I’m Just Not Impressed

Am I supposed to be?

Posts Tagged ‘Recommended Reading

Mythical Feminists

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Thanks to a discussion elsewhere on-line, I’ve been thinking on The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolfe, which has gotten me thinking on my relationship to and evolution within feminism.

I first read this book in 1992 – what must have been the first paperback edition – for an introductory Women’s Studies class at the University of Illinois.  I confess that at the time, I was not too keen on the book.  It – like much of what was taught in that particular class – felt too didactic.  Too much like victimization.  I had been raised in a home where feminism was almost taken for granted.  I liked sex (or the idea of it, anyway).  I liked black eyeliner and coloring my hair and wearing lipstick the color of a bruise.  I liked using a fake id to get into bars and clubs wearing clothing that would barely cause an eye raise in today’s youth culture, but which felt daring at the time.  I liked playing with standards of beauty and subverting them to my will.  Arguably, I’m still at it, but not in quite the same way.

I left what I thought of as “mainstream feminism” for a long while because I felt judged by the young women in that particular class and I felt silenced by a teaching assistant who I didn’t think appreciated my “difference”.  Looking back on my mindset at the time, it was I who was being closeminded and chafing at being required to look at the world through a more critical lens.  I felt personally attacked where really, there was the need to acknowledge that the world was larger than my experience.

Likewise, as time went on, I felt stifled, even betrayed, by a campus “feminism” that I wanted to be more flexible and critical in its dicta.  I cringed as WS majors declared that the subject of a diary of life in feudal Japanshould have left her husband – completely ignoring the social strictures of the culture and the time.  By the time I was in law school, I felt stuck between the second and third waves, both of which held appeal,  but neither of which I felt I could relate to.  I held on to “feminist” as a label – I never cottoned to the idea of “womanist” or * “I believe in equality but don’t call myself a feminist”.  But I definitely fell off the awareness wagon for a time.

But back to The Beauty Myth.  To paraphrase the overall message of the book as I recall it and as discussed in the community that prompted this, the activities that comprise beauty ritual are not the problem.  It is the compulsion to participate in those rituals whether women want to or not, whether we do so even to our detriment because we feel our place in society depends on them, whether the ideals of a beautiful exterior take the place of loving who we are, instead of highlighting the best of what we love about ourselves.   I expect I will be returning to this

I still have the copy I read for class and I want to re-read it.  Susan Faludi’s Backlash, too.  There’s a lot out there that I need to refresh my memory on. 

* Edited belatedly to correct my misconception that “womanist” was a general term used to replace feminism. I was woefully ignorant of the origins and actual use of “Womanist” as a term to describe the experiences of women of color which are often at odds with the privileged position of mainstream feminism. Which I neatly illustrated there.

Written by emandink

June 30, 2008 at 8:56 pm