This piece has been substantially edited from its original version.
Not having children = “operating like a man.” Feminists with children make this equivalency sometimes when they are discussing their lot in the workplace. But I want to point out, there is nothing about my child-free state that is remotely similar to manhood in patriarchy, up to and including my relegation to the pink-collar ghetto despite my hard-won master’s degree. Why do the foremost proponents of “women’s agency” remain silent, at best, regarding those of us who have chosen to refuse one of the primary ways women are oppressed in patriarchy?
“Why should you have to look like a man to be perceived as tough and powerful?” It is always an unfortunate assumption that “looking like a man” or “looking like a woman” means anything outside of patriarchal categories. News flash: Comfortable clothes, like t-shirts, flannel, jeans, and sturdy shoes, don’t make one “look like a man.” They make one look like a human. I can’t help it if men have arrogated to themselves any clothing that is comfortable, practical, strong, and conserving of body heat–that doesn’t make them right, particularly if your purpose in the world is instrumental rather than ornamental. It’s feminism 101, folks, that the objects and behaviors that define “looking like a woman” are about restricting women’s freedom of movement and making us into objects for display–thereby, by definition, inhibiting our toughness and power. The accusation of “looking like a man” or failing to “look like a woman” is so often used to persecute women, particularly lesbians, that it has no credibility whatsoever in a feminist context.
“To me, boycotting something is not an effective or particularly impressive form of activism because it rarely, if ever, is successful unless it is organized on a massive scale.” It makes me so sad when activists conclude that certain tactics are ineffective, rather than identifying the problem as the lack of a mass movement in this country, on anything. There is a really strange disconnect within liberal feminism which harps on the value of “women’s choices” but often wants to argue that “our personal choices are meaningless”? What is a movement made of if not a boatload of individual people deciding that resisting injustice is more important than what’s easy or comfortable? Seriously, if you don’t think our choices matter–if you don’t think the system is maintained in part by millions of tiny daily decisions to conform–what exactly is your strategy for getting women free? And on a personal level, what are you going to say in 50 years* to that dewy-eyed young person who asks, “But why didn’t you all stop global warming/racism/war/pornography/deforestation/sweatshops?” Will you feel that great about saying, “Well, I didn’t do the right that was in my power to do, because I didn’t think it would be successful unless it was organized on a massive scale?” Wouldn’t you rather be able to give them a quick lesson in resistance by detailing all the things you did do to work for justice?
All the hoo-hah over public breastfeeding. Despite how much I hear about how great is “personal choice” (unless it’s the choice to resist patriarchal dictates for women, in which case it’s trivial, useless, and intended entirely to make other women feel bad) I never hear anyone advocating for women’s “personal choice” to go shirtless in public–a choice men regularly exercise. So here’s a radical suggestion for the right-to-breastfeed movement–think about expanding your efforts to work for the freedom of all women. Campaign for the decriminalization of the female breast! This is a cause we all can rally around. The “sex-positives” would love the empowerful opportunity to “explore their sexuality” by exhibiting their pierced nipples 24/7. The landdykes and rural crunchy straight girls already go around topless all summer (when we’re not cutting brush or hauling firewood, that is). If breasts were not unjustly confined to the prison of blouses and brassieres, any woman could breastfeed anywhere, anytime, with impunity. Breasts would lose their status as a naughty sex fetish for men and take their rightful place as just another feature of human anatomy, like earlobes. Their diversity of form would become so obvious that the hegemony of the pornified Hollywood implant breast as the epitome of sexiness would be exposed** for the ridiculous lie that it is.If the thought of squadrons of shirtless women taking to the streets to demonstrate for mammary liberation doesn’t cheer up a morose lesbian feminist separatist, then I don’t know what will.
*Assuming any of us are around in 50 years, which I know is a big assumption.
**No pun intended.