Beyond The Body: Women Just Want The Patriarchy

LOL. No they don’t.

Ya’ll. I’ve received so much encouragement and support from so many women and men about my Beyond The Body book series. It really has been an honor to talk about feminism here in this space and on Facebook with you all. Several of you have messaged me with gratitude and thanks for expressing things that you have been unable to express or illuminating something you’ve never thought before and I am just so glad to open up this conversation with you and be an encouragement to you. Feminism really is an amazing movement to help bond women and men together and dismantle systems of oppression. So, THANK YOU for reading!

But then sometimes I get other types of messages from (mostly) men complaining about my feminism. I received one such email from a guy who I’m not close with or who I even respect, but with whom I’ve known for a few years. It went something to the effect of “blah, blah, blah, your feminist blog really has me concerned. Please read this article because it really seems as though you’re villainizing patriarchy.” LOL. Silly. I AM villainizing patriarchy. I will also add that this man copied my husband on the email to make sure that we’re all on the same page and to make known that he is talking to me with my husband’s knowledge and approval.

No, I’m not even kidding. Can we all talk about this article? It’s from The Federalist, which should tip us off that this should be really good, and it is titled “What Women Really Want Is The Patriarchy.” LOL. Every time I write it I laugh. Maybe to keep from throwing up, but really because it is just that funny. It is so antiquated, foolish, and just plain old wrong that I’m not going to entertain this article with any in-depth intellectual criticism. It just doesn’t deserve it. Where I’d like to pause and focus is on its author. Nicole Russell. This poor woman has lost all of herself to this deeply harmful and oppressive system and she has no idea which way is up.  She believes that what women want are rough around the edges macho men who don’t believe that rape is really a thing and who take what’s theres and don’t ask questions. Well, Nicole, you can thank a feminist who worked and fought really hard for you to get your words published in the male dominated media. It wasn’t very long ago that even your flattering words about patriarchy weren’t worth anything and were scoffed at as being a trifle and a menial frivolity that wasted your mind. You know, thinking was once a man’s thing. Lastly, I’d like to point out that contrary to Nicole’s argument I am married to a feminist husband and we have a wonderful, loving, respectful, and existing marriage. Every time he denies himself to support and lift me up I want to jump his sexy bones. And when I see him with our daughter showing her how to love and be loved by men in a way that doesn’t oppress or suppress her I am so proud and full of respect for him. That’s the world that we are creating for our children. One that frees women and men from oppressive and harmful stereotypes and roles. One that helps to preserve marriages and families.

I don’t have much else to say about her or her article or even the man who sent it me. But this is my answer. My very public answer that I didn’t ask my husband’s permission to write or publish.

Beyond The Body: My Trouble With Abortion

Feminism is for Everbody
bell hooks

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I have to be upfront and honest with you. Abortion is the issue in feminism that I struggle with the most and it’s very difficult to have a conversation about it in our social climate. Either you are a baby murderer if you sympathize with the pro-choice crowd or you are a fundamentalist anti-feminist Christian if you sympathize with the anti-choice crowd.  The binary is blinding and makes me run from confrontation and avoid the conversation all together. Which just isn’t productive or helpful. There’s room for me at this table. From the outset of this conversation I will reject extreme binaries; I do not believe that this issue should be as polarizing as it is and that it has several answers, but even more importantly, it often has no answers. Where there is no room at this table are for people who will not entertain that perhaps they are wrong and will not consider other’s opinions, experiences, or answers. I haven’t brewed enough coffee for you and quite honestly, I have no desire to hear what you think of my uterus, my sex, or my babies. For the sake of transparency I will say from the outset that I am pro-choice. I know that claiming that identity immediately isolates many of you in this conversation, however I think that owning our beliefs and opinions and pinpointing their existence on the spectrum of identity is important. So, with that, onward.

bell hooks is extremely helpful in her chapter “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights.” She explains that abortion rights were never meant to be front and center in the feminist movement: reproductive rights were. As she explains in the first chapters, the mass media has had a tremendous negative affect on feminism. It is not in any way intellectual nor does it seek to understand what feminism is or believes. Because it is historically very conservative, anti-intellectual, and dominated by white conservative males, the mass media has latched on to abortion as the sole reproductive issue for the feminist movement, and it simply is not. Radical feminism, again, does not simply want to change the patriarchal system, it wants to completely get rid of it. That means that abortion cannot be at the center of the reproductive rights conversation. It means that access to preventative health care, safe contraceptives, menstrual hygiene products, sex education, and knowledge about the risk of unnecessary cesarean sections and hysterectomies are the bread and butter of reproductive rights. When radical feminism is actually allowed to speak, all of these issues then become centralized in the conversation about women’s reproductive rights, women take control of their bodies from the male dominated media and healthcare field, and lo and behold the need for abortions would diminish. Isn’t that something?   That’s why the attacks on Planned Parenthood infuriate me. Abortions are such a small percentage of what their clinics do. They provide necessary services, often for free, to women who lack the class privileges to gain access to them. In this radical feminist paradigm of reproductive rights, women have so many choices concerning their bodies. It’s rarely a choice between receiving an abortion or not. But that’s where the media, the church, and conservative feminist thinkers have latched on.

So then, where do I struggle with abortion? I struggle with its violence. I struggle with its marginalization of children. I struggle with understanding why we scientifically frame this conversation around the conception of life’s beginnings. I believe that it is manipulative and violent to frame the conversation around if life takes place at conception or birth. Is it a baby or a fetus? Does it deserve rights or not? And if it does have rights, do they trump the rights of the mother? What rights do we have over our own bodies? What rights do we have over other’s bodies, both a woman’s and a fetus’s? See how complicated it gets? See how choosing a concrete answer can be manipulative and harmful either way? Because here’s the rub: I don’t believe there is an answer. I don’t know if life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t know if we have a moral responsibility to protect unborn babies or fetuses. I simply don’t know.  But what I do know is that men have historically attempted to control women’s bodies and sexuality and we must frame the conversation around that truth. This is about life but it is also about control. Pushing aside the concerns that women, like me, have about the violence of abortions, concerns about safety and invasiveness, concerns about marginalizing and framing pregnancies and children as being “unwanted” are dangerous as well.

Toni Morrison has said that, “everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” And we must be careful how we talk about children and pregnancies. As many unwanted pregnancies there are, there are even more unwanted children. We cannot divorce children and pregnancies. We cannot divorce humanity and life from conception. When women are shamed for being sexual and becoming pregnant, that’s when children become so unwanted and scorned. In that way, we cannot divorce patriarchy’s affects on violence against children.  Children are so unwanted and scorned because patriarchy has shamed women’s sexuality and bodies that create children. Because women’s sex and pregnancy often are shamed, so too are the birthed children. That’s why I believe that abortion is a violent and defensive reaction against patriarchy. Patriarchy says that sex, pregnancy, and children are shameful, are less than, and unwanted and abortion is then the answer to that shame. We see this most apparently in cases of pregnancy in rape. The violence of rape is a direct result and symptom of patriarchy and abortion is then the response to that patriarchy. It is simply not enough to defensively react against rape with abortion; we must actively work against violence against women, rape culture, and patriarchy. Abortion should absolutely be a right for women who want to have control over their own bodies, however I believe that answering patriarchy’s imposed shame on women should be a call do what radical feminism has always done: to dismantle patriarchy, not simply react against it.

I’ll close by saying that feminism has worked to help oppressed children since it inception. Patriarchy has worked to harm children. Patriarchy works to control women, their bodies and children. It says that the sole purpose of a woman is to make and have babies, only under male control. Materially disadvantaged women and their children are hurt most in patriarchy. When organizations like Planned Parenthood are banned, the women are not given access to necessary reproductive services and healthcare and the resulting children are born into a cycle of having limited or no access to social mobility. That’s what patriarchy does and what it is responsible for. That’s why we must not simply react against it but actively work to dismantle it. So, yes. I’m pro-choice. But I’m more importantly anti-patriarchy. That’s how it will be dismantled.

 

 

 

Beyond The Body: Feminism Is For Everybody Part 2

“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

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-bell hooks

So many people have no idea what feminism is. Most of what people believe it to be is what they have learned by word of mouth, the mainstream media, their old racist uncle, or Beyonce (who’s feminism, by the way, has recently exploded in a very real and important way). When our culture is dominated by white capitalist patriarchy, it’s no wonder then that popular beliefs about feminism are negative. Most of the important feminist theory that has been written exists in the academy where it has, as she suggests, become depoliticized and fallen subject to patriarchal academic jargon – it’s only audience is an academic one because, really, in all honesty, they’re the only ones that can read and interpret it. Feminism has had a very important and necessary role in academia in order to legitimize it as a theoretical movement and advance its critical thought, but it required feminist thinkers to adopt patriarchal practices of holding up a veil of exclusion where only the smartest of the smart, the often white elite, could have access to, read, and understand it.

What bell hooks is doing in this book is plucking feminism out of the academic cloud and bringing it back down to earth for us: everyday lay people. She’s laying out a very general history of feminism that is mostly based on her experience with it in the 70’s and 80’s when it began to explode on the scene in academia while she was in college. Can you imagine having the experience with feminism as she does? To see it emerge in the university classroom for the first time? To have old white male professor’s syllabi being challenged for the first time for only including old white male’s for their students to read. It must have been super charged with energy and excitement to see these establishments change.

Where I will stop and critique this book for a moment, because it feels super awkward to even begin to critique the brilliant bell hooks, is that she falls short on a lot of the important history and theorization of feminism at the expense of bringing the book’s language to ground level. I would like to see a more complex and nuanced definition of sexism. She says over and over that feminism’s job is not to solely bring equality for women in the work place and in other social spaces, or to fight for gender-justice, but to confront our own sexist thoughts and behavior first and then move to dismantle sexism and oppression across class, sex, and race. But I kept waiting for her to explain what exactly sexism is. Do you know what it is? Could you identify sexism if you were to see it or experience it? Would you be able to take a look at yourself, your beliefs, and your actions and pinpoint how you have accepted and perpetrate sexism against men and other women? This is where I would like for us to begin. In order to begin this journey of understanding, believing, and accepting feminist thoughts, we must confront the ways that we have dominated and exploited other women.

If I may, I’d like to offer us a definition of sexism: it’s any type of prejudice, stereotype, or discrimination that is based on gender and leads to exclusion, exploitation, domination, and oppression. As you can imagine, this is mostly acted out against women, but be sure to understand that sexism can absolutely harm men and can be perpetrated by women. hooks suggests that more conservative reformist feminist thinkers have only chosen to emphasize gender equality – women should have the same equal rights as men. But that is not what revolutionary feminist thinkers had in mind. Feminism is not interested in merely creating equality. Actually, feminism does not necessarily believe in equality. Men and women are different, actually everyone is different! We all exist in different classes, races, geographies, ages, cultures, and genders. So equality is almost futile. What revolutionary feminism wants is to “transform [the existing patriarchal system] to bring an end to patriarchy and sexism.” In other words, feminism wants to end the exclusion, exploitation, domination, and oppression of people based on the prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination based on gender. That’s a much more powerful action than merely seeking for more women in the work place and equal pay. In revolutionary feminism, that will be addressed and fixed and MORE. Maybe the difficult part in this feminist paradigm is that we can’t even imagine a world where patriarchy and sexism don’t exist, so how can we work for an end to it? It is possible, but first we must begin the difficult work of looking inside ourselves and confront the ways that we have internalized sexism and have exploited other women. Ugh. Do we want to even go there? To look inside and see how desperately sexism has infected our own beliefs and practices? Maybe it is easier to just demand equality- we wouldn’t have to do the ugly work of realizing how we are complicit in this system.

Questions:

  1. How have you dominated and exploited other women? In what ways do you accept and believe sexist beliefs and practices?
  2. How have you been dominated and exploited by other women? Describe the ways in which you notice other women adopting sexist thinking and behavior or being at war and in competition with each other?
  3. Talk about how you reacted to hooks’ assertion that feminism is not an identity but is a political movement? She says that many assume that you can be a feminist without fundamentally challenging and changing themselves or the culture. How do you need to be changed? How do you see our culture needing to change?
  4. Finally, what moved you the most in these chapters? Where did you find yourself being challenged, confused, angry, or excited? Explain your response to what you have read.

Beyond The Body: Feminism Is For Everybody Part 1

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Welcome to the very first post in my Beyond the Body feminist book series! I’m going to be spending the summer reading books of fiction, non-fiction, and essays that offer a fresh, encouraging, and intersectional perspective on feminism and writing about them here in my blog. I know that there are several of you who will be joining me in reading these books and I’m so glad to foster an environment of mutual discovery, conversation, and encouragement. Throughout the book series, I will give a (very loose) reading list and schedule for us to follow and offer my insights and questions for us to discuss in the comments section. Please feel free to give your opinions and reactions to the literature. That’s where this series is really going to come alive; when we bring all of our own experience, stories, and baggage to the table. If you disagree with me or the author, let us know! Voice your opinion! If it changes your worldview and completely rocks your world, let it out! This is going to be a lot of fun and I hope that we all learn something new to share.

So, with that. Let’s begin.


Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks

We’ve all been there. A person calls themself a feminist and everyone around them gets all weird and shifty. We kind of stare at them and then down at our feet wondering what in the hell that even means. A feminist. They must be very angry, dislike men, or at least have strong opinions about men if they’re going to publicly tell people that’s what they identify as. What I believe hooks does most astonishingly in her introduction is open wide the gap that is between popular understanding of feminism and actual feminist thought. That chasm is very deep and wide. The feminism that people believe it to be is far from what it actually is. It is not a group of hairy, man hating women. I mean, not entirely. Let’s just be honest here. Feminism is much more nuanced, complex and beautiful than most people have ever thought it to be. It has gone through many different phases over the years, or as feminist theorists call it, waves. We are currently in the transition towards 4th wave feminism. What feminism is today is vastly different from what it was a hundred years ago. The cultural needs of women have changed. The values of our culture have changed. More people have raised their voices and declared that feminism has failed to meet the needs of the myriad of values reflected in black women, post-colonial women, native women, muslim women, trans women, rural women, urban women, queer women, non-western women, and on and on and on. And feminism has loudly responded with an attempt to shift and change to address the various intersections of where feminism meets the female body. There are no two women who are alike. We all have different experiences and stories. All of our values are different. If feminism is going to do what bell hooks suggests that it does, which is to “end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” than it must meet women and men in their physical, spiritual, emotional, and cultural space to address and enact change. To work towards peace. To freely be who were are. In this paradigm, men and women both benefit. Sexism and patriarchy are the bad guy, or, er, I mean thing. Men are not the enemy. Sexism and patriarchy are. Systems of institutionalized sexism are the enemy and feminism works to dismantle it. In this way, everyone benefits.

Here are some questions for you to think about. Feel free to discuss them in the comments:
1. What have you believed about feminism? How would you define it? Would you ever identify or describe yourself as being one?
2. How does our culture react towards feminists or portray them?
3.Why do you believe, or not believe, feminism is important? What can it do or not do for you personally? That can be either positive or negative.
4. How has sexism and patriarchy personally affected you? How have you benefitted from it? How has it harmed or oppressed you? You can think about this question personally, communally, familially, nationally, globally, religiously, based on gender, race, class, or your sexuality.

 

Finally, here is the schedule for Feminism Is For Everybody. We’ll take it slow, reading 25-30 pages a week. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and to start the first chapters with you this week!

June 8: page 1-24

June 15: page 25-47

June 22: page 48-71

June 29: page 72-99

July 6: page 100-118

Beyond the Body: A Feminist Book Series

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Made by Moonrise Whims

Since I’ve had a lot of time for personal reading, writing, and gardening these last few weeks, I’ve decided to expand my own intellectual journey beyond myself and invite you all to join me! And since I’m just going to assume that you’ve already agreed, I have some fun things planned for you all this summer! Starting June 1st, I will be starting a summer reading series focusing on feminism and gender issues.  I would like to take you all on an intellectual (and intersectional!) journey through womanhood, race, class, violence, work, and our physical bodies that expands our understanding of feminism as an identity and move us toward understanding feminism as a politic. The desire to castigate women and men who declare themselves as feminists, to me, points to an anti-intellectualism that does not understand the basic theoretical principals of feminism, which will be the foundation for what I will be exploring with you over the summer: the bread and butter theoretical principals of feminism and their reach into our physical lives.

The name of my summer book series will be called Beyond the Body.  I’m curating my reading list now, however the first book will be “Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics” by bell hooks. I’d like to encourage you to read along with me! I will spend one month on each book with weekly discussions here in my blog that flesh out the reading in quarters. I will start reading on June 1st, next Wednesday, will post a introduction discussion to get our juices going. Sound good? I’m so excited!

Also, I’ll just throw this out there, but if you life in Norfolk, I’d LOVE to have you read along with me and join me for an in person discussion group (women and men alike)! I’ll continue our conversations here on the blog to expand our discussions and to include more voices. I’m really looking forward to reading, discussing and discovering feminism in a way that empowers and convicts us all.