Archive for October 2009
Once upon a time, I had an epiphany. It started during ENGL221: Introduction to Film & Media Studies, around the end of the period, and continued until shortly before I got back to my dorm. I most vividly remember standing on the academic campus quad, and let me tell you something, I saw new colors. I could see the way things worked together; systems overlapping systems, like graph tracing paper laid over a photograph. (Sorry to be using a metaphor that relies on sightedness, but at the time, it really was like a veil had been pulled back and I honestly saw the world differently. I do also visualize the wa information is connected; in my mind, ideas are connected by glowing, colored threads.)
It was not as though the world had been crooked and it suddenly clicked into place. It was more as though the world was off-kilter, always had been and always would be, but for about twenty minutes, I was standing at the same angle – tipping my head to view a picture that was hanging off-center.
It was about Marxism. I understood, I think, the way Marx understood. Or at least, I understood Marx’s understanding. The actual content of the epiphany is irrelevant, however: what matters is the feeling during that twenty or so minutes of complete understanding.
Of course, I’m being a little uppity: I’m just a lowly undergrad. My exposure to Marxism was limited to a couple of photocopied articles, a Charlie Chaplain film, a paper on those two things, and an hour-and-a-half discussion on them. I probably didn’t actually know anything more than any other undergrad studying Marxism for a couple weeks in a theory class; I probably understood less. What matters, as I said, was the feeling of understanding.
It occurred to me, not long ago, that I will probably never experience anything like that ever again. That’s okay. Sometimes I come close.
It happened last night, while I was reading Broken Silence, a book of translated articles, interviews and art by Japanese feminists, which I checked out on the fabulously simple advice of Anemone: to see what Japanese feminists said about, well, Japanese feminism. (Face, meet palm. Why did I not think of that?)
The article I was reading focused on masculine and feminine forms of speech in the Japanese language, and it got me thinking about some things. First, I made connections to the way a number of characters from various anime speak and what that’s supposed to say about them. (The title of this blog isn’t Fangirl Saves the World for no reason, you know.) Second, and more importantly, I was thinking about Japanese as I have bee taught to speak it, and I realized all of the causal forms we’ve been taught are the “masculine” casual forms.
Now, since “feminine” casual forms tend to be softer and less direct, maybe learning the “masculine” forms is easier for an English speaker, who exists in a more high content/low context environment anyway; feminine speech patterns in Japanese are even less direct than masculine ones. Or, you know, “masculine” is “default,” and therefore the one that we’re taught as people learning Japanese as a second language.
More important than that is the difference in the use of kango, words of Chinese origin typically associated with academia and intelligence. “The more important the topic … the higher the frequency of kango.” Relating back up to the relative lack of directness in feminine speech and the “heavy” or “still” feeling kango conveys, women tend not to use it nearly so often as men, even in academic papers, because they are not as familiar with its use. Women, therefore, are seen as less inclined to academia than men.
Considering the relatively low rates of women at prestigious universities like Todai and the fact that education at a prestigious university or beyond undergraduate studies is often seen as harming women’s prospects more than helping, this information about kango is just another log in the fire.
So what does it all mean and what do I intend to do with that knowledge? Honestly, I don’t know. For now, gather more knowledge; seek to understand more ways in which oppression works. From there, I have no idea.
I may have mentioned, but I am currently studying abroad just outside of Tokyo. (I’m an East Asian Studies major, so it makes sense.) Two of the courses I’m taking are anthropology/sociology courses that focus on ethnography, a big part of which is learning to understand another culture in their own terms. It’s a lot harder than it looks, but I’m working on it.
One thing that came up was that a good ethnographer should be a cultural relativist and not judge; don’t say “what they do here is bad or weird/not as good as what I do at home.” I feel like that ought to be a given in an age of globalization. I’m good with that; I don’t believe any culture is inherently better or worse than others. (I don’t think I would be majoring in what I am if I did.)
There is one sticking point for me, though: as a whole (and, despite what some might think, Japan is not a homogeneous/monocultural country), Japanese culture is still very steeped in sexism. (I’m not saying that American culture isn’t also still deeply sexist, but because I’m not used to the ways that sexism operates in Japan, it’s easier for me to pin down as “this is sexism” rather than “this is normal.”) For example, most high schools do roll call by calling all of the boys first, and then all of the girls.
Not exactly a welcoming environment, is it?
There were times in high school (never in college, since I go to a women’s college) where I felt that the boys were trying to push me out – especially during junior year, when I was one of three girls in a class of thirty (it was a web design/computer animation votech program) – but the institution never made me feel unwelcome or like a second-class citizen.
Another example of sexism in education is the college ranking system here. My professor said that the process is a bit mysterious, but one thing that is known is that the higher the ratio of women to men in a university, the lower the university will be ranked. The university where I am studying, Kanda University of International Studies, is ranked around the B/B+ range, and until more men start attending (the students are mostly female), it will not be promoted to an A-/A ranking college.
Tokyo University, meanwhile, has an almost exclusively male student body – particularly problematic when you consider most Diet members are Todai grads – and is the most highly ranked university in the country. This ranking system is not about equality and having an even number of male and female students.
I have ideological issues with that; as an American, true, but as an American feminist. The feminist in me is not okay with those things, but the ethnographer in me is telling her to cool it, to try and understand it from a Japanese point-of-view.
I am, and I do try, but whatever the reason, the ultimate result still seems wrong to me.
So my question is this: can I be a good ethnographer, and work towards understanding Japanese society from a Japanese prospective, and a good feminist who notices and takes an issue with the way that society operates, or would that just be ethnocentricity? Or should I keep my white, Western nose out of it?
Let’s start with this: I’m not a good feminist. I’m still working through my own issues around race, class, gender, sexuality. You name it, I’m still working through my issues on it. On the whole, I try to keep my privileged mouth shut, because most of the time, I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s possible that I don’t know what I’m talking about in this post, either – but here’s how I’m starting to learn how to talk about it.
I made notes of as many identities as I could think of on the “about me” page,* so I won’t list them again here. They might be worth looking over if you want to know where I’m coming from.
I mentioned in my open letter to Feministing that they had strongly influenced me as a budding feminist, which, given what I’ve recently discovered, makes me uncomfortable. A lot of people have a lot of problems with their brand of feminism – what some have called narcissistic feminism – and I don’t want to be the kind of feminist that people within the movement have problems with. I have problems with a lot of those problems; I don’t want to be an ableist feminist, a racist feminist, a transphobic feminist … I want to be a feminist feminist.
But where to begin? When one of the biggest feminist blogs has failed you in this regard, what to do and where to go? Go everywhere. Follow links left by commenters to their blogs, and the blogs of other people. When you stumble across a blogger you agree with, don’t just read her blog, read her blogroll.†
For that matter, when you read a blog you don’t agree with – specifically, one that makes you feel defensive or uncomfortable – examine why. Maybe they’re just transmisogynist/homophobic/racist/classist/ableist/generally asshatty douchebags whose opinions are better left ignored. Maybe – and this is why you have to examine why you feel so uncomfortable reading what they’re writing – they’re hitting you where it hurts: right in the privilege zone, which I imagine to be located around the solar plexus. (Have you ever been kicked in the solar plexus? I was, once, during martial arts: it hurts, and it sort-of makes you feel like you can’t breathe and want to throw up – all in all, quite the unpleasant experience.)
Confession time: sometimes Womanist Musings makes me feel uncomfortable which is why I keep reading it. Renee has some brilliant insights, many of which force me to examine my own privilege. It’s uncomfortable, like when someone tells you that there’s something stuck in your teeth … as you’re heading home from the party. Only it’s worse, because it’s not just that you’ve looked silly all day without meaning to or realizing it, but because you’ve been hurting people, possibly for your whole life, without meaning to or realizing it. Obviously, it’s more comfortable for you to just not know – but it’s not more comfortable for the people you’ve been unconsciously inflicting your privilege on.
While we’re on the topic of unconsciously inflicting your privilege, this is also why I don’t comment on WM: because I have issues that I still need to work through before I can be anything more than a well-meaning troll. Well meaning, certainly, but on the whole, my contributions would still detract from a generally more intelligent, more experienced dialog. Sometimes, it’s okay to speak up, but sometimes you should just sit down and shut the hell up.
(Never, ever try to tell someone else how it is for them. I shouldn’t have to say this, but it does happen and now stop it. The oppressor does not get to tell the oppressed what is and is not offensive. Write that down and stick it next to your monitor. Look at it every time you engage in conversation online about feminist issues.)
(Oh, and notice I made that a link? Don’t use other people’s ideas without crediting them; it’s not just good feminism, it’s good writing – whether that be blogging or academic writing or fanfiction.)
So there it is. Perhaps it’s a bit conceited or overblown to call this post “how to be a better feminist,” but I figured it might at least catch your attention. I’ll add the caveat “how to learn to be a better feminist if you’re a college-educated white woman just getting involved in this whole equality thing” (Have you noticed the blog title? I’m all about hyperbole.) I hope you even learned something, or found a link to another, more experienced and articulate blogger who taught you something.
(Also, reading real books is a good thing to do – but books, like blogs, tend to be dominated by a privileged “mainstream” few. Also, they’re expensive.)
*with the exception of a distinct class identity, because I’m not sure where I belong in that spectrum (more on this later)
†hi there, feminist men with feminist blogs! I don’t mean to erase you, but in my experience, the majority of bloggers (that I read) are female (actually, I read one blog authored by a man)
So hi there, Feministing!
Recently, there was a post about chivalry that included some ableist language. I know you’ve been contacted about it already, by bloggers with more personal, feminist and writing experience than me. This blog is just a baby in the blogosphere. I’m twenty and able bodied, so I don’t have much life experience. I can’t offer suggestions that haven’t already been brought to the table about how to right this.
What I’d like to write about is why you should fix this.
During my first year in college, I started really getting into feminism and feminist theory, because my college is awesome. Feministing was one of the first sites that I started reading and, while I’ve read a few others off and on since then, it remains one of the few I turn to daily for news and information. A lot of what’s been posted has brought to my attention ideas and issues that I never would considered otherwise; they simply never would have occurred to me. I’ve read and participated in some fascinating discussions that have expanded my horizons and helped me to better understand and articulate why I believe what I believe.
That’s awesome. Feministing has been one of the biggest influences on me as a feminist. I’m still new to the game and I’ve got a lot to learn, but I got my introduction to applied feminist theory reading your blog. I’m probably not the only one; you’re listed as the #1 feminist blog on TakePart.
That in mind, I’m asking you to listen to what Meloukhia and others have said. I’ve heard complaints about Feministing being classist, transphobic, ableist … all of these are feminist issues. Nobody is perfect, but when any of us are called out on our privilege, the thing to do is to listen to those who are bringing it to our attention and stop that particular behavior – even better, to start new, more healthy and accepting behaviors. Since Feministing has introduced me – and others, I’m sure – to feminism, I’ve doubtlessly been influenced by the patterns of thought – conscious or not – that permeate the site. (eta: What I’m trying to say is I am one of the young women who has been influenced by your “fun” version of feminism, and it bothers me that what I’ve learned/been taught is so problematic. Thanks Annaham for articulating what I was trying to say, before I even started trying to say it.)
What I’m saying is that as such an important feminist site, I hope Feministing will take responsibility for educating other feminists – new and experienced – in a way that really is equitable to all.
This is a word that I say a lot. It makes my mother cringe and even I – with a sailor’s mouth – am often surprised by how very vulgar it sounds. (I swear a lot and I have for a long time. Maybe I’ll post about that later.)
Douchebags are a repository of unnecessary harm done to women. They are symbols of the outdated thinking that vaginas are dirty and need cleansing, and further they are symbols of the idiotic, self-hating mindset that is sold to women.
… and there you have it. As one of the commentors adds,
Douches are not only a unnecessary product, marketed to women based on vagina-phobia, but because they are an actual object there is no “othering” of another group of people. Unlike the majority of insults, most with which we as feminists are particularly familiar, this insult is not based historically on oppressing certain members of the population. One who deserves the insult “douche” does so because they, like the product are unnecessary and harmful to specifically women, and generally all people.
This I found particularly enlightening. When I really thought about it, I wouldn’t want to say “bitch” – a term I think should be reclaimed, as it has been by Bitch Magazine – or “bastard.” One implies that women should sit down, shut up and be nice all of the time – and if we dare to stand up for what we want, we’re failing as women. Not groovy. Neither is “bastard,” an insult based on being a child born out of wedlock, and in a sex positive/non-heteronormative world view, we don’t have room for insults based, as the commentor said, on oppressing certain social groups.
Thus, “douche.” Expect to see it tossed around quite a lot here.
President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I knew I voted for the right guy.