Sunday, January 20, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War: Feminism and Sex.

The LT and I just saw Charlie Wilson's War, an excellent little movie about an overlooked period in American history and also a great source of background on the conflict in Afghanistan today; we enjoyed it. In the movie, set in about 1985, Julia Roberts' character is a wealthy Texas woman who is extremely intelligent, well-informed, politically aware, and oh yes--drop dead gorgeous. She seduces Tom Hanks' character and convinces him to cash in his many favors and meet with the president of Pakistan at the time, President Zia, and intercede personally in what was then the Soviet slaughter of Afghanis. On the way to the dog park, the LT and I were discussing the movie, and I was musing about personal fantasies.

"Have you ever wanted to be a character either in real life or out of a story?" I asked. "As in, if you could redo your life and live someone else's life, actually be them, would you pick someone?"

"Sure," he answered. "Neil Armstrong, for example."

"I've always wanted to be someone like Julia Roberts' character," I said. "A woman with intelligence, power, a talent for subterfuge; the ability to know what she wants and go after it."

"But her character used sex to get what she wanted," he said. "Isn't that completely against the ideas of feminism?"

"Absolutely not," I said strongly. "Feminism is about treating men and women equally in the eyes of the law. At no point is the phrase 'and women can't use sex to get what they want' stated in my view of feminism." (See my piece on sexy coffee stands.)

"But isn't the idea that women shouldn't HAVE to do that? That they should be able to, instead of sleeping with a Congressman, that they should be able to BE the Congressman instead? Isn't that what power is, to be able to move budgets and send armies, instead of sleeping with someone who can move armies?"

"Absolutely not," I said again, even more strongly. "In fact, I view that as one of the fundamental flaws of the mainstream feminist movement, that it views the two kinds of power that men and women have traditionally had, where men make on-record decisions and move armies and women sleep with the men that move armies--often in order to convince them to move armies--as unequal. I strongly disagree. The two kinds of power ARE equal, it just depends on which you feel more comfortable with."

Julia Roberts' character was (I assume) a traditional woman from East Texas, who would certainly not have called herself a feminist (as the LT pointed out, and I agreed) and I'm sure she wouldn't have thought of herself as powerful. But she was, in her sphere. What she cared about--the people of East Texas, the rights of humans all over the world, the specific cause of the slaughter of Afghanis--it never occurred to her to sit on her hands and mourn and do nothing just because she was a woman. She saw what she could do and she did it, and that is the MEANING of power, the idea that you, as a person can change your world, and I don't give a damn how women (or men, for that matter) personally choose to do it. The great moralist Terry Pratchett might have said it best, in Carpe Jugulum: "If we were men," Nanny Ogg says simply, "we would be talking about laying down our lives for our country. As women, we can talk about laying down."

Feminism has achieved the MAJOR goal--and never for one second think that I don't realize what a major achievement it is--of bringing the U.S. to the state in which women can be U.S. Congressmen. And I think that is wonderful. But Feminism should stop there. At no point should it tell women, "So, now that you HAVE the power to be a Congressman, it is no longer good to SLEEP with a Congressman to influence him; that is wrong, bad, and not empowering." (A word that I'm coming to hate.) "The only way to have power is to follow this path that we (Feminists For the Greater Good of Women) have pre-chosen for you; namely, you must attempt to be the Congressman* yourself." And now that THIS is the only way to behave, it is a short step to see that by the same argument, all the PREVIOUS attempts by women to change history with our traditional powers--Cleopatra leaps immediately to mind--are now examples of what NOT to do, so perhaps all of that history is sort of okay, since it already happened, but not really how women TODAY should behave. And it's a short step from there to hate your own gender for its previous accomplishments, and I'm not going to bother to explain that because it's a very gender-specific thought.

Feminism should never, ever, tell women HOW to behave. It has, and still is, putting the legal avenues in place for women to be congressmen, senators, and even president. (Placing us behind PAKISTAN in electing a woman Head of State, but that's another story.) And its role is not only legal; legal anti-discrimination policies equal social change. But when feminism steps in to tell women how to behave in this new and bright world that Feminism has created for them, it is just another way to control the actions of women. And I am against that at all costs.

*For brevity's sake, I've left out the argument about the word Congressman vs. Congresswoman, which could easily take up three hours.


KR said...

I SO completely agree, and very nicely stated. :)

T-town Girl said...

I already really wanted to see this movie but now I really have to see it.