Abandoning Words: Back to My Roots

I’ve picked up a lot of adjectives in the past few years; some fell into my life naturally, while other have always felt forced: labels I crammed into my life like a freshman comp. student piling up words to make up for lack of research.

I’m editing out the forced adjectives now, the ones I wear uneasily. The words that almost-but-don’t-quite fit.

All summer, but especially since my 35 birthday in August, I’ve been reflecting on life. On who I am and who I want to become. It’s been a lovely, fruitful time; I feel as though I’m reclaiming a lot of good and shaking off some misdirections.

I’ve also been reflecting on the discord in the world today – the way we throw up labels to rally behind and attack each other with. I’ve embraced some of those in the past, but many of them have left me cold in the past couple years. I’m re-examining them now and leaving many of them behind.

First on my list, a label I’ve had hovering around me forever, and forever had a shakey relationship with:

Feminist

This is always a hard label to talk about.

People have such strong reactions to the word, though most of the time my own reaction is more uncertain.

I find feminism most inspiring in it’s late-nineties Joss Whedon and Daria interations. And least inspiring in practically every other incarnation.

But what has turned me against it now and changed my uncertainty to rejection, more than anything has been the continual petty meanness and misandry I see in real life and on social media from feminists who ought to know better.

I can’t stand with a movement that flings around slogans continually negating the value and personhood of my husband, my son, and my Lord; continually telling my daughter that she needs nothing and no one but herself; continually greeting the world with snark and anger and self-aggrandizement.

Feminism and I have a long, rocky history: I mean, when your priest-uncle offers 7 year old you ‘Women Priest’ t-shirts and you spend the late nineties mixing pseudo-wicca with old world folk magic in a Tori Amos haze, you’re hardly sheltered from the glow of accessible, 90s feminism.

I’ve read classic feminists as well: Virginia Woolf, Lou Andreas-Salome, Simone deBouvior, and Emma Goldman. Yes, Catholic feminists, I’ve read JPII and Edith Stein; and my rejection of their feminism is not a rejection of them as great thinkers or as saints anymore than my rejection of G.K. Chesterton’s tacit misogyny is a rejection of him as a devout man and an amazing author.

Fascinated by feminism, especially among my fellow Catholics, I’ve even read some of the less than absorbing feminist pop-theologians turning old ideas into trite phrases with too many exclamation points.

And yet I am unmoved.

I can agree with all (or most) of these people on various levels – feminism isn’t one of them. Not 2nd, 3rd, or ‘new’ wave feminism. First wave feminism is obsolete, and it’s entirely unlikely an unproblematic new wave will come in my lifetime.

Though I’ve always rejected the sexism inherent in the word, I see more and more of it flaring up unashamedly in feminist humor, in rallying cries, in the shirts we wear and the signs we hold.

Feminism is a word that excludes the masculine. As much as we try to claim it’s really about equality for all people, the word itself rejects the claim. Feminism is for women alone. Not men, not boys, just women and (sometimes) girls.

That’s why it produces slogans like ‘the future is female.’ without even noticing the misandry.

I don’t want either of my children to grow up in a home that affirms (even tacitly) the negation of their dignity and personhood.

If I called myself a feminist, I would have to explain to them why I’m choosing to allign myself with a movement I rarely respect and choosing to overlook attitudes I find destructive. Why I’m ok with a slogan that says to my son: “the future rejects you.” If I try to explain it to myself all my words sound like excuses.

Feminism isn’t worth that. Not to me anyway. It doesn’t fit into the domestic monastery I’m forming. It doesn’t nurture, comfort, or heal. As I’ve experienced it, feminism is primarily critical and dissatisfied.

So it’s a label I’m leaving behind this year as I get to know myself better; and it’s good to see it go.

** I would love to know your thoughts on feminism, and whether you identify with this label or not! Please feel free to recommend books (podcasts and videos are less likely to be useful, I can’t stream on my little data plan, but recommend away!)**

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Well, I can certainly understand being less comfortable with labels, including this one, than I am! Especially the more polarized American society gets, which adds uglier and uglier strains of anger to political discourse …

    I’ve been turning strongly toward the label of feminist, and I think it’s interesting that you’re turning away from it at the same time. I think there are a couple of reasons for that, since though we do have some different ideas, I don’t think they’re THAT different.

    One reason I think is background. I was raised in a community where feminists were considered worthy only of fierce judgment and mockery. Their ideas were never thought worth listening to, let alone respecting. They could only be ungodly and evil. So when I grew up and started doing more reading and getting acquainted with the world around me, it was like … whoa! Those feminists were on to something! And wow, have they been unfairly treated by me and my home crowd …

    Another reason I think is that I tend to believe in the nonhomogeneity of groups. I don’t see one definition when it comes to feminism, except this dictionary definition put forward by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of women.” I believe wholeheartedly in all of those things. I do not wholeheartedly believe in all the things that this or that feminist group will say “You’re only a feminist if you believe that …” about.

    I am a feminist for a lot of reasons. I’m a feminist because I want my daughter able to grow up looking men in the eye and believing herself their equal–and I want those men to believe that, too! I don’t want her to be afraid that her every move will be taken as some kind of sexual communication. I want her to be viewed as a person by men, not as a body to be ranked on a numerical scale. And I’m a feminist because I believe we women should have a voice equal to that of men in matters that affect our lives. I believe we should be better represented in politics, in literature and art, in commerce, in religious teaching. I believe women with the gifts and inclination should rise to the highest echelons of societal power as easily and freely as men do (insofar as power structures are required at all … I’m not a fan of having more than necessary, although “necessary” can be interpreted pretty broadly). And I’m a feminist because if I had a son, I’d want him to freely and confidently pursue what interests him, and I’d want him to freely and confidently read books by and about girls just as he would by and about boys (just like I want my daughter to read all those same books). I don’t want him to feel diminished by being associated with something feminine, or perceived as feminine in some way. THAT is toxic masculinity, that idea that men can never be soft, can never be empathetic or emotionally nuanced or interested in something “girly” or else they somehow don’t qualify. Unlike your son, most boys are–it seems to me, at least–still being raised this way.

    Anyway … I have a lot of feelings about this, obviously, like everything else, haha! But I hope it makes sense. Again, I don’t think we differ that broadly–I think we just come from different associations with the word!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Masha says:

      Oh my goodness.. I’m so glad you commented! And this is such a huge conversation! I may have to respond in a few segments 😉 because I’m rambly and full of feelings as well!

      Let’s see… I think we DO have so much in common – but I think it’s fascinating that we tend to be growing into divergence at least in our self-definition.

      I definitely can see how your background would lead you to build a softer relationship with the word! I definitely don’t believe in the absolute homogeneity of groups, but – with noticeable exceptions – the varieties of feminists I’ve met have made it clear there is a certain unity of belief beyond merely the equality in the dignity of persons. In a very real sense, most of them have made it clear that however feminist I may have considered myself, my iteration is unacceptable.

      Since I’m not interested in trying to ‘get what I’ve asked for whether I want it or not’ I’m just walking away from the club. And since, in general, it seems that many of the feminists I’m meeting these days are less happy, less confident, less comfortable in the company of men and women, and less fulfilled than I am, I ought to be happy my children are being raised by an unapologetically masculine man and his Proverbs 31-wanna-be-wife. Lol.

      I feel like even the term ‘toxic masculinity’ is a symptom of the problem. Though I agree completely that both boys and girls need to be raised as whole-people, and not mere charicatures of their sex or ideaological signboards for their parents affiliations!

      …RAMBLY! And also possibly harsher and less well-edited than it ought to be! Feel free to keep this conversation going here or in private Jenna! Love you!

      Like

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