Seems like you can’t tour the feminist blogosphere for long before running up against some perennial, contentious arguments. Arguments whose origin is both without and within feminism. Arguments about: physical appearance/beauty, sex, birth control, birth plans, reproductive justice, breastfeeding, parenting, marriage or other partnerships, children, homekeeping, work, school/education, religion, family, age, Second Wave/Third Wave, how-the-hell-can-I-catch-a-wave when I don’t even know how to surf? And you can’t follow Lubu around the blogosphere without hearing at least one round of (all together now), “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Why are these disagreements so contentious? Easy. They mark exactly when and where you enter. Nothing will illustrate where your identities intersect faster than stepping into the ring of one of these arguments. They show where our paths converge, diverge, and cross us—individually and collectively. These paths are our past, present and future. And we walk on them with our own rhythm, at our own pace. The common thread in these arguments? Who is—or what constitutes—the Natural Woman? What would the Natural Woman look like and be like without patriarchy?
‘Nother words, these arguments are another field of power play. And there is no more frequent field of this play than on female bodies and female lives.
Here’s my take on the landscape upon which these arguments are taking place:
Feel free to add—hell, it’s Sunday morning and I’m only on my second cup of coffee. I’m putting forth these institutional power practices as the backdrop we work against—or with. See, I purposely left out Essentialism—the idea that everything has an “essence” that reveals its perfect expression.
From the outside, feminism is often critiqued for giving a nod to multiplicity, for not being quick to strictly define and set forth Dogma, the better to separate the Sinners from the Saved. From the inside, too. From where I stand, multiplicity is our strength; multiplicity gives us the room, the skills, and the people to fight for our liberation on many fronts simultaneously. (Side note: liberation. Don’tcha just love that word? It wasn’t so long ago that we used the term “Women’s Liberation”. I like to reclaim that.)
Occasionally, I participate in these threads, like the ones on menstruation….but shit, most of the time I avoid this like the bubonic plague, like with the “appearance” threads. Sometimes, a discussion ain’t just a discussion for some us—it’s a painful reminder of how close to the bone some subjects are, and how little relative power or privilege we have. It’s easy to assume there can’t be a Feminist Beauty until after the Revolution, when your version of beauty is being televised right now. Age enters into this too; I’ve noticed a distinct trend over the years of postmenopausal working class women—the women who would never get a manicure before, because it was “a waste of money” (ain’t that somethin’ we learn early—spending what little we have left after bills on ourselves as being a “waste of money”?!) and they wouldn’t last long without chips anyway, getting their nails done. Why? Because of painful splitting of their nails, down to the quick. The lacquer and wraps prevent that from happening—with the side benefit of looking pretty. Giving them the opportunity to feel pretty, in a world that says older women are inherently ugly. Women who’ve never had “pretty” hands, because their hands were too busy showing the effects of years of hands-on work, getting the chance to get compliments on their hands. Feminism damn well better have room for that.
Frankly, I’d like to see every bone of contention in the feminism world start off with a blunt answering of the question: who holds the key to power here?, and then go from there. I got the impression from my brief look at the “appearance” threads that too many folks were answering that unspoken question, “the individual woman, as a consumer.” And that’s ludicrous.
There is no Natural Woman. Only natural women. All of us. Whenever and wherever and however we enter.