May 11, 2004

Burn Your Bras!

I used to be a feminist. A very strident, angry one in fact. About the time I hit college, I was coming into my own-I had only ever had one boyfriend, a complete nimrod that I wound up marrying at 18 and had left at 20. So college was my first time as a single woman, a time on my own and in an element that I really enjoyed.

And I fell head-first into the feminist world.

After switching tracks in university and leaving the world of medicine-full-time stress and masses of competition-I headed into anthropology, which I took only as a lark in school to fulfill a social sciences credit. I took the class, and wound up loving it. So I left the world of future lucrative salaries, 24-hour shifts and tearful, grateful families that shake my hand and tell them I saved their world (I was going into neo-natology, so I think it would be the parents of my patients then) behind, and grabbed my sandals and my various books on the Dobe Kung, Simone de Beauvoir, and Lucy, and went into a study that was not only was very, very easy for me.

I also took a few women's studies classes, which enhanced my independence as a feminist. Coming out of a complete mistake of a marriage, I was free. I was free, and I wanted it that way. I took an in-depth study on women in culture, and from Day One it was interesting. You walk into the room, and it was a sea of women, all without make-up, all looking like their crunchy granola goodness. I was there as well-long hair in a ponytail, face scrubbed of make-up, wearing men's boxer shorts and a T-shirt ( was college. One didn't have to dress up.) and sat down. There were two men in the back row, cowering and looking wary.

Day One we talked about the word "woman", and that it contained the word "man" in it. A very tough and butch-looking woman commanded the discussion and in no time, I was on my feet in agreement. Why should the word that defines us contain the subjective word "man"? Why must we be contained and controlled by that which should no longer control us? Why must the church continue to bang on about the sins of Eve, when for all we know she picked the damn apple as Adam mentioned he wanted some apple pie, and Eve simply wanted to be accommodating?

By the end of the class that day, the two men had been run out.

From then on, it was All Estrogen, All the Time.

I don't mean to enforce stereotypes, simply to illustrate what my world was like. I did become an angry feminist. I read feminist philosophy. I was indignant. I wanted to be accepted for who I was, not what I looked like (I never stopped with the shaving though. Some things were a bridge too far.) I wanted to be desired and loved for my mind, not the mere fact that I am female. I raged against the male machine. I hated the male race for holding me down into a set role and limiting my freedom. I too wanted to be called a "womyn", to escape the confines of being "just a woman".

I am pretty sure I would've become a lesbian, if only I had been in touch with my inner beaver at the time.

My thesis that year was a rhetoric of hatred and revenge. I wrote a business case for taking all the men in the U.S. and caging them into the state of Nevada. Every last one of them. Similar "confinement camps" would be set up worldwide for the male populations. But I wasn't too mean-the men had ample access to hot dogs and beer, and since Nevada is a desert state, the men would earn one hour of air conditioning for every orgasm they gave a woman, who would visit the camp purely for sexual or procreation purposes. See, we would be running the country. We would just visit Nevada to get it on.

I got an A.

I am not sure when I stopped being such a militant feminist, but it faded out slowly over time. My edges softened. I realized that some faces just look better with a bit of make-up, and mine was one of them. It wasn't about looking good to please men. It was about looking good to feel good about myself. There are some aspects that have stayed with me-I want my own career. I want to make decisions about my pension plans myself. And above all, if I marry you, don't call me Mrs. ___. If I ever married Mr. Y (and that's not on the table right now), then there's no way I want to be referred to as Mrs. Y by people. I have a name, and it's Helen.

And I stopped caring about the spelling of the word "woman". It's spelled that way, likely for historic purposes, and to be honest-it's just a word. It's a scientific definition, but it doesn't have to imply subjugation unless I want to read it that way. My name is Helen (well, in real life it really isn't, but you get my point), but that doesn't mean that I am responsible for launching 1,000 ships. It just means it's a moniker.

I can look back and realize that I became such a hard-core feminist since I was so angry at men. I was angry at men, including my father, my ex-husband, and every other lout that came along in my daily life. I was angry I had been raped. I was brimming over with daily bits of rage against men. This, in no way, justifies or supports the claim that feminists are, as a whole, anti-man. I can only speak for myself on this one, and disliking men was the instigator for me. I had a lot of anger, and the stream fed in on it. But I am glad that I went through this period. It taught me to be independent (albeit, too independent). It taught me that I don't need a man.

It taught me that I wanted a man.

If you tell me that a woman's role is in the home, or in the kitchen, then I will tell you (in an eloquent way of course) to fuck off. A woman's role is wherever she wants it to be. Does she want to be in the kitchen? Then that's where her role is, and she reserves the right to change that in the future. Does she want it to be in the corporate world? So be it. This is not exclusive to women, the same goes for men-a man's role is where he wants it to be. Does he want it to be abssailing down the face of Mt. Everest? Fine. Maybe a family isn't the best idea for him at that time, but hey-it's your life. Live it.

If I am in the kitchen cooking "my man" a meal, it's not because it's expected of me, it's because I want to do it. I think people mistake nurture for obedience. I want my partner to be happy, and I want to be a source of that happiness. If it so happens that I love to cook and he loves my food, then we have an ideal set-up. If I can't fucking stand cooking, then perhaps I won't be doing it so often-I would do it for him as a treat. I think it works the same in reverse. About the only expectations I want in a relationship is that we support each other, love each other, and are willing to have sex like rabbits. Everything else-his willingness to bring me coffee in bed in the morning, my willingness to do the dishes, his willingness to take me out to dinner once a week, my willingness to drop off his post at the post office-that's just icing on the cake.

Women and men are seperate, and we always will be. Women and men are equal, and in my eyes, we always need to be. Is it possible that my partner owns me?

Yes. Insofar as I own him, too.


Posted by Everydaystranger at May 11, 2004 08:06 AM | TrackBack

Jennifer - Duh! That's what you meant. I completely missed that! Sorry! Yes, you're right until very recently (and even now in many parts of the States) there's this view amoungst insecure male lawyers that female attorneys should do divorce law and wills and probate. And yeah unwritten dress codes can be a real issue and vary from county to county. In many ways I reckon it's easier for women in Australia (and the UK and other Commonwealth countries) because everyone male & female just wears a wig and gown to court ;-)

And yes societal norms as to what's "feminine" or "masculine" do vary e.g. the war paint/make up for men. But a lot seems to be hardwired too e.g. the story I referenced below. Not sure how the breakdown works though. Was just posting my .02

Posted by: Steve P at May 13, 2004 01:02 AM

For me, a word can be just that-butI am talking about myself only, here. If a stranger calls me a bitch, then I will just shrug it off. They don't know me, they have no idea if I can be a bitch or not. If it's someone close to me, then my feelings are going to be hurt and there will be some discussing.

The words you listed are not categorized JUST as words-although they are words, they also (in my book) count as slander. An undercurrent of hatred there. I don't allow racial slander of any kind around me, no matter what (except my elder relatives, and then I just ignore them. There's no stopping them)-I have blogged about it before-some words have daggers in them, but I think that's perhaps also up to the individual to define.

Makeup is not a feminist creation for the following reason: anthropologists (including my babe, Helen Fisher) have long documented how women use artificial cosmetics to appear more attractive to men. The rouged cheeks=a sex-induced blood rush to the face. Painted lips=same thing. Mascara eyes=hooded sexuality. It's all there. And throughout history, it's been continued as a way of appealing to men (although men have, previously, also used makeup. And I find black nail polish on men a turn on, I have no idea why).

But I am not necessarily trying it on for the male population when I put lipstick on-I generally want to look and feel attractive to both sexes, honestly. TO be an attractive person.

I didn't define feminine and masculine in that post, since I think that things are rather amorphous more than we would like to think.

I'm just kinda' liberated that way, I guess.

Posted by: Helen at May 12, 2004 06:14 PM

I don't always wear makeup either. I'd like to think that I'm such a natural beauty that I don't have to, but truth be told, I look alot better when I do. I really don't consider it a tool of repression by the man, I figure it's kind of a priveledge. Marginal looking women can do alot to improve their looks, but guys pretty much are what they are. Look around the office sometime, and see what I mean- women wearing everything from power suits to very causal khakis, while men pretty much wear a 'uniform' of suit pants, tie and button-up shirt. I guess it's all it how you look at it.

Posted by: Allison at May 12, 2004 06:12 PM

Steve P. -- I don't do any Dalcon Shield work (thankfully). I simply meant that the area of mass tort litigation is still fairly male-dominated. I have been to more than one deposition/hearing/document review where I was the only woman there. Although I've never been mistaken for the court reporter simply because of my gender, I know several women who have. Almost all of my lawyer-friends in this area are guys because most of the folks in the litigation are guys. It raises all sorts of interesting "feminist" issues (i.e. I've been dressed down in court before for wearing a pants suit -- I now only wear skirt suits to court, as they draw less attention and command more respect).

Andrew-- Thanks!

Posted by: Jennifer at May 12, 2004 02:52 PM

Melanie - SteveP was just addressing Helen's comment, "I am pretty sure I would've become a lesbian, if only I had been in touch with my inner beaver at the time."

Men and women are equal in value, but multiple people have pointed out they're very different physically and mentally. Men are physically superior, and women are superior at multitasking (and the list goes on). There are exceptions to both rules, but in general they're true.

Women can burn their bras and trash their make-up, and men can become sensitive, effeminate cry-babies; but in the end each is abandoning what the other sex really wants. Men do desire beautiful, sexy, feminine women (doesn't mean they can't be smart too); and women do desire strong, studly, solid men (doesn't mean they can't be sensitive too).

Darwin's theory of "natural selection" simply stated that the strong and attractive survive and procreate. So if you guys want to abandon your natural roles go right ahead. I've embraced mine and ended up with the very pretty, very smart, and very happy super-model Mrs. Solomon and precious Angel1 and Angel2.

Men and women complement each other so well when they each embrace their natural roles. Why fight it?

Posted by: Solomon at May 12, 2004 01:46 PM

I find the post and most of the reponses to it extraordinary. It's not surprising that you're less angry these days, Helen, and that you would tone down the beliefs you held when you took women's studies classes. That happens to most of us. I'd like to ask you about a few of the comments you made (and received).

For instance: to paraphrase, 'woman is just a word, with a long history, and it doesn't have to be offensive'. Would you say the same thing about 'nigger', 'kike', 'yid', etc.? If someone called you a bitch, would you think they were just confused, given that you are clearly not a female dog?

If a word has a history, isn't it important to know that history? Surely your women's studies classes taught that usually that history is made and written by men, for men and to their advantage?

What exactly does 'feminine' or 'masculine' mean? You know more about anthropology than me, but doesn't that literature agree that concepts of gender are social constructs?

What exactly has make-up got to do with being feminine anyway? If I were aboriginal, I would tell you all about my make-up. If I were a native American, I might tell you about war paint. I would find it bizarre that you associate make up with 'feminine'. It is 'feminine' in our society to wear make up, because that is the categorisation our society has developed for us. We (men and women) perpetuate those categories by claiming that 'wearing make up is just me showing my femininity' as someone commented. Feminists who eschew make up aren't trying to become more like men, they're becoming less like "women" as it is currently understood.

Kudos to Jennifer, not just for quoting Newton, but for everything she said.

Posted by: Andrew at May 12, 2004 01:17 PM

steve p... being feminine has nothing at all to do with being gay!!

Posted by: melanie at May 12, 2004 10:11 AM

Helen - I like your idea about Nevada. I think if you'd just add some pizza and television to the recipe then 99% of men would vounteer for your program (view it as Heaven on Earth) - you wouldn't have to force them or waste time erecting prison fences etc ;-)

I also can't see our Helen being gay. She's just waaay to feminine. (Puts on flame retardent underwear and ducks for cover) The whole gender thing is pretty interesting though especially to anyone who has an interest in Antropology/Pschology/natural sciences. There's an article in today's Guardian about those twin boys where one of them was brought up as a girl. Apparently she/he just committed suicide. Very sad but very interesting.

Jennifer - interesting comment but I don't quite follow what you're saying re mass torts. Are you referring to the Dalcon (sp?) sheild class action thing?

Posted by: Steve P at May 12, 2004 04:10 AM

Two for two. I really love your no-holds-barred, totally honest, coming-from-years-of-real-life-experience way of talking about things, and what you say rings so true. It's very refreshing.

Posted by: Denny at May 12, 2004 03:56 AM


Good thing Luuka made it. Sorry, I have been in the Bahamas the last two weeks and would have done anything to assuage your worries about Luuka.


PS miss two weeks of your life, Helen, and I'm damn near out of the loop.

Posted by: Brass at May 12, 2004 02:07 AM

bravo! great post. I totally agree. I still consider myself a feminist, but I like to look feminine and wear makeup and all that girly shit. I think feminism should also be about embracing our femininity, not trying to become more masculine.

I agree with you about the "Mrs. ____" thing. I didn't take my husband's name, not because I didn't like it or love him, but because I didn't want to give up my identity. So I still am a feminist in that way, too. But if someone wants to drop their maiden name, that's fine, too.

Posted by: dawn at May 12, 2004 01:14 AM

I minored in Women's Studies in college and have been quite the feminist in my day. Like you, my feminist views have softened. I've read Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and a host of others. Although my views on feminism are less strict than in college, while litigating mass tort cases I can definitely see where strong feminism was once necessary. The fact that we no longer feel the need to subscribe to radical views is an indication of the progress women have made.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes, "If I can see farther than anyone has before me, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Posted by: Jennifer at May 11, 2004 11:11 PM

Why does everyone want to send their "unwanted" material to Nevada?

Posted by: Dave T. at May 11, 2004 11:01 PM

Growing up with two radical feminists (My mom & my sister) I've come to a point where I'm pretty much amused by the whole thing. One of the great philosophers of our time said:

"Women will never be equal to men. What they are, and what they can do makes them far superior to men, and as such they should demand special privileges, all that the market will bear. For women, mere equality is a disaster"
~R.A. Heinlein


There are so many differences between men and women that go beyond culture. They are different. Deliciously, delectably, wonderfully different.

And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Posted by: Easy at May 11, 2004 10:57 PM

I left out the whole part of.. there are exceptions to the rule. Anyway. Survivor is coming back - mark your calanders.

Posted by: pylorns at May 11, 2004 10:23 PM

I've been laid off since after Christmas. My place is NOT in the home. I enjoy being home but I don't feel that I belong here.
I hate cooking, but I'm forced to do it to avoid a fight.
I do not wear make-up. I don't like to wear make-up.
I have never been a feminist.
I am who I am.
It's not always easy.

Posted by: Sharon at May 11, 2004 05:45 PM

Get in the kitchen and make me some FUCKING MIGAS!

Posted by: MJ at May 11, 2004 03:27 PM

I agree in most things you said, a womans place is where she wants to as well as a mans. But psychologically women and men fill their own specific gender roles not because they have been told "get in the kitchen and make me some pie" but because psychologically and physiologically they feel the need to fill certain roles. Most important example is makeup. Women have been wearing makeup or painting their faces since pre-historic times. Men also from time to time have worn make up/paint or done ritulistic dances. All of this is to attract a mate, not to make themselves feel good about theirselves. You can fight instinct, but its not something you can win all the time against.

Posted by: pylorns at May 11, 2004 03:25 PM

Nicely said!

It's funny you should write that today. I was just telling my other's half sister yesterday that being in love can be a pain in the ass, especially if you're comfortable in your own skin. I'm not with her brother because I need to be with a man, I'm with her brother because I was a dumb ass and fell in love (I don't really think that way all the time).

Posted by: Amynah at May 11, 2004 02:07 PM

Which is more important, the baseball or the bat? Each has a very different role, but both are equally important to the game. It's boring if you only have one or the other. We should acknowledge that men and women are equal yet very different? Each has a natural role.

On a humorous note, feminists can't win with the bra burning thing. If they wear a bra to make their breasts more shapely, men are turned on. If they go braless, men are turned on even more:)

Posted by: Solomon at May 11, 2004 01:54 PM

In the bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. These days his name is synonymous with putz....

Posted by: gymrat at May 11, 2004 01:47 PM

I will never look at Las Vegas the same way again.

Posted by: ilyka at May 11, 2004 01:40 PM

hehe...don't you know that a man is nothing but a badly modified woman? *grin*

Posted by: croxie at May 11, 2004 12:18 PM

that is a really good entry.

Posted by: jade at May 11, 2004 11:18 AM

as a communitarian-anarchist, i don't like ownership. :) i like sharing. and i've never been a man-hating feminist, although i am a radical feminist, as opposed to a liberal feminist. i do believe that patriarchy holds us back, and i use 'us' universally. it holds back women *and* men ... holds them back from expressing themselves in all sorts of wonderful and creative ways. my women's studies classes were fantastic. we need to immerse in the opposite direction as an antidote to what we get in our mainstream culture. too bad they're not required classes. but in the u.s., the people with power don't want to share. or reveal the system. okay. end of rant. :)

Posted by: hetty at May 11, 2004 11:12 AM

I cannot depict how relieved I am not 2B born a woman.

Seeing 1irst hand how jox and the like regarded women in the past, it's no wonder feminist mentalities have surpassed.

I'm no angel by any means as a musician.

Bottom line, I've come to discover women are far more in tact with Life than men. I don't know what holds this as paramount, alas I truly believe.

Such a shame these revelations were discovered after the fact. This is not a smoke up the ass comment. It's perceptions given 40 years of a lifetime.

My nephews will *not* succumb to similar time frames.

Posted by: Curator at May 11, 2004 11:05 AM

Reciprocal ownership is awesome. I think that's something that no militant feminist or misogynist is ever going to feel. Screw 'em - serves them right! ;-)

Posted by: Jim at May 11, 2004 10:37 AM

Most militant feminists grow up. Heh.

I have never felt that a man was keeping me down; and that's saying a LOT considering some of my past relationships. No, it was MY perception of the relationship and what I did within it that held me back. Ahhh, youth.

I have always enjoyed the differences (and similarities) between the male and female person. It's as it should be, I should think. Heh.

Posted by: Emma at May 11, 2004 09:28 AM

that is so true! I love being owned. And I love owning him too :)

Posted by: melanie at May 11, 2004 09:13 AM
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