Sunday, March 26, 2006

Feminist blogging

The thing about blogs is they let peoeple talk about whatever they like. So there are an awful lot of blogs out there about women's experiences. Sometimes I wonder if this could be used for something more. If the barrier between feminist blogging, which is primarily about other women's lives, and blogging on 'women's topics' where feminist women (and non-feminist women) write about their lives, could be broken down. What would it look like if feminists who were writing about body image issues and reproduction, linked more to personal stories on weight-loss blogs and mother blogs (and yes it's scary that those are the two female blogging topics that come to mind) and vice-versa. Because I do think that feminist analysis is stronger the more it links to women's experience, and I think talking about women's experience can be something more, it can be consciouness raising.

This is in response to the great 'false advertising' debate. I've read a lot of posts on this issue. I feel like I understand the issues around the role women's bodies play in a relationship, particularly in middle-class white America, but I think many of those observations would apply outside that specific context (incidentally I've also developed a plan, if I am in a relationship with someone who thinks a change in my appearance is 'false advertising' I will simply tell a couple of my female friends about it, and they will take care of him).

But while I know more, I'm still feeling really ambivilant about the debate, because I'm not sure it's what I'd call feminism. In supposedly feminst blogs and comments women have been attacked for feeling like they owe it to their husbands to keep their weight down. From I Blame the Patriarchy

Regarding said ass: Women of some races naturally have asses like that. Women of some races naturally have hair like that too. But the kid’s white, and both hair and butt look bought to me. Also besides, being as they are both staunch supporters of the patriarchy, I assume she’s read the fine print. As soon as her ass goes south, he’ll have (and probably take) the option to find another, younger butt.
I get it, I really do. I understand the frustration, the desire to get angry at a woman for accepting and perpetuating so much shit. When I read this:
My boyfriend, the man I thought I was going to marry, brok up with me after 4.5 years. Because I gained weight. To be fair, it was a significant gain (about 25 pounds).
I wanted to yell at the woman why the fuck are you being fair to a man who leaves you because you've gained 11 kilos? You should be dancing Numfar's dance of joy that you got out. But I don't think that that helps build anything, except the idea that I think I'm better than her. And I'm not, I have my own issues, and I don't write about them on my blog, except with eight layers of feminist analysis. But does that just make me less honest than her?

Despite these ugly personal attacks, there were real benefits from reading so many different perspectives on one issue. One of the things that really disturbed me, and showed how good the patriarchy (still don't like the term) is at colonising our minds, was that we shouldn't just want to attain beauty standards to catch a mate, we should want them for ourselves. From a comment on I blame the patriarchy
I’ve met women who have “let themselves go” after marriage out of the idea that they already have their man, so they don’t have to try anymore. To them, the idea of putting any kind of effort into themselves was a tool to get a mate, and once they had the mate, they could stop doing those things. I’m not saying that one has to wear make-up, exercise, whatever to be happy, but it disturbs me greatly to think that I should only care about my appearance to trap a man, and once I’ve got him I can just “let myself go.”
A slightly different version of the same thought on Tertia
It doesn’t matter if you are 10, 15 or 50 pounds heavier than you were when you got married; if you take pride in yourself and dress nicely, do your hair, spray some perfume on, wear pretty earrings etc, you will feel nice and you will look nice. And I am sure that is all that most men want. They want us to like ourselves and to be happy. Because they know, the happier we are within ourselves the sexier we will feel, and that can only mean good things for the long suffering husband. A happy wife makes a happy husband.
Unfortunately, I can't really have a conversation here about what these women have said, I'd be attacking them, attacking what they said. Informal, unsure conversations, where you learn stuff together - it's easier to do that in person.

Which is a shame, because the analysis I found most interesting came from blogs that would probably identify more as Mommy blogs than feminist blogs.

Moxie seemed afraid that everyone would hate her when she came to I Blame the Patriarchy, but I thought her analysis was really useful.
I've been thinking about this topic all day. The notion that a woman owes it to her husband or her relationship to keep her body thin (or whatever way the culture decides is beautiful--I'm sure there are women in Africa who feel pressure to stay fat) is part of the truth that when a woman gets married her body no longer belongs to her, but instead is the property of and a symbol of the marital unit.

It's the woman's responsibility to get and stay pregnant. Even if she gets pregnant easily, she's the one who takes the entire physical hit of the pregnancy. Heartburn, acne, sciatica, backache, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, PSD, tendonitis, skin tags, stretch marks, insomnia, swelling. And the labor and delivery is a horror, featuring pain and often cutting or tearing, even when it's relatively easy. Even if a woman loses all the pregnancy weight, her body is never the same. She sacrifices her body for the family unit.
She goes on to explore what happens if a woman can't conceive and how this changes as the baby gets older. It's a really good point, and so much more of what so many other writers say makes more sense when it's put in context.

I've been reading Jody from Raising WEG for a while, I love her analysis and her writing (and freak out at the very thought of triplets).
As Moxie points out far more eloquently than I could, stress and our mental responses to stress affect our eating habits, too. And exercise that comes naturally to single people gets very hard for parents to find. And I'll also point out that I don't believe we are our bodies, and that there's a difference between living well in the body you have, and trying to make your body into something it was, or should be, so that it looks better to other people. It's been my experience that it's not any more work to learn to love your body as it becomes.


Your body isn't your self. Your relationship with food isn't your relationship with your body. There are many ways to be attractive, and they don't remain static over time. And the thinner women in our neighborhood? I'm pretty sure at least two of them are anorexic. Anything is better than an eating disorder.
I'm going to end with my favourite story. The one that makes me think that maybe this sort of conversation is worthwhile. Maybe it will give women strength, and show them that they are not alone. This is Jen Creer from inkstains
The reason I thought this is because my husband clearly thought differently about me when I was thin and then when I had gained weight in my marriage. One year, when we had two small children, he started running and playing tennis and racquetball and lifting weights. He told me finally that he couldn’t sit around and become a fat slob like me. He said, “No man can respect a man with a fat wife. If you don’t lose the weight, I will leave. If you gain more weight, I will leave.”

I will never forget that conversation. We were sitting in the bathroom at two o’clock in the morning. I was sitting on the lid of the toilet, and he was sitting next to the tub. Our sixteen-month son was sitting in the steamy tub, suffering from the croup. Our four-year-old son was asleep in one bedroom, and our three-week old baby was asleep in another.

Yes, that’s right. I was three-weeks postpartum when my husband said those words to me. And the time that he chose to get back into shape? Was when I was pregnant with his third child. I had a total of three C-sections, and I was not even allowed to pick up our middle child, let alone exercise when he sat and said the coldest words I’ve ever heard from someone who was supposed to love me more than anyone.
Ok that's not happy, but her next sentance was:
That was the night I stopped loving him
There's more to the story. Awful horrible stuff that makes me furious, but three years later she did leave him.

I do think bringing together different women's experiences of the same problem can be helpful. I even think this debate is. But without trust, without sisterhood (with all the problems that brings), I'm not sure this is building anything much. I'm worried that it's just making 'feminists' another group of women with special interests and experiences.

Also posted at Alas


  1. Well, it feels like there's a need to go back to consciousness-raising 101; even a lot of the so-called feminist blogs to me feel very "hi! I just arrived from the past!" to me sometimes.

    But yeah, the ironic part, to me, is that one of the big bugaboos in traditional female socialization is that we're all supposed to be at each others' throats all the time, right? Not enough to go around, right? I think we see this sort of thing playing out here; except instead of men (in the self-styled feminists' part) being fought over, it's...I don't know, attention, or approval, or something (which is really the bottom line with the artificial scarcity fight over men anyway). So you still get a lot of "tsk, tsk! psst psst psst psst! look at HER," because of someone's lifestyle choices or sex lives or god forbid appearance; but in a way it's almost worse, to me anyway, because some people have armored themselves with a superficial layer of ideology and now think it's just fine to make these judgments, as long as they're done in the name of "feminism" or "patriarchy critique" as opposed to plain ol' tearing down other women. It sucks.

  2. I don't think there's any excuse for being fat and not taking pride in one's appearance whatever gender you are.

    I hold women to that standard because I hold myself to that standard also, and because I know most women judge me on all sorts of factors extraneous to my personality.