Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Not that I'm a feminist, or anything..."

I hear a lot of women--especially youngish women--preface some fairly innocuous statement with the semi-apologetic disclaimer, "Not that I'm a feminist, or anything, but..."

I wonder how on earth that happened? How did it come about that women are embarrassed to be identified with an ideological movement committed to promoting women's equality?

A couple of days ago, I had a brief property line skirmish with a new neighbor. The guy has spent I don't even know how many hours with a hundred-foot measuring tape and a ball of twine and a handful of stakes, figuring out the edges of the lot he just bought. His lot sits right against the back of our lot.

The guy measures out his property line again a couple of weeks ago, about the same time I start constructing a dog run behind the house. We visit amiably about where he thinks his property line runs, and I set the fenceline on my side, by several inches. I set the posts in concrete because that's just the right way to set posts. He watches me do this.

A couple of days ago, the guy comes back with his measuring tape and other paraphanalia. Remeasures everything. Decides his line is actually not where he originally marked it. Decides my posts are actually on his property. Tells me so.

The really curious part of all this, though, is that it was so important to Mr. Wonderful that he could perceive himself as being in-the-right, to be justified in his anger, that he actually accused me of going back after he was gone and moving all those posts--posts he'd watched me set in concrete. The total difference? Less than six inches.

Now, I'm an extraordinarily competent woman. I'm not, however, an idiot. Nor am I an amazon. I'm pretty sure I would need a tractor to pull those posts out of the ground.

At this point in the conversation, I made a strategic error. I laughed at him. Then I might have, sort of, maybe accidentally, presented a logical false dilemma suggesting he was either a lunatic, or just not the brightest crayon in the box. I briefly considered asking him if this meant I was off the hook and he was going to finish building the fence--but was stopped by the purplish hue of his face and the veins bulging from his temples.

He demanded I move the posts the four or five inches, to comply with his newly-measured property line. I responded that he was welcome to solve the problem either by calling an actual surveyor, and presenting me with a legal property boundary--or he was welcome to pull the damn posts himself--I'd be happy to compromise and reset them, should he choose either option.

Actually, I may not have been quite that polite about it.

He opted to pull the posts himself. It was frankly a bit alarming. He started flinging himself against the posts to loosen them. The guy was literally running at these big posts, slamming his body into them, grunting and all but foaming at the mouth. I didn't stick around to watch him heave them out of the ground with fifty pounds of concrete clinging to each base.

My housemate managed to smooth it over, at least a bit. Much later.

She informed me that I could have handled the situation in a more calming manner. That seemed completely ridiculous, to me. Maybe that guy's poor wife has to calm his almighty temper, but frankly, I could friggin' care less if he strokes himself out having a tantrum like a two-year-old. She told me, "That's just how men are. You're not straight, so you've never really had to deal with it. But that's pretty much just how men are. Women learn to deal with it."

First of all, I honestly do not believe that's how all men are. Then I started thinking about a comment I would have sworn Kira left--but now I can't find it--to the effect that women engage in calming and affirming behavior towards inferior men, as a sort of culturally programmed response, to keep the peace.

The problem is, when bad behavior is rewarded with that kind of attention, it only reinforces the bad behavior. Why the hell would women want to participate in that crap? That brings us around full-circle, to the beginning thought: why do so many women reject a feminist identification?

Perhaps someone can explain this to me...


Kira said...

I can't recall leaving a comment like that, but I'm going to agree with your housemate.

I've come across more men like that than I care to remember--but the ones I've had to deal with long-term have been family members and bosses.

Boyfriends like that didn't last a week with me.

Women do tend to calm men down by backing off in a situation like that, but I think your approach was better. No one, man or woman, should be able to behave like that and be tolerated by society. We allow it to continue when we console their overblown egos.

The trick is to calm them down, let them think they're right, and then outsmart them. It's not worth arguing.

You ought to get your own surveyor out there, pull the deeds from the courthouse, and if you're right, make the jackass re-set your posts under threat of lawsuit for destruction of property.

Carrie Shanafelt said...

In response to your initial comment, Mac, I admit that I find myself saying something similar quite often. The thing young don't-call-me-a-feminists feel is that we reject (a) the a priori victimization of all women, as many of us under 30 were not patriarchally indoctrinated to the degree others have been, and (b) the embrace of the female gender as being either a meaningful category or one whose "values" either truly exist or are inherently desirable. I cringe at the word "feminism" because, as it is popularly used, it seems to mean a European feminism of, like, the rights to be pretty and have sexual pleasure and take lovers at will. That kind of feminism ruins lives and hobbles women. The feminism I align myself with is that of Frances Willard, who argues that women cannot separate themselves into a separate, victimized class. Rather, they must support one another to educate themselves, get jobs, and alter the meaning-making structures of religion and law from the inside. I think we rebel against the word "feminism" because it has been perverted. Some of these young women prefer the Latin American "mujerismo" -- more tied to class-consciousness or "feminisms," stressing the multiple ideologies possible. Of course, there might be others who just reject the term because they're, uh, not feminists, too busy reading celebrity mags to care about womankind...

Carrie Shanafelt said...

And secondly, laughing at the guy was absolutely, without a doubt, the right thing to do. It's "easier" in the long run to appease and play nice and wheedle and bake cookies for thine enemy, but fakery is so tired these days.

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

I hate the label "feminism" because of the women who go overboard with it. My previous roommate, who insisted that the word should be spelled "womyn" so that it wasn't taken as being derivative of "men" in any way, or those who want to use the word "herstory," as if the Greek root histor didn't predate the English pronoun by millennia. I don't want to be associated with this knee-jerk mentality; I want to be accepted as a human, not someone who insists that sides must be taken and anything that smacks even remotely of the masculine should be eschewed.

Kira said...


Round here we call that femi-nazi-ism, and sadly, some of those women don't realize that knocking men doesn't make women equal citizens.

It makes them as wrong as the stereotypical make chauvinist--just as bad as the male boss that once called me a "smart cookie".

Anonymous said...

what a hilarious tale. the whole episode was worth it, i'm sure, just to see his little temper tantrum.

on the feminism issue... i think it may just come with a little too much political baggage. it's a shame, really — but like most -isms, it's been co-opted.

great post!

Anonymous said...

This really is a great post Mac. I waasn't quite sure how to put what I "think" into words. But, it has made me toss it around in my mind for a bit.
Hope you got some photos of him slamming into the posts?? The visual was hysterical!
I can relate to your reaction, at the same time, I can hear my mom whispering in my ear to talk softly-it difuses anger (your neighbors)
On the flip side, me being old and all that, I was taught being too strong a woman wasn't lady like. Go figure! I was told I had to find a balance. What does that mean? I'm supposed to pretend I'm sitting on a see-saw?
I don't have the answers, but, I have learned that I need to exercise balance in all areas of my life. Something I strive for on a daily basis.

Ms M said...

I was just thinking about this question the other day walking around the park (which is a reclaimed tip by the way) with my girlfriend. Our reflections were along the lines that perhaps many women now are actually articulating a new form of feminism through their rejection of earlier forms of "feminism" that spoke to women of a particular political and cultural climate. This can actually be read as a positive development. What I think is quite sad though, and it frustrates me too, is that this process of defining a new ideology seems to necessitate a mass rejection rather than a mass critique of "feminism". A critique builds on old feminisms to generate a newer "version" that is more open, more inclusive, speaks to women and deals directly with the issues of the day. A rejection, on the other hand, seems to me to leave many women voiceless and also un-supported. In fact, these critiques of feminism have been going on for many years, by many women and men who identify as feminists. Within these communities of identified feminists (and it is true that not all) there is a recognition of at least three different "generations" of feminism and many different perspectives on those generations yet from outside this doesn't seem to come across. This is what really intrigues me.

.:J.r.A.:. said...

I agree with what haskins said, about the political baggage. A lot of young women are trying so hard to exist without a label that they reject all labels. Also, possibly as a defensive reaction, our largely male influenced society has twisted something such as feminism to mean something derogatory. Funny how we have a way of doing that with words...

I wish I could have been there to watch... :)


TillyLost said...

I'm young, and I do call myself a feminist. But many of my friends have been reluctant to do so, and far too many have only the vaguest notion of what feminism is.
I have little tolerance for the kind of aggression that guy was displaying, and in my experience people who behave that way expect it to work. It's kind of fun to watch when it doesn't. Scary when it does.

shannon said...

ms. m, I think it's Julia Kristeva's "Women's Time" you're referring to when you mention the three generations of feminism. Whether we're discussing the absence of women's voices in the history of rhetoric, or threats of violence committed against innocent fence posts meant to intimidate a particular woman, the important thing to acknowledge is that sexism is alive, well, and dangerous on many levels.

Anonymous said...

You know what leap, the last sentence in your comment is, unfortunately true.

If I was faced w/ a guy like Mac's neighbor, I'd probably push it a little like she did...then, I'd run like hell!

Because underneath, I'd be frightened.

As Haskins said, feminism has become (is) political. I doubt that will change, which is sad.

Mac said...

Kira, I'd do just that...but I'm a dyke, so the extra four inches means absolutely nothing to me. Heh. (I crack myself up.)

Carrie--yeah, it's much easier to appease, to play the game. I somehow didn't learn that I was supposed to do that, though. But even if I had, it would frankly seem obscene to do so.

More than that, I wonder if women's appeasing, calming behavior isn't a weird cultural catch-22 for men, not just women. That is, while perhaps biologically-driven by a very real atavistic fear that this furious primate might actually blow a fuse and kill me (or whichever woman is faced with a similar situation)--I wonder if letting our biological instincts drive our cultural behavior, sometimes we don't trap men into precisely that sort of behavior we abhor.

I'm not sure. Of course, guys certainly have free will too, but to a large degree, we're all controlled to some extent by both biology and culture.

Haskins, nice to see you here. The problem is, we should be smart enough to be able to reject externally-assigned political baggage.

Random, welcome! Yeah. Knee-jerk anything annoys the crap out of me, too.

Ms M--precisely. It worries me to see a wholesale rejection of what has come before. I'm deeply concerned that women are going to find themselves reinventing the wheel--and it's a damn shame. Also, many of the feminists previous to my generation not only worked very hard to improve our cultural situation--they were pretty good thinkers. I hate the idea of rejecting them. I want us to claim them--the clever, the brilliant, the dedicated--and yes, the crackpots. Because they are us.

leap-b4, what a great comment! The funny part is that you and Tillylost (Welcome to you, too, Tilly!) both interpret the guy's behavior as aggression with the intention to intimidate. I wasn't particularly intimidated, it just didn't occur to me to be intimidated--and that seemed to just escalate his behavior. I was trying to picture what it must be like for this guy's wife, though, when he has a tantrum like that behind closed doors. It was a very uncomfortable thought.

J.r.A--you're such an instigator. Heh. But yes, we'd have made merciless fun of him later, eh?

JM-right. Because fear is the absolutely appropriate response. We've all seen the statistics on how many women are killed by men they know. We've seen the statistics of domestic violence, date-rape, battering boyfriends and husbands. We've developed an entire sort-of underground infrastructure to try and help other women deal with those problems.

Dawno said...

I was a teenager in the 70's and saw first hand much of the struggle that the middle class women with whom I was familiar (primarily my friends' moms)were engaged in during that time. They (at least the ones I knew) were seeing their way of life being overturned. I think many of them were worried and afraid of the changes; the company of other women who were embracing women's lib wasn't always an inviting place for them so they had reason to be worried.

Women they had thought were friends were dismissing them for having made the choice not to be vocal advocates of 'the movement'. I saw some women belittle others for wanting to continue in their roles as homemakers. They were called slaves and doormats.

Instead of empowering them in their choice, making it so all women were celebrated, the rhetoric painted them as weak, and an accusation was made that they were undermining progress for all women. This may be why although I believed in and supported the changes the movement was working for, I never accepted the label 'feminist'.

I revere the women who went to jail so I would have the right to vote, the women who went to court so that my classmates could go to military acadamies, the ones who broke the glass ceilings and took on the good ol' boys to end harassment and discrimination on the job.

However, I have often felt disappointed that so much of the rhetoric I read or heard from the leaders of the movement was still not embracing, empowering, encouraging and supporting the women who chose child rearing and home making over other work. Women who choose the 'mommy track' have to overcome many obstacles to success when they are ready to return to work.

Women who don't join the workforce at all until their children are grown must face overwhelming obstacles considering how challenging it is for women who have some kind of prior experience to come back and succeed. When I came back it was at the bottom reporting to women quite a bit younger than myself and unwilling to accept that any experience I'd had outside of the corporate world was worth recognizing. I have to say I resent that. I've done ok, I've overcome the odds against me and I'm pretty damn successful, but I also believe I've been lucky and managed to be in the right places at the right time.

I am truly grateful to the women who fought to create a reality where I had a choice, unlike that of my mother's generation where it was just expected of women. And today, my daughter has grown up with so much less sexism, so many more opportunities. I'm grateful for that, too. Feminism, though, it might be time for a new label, I think that one has too much baggage.

Dawno said...

sorry for the serial drive by postings...Just heard a piece on Marketplace on my local public radio station. You can listen to it here if you didn't hear it. It's very on point when it talks about the attitudes of young women about the women's movement. http://tinyurl.com/bjzjr

Mac said...

Dawno--don't apologize for posting here. :) I love that you do. Thanks for the info!

harridan said...

I'm going to go against your friend here to a point. You did make a mistake in the confratation, but that was by telling the twit he could remove the posts himself.


Your first response that you would remove them if he got a surveyor was the correct one.

I mean, come on. This ying yang is running around his yard with a hundred foot tape measurer. HELLO. He knows nothing about property boundaries and such.

Where did he start his measurements from? From the center of the surveyed road and then adding in where his actual lot starts no matter of the roads encroachment? Heck no.

He's got that, I mow here, so this here is mine attitude.

And not all men are not like this. These guys give the decent ones bad names. Does that mean you have to tolerate the twits? Heck no!

In fact, if you hadn't given the offer for him to remove the posts, if he'd touched them I'd have been on the phone to the cops. Who then would have told him to leave it alone until he got a proper survey.

Sure, he may be a new neighbor, but if you let him walk on you now he'll walk on you forever.

My lots and lots of cents.
(PS, found your blog from Miss Snarks blog)

harridan said...

Hmmm, and I just realized I didn't address the topic of feminism and its evolution.

How weird is that, I'm thinking to myself.

Why? Because normally that would have put me on a soapbox years ago.

Mayhap with my wonderful hubster, I have achieved the true feminist ideal. I'm not required by anyone to be anything but the person I want to be.

I can freely state my opinions, freely decide what activities I want to participate in, freely decide what jobs I feel are right for me.

It goes much deeper than that, but I think you get the gist.

Honestly, it surprises me how many young women now-a-days are running head long from the whole feminist thing.

It's kind of disturbing to see them revert to the 50's in attitude. But hey, that's their choice, which is what the whole thing is all about.

DD said...

While I do not think it is your job to appease strange people ranting about property lines. It sounds to me like you helped escalate the confrontation, you picked (subconsciously?) what you knew would push his buttons and pushed. Fun, but self-defeating, in the long run you have to live next to this jerk. Maybe he is the kind to keep doing jerk like things to get back at that *****.

As to feminisim, in the circles I travel, it has come to mean belittling men, putting them down, thinking or at least saying you are better than them, smarter etc.

So I am not a feminist but...

Onsmi Welcol said...

I assure you that all men are NOT idiots with the mentalities of spoiled two year olds.