Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! Let’s talk about sex!

My mother just choked on her hot water.

I’m a feminist, which is hard to just state right out like that, three words, nowhere to hide. I’m. A. Feminist. Usually I say, “Well, I consider myself a feminist,” which is much more equivocating and therefore easier to hide in, it’s a longer sentence, contains more coverage. But I don’t say it that equivocating way because I’m afraid of the f word, or that I’m afraid of what some guy that I meet MIGHT think (pffft) but because I’m afraid that I’ll say this in the company of another woman, a woman who really IS a feminist, not the kind that shaves her legs and wears occasional makeup, like I do, but the kind with hairy armpits and who believes that marriage is simply a property exchange between father and husband and that all penetration is rape.

And yes, there are women who believe that, although very, very few.

Also, I’m doing feminism a disservice by even listing those examples, because although I’m not making it up, just by putting those in print I’m enforcing such a stereotype, and worse, just by repetition I am making these extreme examples seem more applicable to, and representative of, “normal” feminism than they really are. I’ve written about radicalism and mainstream movements before, and I’ll remind the audience here that although I don’t agree with radicals—of any movement—I know that we desperately need them.

So in this case, listing extreme spectrum ends accomplishes a dual purpose: I include them out of respect, as a valuable part of the movement, and as a benchmark of why I worry about saying I’m a feminist in mixed company. For example: when I say I’m a feminist and people around me curl their lips in disgust because they think all feminists are hairy arm-pitted lesbians, and I wish the Andrea Dworkin (may she rest in peace) followers would just go away and quit ruining the word for me, I KNOW that they are doing valuable work, so I include them for that. And also, by listing them, I inform my audience that even though I seem to be a little radical in some ways, BELIEVE ME, there are women who are MUCH more radical than I am, so radically left that I can’t even see them on a clear day. And I live in Capitol Hill, among many of these women, and therefore when I’m in the company of strangers, or even acquaintances, and I say I’m feminist, I’m worried that I’m opening myself up like a tuna can, ready to be scooped out, mashed up, and devoured.

And this post is already long enough, so we won’t go into why I appear to think that everyone around me would be so interested in ME in particular that I’M always at the center of these political arguments, because that’s just what happens.

Why am I worried about stating I’m a feminist? Because of articles like the following, which my friend Tri-Tip recently sent me: Some Coffee Stands Get Steamier. Go read it, I’ll wait.

I responded to him, laughing, that coffee stands using sex to tell their coffee certainly weren’t the first, nor would they be the last, to use sex in this way. The LT lives somewhat near the Natte Latte, also mentioned in this article.

Tri-Tip: “I figured you would have some choice words for me, you crazy vegan feminista. You disappoint me.”

Me: “You do remember that I was a cocktail waitress for most of my pre-B existence, yes?”

Tri-Tip: “Obviously not, but I do now. You surprise me. My sister yelled at me.”

Me: “What? Why?”

Tri-Tip: “She was a politics and women's studies major, and she works for a battered women non-profit. Take a wild guess.”

Me: “Ah. I can see that working with battered women all day would slightly influence one’s political views.”

Tri-Tip: “My sister said, and I quote: ‘Obviously I am totally against this place. Why don’t those girls just go be cocktail waitressess somewhere they would make more money and obviously have no qualms about walking around in their underwear and degrading themselves?’”

Excuse me? EXCUSE ME?

Right about here, I decided I no longer cared if I offend other women by calling myself a feminist, because I realized just how wrong that is, and as a side issue, how wrong THEY are.

I degraded myself while being a cocktail waitress, is that it? I hate statements like this. This sentence, which is supposed to communicate the speaker’s ideas to the audience, contains only buzzwords like “cocktail” and “waitress” and “degrading themselves.” That’s not a sentence, that is propaganda, and you can tell because it draws sweeping generalizations, jumps to conclusions, and assumes a certain mind state, location, and even time of day.

For example: What if I was a bartender, instead of a cocktail waitress, also at night? Would that be okay? What if I was a cocktail waitress during the day? What if I only wore shirts that came up to my neck? What if I only worked daylight hours but served cocktails? At what point, exactly, am I degrading myself? Is there a hemline I should be looking for?

Statements like this are pretty retarded, and if I wasn’t trying to be nice, I would add a lot of other choice words, like trite, bourgeoisie, countrified, childish, and sheepish—this is the feminist party line from about forty years ago, and people who say this prove themselves to be idiots that will repeat anything they hear without thinking about it at all. I’m a feminist, and I’m proud of it, and “feminists” that spout this line hurt the party and degrade women far more than short skirts ever will.

Random Anti-Sex-Work Feminist: EXCUSE ME?

Me: You heard me.

RASW Feminist: How is that possible? YOU are obviously degrading YOURSELF when you tamp down your personality and play up your sex appeal to get something you want!

Uh, no. I’m not.

If this is true, then PEOPLE degrade themselves. All. The. Time. Men date gold-diggers and heartbreakers and psycho women. Women date Neandathrals. (Even I have.) Teenagers break themselves to get into the popular crowd, boys and girls try drugs because of peer pressure, it’s sad but unavoidable, and we all do it: we tamp down our personalities, playing up our appeal, trying to seduce people into liking us, accepting us, inviting us to that party, sleeping with us, maybe just cooking for us. Seduction and sex appeal is a natural part of life, and when we, as humans, feel instinctively that seduction will get us to our goal faster than trying to logically convince, we will turn to it, Every Time. (When I’m done with this post, I’m just going to trash it and attach a good picture of myself instead.) Is this degradation? Because if playing up your sex appeal for a goal is degradation, then we should stop procreating immediately.

What I believe Tri-Tip's sister is trying to say, however, is that presenting myself as a sex object, automatically lowers the status of women in all fields and walks of life, and in their defense, if this were true, the use of the word “degrade” would be correct.

So, me in a very short skirt in a cocktail club, working for tips, is degrading the status of women in our society, and by extension, myself, right? No, it’s not. It’s not at all, period. Because how is that in any way different from being forcefully degraded by hundreds of old fat Lazy B men watching me walk through the factory? Because, hello. You can choose to act sexy or not, you can choose to wear pants or a skirt or not, you can choose to wear loafers or combat boots or heels, and I guarantee you, someone you don’t like will find you sexy, and will objectify you, and congratulations! You’ve been degraded. You cannot avoid it. You can sneer at men who open doors for you, or yell at men who whistle at you—I do, sometimes—or refuse to wear skirts or skulk around town with your head hanging down, but Jesus Christ, how degrading is THAT?

I, as a woman, will always have sex appeal. Always. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s part of me, part of my body, part of my mind, part of what makes me me, it’s mine to do with as I choose and I own me, right? That is one of the tenements of feminism.

So. How is it NOT degrading to be told that I cannot show off my legs and also be a feminist?

WTF? Aren’t my legs, and what’s between them, mine? How is any anti-sex-work feminist going to tell me what to do with it? Why in the world would I not allow men to rate me as sexy or not sexy, or try to control me using my gender’s qualities of sex, but be perfectly fine with allowing WOMEN to do the same? Are they crazy? Hello! I, and other women like me, are just poor girls with breasts and an ability to be cute—yes, please tell me I can’t use that in my job! PLEASE take away our rights! Protect us from ourselves!

And go to hell.


kt said...

wow. that was incredibly well said!

Aarwenn said...

hi honey, thank you!

l-t said...

Very well said indeed!


There's nothing wrong with being countrified. :)

julie said...

I've often wondered when feminist and man hater became one and the same. Silly me, I thought it was about equal pay for equal work, the right to CHOOSE our destiny, reproductive rights. You know, those trifling details.

I've also wondered where the crackpot notion came from that the struggle for workplace equality was a case of women wanting to be men. Because I SERIOUSLY want to bitch-slap those who perpetuate it.

I'm perfectly at ease knowing that The Boy is better equipped to lift heavy things and open jars. Much like he's happy to defer to my mad skillz when we're babysitting and his niece needs, quite literally, a shoulder to cry on. He helps me buy electonics, I help him buy clothes. Stereotypical? Perhaps. But also a fantastic partnership.

I'd rather continue to wear sassy shoes and cute skirts, and to pluck my brows and shave my legs while being taken seriously in the boardroom. And I'd MUCH rather fight that fight than tell a 20-something student paying her bills to put some clothes on.

Aarwenn said...

You know Julie, I thought that ALL young feminists felt this way, with the much-talked-about "third wave", and all that. I mean, haven't we, as a society, left the preoccupation with women and sex behind?

No, we haven't, and neither has the feminist party, and apparently some young feminists actually believe the old party line. It makes me stabby.