Friday, October 23, 2015

Why Feminism?

And no, I don't mean "Why do we need feminism?". I mean, "Why do we call what we need, in order move forward as an equal society, feminism?".

This was the question up for debate as my husband and I made the trek north to the city of Pittsburgh to attend a lecture given by none other than Margaret Atwood. A Canadian National Treasure. The queen of dystopian speculative fiction. And, someone who has been labeled a feminist for decades. If you know anything about the current state of the South Hills of Pittsburgh, you know that we had plenty of time to discuss (thank you PennDOT). Anyway, the conversation had us talking about the word feminism. Atwood herself seems to reject being an "ist" of any kind. Which had me wondering, why would someone who leads thousands of people to the conclusion that our world is out of sync in the gender department be reticent to call herself a feminist? My speculation? Because she is an author, and words are very important to her and sometimes ill-defined. As an author, she has ample room to define her words within the content she creates, but in her personal life, speaking to people, the words she uses will be defined by society at large.

I understand this struggle. For years, my husband and I had a hard time expressing to people that we are both feminists. There really is no better word for it to us. Unfortunately, the word has so many negative connotations to others. To some, it means hating men, pure and simple. To others, it is equated with the somewhat backwards feminist movement that attempted to make women the same as men by proving that we could do the same things as they do. While that movement paved the way for women to enter the workforce and to receive minor benefits, it was not truly what feminism was intended to be. In reality, I think most modern feminists would say that they do not wish to burn their bra any more than they wish to do the work of every man they encounter just to prove that they are exactly the same. I mean, we are not exactly the same and we know that. Biologically we have different parts and culturally we attribute different characteristics to men and women. I think the role of feminism is not to make us inherently the same beings, with the same attributes, able to do all the same tasks,  but to express that the attributes we associate with femininity are viewed as equal to the attributes we associate with masculinity. In other words, it was great that we were allowed to enter the workforce, but it shouldn't have been based upon the idea that we can be "just like men"; rather, it needs to be based upon the principle that women have something valuable to contribute of their own right.

For example, if a man cries he is usually labeled a "pussy" or a "girl". If a woman cries she is told she needs to "man up." Feminism is not there to say that she is capable of "manning up", of shedding her inherent femininity to attain equality; it is there to redefine equality as something we can attain while maintaining our differences. A biological man who expresses feminine traits is equally as affected by our disparaging view on femininity as a biological woman who may or may not embody what we consider feminine traits. Believe it or not, the gender traits we express as adults are as much inherent as chosen. The way we define emotion (something we tend to see as a feminine trait) is often viewed as lesser than the ability to hide or suppress those emotions. In this case, the "masculine" trait of indomitability is viewed as strong and powerful and something that should be sought, and it is viewed as something men inherently have the ability to be, whereas the ability to express and tap into emotions is equated with having a lack of strength and power. This last, I have to disagree with wholeheartedly.

After finishing up the Maddaddam trilogy this week, I was struck by the overwhelming resilience of the female characters. Not only do they suffer, repeatedly, they have very little hope that things will get better and yet they push on. Resilience is something we often overlook when we talk about strength. We think about lifting heavy objects, keeping stone cold while being mocked by our boss in a meeting, or heading out into battle with axe or tweets (depending on the battle) at the ready. Strength is being undefeated. Strength is being better. Strength is being unbreakable. Well, until it's broken. The problem with such a linear view on strength and with keeping it solely as a masculine attribute is that we discount the possibility of being defeated. We cut out the part of strength that comes from resilience. Resilience is not really a masculine trait. I mean, in every fairy tale the man doesn't come up against something he can't defeat. He doesn't have to pick up the broken pieces of his life and rebuild. It is Cinderella that is resilient. She gets up everyday not knowing the outcome. She faces defeat at every corner and since happily ever after is the biggest lie ever told (I'm sorry, I've just never met someone who has been happy every single day. Imagine when Prince Charming dies. Will they all remain Happily Ever After? That is a bit twisted. There is a story in there somewhere but I digress), we suspect that it is not something that changes post rescue.  We see her resilience as a silent waiting, as inactivity, when truly it takes a remarkable strength to get up everyday and move forward with only the slightest hope that your circumstances will change, and even more so when you believe they will not.

The ability to access emotions like distress and hope, to process them, to let them crash into you like a wave and swallow you can be far harder than the ability to lift a sword out of a stone, especially in a world that places no importance on accessing and utilizing our emotions. The ability to face things, not knowing if you will win or lose, while admitting you are scared or frustrated or vulnerable and perhaps even suspecting the worst, is an amazing quality in a human being. It is real.

So what is feminism? To me it is the need for society to reevaluate the equality we place on traits that fall to either side of the gender spectrum, to stop putting female traits below masculine traits. To stop creating a hierarchy of  personalities and start creating a coop of ideas formed from different people and different points of view. To embrace our differences in a way that allows them all to be present and appreciated.  If we equated the things we view as being inherently feminine with those that are viewed as masculine there would be no issues with maternity / paternity leave, oversexualization of women, female reproductive rights, and communications and diversity in the workplace. Words like vulnerablebossy, and picky would be replaced withopenleadership, and discerning. We would admire the different but absolutely necessary opinions and attributes that filled our work place because the outcomes would be more beneficial for the whole of society, not just one sect.

As it is, the word feminism is not perfect. With such a strained history, many people struggle admitting to their peers that they consider themselves part of the fight for equality. I think many people do consider themselves part of the fight, but the title they want to claim does not exist. It has been stripped and while we try to resurrect it not everyone will jump on board. So, how do we broach the subject? What do we call ourselves? Are we humanist? Well of course, but does that lack of femininity in the title miss the point? Do we need to have an all encompassing word, or do we need to get to the heart of the matter (the heart of the matter being that masculinity is not undervalued but femininity is)? Honestly, I do not know the answer. I think it is something very personal to each person. I will say, however, that the conversation should not be over. The fight to make every human equal is not won so - despite what you call yourself - I hope you have the courage to continue to have the conversation. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

One of a kind.

So I wanted to share with you one of my most recent purchases. Hubs and I were going to see Ed Sheeran for Mother's / Father's Day (a joint gift - and Woo Hoo! He rocked it!). The day before we went, Hubs wanted to use a gift card he had received to this fancy new Oil and Vinegar store (the man can cook I tell ya!) so we headed to the mall. Now, it's no secret I've lost a lot of weight and I definitely was in need of new undergarments and had a coupon to Victoria's Secret. While shopping Hubby picked out a shirt he thought I would like to wear to the concert. It was open-backed and I'd been eying it up since we entered. We got the shirt but once I got it home it didn't look right with any bottoms I had. I was bummed but I decided I would return it. I also felt kind of bad about the impulse buy. I definitely have outworn a lot of my clothing, but I didn't exactly shop around and paid a pretty penny for a top that 4 women in the same store told me they owned. And since starting my own small business I kind of have an moral dilemma when it comes to chain stores and have been purchasing less stuff (in general), of higher quality, from local makers.

Enter a local artist - Robin Richards- who hand paints watercolor scarves and tank tops. A friend posted a photo of her outfit of the day and she was wearing one of Robin's beautiful tank tops. Then it hit me, I was willing to pay a ton for a tank that I already know exists in thousands of stores, made of black silky jersey, that doesn't even fit me correctly and that didn't go with anything I own or I could look into what local artists had to provide. I messaged Robin and set up a time to meet and check out her shirts. I picked this lovely tank out of two that fit well and paid only $7 more than the Victoria's Secret tank-top that literally everyone and their mother owns. My tank top? I'm the only one who has this pattern. Kind of cool.

Here I'm wearing the top backwards so that the front is longer.

I love how this petal tank top can be worn with the split in the front or back. I'm not one to show off my mid section in pants (I'm totally cool with a little belly showing with a high waist skirt, but pants? Eh...not my thang.). I can totally wear it the intended way with maxi shirts, which I adore, so that works perfectly. And as for pants?  I just turned the shirt around. The front is now long (how I tend to like it ) and the back is cropped, which was super awesome today, walking around a flea market in the blistering heat.

This would normally be the front. It makes for a really unique back.

Earlier in the day, when it was chilly, I wore an old denim shirt over everything to keep warm. I carried a bag that literally everyone and their mother owns from Thirty One. I love the bag, but it does get irritating that every single other woman I know has it, although a cross-body bag is crucial with two kiddos so I'm not complaining! As the sun got higher and I got warmer, I shed my top layer and enjoyed my new shirt, shorts from Torrid, and custom made sandals from Mexico that I bought when I did my study abroad.
Old faithful, my Chambray shirt.

I think the idea of having a unique piece of clothing flew out of the door when ready-made clothing stepped into the picture. Suddenly, the convenience and monetary savings of buying clothing made from bulk fabric on an assembly line overtook society. People no longer needed to know how to sew or darn because buying new socks or a new top was as easy and cheap as going to the market and buying consumable meats for dinner. And that basically describes how our clothing is viewed - consumable. We wear it for a while and then chuck it for next season's latest trend. We give up the uniqueness of owning something handmade, something different, even something longer than a season to blend in with the crowd's current trend.

Worn the right way around at one of the Neighborhood Fleas in Pittsburgh.

I for one am trying to reduce the amount of clothing consumption. Well, to be fair, not just clothing consumption but consumption in general. And part of cutting ties with consumption mentality is cutting ties with the quick, easy, and cheap mentality. Not that I can't have some of those things some of the time, but instead of asking which top is the cheapest (handmade or Target brand) I ask "Which top do I feel better about buying." Hubby and I have been redirecting a lot of our spending and "consumerism" to local businesses in an effort to be more aware of what we are buying and how we feel about it.

When we buy local we know where the money is going, what all went into creating the product, and we have put thought into the purchase. We can ask the local artist how many patterns like it they've sold or plan to sell or for care instructions when there is an issue.  I would argue that most people don't even know half of what they buy. It goes in the cart, to the closet, to the laundry (that piles for weeks) and then to the closet again (to be buried for a year or more). But there is no way I will buy a $39, hand painted tank top and forget about it. I know the woman who made it, it was not an impulse buy (like the $32 Victoria's Secret top), I know what material it's made out of, and I know that the money I spent on it will stimulate my local economy, not pad some CEO's pocket. All-in-all it was a 3 day process to set an appointment, try on the tanks, and buy one. I had plenty of time to think it all through and determine if it was an impulse or something I had been wanting for a while (which it was - I love open back pieces).

If you love the top, you can see more from Robin here and here.