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So a few days ago, Halley posts this piece on "girlism." And all h*ll breaks out in the blogging circles in in which she "lives" (not sure which ones I live in yet, but I've been spending some time checking out the houses on her street...).

The thread has been picked up and nearly beaten to death on a number of blogs, from Shelley's to Dorothea's to Mike's to Doc's to...(well, if you're interested, you can follow the links and trackbacks). And I do mean to death, complete with "collateral damage." Perhaps the least harmful of the responses came from AKMA, who I was rather hoping would weigh in. :-)

I've participated up 'til now in an e-mail discussion on this topic, and haven't blogged about it. For a couple of reasons, really. It's interesting...e-mail still feels ephemeral to me, even though I know it's far from private (particularly when sent to a list of people, as these were), and can be archived indefinitely. Still, I feel more comfortable speaking off-the-cuff in e-mail than I do here in my blog--particularly on issues that have such emotional heft.

When it comes to feminism and gender issues, I'm particularly cautious about writing publicly, because I know that as a female professor in a technology field I'm a role model--whether I want to be or not. I know my students read this blog--as do my parents, my friends, and my colleagues. So speaking here is very much "on the record." Nevertheless, I'm going to chance this mine-field of a topic.

I spoke up in defense of Halley's original post, and I stand by that. I consider myself a feminist. Unlike Halley, I don't think feminism is dead. And I definitely don't agree with her assessment that it only encompassed lesbian sexuality to begin with. But one of the reasons that I--and, I think, many other women--have become frustrated with feminism is its renouncement of...well...femininity.

In Shelley's blog, she reposts and comments on comments by Suzanne, in which she expresses concerns with "girlism" because it's limited to those with the physical attributes to use it. But all strengths, all power, is unbalanced. Some women aren't beautiful, true. (Though far more are than realize it.) But some women aren't smart. Some women aren't hard-working. Some women aren't charismatic. Life's just not fair.

What perplexes me about all of this discussion is the massive generalization. Why does feminism have to be dead in order for girlism to exist? Why does girlism have to be for everyone or for no one? Why can't we each tap into our own sources of power, and trust each other to use those powers for good and not for evil?

Jeneane wants to know more about where Halley's ideas on girlism really come from. I know where mine do, and I'm guessing (in part based on her past posts about exercise) that hers may come from a similar place. In the past two years, I've made a conscious decision to change the way I live, and to pay more attention and respect to my body. That meant going to the gym regularly, and changing the way I eat. It was hard work. Still is. But the payoff was a newfound sense of living in my own skin, and appreciation for my body. I didn't want to hide that under shapeless sweats--I wanted to show it off. Wearing shapely clothes, sexy underwear, CFM boots...that all made me feel good. And a side benefit to that was the "jiu-jitsu" effect that AKMA talks about. The men who tended to view me as an object were flummoxed. And I was okay with that. More than okay--delighted. I loved watching people who had no problem ignoring me (or worse) when I felt like a shlump caught so suddenly off guard.

On the other hand, the men who saw me as an intelligent, collegial co-worker were appreciative but not signficantly affected. I was equally okay with that. (And, I might add, that included the vast majority of the men I know and work with.)

That's why I find this particular sort of "power" so entertaining. It only works against those who are already in a mental place that doesn't have anything to do with the ways I'd like to be valued in the workplace.

There's more to say on all of this, but at least I got a few words out. Now it's time to duck-and-cover, since posting on this seems guaranteed to bring out the fangs in in all and sundry.

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New voices are entering the discussion on feminism and girlism. Brave souls. AKMA has joined the conversation, but carefully, aware that the discussion related to this topic has achieved a level of emotion and engagement that transcends previous topics... Read More


Yeah, I agree with you that feminism isn't dead and neither is girlism. In fact girlism predates feminism and operates alongside and sometimes intertwined with it. I just hoped to point out what I have experienced as the problems with it. I'm glad for you that you are experiencing your body in a healthy, exciting way and that you are enjoying the attention you get from men about the way you look. I started getting that kind of attention from the time I was 13. I used to be flattered, but sometimes I felt scared and uncomfortable. As I got into my 30's I began to feel furious about it. I don't have the energy to elaborate on why, but I do have a right to my fury about it. My 14 year-old daughter is really enjoying her emerging sexuality, looks, attractiveness, but she hates it when men look at her on the street and say something to her. She feels instantly angry. I believe she's entitled to her feelings, just as you are to yours. I wish women had a choice about when and by whom they are scrutinized and commented upon by men. But we dont' and no amount of feminism has changed that. Some men don't feel entitled to ogle and call out to women, but alot of men do, and alot of men do knowing by the reaction of the woman, that their attention isn't wanted. I wish it weren't so, but it is. And what's not fair isn't that we all look different, or have different kinds and degrees of intellect, but that so much of what is offered as life, love, security, recognition and power is based on narrow definitions of desrving looks and intellect that leave too many out of the circle. That's the way it is, sure, but I don't think that should stop us from envisioning a different kind of world that is more inclusive and less punitive.

Liz, you've won me over. Thanks for taking the Halley Challenge. For talking from that place. Bravo. I'm with you in celebrating the woman you've become--you've worked hard at it. And I know Halley has too.

My post on it pretty much explains my frustration--more with the use of Cybil Shepard's inane dating yardstick for men--which, in the post+article, poses the girlist question of whether or not they masturbate alone. And of course from the feminist perspective, where they stand on the good old abortion question.

If Bruce Willis came out and said he evaluates the women he dates on whether or not they are pro-life and whether or not the masturbate in a crowd, everyone would be blogging about what an ignorant sexist [fill-in-your-own-expletive] he is.

Yet the same blogger men who complain about blogwomen labeling them as sexist think the girlism thing is just too cute and great.

In a word, Ahhh!

Bottom line for me is that the "relationship" part is missing. I'm betting that when you do talk to any of those guys at work who notice the new-found you, you engage them in real conversation--and, yes, even flirting--instead of taking their socio-political and inseam measurements the first time they say, "Hello."

or something.

I'm not completely with you; I'm not completely against you -- but "It only works against those who are already in a mental place that doesn't have anything to do with the ways I'd like to be valued in the workplace." I did resonate with. I'm quite definitely up with that.

Jeneane, right on.




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on December 3, 2002 7:44 PM.

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