’s it like being a feminist raising a son?
It is difficult at times, in part because I know his social structure relies on differentiations between boys and girls. I do my best to challenge some of his ideas about male and female roles, on his comprehension level of course, but I find that outside influences are more penetrative than I originally expected. One of my biggest pet peeves as of late with the little one playing a lot of video games is the lack of female characters. All the female characters in games suitable for him are token avatars or princesses in need of being saved.

We have talked about sex and love a few times, again on his level, first when he asked me where babies come from (and imagined that he emerged from my navel) and later when he asked me what “gay” means. The first talk was very standard, but the second was more of a challenge. I explained (poorly) that gay is when a woman and a woman love each other and when a man and a man love each other, and explained how this was different from mere friendships. Then I assured him that he already knows plenty of gay people, and though I didn’t name names or go any further, he seemed comfortable with that. There’s plenty of time for the rest in the future.

But for the most part, my feminism has been a nonissue except on purely ideological levels, of which he has no clue other than my weird aversion to certain media programming. I’m sure this will change in the future as he enters the preteen and teenage years and I begin to see him addressing personal relationships. I want him to know that one doesn’t have to follow the crowd — don’t dissect the frog, don’t give up your identity, don’t torture the poor/fat/gay/unpopular kid just because your friends do. Be brave by being different and above all, be yourself.

5. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found in being a parent?
Lack of mobility, hands down. I’m a social person. I like to go out and talk with people and, unfortunately, I’m a night person. None of these personality traits are that conducive to parenting, but we’ve managed to make them work. Blogging helps my need for connection (and often keeps me up late when schoolwork isn’t an issue), and Ethan likes his outings with me as well.

But perhaps the strangest thing that I had never thought of was mobility. If I need something in the middle of the night, I can’t just hop in the car and go get it. I’m at home because the little one is in bed. One learns how to curry favors from mobile friends and family very quickly.

No more five question interviews for a very long while — too many difficult questions that drag hard answers out of me.

8 comments for “Q&A, Part Deux

  1. May 10, 2005 at 11:04 am

    A computer game that has a great female protagonist, isn’t all about sex, is a problem solving game that helps you to think about how things work together as well as about story-telling, which I really loved playing, was called The Longest Journey. The girl in the game is a young adult, and while she does wear somewhat skimpy clothes in part of the game, it’s not nearly as fetishized as most games. In fact, it’s moderate enough to make her almost seem NOT to be skimpily dressed. (Granted, not totally, but it is still a video game).

    She overcomes the obstacles by her wits, she’s an artist, and another really cool thing is that she never dies in the game. I think that is a really important feature, stressing not so much the violence but adventure and thinking.


  2. Thomas
    May 10, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    1. My mother. What she thought, and also how hard it was for her to just live her life. I learned what patriarchy meant by watching my mother’s troubles. Also, my early girlfriends and sex partners, from whom I learned that society is unkind to women who express their sexuality.

    2. The bad reputation. While the whole left might do better in the area of differing without destroying, I really think that demonization of feminism and aversion to the term are bigger problems than the internal divisions.

    3. Christian fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism is the single biggest problem in the world, in my view. Other regions have problems with other religions, but we have a problem with Christian fundamentalism. As a practical matter, I’d love to see them storm out of the Republican party and form their own, splitting the right fatally.

    4. My son is so young that I can’t really answer this yet. But, as a feminist man, there are lots of problems I think I won’t face. I’ll never worry that he will think feminism is man-hating or a rejection of him.

    5. Lauren, I’m with you on this one. Mobility is huge. Once the boy in in bed, my wife and I are in for the night. I’m very fortunate that my wife’s family is available for babysitting at my place on a fairly regular basis. That allows the occasional date.


  3. May 10, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for your answers! I can tell you thought a lot about the questions. In fact, I may just go bck and try to answer my own questions.

  4. Michelle
    May 11, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    Great blog, Lauren – I have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I am a recent alum of a Ball State graduate program, so I understand the plight of a feminist living in this state. Uggg.

  5. May 11, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    I just found out we’re having a little boy, and have been spending lots of time thinking about how to help him grow up to be the kind of man who isn’t afraid of feminism and values women as equals. It’s a pretty intimidating task to think of all the time. But posts like this help. Also the fact that his dad has always been a feminist without the label, due to his wonderful mom. And his wonderful self. So I try not to worry too much.

  6. janet
    May 11, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    I have a funny story to tell. All names are made up.

    I have a friend who’s the single mother of a boy, now about 13. When he was younger (I’m not sure how old, maybe 6) he asked her what “gay” meant, and she said that a gay man has a boyfriend instead of a wife or a girlfriend, and vice versa for a gay woman. Her son said he thought this was yucky, and the conversation continued thus:

    Mom: “Well, you know, we have gay friends.”
    Son: “We do?”
    Mom: “Yes. Eddie [the boy’s godfather] is gay.”
    Son: (shocked) “Eddie has a boyfriend?”
    Mom: (momentarily thrown off) “Well, no, actually he doesn’t. But our friend Marco does.”
    Son: (still shocked) “Marco has a boyfriend? Does Jimmy know?”

    Jimmy, of course, is the boyfriend.

  7. May 11, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    Hello! I totally hear you on the #4 and #5. It’s like you popped inside my head and synched up, ja know?

    The mobility was the biggest thing for me too because, like you, I like to be out and in the world. Today, we were on campus sitting outside at one of the tables when I realized I had forgotten napkins. Peanut looked at me and said, “But I can take care of myself.” Ahhh, such a cute little monkey.

    But that #4 is the biggest issue because it will only continue to grow more challenging as the boys get older, get into sports, and so on. Like emjaybee said, it gets intimidating when you think about it all the time.

  8. May 12, 2005 at 8:58 am

    Susan Fahludi listened to women and wrote down what they told her. Backlash was a book about feelings and I think it accurately represented the state of the American woman’s mind.

    She followed it up with a similar book in which she interviewed men. Screwed likewise reflected what American men were thinking.

    I believe that Fahludi did fine work in both cases. She documented the terrible pressures put upon human beings. Maybe that is not “doctrinaire feminism”, but it is good and honest reporting. The moral of the story is that it is important to listen.

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