I guess that, by now, everybody has heard about the claims of Effraeti about not being a feminist, the response at spinks' blog, and whole range of reactions in comments and other blogs (especially insightful is Apple Cider's, as always). I hesitated whether to make a post out of it or not bother. It is particularly difficult to write when you are angry and perplexed, as many of us were at the time. I shall follow the example of Apple Cider and voice my opinion in a calm and constructive way, because the topic deserves it.
I shall start with an anecdote which might appear to be off-topic. Bear with me.
A friend of mine sent me the trailer of the newest movie by Tim Burton, called Dark Shadows. I watched it, and when prompted to answer if I would like to see it, I said: "This movie offends me." My friend didn't see what was offensive about it, so I explained to him that I was fed up with the stereotype of seductive+evil women who use sex to entice men, and of men who are rendered helpless by this so-called feminine power. Of course, we would be expected to identify with endearing Johnny Depp and despise the evilly sexual woman. Tropes are used everywhere, for every topic: gender, race, sexual orientation... But some of them are more harmful than others, and when your depictions of women are either evil seductresses or innocent girls, there is not much with which real women can identify, and we risk teaching the kids values about feminism that are wrong. For more tropes and a very clear-sighted argument and entertaining videos, check Feminist Frequency.
I was talking with somebody only marginally conscious about his privilege, but willing to learn. We engaged in an exposition of feminist issues, and he understood why I saw things from other, more self-conscious, lenses.
The problem with privilege doesn't stop at economic factors, with women having less opportunities than men. It is also apparent in all cultural manifestations, especially in mass-entertainment. Films being customarily targeted at men, but still viewed by women, create a clima of masculine interpretation of society, both by men and women. Thus, masculine qualities are prized above the feminine, and a masculine understanding of universal concepts such as "strength" is proposed (see Spinks', the comment by Gevlon). This is why "strong" women are typically depicted in the media as sexualized badasses (Sucker Punch at Feminist Frequency). We need to broaden our scope, to be able to conceive our world from the Outsider's perspective. As Simone de Beauvoir expressed in The Second Sex: "She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute— she is the Other" (xxii).
Inequality goes beyond economics. It is a conception of the world. It dictates what femininity ought to be: seductive and evil, or innocent and unthreatening. The Angel of the House of the nineteenth century is now the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the perpetually kidnapped princess, the heroine whose only achievement is waking the male hero to a new world of love and feminine comprehension. Women should not be defined by their relation to the men of the stories, but it is sadly all-too-common. Even in the great Planescape: Torment, Deionarra and Annah, and to some extent Fall-from-Grace, are defined by their romantic ties to The Nameless One. It is a pervasive and unnoticed trend which our subconscious grasps better than us.
From a very early age we are bombarded with these concepts of womanhood, taught to be Snow White the passive, and despise the active Stepmother; taught that we are all princesses who deserve a sexy, understanding yet virile, strong yet sensitive prince. We are not taught that happiness lies in ourselves. We are especially forbid to think about other women as allies -princes are after all in short supply.
Men are also taught their own lessons. Some of them as horrific as the women's. That they should succeed no matter what, completely on their own, or they will be a failure, completely emasculated. That the path to success is through stark, aggressive competition. That their value is measured in what they own.
Then some women react in a predictable manner. I was one of those women. They shake off all these teachings and, also predictable, do a radical about-turn to the equally artificial world of masculinity, and assume that the doctrines imparted to men are the Evangelical Truth and femininity is apocryphal. But values such as "strength" are connotatively marked too, as I have argued before. These "New Women" reject one lie to fall prey to another one. And, in the process, they rebuke all women that they categorise as "feminine", and judge their attitude "weak", endorsing the position of the men who also believe such lie.
But the femininity they so proudly repudiate is in fact as fake as their new-found masculinity. It is a societal construct. An insidious societal construct, nevertheless, which women are expected to imitate, and sometimes do. This is why we work with prejudices when we encounter a stranger, because these prejudices sadly apply in many cases, especially when the other person belongs to that collective which hasn't challenged the mass-media indoctrination. But those are prejudices nonetheless, and they are offensive. To expect women to be over-emotive, even hysterical, is allowing yourself to be fooled by a reductionism. People don't work that way. We are complex, multi-faceted beings which receive influences from everything around us, and from our own reaction to said influences. Thus, although what is traditionally considered as feminine is very compelling, its contrary ("the tomboy") also is, and to extricate what we have been told to assume is really hard, because every day we learn new forms in which we had been "educated". We have learned, mostly on a subconscious level, that strength equals individuality, and that men are strong. We want to be like them, we want to be strong in the sense that society posits. We reject the weak, the feminine. We do not learn that femininity is also about communication, community, strength in the collective. About sensitivity, empathy, cooperation.
Human beings are psychologically constructed not in binary oppositions, as we are led to believe, but in gradations. Sex is not the same as gender, and sexual orientation is much more intricate than the three milestones that we have conventionally set. By this I mean that femininity and masculinity are not exclusive to women and men respectively, and that we should conceive them as sets of values traditionally subscribed to women and men. Both sexes are allowed to be rational and sensitive, competitive and cooperating, strong in their own individual manner.
Finally, these women who had allied themselves with the males to the detriment of their own identity, when confronted with the truth, let go their self-hatred, and accept that we are all in this boat together. That we all have been equally indoctrinated, and that there is a necessity to look beyond gender barriers.
This state of comprehension is not nirvana, but it is not the commonality either. The process that has been completed for some is still on-going for many, and their numbers seem unsurmountable (as sometimes is their willing ignorance). Some of those who have come out of the cavern, when they return to share their findings, they encounter skepticism, uncooperativeness, hatred. They respond with calmness, patience, compassion. But only after an internal process of purgation, after the anger stops its seething. Every time.
Their interlocutors argue that things are the way they are for one or another sad reason. Terrible, they acknowledge, but that is how the world works. The reason is rational and justified. We don't make games that cater to women because there is no market, and money drives everything. Women are poorer because they have kids. That is rational and justified, they argue. It is as if some people want the world to remain as ruthless as it is.