Sunday, August 27, 2006

Crisis of Infinite Feminisms, Part I

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, Gentle Reader, but the blogging community is rather new to me. Not to say that I haven't known of its existence, but rather, I hadn’t really delved into the non-personal blog before now. But sites like have introduced me to the marvelous world of intellectual blogging about comics, while others like or have shown me that it is possible to blog professionally about personal issues.

One topic that I've noticed over and over again over the past few weeks is the daunting attempt to define feminism. Not just the political movement, but also the attempt to determine if one writer or another is feminist, or if one storyline or another is feminist, or if one action or another is a feminist action. And I began to wonder: why are we so determined to put finite parameters on such a broad, interpretable topic?

As a Card-Carrying Feminist (I did receive the free toaster oven, Dear Reader!), I, too, suffer under the impulse that I must *define* what it means to be me. As an Academic Feminist (I did receive the certificate, Dear Reader!), I, too, suffer under the presumption that I must define what it means to be feminist. The two, as you can imagine, coalesce often, and in interesting ways.

Feminism is a tricky thing. No, no, I don't mean The Fight For Women's Rights, but rather, the Perception that The Public At Large has of feminists. The Fight is A Good One; women across the globe still suffer legal, economic, social, personal, and educational difficulties. The Perception, however, is forever entangled with odd, almost terrifying ideas. Unlike some other designators, "feminist" is both personal and political. I have never met a political feminist who did not fight for rights in her personal life, and vice versa. If you have met such a fascinating creature, then please, Friends, introduce me! But as the second-wave feminists reminded us over and over again, the personal *is* political.

How, you ask? Well, therein lies The Problem. No two people are the same, and therefore no two feminists are the same. My personal politics vary wildly from Jane's personal politics, and Suzy's, and Betty's. But if we four (or hundred, or hundreds of thousands) are to define ourselves as "feminists," then we are lumped into a mass category of strange, angry, rampaging women.

What is Feminism? Let us look to that most communal of all internet sites, Wikipedia.

Wiki says, "Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerned with the experiences of women."

Huzzah, Wiki! The very term "diverse" automatically negates the idea of One True Feminism. This "diverse collection" is composed of "social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies." Yes, yes, all of these things are true. What else does Wiki say?

"Most feminists are especially concerned with social, political, and economic inequality between men and women."

Excellent, Wiki! You even take this further by stating, "some have argued that gendered and sexed identities, such as 'man' and 'woman,' are socially constructed."

Here Wiki gives a nod to Those That Agree With Judith Butler, those Feminists who believe that we are Men and Women not because of biology, but because society determines those designators for us. But what does Wiki say about Feminists?

"Feminists differ over the sources of inequality, how to attain equality, and the extent to which gender and sexual identities should be questioned and critiqued."

Again, we see a variation of the idea of difference, of divergent ideas, with the verb "differ." And therein lies the rub. "Feminists differ." How true it is.

Every feminist defines feminism in different ways; therefore, every feminist has different beliefs in what is feminist. Some feminists believe that men cannot be feminists. This Author has already pooh-poohed the idea, but perhaps it calls for further discussion. In a recent examination of The Blogosphere, I've come across various discussions regarding the possible feminism of male writers, most particularly, Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan.

For those Not In The Know, Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan are the writers of the comic books Astonishing X-Men and the Y: The Last Man, respectively. Let's start first with Mr. Vaughan, and his dystopian tale of The Last Man On Earth.

Y: The Last Man begins with a plague that wipes out every male on the planet except two: Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Over the past several years, Yorick and his various companions, Agent 355 and Doctor Allison Mann, have traveled the globe in search of the answer to the question, why did he and Ampersand escape the plague? and in search of his girlfriend, Beth, who was doing anthropological work in Australia at the time of the plague.

Some people have argued that Y is a feminist book because it deals seriously and respectfully with the idea of a mythological Last Man on a now female-exclusive planet. Some people have argued that Y is an anti-feminist book for the same reasons. And more importantly, some who believe it is anti-feminist also believe that a man should never be allowed to write such a tale.

This Author begs the question, why? The world in Y is most certainly not the feminist utopia some would expect; it demonstrates that the scrabble and grasp for power is not a gendered problem, but a human problem. But further, does Mr. Vaughan's designation as a "man" negate the validity of the plot, the structure, the sheer genius of the tale? Not in the slightest.

Yet people, men and women both, argue again and again that men cannot write feminist narratives. That because Mr. Vaughan is a man, he therefore cannot understand what it means to fight for women's rights.

Gentle Reader, you see it, don't you? How this argument becomes the same sort of argument that keeps women off the frontlines of combat, out of high-paying executive jobs, and not in control of deciding the fate of their wombs? It is a decision based solely on gender; by saying Mr. Vaughan cannot write a feminist tale because he is a man is comparable to saying that Amy Reads cannot fight in combat because she is a woman. Because my body performs the biological function of reproduction, I am therefore a fragile body that cannot be put into danger.

Or, to wit, toy soldiers are for boys; baby dolls are for girls.

If we are ever to escape gender stereotypes, then we must work past gender stereotypes. If we, as women, are ever to escape the biological or social constructions placed upon us, then we must escape the idea of biological or social constructions placed upon men, as well. I believe that I can write a machismo tale worthy of Hemingway, the same way I believe that Mr. Vaughan, or Mr. Whedon, can write a feminist tale worthy of me.

But further, I believe that Mr. Vaughan need not be defined as feminist or anti-feminist (Although This Humble Author firmly believes that Y: The Last Man is a book with feminist leanings). Mr. Vaughan presents several strong female characters, several, not-so-strong female characters, and an empathetic, engaging male character who not only is complex, but who also is *working through* any trappings of misogyny he may have had hardwired into his brain by those very social and/or biological constructions we abhor. What Y: The Last Man gives us is a vision of a world that has utterly failed its own expectations. Particularly in those key first issues, we see women who believed in the gentle and equal community of women violently and aggressively fighting for a toehold of power in a world that finally gives them access to such power. As the storyline continues, we see further violence, and murder, and racism. We see desperation. We see despair. What we see, Friends, is not a Herland utopia, but rather, a Dystopian Nightmare. And I, for one, believe it to be the more accurate vision of such a global atrocity.

We end Part I of this discussion with a return to Wikipedia, and its definition of dystopia. Wiki says, "A dystopia is usually characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government, or some other kind of oppressive social control."

Yes, all of this is true, and we see all of this in Y: The Last Man, but remember, Dear Reader, that a dystopia is at least One Person's Utopia.

Fall Semester begins tomorrow, Friends, and for those of you in school of some form or another, I wish you well in your academic endeavors. Crisis of Infinite Feminisms will continue as I try to determine feminism in my various pop culture adorations. But until then, This Humble Author must bid you adieu, as she continues to prepare for the return to campus.


At 5:19 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

*Wiki says, "Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerned with the experiences of women."*

I am agonizing (in a good way) right now over Joan W. Scott's "The Evidence of Experience" (Critical Inquiry 17.4 Summer 1991: 773-797). It is a must read.

P.S. Thanks for the blog love.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home