Confessions of an Armchair Feminist, by Elayne Riggs
Last Saturday was International Women’s Day, the first IWD where women in the United States were facing the very strong possibility that an Estrogen-American would become their next President — and the equally strong reality that lots of people (mostly men, but a surprising number of women as well) are committed to seeing that she never breaks that ultimate glass ceiling. Not because they (like me) don’t necessarily consider her the best person for the job; it’s not like the Presidency has been a meritocracy for a long time. But because many harbor a deep and irrational resentment of the very idea of a woman in power, particularly wielding the type of nigh-imperial power that the current administration and its cronies in the other two branches of government have ceded to the executive branch.
This resentment, nay, this seething hatred, has manifested itself in some scary ways that us second-wave feminists could have sworn went out with disco. One prominent pundit speculated that Senator Clinton was "pimping out" her daughter for working on her campaign, like pretty much every adult child of a candidate from Mary Cheney to the Romney boys has done. That same daughter was once the butt of a particularly nasty joke from the current Republican Presidential candidate, who made the sexist jape a two-fer by including a reference to the "manliness" of Janet Reno. These days it’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who receives remarks about how cadaverish she appears (funny, she looked fine to me when I saw her on The Daily Show last month).
Of course, the progressives who once espoused Stokeley Carmichael’s adage that "the only position for women in [the movement] is prone" aren’t immune from sexist remarks either. Folks who should know better choose to attack right-wing lunatics like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin not on their lunacy but on their looks. Even for some on "our side," biology would appear to be destiny.
And while a part of me seethes at all this with the same rage I felt in high school and college every time I heard "women can’t" do one thing or the other, with no further explanation needed but that we were women — I also confess that a part of me just doesn’t care any more. After fifty years of this stuff, I’m more than suffering from outrage burnout.
I can’t remember the last protest of any sort I attended, much less a feminist march. When you’re married to a non-US citizen in a less-than-free society, and when walking more than a block outdoors tends to result in physical pain, other considerations trump desired activism. And as laziness and lifestyle changes come to the fore, they cause me to rethink what being an activist means.
Recent surveys have found that most bloggers, for instance, are female. This is a no-brainer to me; common wisdom seems to hold that "tech" things like computers are a mostly-male domain, but empirical experience just doesn’t bear that out. In my first long-term job, when computers were first coming into use in offices, I was the only person at our location to have one for a long while. So much of my computer skills have been on-the-job and self-taught, because hey, secretaries are expected to know how to work those dang things, aren’t we? Likewise, our current interactive society encourages community, a concept to which women are exposed from the time we’re little girls. Boys are expected to roughhouse and compete, girls to work together and cooperate.
It’s almost like activism is hard-wired into us, rather than into those for whom "the only position for women in the movement is prone." And so versions of activism proliferate. One of my first real forays into online feminist activism was the creation, with the help of Jackie Estrada, of Friends of Lulu’s Women Doing Comics list. This was born out of a need to respond to almost constant online queries (from male comic book fans, of course) of "where are all the women doing comics?" I’ve carried that over to blogging in general, keeping a couple of lists (which I admit I don’t maintain as often as I should) on my Bloglines subscriptions of "Where the Women Bloggers Are." And every March I try to call attention to it. In past years I’ve even done an "Estrogen Month" series of posts on my blog during March in which I explore women-run blogs I hadn’t yet previously visited and let readers know about them. This year, considering this exhausting job search, not so much.
That’s it for so many of us, particularly desk jockeys. We’re on the computer so much either doing our jobs or looking for new ones that we don’t even have the energy to do proper activism online. We pass along interesting links, occasionally tear ourselves away for gatherings of like-minded feminists, applaud other people’s energy — and proceed to feel guilty about our own lack of commitment, particularly in a world where there’s so much left to do!
But here’s the thing. For every one of us burnouts and lazy-asses, I truly believe new stars arise, and need to be given the spotlight. Val D’Orazio is one of my bright lights. She’s taken up the daunting task of updating my WDC list, and is really revitalizing Friends of Lulu, returning it to the feminist activist organization it was always meant to be. There are so many passionate young feminist bloggers it makes my head spin — way more than can be read in any one sitting! And they’re not reinventing the wheel; most of them have soaked up the lessons of recent "herstory" like eager sponges, and are turning that knowledge into 21st century accomplishments. For all that the current administration has moved our country backwards, they’re helping lurch it forward again. And they have many more male compatriots than one would think, guys who get it that Patriarchy Hurts Men Too. Yeah, they do stuff that drives me nuts — feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte chose to homage the "headlight comic" Lorna the Jungle Girl on the cover of her new book, and Feministing‘s logo consists of a "mudflap" girl with her middle finger raised, with the sexy, naked-looking silhouette far more prominent than the bird-flipping. But just because I don’t share this "selling women’s bodies is empowering if we’re the ones doing it and/or if it’s done ironically, and besides it helps us move books" attitude doesn’t mean it’s invalid, any more than me not listening to much current music invalidates it. The point is, these women are out there getting things done, and I’m warming my recliner.
I think there’s hope, though. I look at places like the Older Feminists’ Network and Raging Grannies and I know I can choose to fire up my activism gene again after I retire. I look at famous feminists like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, still fighting the good fight. And I look at older women like my Mom and my aunt, who may not call themselves feminists but who have influenced me tremendously, leading me on the path to becoming who I am, and who I could be.
So there’s still hope. There’s always hope. I’d just like to stand — okay, sit — on the sidelines for a while, assuring my continued survival, and cheering on those who have more wherewithal than I. Thank goodness they outnumber me!
Elayne Riggs can be found blogging here about whatever strikes her fancy, and spent International Women’s Day getting her car’s oil changed.