Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finding Feminism: My Musings

Interestingly, unlike the mainstream media coverage thereof, the Grammys sparked something of a philosophical discussion between my sister and I, and I feel like it really bears further exploration.  Firstly, the background.  I will summarize, but the full article that informed my perspective can be found here (I actually read it off a tumblr, but the tumblr link seems dead and on reading it at the linked location, I realized it was the same article).  So, long story short, Chris Brown, who was meant to perform at the 2009 Grammys alongside his then-girlfriend Rhianna until he decided to settle a dispute between them with his fists, was invited to perform at this year's Grammy awards ceremony.  For obvious reasons, they did not perform together in '09, and according to a Billboard timeline, Rhianna was not even seen in public for about three months after the assault.  Fast forward to a few days ago, almost precisely three years after the fact, and we have Chris Brown and Rhianna somehow once again scheduled to perform at the Grammys, presumably together once again.  Don't ask me to figure out Hollywood; I can't, and won't bother.

Now, mind, this is all background.  Believe it or not, I am not weighing in on whether or not this choice was appropriate on the part of ANY involved parties.  I have my own opinions on the matter, but that's neither here nor there; feminist media bloggers have likely tackled the topic ad nauseum and better than I could anyway.  What I'm concerned with right now is the reactions of others, now as then, particularly women.  My kid sister quoted one of her own female friends as saying of the recent media blogger frenzy that she was "ignoring all of the chris brown posts because they make me want to rip out those women tweeter’s vaginas and feed them to a crocodile."  I'm not clear as to whether the clarification of the antecedent of "them" came from my sister or her friend, but, for those wondering, the women are meant to be croc bait, not just their lady bits.


My sister, understandably, was fairly agitated by this comment.  I won't lie; I'd have hulk-raged if one of my friends had said it.  In fact, my fiance and I had a rather tense discussion about the matter, and he is a) pretty well informed and competent of women's issues and b) generally an all around good person.  I digress.  The point of this whole thing is not actually our reactions, but rather this friend.  It's hard to stomach, but it's not necessarily hard to understand.  Let me color.

USAmerican society is a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  We have "founding fathers," we have yet to have a female leader, and men are perceived as the emotionally contained providers and protectors.  Because of all of these things, men in our culture are also lent a certain unearned sympathy, bordering on, and sometimes crossing into, infallibility.  Women are considered relatively the opposite of all of those things.  We are supposed to be frail, submissive, nurturing, and unable to care for ourselves financially or defensively.  The vast majority of institutions in our culture pander to these archetypes, right down to our language.  The term "stay at home Mom" is perfectly familiar to us, but "stay at home Dad"?  Not so much.  What do we say of the head of the household, colloquially?  That they are "the man of the house," or possibly that "they wear the pants," this latter usually being a slight toward both partners, suggesting that masculinity (here meaning power/authority) is "inappropriately" displayed more by the woman than the man.

The list goes on, but let us not belabor the point unnecessarily.  Even those still blind to its more sinister undercurrent can probably agree to my earlier statement that USAmerican society is, in fact, a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  It's that blindness that creates the friction.  Those of us who have awakened to a society that thinks it's acceptable to legislate our bodies while making it increasingly difficult to pay for the larger family we didn't want in the first place are enraged by these continued attempts to strip us of our power over our own lives, but such awakenings aren't an easy transition.  I was angry ALL THE TIME when I first started understanding the depths of the hypocrisy going on around me, most specifically how much of it was targeted AT ME, as a woman.

Some would argue that I'm STILL angry all the time, but that's well beside the point.  The point is that, when presented with information this dissonant with one's existing worldview, one tends to react with anger; the difference is the target of that anger.  Those who go on to be, at the very least, armchair activists, direct their anger at the system that is oppressing them, hoping to funnel that anger into change.  The other target for their anger, however, is at the dissonant information, or the provider thereof.  Things that threaten the status-quo are also threats to those who would fear change.  It's not that these people necessarily like having their lives dictated by self-interested politicians, though it can be, but they are complacent with their lives the way they are.  Change takes effort and adaptation.  Maybe it takes paying more attention to the news to realize that, for all the Republican hate-mongering against him, Obama is the more favorable candidate in terms of women's rights.  Not that Republicans care about women's rights, but some women are bound to be Republican, and for some of them, realizing that *their party's candidate* doesn't give a damn about them might be enough to sway them to look into the candidate that their party has so attempted to demonize.  Or how about the fact that, despite what the GOP would have you think, not all the women who want access to contraceptives are baby-hating sex machines.

Granted, I have, perhaps, taken a bit of an extreme stance to illustrate this issue of cognitive dissonance, but if you're already seeing it my way, the bits that make you shake your head and think I'm taking too much of a swing at the right are the best examples to use.  This is the kind of shakeup one can feel when one is first discovering the dirty secrets of the patriarchy.  EVERYTHING is upside down, and it takes time to adapt.  I will also grant that some adapt much better than others; those who have felt that something is off-kilter their whole lives will likely embrace the knowledge that there IS something wrong, and that there are others out there that see it, too.  We just can't be too harsh on our friends and acquaintances who aren't as quick to embrace it as we are.  There are some who never will, which is sad for all of us, but there are others who, with open conversation over reproach and rebuke, may realize that we're not the lunatic fringe that they've been taught that we are.

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