[personal profile] locore
By the definition quoted in my profile, I am a feminist. But that's not the definition I've encountered, in too much of my life. Nor does it precisely describe my position, at least in terms of focus.

From where I sit, it's not a good thing to force people into categories. This includes pushing little girls to be "feminine" and little boys to be "masculine". It includes treating people differently because of these forced or irrelevant categories. And the more there's a size and power imbalance involved, the worse it is.

It's also, at some level, inevitable. The human condition is such that we tend to think in categories, judge people based on first impressions, and try to "help" those we care about in ways that may in fact be toxic. After living in the United States for 20 years, I catch myself reacting differently to black strangers than to white ones, as well as reacting differently based on clothing, behaviour, apparant age, etc. etc. I've got these summary expectations that tell me things - not necessarily accurate things. And if those expectations tell me "this person is likely to be a bore with nothing in common" or worse yet "this person is likely to do unpleasant things to/at me", I'm likely to take evasive action almost automatically. I can override these not-so-brilliant ideas [some of the time, at least], and I can certainly keep my mouth shut about my immediate reactions [most of the time] - but I can no more turn them off than I can fly to the moon without appropriate equipment. And as far as I can tell, the same is true for every other human being. We form expectations, based in part on experience, and in part on borrowed experience (things we've been told), and we're very likely to act on them.

So this is something that it's generally good to combat, but impossible to overcome. Happy happy joy joy.

But back to "feminism" and definitions that exclude me.

First of all, I only privilege gender based categories to the extent that I am, personally, more likely to have unpleasant stereotypes (and/or outright coercion) imposed on me based on gender than based on race or language or hair colour or nationality or career choice - in the latter cases, the stereotypes applied to me are more likely to be to my advantage. I'm just as opposed, in principle, to racism, agism, ableism (sp?), etc. etc. Moreover, I don't have much of a gender based identification - my gender feels almost as incidental as my hair colour, except for having involved me in rather more shared experiences than hair colour ever will. Being categorized as male would change the way I was treated, not anything fundamental about me. Maybe it would change something fundamental about you - I'm not in a position to judge that - but I'm talking about me here.

Second of all, I'm a walking counter-example to gender essentialism. No matter what list of traits you pick, supposedly gender correlated, I'll predictably come out approximately 60% masculine, unless those traits are physical. Put another way, my body developed breasts and menstrual periods at puberty, but neglected to develop a deep voice or a beard, or (later on) male pattern baldness. And that's the only area where I fall 100% on the "feminine" side - unlike a fair number of those who identify as women, and/or were categorized as female at birth. Anywhere else, given a reasonable sample of traits, I weigh in around 60% "male".

Third of all, from what I've seen, gender essentialists routinely treat people differently based on their (apparant or claimed) gender, violating the feminism of my second paragraph. I don't care which category you privilege - when you divide people into categories, treat them differently based on category - not supported by relevant attributes - or try to social pressure/force them to behave according to the category assigned - you are just as wrong regardless of whether you put me in the "good" or the "bad" category. You don't even get a pass if you truly treat both categories as equally good - just different - in ways that are not true and relevant. I may put more energy into opposing you if your category mania causes you to treat me in ways I dislike, and less if you (in effect) bribe me to tolerate your bias by treating me in ways I happen to like. But it's still bias, and it's still something which ought to be combatted.

I've hearby rejected a large number of "feminists" as practicing gender discrimination. At times, these have been the majority of self-identified feminists known to me. And to make things still more fun, I've often found these "feminists" rather more interested in modifying my behaviour (or dissing me) than normal folks without any such self-identification. 30 years ago, the pejorative of choice for folks like me was "man-identified". I sought such unfeminine goals as a career in technology. I prefered interacting with computers to interacting with human beings, when it came to what I'd do 8 hours a day, every day. I regarded "feminine" clothing as perhaps amusing for a costume party, but nothing anyone sane would choose to wear every day. (With regard to the clothing, I've since mellowed - de gustibus non est disputandum, and in any case what someone else chooses to wear is none of my business, except perhaps in the case of a child under my guardianship.) My math score was higher than my verbal score on both the SATs and the GRE. And my "emotional intelligence" is undoubtedly lower than my IQ.

And that's why I spent 30 years growling internally when the word "feminist" was mentioned, and thinking "how dare those <expletives> claim my label, my identity?!"

Recently, I've gotten a bit sick of that stance, and a new wave of feminists have come to prominence. Some of them even call themselves "geek feminists," and when I met them in person showed no sign of dissing me for holding a senior position in *nix kernel engineering, dressing in jeans and tee shirts, raising dogs instead of children, and regarding housework as something to pay for, not do myself. Maybe it's safe to reclaim the name, not just the attitude.

I don't think I agree with them 100%, or even 90%. And I fear that if/when they get to know me, they'll either run screaming or start flaming. But I'm groping towards standing up and being counted. I'm not being very brave about it - this journal is kind of anonymous - but I'm trying to at least make it public, and see whether "the feminist movement" once again ejects me. Fortunately I'm older and wiser, and a lot thicker skinned than the college kid who fled the gender essentialist takeover, after having already been made uncomfortable by presumptions that all feminists (all women) needed help with their math phobia, fear of success, etc. I hadn't even tried to dumb myself down in order to get dates - nor had I ever needed to. (Geek "boys" tend to find geek "girls" very attractive. Girls/women weren't often interested in me - but on the other hand, like the geek "boys", I too preferred geeks, and female ones were in extremely short supply ;-)) So a lot of "feminist" activities felt irrelevant and exclusionary, even before the exclusion became explicit.

[Update - on rereading, I see that while I claimed in my profile that I'd avoid feminist and gender studies jargon, I used "gender essentialist" above as if it were a term any random person would understand. A "gender essentialist" is someone who believes that there are traits which are innately "masculine" or "feminine" regardless of upbringing, and generally acts and talks as if this is not a statistical difference ("more females than males have a uterus") but a binary absolute ("all females and no males have wombs"). And while my example here is physical and obviously true statistically, to merit the gender essentialist label, you need to apply it to personality traits, preferences, behaviour etc. E.g. "(all) women are better at language than math (and always will be, in any culture)." For a complete "win" add both "and this is as it should be" and e.g. "language skills are better and more important than math skills"; then start dissing women with math skills; trying to get them to recognize that they've repressed their verbal skills in an attempt to conform to patriarchal culture, etc. etc. Or in a milder version just make sure that every "feminist" event has main track time focussed on overcoming math phobia, learning how to balance one's checkbook, etc. etc. etc. and absolutely nothing relevant to the girls who aced their math classes.]
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August 2013

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