Monday, April 18, 2005

What Kind of Cat are You?

(with apologies to Billy Jonas, whose music out you should check if you have kids or know kids--it's a lot of fun)

Bitch wrote a great post pointing out how trusting women to be moral agents is at the heart of choice politics, and a follow-up post about feminisms. Go read them.

As for feminisms, well, my own is a lot like Dr. Bitch's, I think, though with less interest in shoes. She says: "I do not believe that there are no differences between men and women; but I believe that what differences there are have been vastly exaggerated by social conditioning, and I reject essentialism." I'd argue that it is surpassingly difficult to specify differences between men and women, precisely because the social conditioning starts at birth or before, and it may be impossible to have any sense of what the differences necessarily mean. (We can talk about what they mean in practice, in our society, with the social conditioning we received, but the meaning of given differences depends in large part on the meaning we assign to those differences. Meaning isn't inherent in difference.) And, really, this is the root of my own feminism. About 32 years ago, I stormed up the stairs in my parents' home, asking why my brother didn't have to fold the laundry but my sister and I did. My mother answered that it was because he was a boy. Although I couldn't (and wouldn't) have phrased it to her this way, I could not understand what having a penis had to do with not folding laundry. Did it get in the way somehow? And, really, that moment helped crystallize things for me. I didn't have much outlet for my realizations, except when I read Ms at the public library (which I did religiously), but it was a start. It's all the more amusing, in some ways, given the utterly traditional divisions of labor in my parents' and grandparents' homes.

But that's also a testament to several of the men in my early life--my dad, for one, who has always thought I could do anything, and my maternal grandfather, who thought the same thing. I suspect it helped that my brother didn't come along until I was six--i.e., I was the oldest son as well as the oldest daughter, in some ways--and it definitely helped that I was smart and precocious, and my family values intelligence, and it probably helped that my dad and grandfather are/were men who spent a fair amount of their time and energy advocating and considering questions of justice of one kind or another. For people of intelligence, and they are/were, it's difficult to believe that workers should be free but that women should be subjugated. I'm sure their feminism is imperfect, but it is from them, in large part, that I learned the principles that undergird my own feminism.

And that leads to another point. Bitch says: "My feminism likes men, and is sympathetic to the ways that they, too, suffer from narrow definitions of gender." I have to agree with that, and I recognize that my agreement is in part a result of the extraordinary men I've known. I have several friends who have played a huge role in raising their children (including one stay-at-home dad and another who did it for six months) and who wouldn't have it any other way. I've been mentored primarily by men. When I was broke, depressed, unemployed, and being forced to change careers (after the graduate school fiasco), a group of men were my unfailing supporters in their own ways. Have I also been subjected to sexism by men? Have I met many men who happen to be assholes? Have I met men who want little or nothing to do with their children or who expect that their wives will do the large part of the child-rearing (or, more likely, aren't even aware of the work involved in child-rearing)? Yes and yes and yes. But I can't bring myself to condemn men as a category--I can't even bring myself to regard men as a category rather than as individuals. I do not regard the biological fact of maleness as the problem--I don't even regard the social fact of maleness as the problem, even though its manifestations may be at the heart of many problems.

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