By extorting “the personal” out of me and into public forum, my final women’s studies seminar is going to exhaust me. I arrived at the three-hour block last week expecting we might be talking about … well… Doing the Feminist Research that the class entitled “Doing Feminist Research” vaguely alluded to. Honestly, I expected a 3-hour weekly waste of time which would leave me a little angry about privilege at University. Boy, was I wrong. The real effect: I am exponentially more frustrated with class than poverty. I take WS and America Studies classes despite the people in them because I want the information. And usually the information is as personally rewarding as– say– talking to someone who understands poverty, hegemony, sex, and sex work.Within the first hour, I was regaled with the story of one of my classmates who was so poor this summer that she had to “go online and buy a bike and then drive all the way out to Natick to pick it up because [she] really couldn’t afford gas to get to her job.” Everyone nods, almost excited to be frowning, and then next horrible tale-teller picks up while I calculate: a car, a computer, internet-access, gas to get to Natick, money for a bike, a steady job? Yes. You definitely know what dire means.
Meanwhile, we’re all supposed to be sharing anecdotes in response to an article about how traveling is easier for couples. “This article acts as if gender isn’t an issue, what about traveling as a woman?” the class asks. Bike R Car pipes in again to tell us how once, in Spain, her parents wouldn’t even let her go out salsa dancing. THAT’S how hard it is to travel as a woman. OHHH. That’s how hard. And what I want to know: In what fucked universe is it acceptable to start a WS course by asking everyone to recount their tales of international travel?
Because I was silent through that one (go fucking figure), the professor called on me first to respond to an article about the pay gap. Yes, folks. After four years, it’s come to this. Statistics about pay gaps and completely disjointed analysis of newspaper articles on luxury lifestyles. “Isn’t it terrible,” I began, abstracting my reflection as far the fuck I could from my own reality, “that people who have the power to give you raises base the raise-amount on what they feel you need. Women are considered second-incomes and men, sole breadwinners.” But that wasn’t enough. They needed me to expand. “It happens with age too, like, if they think you don’t need the money or assume you’re subsidized by your parents or something, they’re less like to give it to you.” But instead of conversation, just a grave series of nods circled the room and if I was hashing out the premise of my latest confessional autobiographical book on self-mutilation or anorexia or something.
I find myself asking, to your regret, reader, again, is this where we are? I was nonchalant about it. Delicately angry and at the same time emotionally a little remote, doing my best impression of a good women’s studies resign/rage. I feel like they can smell pain though. When people tell real stories about real injustice or poverty or suffering we’re only prepared to be silent? It reinforces to me that these women are probably not telling stories that are personally significant to them. Did it hurt not to be able to go out dancing in Spain? I mean, did it really ache and fuck your life up and make you feel powerless and like all you had left was groveling and stomach aches?
Instead we descended into yet another conversation about the Oppression of Feminists. This has to end. I can’t have one more conversation about how everyone thinks feminists are man-hating, hairy-legged, dykes which is oppressive to my make-up wearing, boy-adoring feminist classmates. It’s the most narcissistic conversation and it’s enabled and made necessary by the Heterohegemony.
Feminism is not being undone by people pigeon-holing feminists as looking one way or another. And all this defensive bs produced by privileged feminists in response to that perception does nothing beside burn up brain space and everyone else’s energy.
Plus. You’re pissing the dyke off. I’m so glad to have a community that doesn’t require me to explain my makeup and my feminism to everyone under the sun so that I feel vindicated and dateable. I’m glad to have a community where we’re pretty much agreed that the idea that one could conceive of oneself as dateable or not is totally fucked.
And your make-up pisses me off because all these excuses reveal the women making them do think it’s unethical to wear make-up unless you politically compensate for it by adding the ‘but I’m a feminist’ clause. Either you think it’s either ethical or you think it’s unethical and if you think it’s unethical then you shouldn’t be doing it.
Instead you should be making more active choices about how you write your body as a readable entity in public. As a queer high Femme dyke, I de- and re-construct my gender vis-a-vis the world constantly. There is not a single time I put on my make-up or look at another woman or look at an image of a woman or think about how men and women communicate, that I am not actively interrogating my make-up. So, yes, you can wear make up and still be a feminist. But are you?
I could go on much longer. But then how could I ever finish the assigned reading (eh-hem, Backlash) with enough time to clear my angry head of all the out-dated information before prime insomnia time.
——–Special thanks to Grover. For making my feminism livable and helping me sort out the sources of my anguish and rage. And also for being family.