Tuesday, June 27, 2006

enough about you.

you may already know i work for a women's organization, a moderately-progressive and feminist organization. while many different people work for us, our staff is a rather self-selecting lot. we've been around for over 100 years, we all know what our mission is and we all like that over 80% of the staff have ovaries. contrary to stereotype, ours is a surprisingly even-keeled environment* and the team i work with is a good one - it's high performing and we're particularly mission-focused. so it was a surprise when, during a meeting yesterday, the only male staffer on the team got his Hanes in a bunch and just walked out.

context: we were discussing the idea of instituting a series of feminist salons, home-based discussion groups, and one of us was in the middle of explaining the history of the salon.

staffergirl: during the 18th and 19th centuries, prominent women opened their homes to artists, politicians, thinkers, writers to discuss current events. it was a way for women to enter the public sphere, become politicized, and it would be a good idea for us to engage people now -

stafferguy: excuse me, what people? (cupping his ear with his hand)
staffergirl: uh, young women. we think it would be a good idea to engage young women in these discussions and -
stafferguy: which people? (the cupping thing again)
staffergirl: women.
stafferguy: i'm sorry. i'm sorry. i just don't like it when you forget that not all of us are women. (bundles up his lunch and starts to walk out)

staffergirl: i'm sorry, but - don't go - this is what those groups were! i'm sorry, i didn't mean to offend -
stafferguy: but you did, staffergirl. you did. (door firmly shuts and stafferguy is gone.)

the rest of us sit there a little abashed and stunned.
into the silence, i say, 'i'm sorry. we are a feminist organization. we are a women's organization. hegemony is tough.' i shrug and sip my diet pepsi. after a few seconds, our discussion continues without stafferguy. but at the end the manager wants to talk about it.

everyone is silent. then i and a recovered staffergirl say that, sometimes, a person who enjoys a certain amount of class and gender privilege has to acknowledge that it's not all about him all the time. if he is going to be a feminist man, then he has to recognize that sometimes that requires him to not be the center. sometimes, there are limits.

i said we see this limit in other political groups; while there are alliances between feminists of color and not, at some point there has to be a recognition that sometimes our interests divide and sometimes, we brown feminists aren't going to be thinking about what our white sisters might feel or want. in another instance, while we progressive straights can certainly be allies with our gay friends, we have to take a back seat when it comes to that community defining what's best for their interests. sometimes, the dominant discourse has to learn when to shut up.

in other words, sometimes the Other doesn't want the Master around.

[*this is not to say our workplace is perfect. some women have sniffed that it could be 'more woman-supportive' but for me, having come from at least two corporate, testosterone-heavy firms, working in an all-female office is like running on the beach during one of those 1970s kotex commercials. it's that refreshing.]


Anonymous said...

yes yes, you are SO right!

jesus chick said...

on this particular post i don't have any comment. . . however, i do have a "feminist" question and this looks like the place to ask it vs. the oral sex post. . .

do you know who linda hirshman is? ack! she has pushed all my buttons, and not in the good way. while at my obstetricians office, waiting for my girth to be measured, i read an interview with her in newsweek magazine. here's an excerpt: In "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World," Linda Hirshman, a retired philosophy professor, argues that women should stop wasting their expensive degrees in the nursery. She spoke with Peg Tyre. here's the link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13249203/site/newsweek/
is this standard feminist thought or is she in the minority? i am completely unimpressed. completely. unabashedly.

ding said...

linda hirschman upset a lot of women - both feminists and non-feminists.

i remember reading the original article that prompted her book and the subsequent articles about that in the American Prospect and, i have to admit, i agreed with her.

now, before you freak out let me explain: hirshman is not saying that women shouldn't have kids. her argument is more nuamced than that.

she argues, in part, that we all need to take a deep dose of reality and admit that housework, divided as unevenly as it is, is drudgery and if we were all really honest about what domestic life is actually like, women would admit it and not take it anymore. so she's arguing for a radical rethinking of how we divide domestic labor so that so much of it (which is dull, repetitive, manual, unintellectual, uninspiring and UNPAID) isn't falling on a woman's shoulders. that's one part of her argument.

the other part of her argument is that, while imbibing of this honesty pill, we feminists need to rethink the way the discourse of Choice (everything is ok and feminist as long as i chose it) has screwed up the feminist movement, which was (and always will be) a political movement to give women truly equal access to privilege and power - on the same scale as men.

her argument asks what was the point of feminism if not to radically alter the world for women? what choice has done has been to close off these radical paths of possibility that feminism once meant and now it's given us these measly Mommy Wars which aren't really worth our time or energy. rather than bicker over mommies or non-mommies, why isn't feminism once again exhorting women to live the largest, most socially significant lives they can?

and, yes, this means not in the domestic sphere. hirshman argues that domesticity, even though 'chosen' by feminists (and non-feminists) isn't really a choice at all - because we're still locked in the house while the outside world passes us by.

this situation is the very scenario feminism was supposed to end. and it hasn't. and it's *every* woman's fault. (not just feminists.)

jesus chick said...

there's a lot i just don't get, but specifically your comment, "domesticity, even though 'chosen' by feminists (and non-feminists) isn't really a choice at all - because we're still locked in the house while the outside world passes us by."

i don't feel like i'm locked in my house and i certainly don't feel like the world is passing me by. i absolutely love my life!

as for her comment: "if you have two or three children, you're out of the work force for 13 years. And you should have work that brings you influence, honor, compensation, a way of being political and a hand in shaping the world around you". what exactly does she think a mother does? i have loads of influence, honor, compensation and a REALLY big hand in shaping the world around me. i mean come on - i'm raising three mini-me's ;) (well the 3rd one is in 4 wks but you get the idea).

i think she's putting women in a box by saying the only way they can have influence, etc is by having a job outside the home.

and to use your phrase, i do feel like i'm living the largest, most socially significant life i can. is it not possible for a woman to do that and stay at home with her children? or am i an underachiever in the feminist world?

ding said...

that's a fair question.
(and i hope everything went ok at the doc's!)

of course being a mother is socially significant. being a parent is a socially significant role - the continuation of our species sort of rests on that.

if you think of how women's lives have been historically limited and defined - if you take in that just barely two generations ago a woman couldn't have her own checking account, couldn't get a loan unless she had a husband to cosign it for her - if you take all that in, i can't see why we'd rush immediately back to that when we've barely explored what it means to be outside!

that's all that hirshman is saying: we've barely begun to explore the freedom that our feminist great-grandmothers fought for - why go back when we can go forward? why go back to a small victorian definition of motherhood when we haven't even begun to fight for a new way of parenting - why aren't our husbands part of this conversation? where are the daddy wars?

there are no daddy wars because there's really no possibility that they'd have to think about these things: of course they're going to work. of course they're not going to worry about housework and the burden of motherhood. that's a mother's job. that's a woman's job.

and that absence of a daddy war makes this about gender inequality. that absence makes me see that this isn't about whether motherhood is fulfilling - it's still about our society's limited pathways for women to have full expression of their individualities.

feminism was supposed to change all that - and, for a while, it did. but then we women chickened out. feminism didn't fail women, we failed it.

ding said...

and another thing that just ocurred to me: hirshman is really arguing for women to take their place within the humanist legacy of our western civilization. do we protest when harold bloom argues for this? do we hear bloom lament how all these men ruined their families by creating our intellectual and capital foundations? (or contributing to them?)

nope. we nod our heads and lament that we no longer produce the big thinkers, the big movers and makers of historical change. well, hirshman is asking for the same thing that bloom has built a career on, except with a difference: women should step forward and begin to shape our canon and civilization.

and not just through our wombs.

ding said...
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