The implicit value equations of feminism

This follow-on piece to the workshops and blogs in which I have previously used the concept of “Queering the Value Equation” (see here and here) was originally intended to be a chapter in the book I am currently working on. The working title for the book changed, and with the change in perspective (funny how that is, one loves changes in perspective), this chapter now really didn’t fit in the book any longer, so here it is, for you, my dear readers. And let it be a slight apology that life events have not made the late winter / early spring conducive to writing, and so this blog has not been updated very often.

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Much like workplaces that include women actually become better workplaces and better performing organizations, can inclusion make feminism better for everybody involved? Source: Fotolia

I have recently given a couple of iterations of a presentation I decided to call Queering the Value Equation. I introduced this idea of a queered value equation in the context of ending discrimination in the workplace against LGBT people, but truly, it applies very well to a conversation about girls and women. In its simplest form, in the business world*, a value equation is a very simple decision making tool. Value is defined as the ratio of what you get, to what you give — high value is getting much and giving little, and low value is getting little and giving much.

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My fundamental “unqueered” value equation argument was that, when companies thought about LGBT inclusion, they understood the benefit to them poorly, and they exaggerated if not fabricated the cost. As a result, they approached inclusion from the perception that it offered very poor value, and even if they were not conscious of it, this caused them to drag along, struggle, and as advocates of inclusion (since they advocated for it, even though they perceived its value to be poor), placed them in a defensive, ineffective posture.

That queered value equation, in the context of the LGBT community, looks a little like this:

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In essence, the only reason that (straight) people were advocating for LGBT inclusion in the workplace was because it made them feel good about themselves, or even more particularly, better about than others. That’s fine and good, but it’s a weak business motivation. They perceived, and very clearly the depiction above is meant to make fun of this, some fairly absurd costs associated with inclusion, most of which circle from wanting to include LGBT people without actually understanding us or appreciating the way we think or act. You could see how this applies to women. Indeed, when women were not in many kinds of American workplaces**, and we began the process of changing this, this value equation seemed much the same. Of course water cooler conversations became awkward — many of them were about objectifying women, and it is certainly more awkward (although this seems to stop no one) to objectify us when we are standing right there. There were increased costs — many offices didn’t even have a women’s room, and certainly, those bins for tampons cost, well, a prohibitive amount. And the fun in work was, sometimes, rooted in the idea of the workplace as a man cave, to which a man went to avoid his wife***, and this would certainly be shattered as well.

A concept, dear readers, I wish to consider, is that this problem occurs not only when patriarchy, men, society, consider women, but it exists inside feminism, too. It is at the root of, say, exclusionary movements inside feminism. There is a perception that the “cost,” for instance, of accepting me as a co-advocate, because I am trans, is too high — you know, my “male privilege” and “male energy” polluting the environment like I’m leaching bisphenol A into the water, etc.**** — and the value, is too low, if even existent. Or there is some strange idea that if feminists were to include sex workers in their ranks, we would somehow have to move our meetings to strip clubs, or, I don’t know what. There is a perception that, if we talk about economic marginalization, “we” distract ourselves from “real” women’s issues. And certainly, there is a perception that we want more “women like us” to be part of the sisterhood, and if we don’t have anything in common with other feminists, we think it should be no fun at all.

In my LGBT inclusion work, I argue that the antidote to this is to — substantially — revise the value equation. I argue that, in fact, there are a host of benefits and hardly any costs to LGBT inclusion in the workforce. And, importantly, I argue that one should do it because it delivers benefits, not because it is the “right” thing to do. This is actually really critical. Oh, I like it when people feel good about themselves because they help me. But I also believe that charity as a model is ephemeral and unsustainable. It lasts through the feast and not the famine. And I really do believe that inclusion is something that works. In this same way, we need an inclusive value equation for feminism.

My queered value equation may actually serves as a good starting point.

With respect to ending sexism, although I focus on girls and women, I do talk about men, too, like my blog, “Sexism is Bad for Men, Too” from 2015. But consider some concrete examples. Quantopian did a study of Fortune 1000 companies between 2002 and 2014. The study, summarized by Forbes Magazine, found that women CEOs outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark by a staggering 226% over eight years. Lest you think we just do well in the “big box” (where I, myself play) Forbes also reported results from a Centre for Entrepreneurs study in 2015. The Centre found that women make better entrepreneurs, too, because they are better at managed risk and self-monitoring. Outside of business, a 2015 Washington Post piece summarizes decades of research that shows that putting more women on the police force reduces police brutality. These, and many others, are “mainstream” benefits — not some medal given out by us as feminists.

And like my queered value equation, if the “I” in the equation is men*****, the result actually improves men. I’m not saying that women are just intrinsically better CEOs, for instance. Rather, the systematic differences in performance in this role that are seen when women hold it are relatively underrepresented, because there are few female CEOs, and men do not particularly have to worry that, say, their board will read the results of these studies and fire them in favor of a woman who will outperform them. Because of this, men are incentivized to act “like men” in this role, as well. Imagine, for instance, a situation in which 50% of Fortune 1000 CEOs were women, instead of the <10% in the article. In that situation, while it is still probably unlikely a man would explicitly be fired because replacing him with a woman would improve company performance******, men would be frequently compared to women, his processes to her processes, and his outcomes to her outcomes, and men would likely be strongly motivated to emulate the winning strategies of women (which are probably not, at least not entirely, immutable characteristics of something like our different cognitive architecture or our hormonal milieu).

Inside feminism, similarly, we need to think about these challenges I’ve been highlighting as signs of inborn error in our value equation. The value equation is not an attempt to commercialize feminism. This is, itself, an important discussion. The authors of the #FemFuture report and others have coined the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (a term that seems to go at least as far back as Ruth Gilmore, Dylan Rodriguez, and others at the initial The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, on my birthday in 2004, more than ten years ago, and before that, goes to a much longer discussion of shadow states and shadow governments. There are important consequences of deferring important, mission critical (if one’s mission is sustainable, ethical society) work to a diffuse network of non-profit organizations relying on donor funding, and, when the state feels like it, grants, much as there are serious consequences for privatizing things like the military, police force, or prison system (not that we’d do that). On the other end, Dan Pelotta, in his 2013 TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” argues that nonprofits are hampered from efficacy in many situations because they play by a different set of rules than for-profit entities, limiting their access to capital (from a capitalistic / entrepreneurial standpoint, access to capital is the lifeblood of innovation) and limiting their access to great talent or world-class solutions. Both of these arguments are important arguments*******.

However, economics does not just apply to money. Economics is much more broadly an analysis of the way things work (and the ways they don’t work). The value equation isn’t about money, although that is the way it is usually considered. It’s about decisions you make about whatever you value. A slice of your time. Your energy. Your thoughts. Your voice. Your heart or passion. Rather than making a capitalistic argument, I hope, like me, you value at least some of those other things way more than your money. And the value equation is about decisions you make about whatever demands whatever you value — causes, movements, issues, not just how you spend your cash or where you swipe your credit card or tap to pay.

In this light, the value equation is just an attempt to uncover a process that is already happening, of which we are unaware, but, like gravity (or sexism) affects us anyways********. This makes it much like classic feminist analysis tools, such as inverting a gendered statement about the world and examining our reaction to the statement when applied to men in the way it is to women, and to women in the way it is to men. The more we recognize about our current value equation around inclusive, proud feminism, the more we can understand why we are not achieving it, and what we haven’t been ready to admit we believe. The more we create an inclusive value equation for future feminism, the more we can center ourselves on the benefits feminist movement derives from inclusion, which give us robust, sustainable reasons to improve feminism. And like the effects of ending sexism, itself, on men, I believe and intend to demonstrate that an inclusive feminism actually has more, and not less, to offer all girls and women, including the “bluebloods” among our sisterhood (of whom I may be sometimes a one*********) who are frequently most resistant to inclusion and who (when they are motivated to include) do it from a sense of noblesse oblige and not from a perception that it will make feminism better.

*  There are numerous jokes to be made at this point about men liking to measure things, etc.

**  Certainly, we have always worked, and much more often perhaps still than men, have essentially no vacation, ever. For instance (and I love my Teri very much), where we go on vacation, it’s incumbent on me to… make hotel reservations, pull up directions, find lists of sights to see and present them to Teri, go back and find alternate sights to see because I haven’t found what Teri wants, find restaurants Teri will like, and even in our case, do most of the driving. So, I quip, evenwhen we are on vacation I am working. As I take the week off, at the moment, for writing time for this book, I am still responsible for making the meals, grocery shopping, getting issues with the house addressed, cleaning, and so on and so forth.

*** There is an engineering joke in bad taste, although it really is more making fun of engineers than misogynistic, that goes like this: Why should an engineer always have a mistress? Because his wife will think he’s with his mistress, and his mistress will think he’s with his wife, and he can go in the lab and get some work done.

****  Something you should know about me being trans is that I made the least convincing pretend man, ever, and this I think contributed to why no one was particularly surprised when I came out. Teri and I have a game — I tell him, “I could totally be a guy,” and he laughs in my face.

*****  Which, one quips, it is — that’s kind of the whole thing about patriarchy.

******  One does feel the need to point out that, just weeks before I wrote this, Ellen Pao was forced from her role as CEO for an internet darling, Reddit. In her time there, she was well known both for changing company policy in innovative ways that improve diversity, such as eliminating salary negotiation, as well as for reforming Reddit as a service, by eliminating areas, or subreddits, that were perennially used for sexual harrassment. She stepped down after an epic wave of misogynistic trolling against her. Ironically, after a random feminist post, I did some reading through “The Red Pill” on Reddit… and, well, I’m not going to link it. It’s easy to find. Be forewarned.

*******  By way of disclosure, my employment was in the non-profit sector when I wrote this, although I currently own and operate a small, for-profit consulting firm. The NPO world was new to me — as an engineer, I worked in large for-profit companies, mostly publicly traded — Ford, Visteon, Textron. I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life at universities, too, though, mostly public (the Universities of Michigan and Florida), but also private (the University of Chicago), which operate according to their own philosophy that is not exactly like cause-based non-profit work nor like for-profit enterprise.

********  And feminism is dedicated to the radical notion that sexism is way more endable and way less a basic reality of the universe, than gravity is.

********* I said sometimes, when I wrote this last Fall. Now I hasten to admit, quite often.

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Reclaiming the Role of Woman-Identified Woman

As I was sitting in the conference room of APA yesterday, I remember that back at Convention in August in Toronto, I had heard, for the first time, the phrase, “woman-identified woman,” and I had not had a chance to understand its origin.

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The Woman Identified Woman, a pamphlet from 1970, is available archivally to read, at Duke University.

This short piece is worth reading.

It could easily be seen as not only the end of the “lavender menace” controversy within feminism but the beginning of exclusionary radical feminism. I do not think it should be seen that way. It does not translate, perfectly, more than 45 years later. But there is so much truth here.

I have always been a woman. I was not always woman-identified – at times, I still fail to be so. It is the awakening process of feminism that taught me to be a woman-identified woman. It is, in turn, being a woman-identified woman, that gives me any hope that my love, my sexuality, my beauty, or any other part of my self or my experience, may become tools of my liberation and not my oppression.

And yet, it is crucial that I am the only woman who identifies this woman. I am not a women-identified woman, any more than I can be a man- or male-identified woman. And this is where, almost fifty years later, we go farther. We recognize that no woman can define all womankind, and that womankind does not have a corner on marginalization, but rather, we lift women up in solidarity with and alliance with other marginalized groups, and we recognize that both women and people who are not women experience intersecting challenges, and search for a way to be self-identified, just as we Sisters do.

But we continue to recognize that autonomy to create and unmask our own identities, to pursue authenticity, is everything in our journey towards a world without cages.

And in this, I find it so easy to stand in solidarity with these Sisters who spoke before I was born.

Managing Conflicts Among Women

I wrote this piece, about eight months ago, and I gave this speech, about six months ago, as way stations in my progress towards articulating* my thoughts about how we respond to confrontation within feminism, and confrontation generally with other women. I’m still working on this line of thought. I probably will be forever. This is just another way station. A somewhat lengthy one.

I need to start with a couple of disclaimers, and everyone knows I hate disclaimers, because these things I am talking about are not sins at all, and I am deeply unrepentant of them**. The disclaimers do, though, lead to the heart of the matter.

The first is that I wish to talk to, with, and about other (moderately to very) feminine women. Yes, this is certainly a conversation more about femininity than about womanhood. Yes, there are butch and masculine women. Certainly I am their great fan (certainly, they make my heart go pitter-patter, although it turned out that it belongs to a man). Although I see guilt-voices from other feminists chiding me to then speak of “femininity,” and not “womanhood,” I respond that, here, I talk about feminine women, both because I do not entirely, yet, understand the entanglement of womanhood and femininity, and because I really do not presume to speak on behalf of feminine men. I am not of them, nor to have spent great time studying them. They might tell me I am describing them as well as myself. Feminine women, too, may tell me I am wrong. But this is a significant part of what feminism is about – it is discovery of the bounds of the invisibly gilded birdcage in which one is made to present both beauty of feather and of lilt. There are feminists who believe her freedom is found in casting off her femininity. I am not one of them. I wish to help her embrace her femininity and create a world in which she can be both free and authentic. So let me dispense with that, sisters.

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A whole bunch of women (and three men) who are not talking about feminist stuff. Source: Reddit

The other disclaimer is that, when I talk about confrontation among women (who may or may not be Sisters), of course, not everything every woman says*** is feminist. Obviously, right? I mean this isn’t news. Look, you, at the the women of Fox News (who occasionally might get it right, but frequently get it wrong). Look at Carly Fiorina. Extending this obvious point, though, is perhaps a more subtle one: there are disagreements between women that are not grounded in feminist principles, and for these disagreements, feminism may provide groundwork but not substantive resolution.

But in this, the sister is damned if she does, and damned if she does not, and now we are getting somewhere.

She is damned when the disagreement is feminist, damned in a million traps laid for her. She is hard pressed into forms of logical discourse that may or may not apply well, to feminist theory, and more particularly, which encapsulate sexism in that they favor strongly masculine thinking styles over feminine thinking styles and masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge. I’m not saying that women nor femininity are inherently illogical – they are not. My scientific credibility is not in conflict with my femininity – but these rules and processes are built by men and for men, to operate in a world of men, and I am saying this as a feminine woman who has spent great time and effort acquiring this knowledge, both from other women and directly from men. To this point, too, these processes also favor the knowledge of the enfranchised over the knowledge of the un- or disenfranchised, a thing we see over and over again in phenomena like mansplaining and whitesplaining. And thus she finds herself damned into conversation that amplifies all of the disparities she opposes in the most deeply moral ways imaginable to her kind, and as her adversary is likely pressed into the same type of conversation, she is double damned.

She is damned, too, and perhaps less overtly, if she does not. My observation is predicated firmly on observing myself (and learning, over decades, to not see this as a flaw in myself). It is necessarily generalizing, and it is not meant to invalidate the examples of sisters who differ in these particulars. But for a moment, I want to speak to what I suppose, are many woman besides myself. We have no love for fighting. In fact, we hate it. When we choose to use the didactical tools of the patriarchy, we, like men, are somewhat able, although I suspect far less completely than them, to depersonalize our conflict. Certainly, when we fight men, they will tell us to do so. And damn us, we try. But our fighting is inherently far more personal, I believe, than theirs. This can be seen in archetypes and stereotypes – particularly the archetype scene of the two men who pummel each other with fists, and running out of endurance, lying on the ground together, find healing. These men then arise and drink beer together. Because their fights, even, surreally, when they seek to physically hurt or even kill each other, are not very personal.

This is not how fighting among women seems to work, at least not in many of the scrapes into which I’ve gotten. No, our fighting is deeply personal, it is scarcely anything other than personal. Contrast against that example of the men in a fistfight a prototypical way that a woman has fought with violence: by throwing herself into the gears.

Probably not completely unique to women (and feminine people in general), but more pronounced, on average, among women, is a tendency that needs consideration here. Even if we do lash out, we also lash in, and this is important. The gears stop, but against our bodies are exacted a terrible price. In a funny way, my history with anorexia is a good example – I would get caught up in self-starvation, the mental health problem that could most double as a political statement!

My observation (and particularly my introspection) reveals that our anger almost always is deeply enmeshed with guilt, self-doubt, and self-loathing. This makes our fights very different from fist fights, and it makes our very notion of victory, in the best of cases, very different from what other kinds of victories look like. Think about this: when was the last time you felt good after conflict, and particularly when was the last time you felt good after conflict with another woman? If you’re having trouble finding even one example, think about all those times when you didn’t feel good. Perhaps you “won” the fight, but that victory was deeply pyrrhic for you. Inside the Sisterhood, “white feminism” demanding an erasing solidarity probably works entirely based on this subconscious or even conscious knowledge, for all of us, that there are no knockout punches in our fights, and we will never walk away unhurt, nor really even feel any strong sense of having won. Often times, sisters back down to other sisters, for this very reason, although this, too, is pyrrhic, in the self-loathing engendered by allowing (what we believe to be) wrong-minded views to flourish.

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Rose McGowan, whom I love, recently picked a fight that should be addressed (because she was right about almost everything, but what she was wrong about made all the difference), but not in a way that just hurts all the sisters involved. Source: Wikimedia

I am coming to believe, buried in this, and probably at a level at which we are rarely cognizant of it, there is some kind of fear that there is evil in us, evil that works in a morphology like dark magic, where once it is unleashed, it is not re-bottled, and it will consume us. Society is all too willing to reinforce this idea about us, from the witch trials, to the very idea of hysteria, to the celebrity-gone-mad storyline****. Although not uniquely told about women, these are all strongly gendered messages, and ones we internalize in our self-hatred as well as recast onto other women.

Thus, we find we scarcely know how to fight someone else without fighting ourselves, and although we may be mortally afraid of others, in ways, we are always more afraid of ourselves.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And thus, although our fighting is deeply personal, deeply sensual, focused not so much on weapons nor damage, but far more on tooth and on nail, it is powerfully violent in a whole new way that fists could never be.

This is interesting. If the prototype of men fighting is the fistfight (something I suspect very few women have ever done – I certainly have not, in any event), it is worth noting that this kind of fighting is optimized not to inflict severe injury. Think about our bodies and think about how fighting looks (the stereotype on television will work). There are certainly places on the body (such as the base of the skull) in which a relatively smaller force could be lethal. Men in the stereotypical fistfight do not hit each other in these places. In fact, this is seen throughout animals – rams head-butt each other in a way that involves a fight that results in a winner and a loser, but which relatively less frequently involves anyone killing anyone else. Now guns and knives change this, significantly. But the point is that the culture of fighting among men (and certainly, they have spent time creating such a culture, over many, many generations), is optimized in a very different way than the culture of fighting among woman has been. In primitive society, strong solidarity was far more crucial to the safety of women than men, and being cast out was likewise far more dangerous to women than to men.

Echoing this, over the millennia, although incarceration certainly primarily affects menfolk, broadly, there is a pronounced emphasis on casting out when it comes to the treatment of women – adulterers, sex workers, and other women of “ill repute,” single mothers and those not deemed appropriate for pregnancy, and many others.

We echo this, as well, in our discourse. It is a part of the reason why we argue about whether other women are feminists, in a way that men would not do (instead, typically arguing that he is wrong, or more broadly, stupid). We do not have old boys’ clubs, or really a direct equivalent, but we do have amorphous but pervasive networks of social power, and many of us rely on them in far-reaching ways. And they are networks from which women are far more commonly cast out, a thing for which the old boys’ network is not renowned.

So we have a different brand of fighting, often, among women, with different stakes. In some ways, these stakes are far more precarious, and rather than analyzing the ways we fight each other as women by comparing us to men, we should understand how these ways have evolved over time to be most damaging to most women.

Now what?

First, if we buy into this line of reasoning, which is admittedly here in a rough draft form, then, we should see that making fights among women more like fights among men will not solve anything. Certainly, most of us don’t have any real interest in throwing punches. But even when we consider fighting amongst men outside of throwing punches, it is optimized to serve priorities of men and masculinity. It will not be a good fit to our concerns. If there is any level on which we agree that the deeply personal, emotional realm is somewhat emphasized in us as women, we cannot simply shift our fights more into the realm of masculine logic, any more than our fights would be simply resolved just because we held them in Spanish instead of English (or vice versa). Rather, we must complement the development of masculine / agency – driven tools for confrontation with the development of more powerful, but unabashedly feminine / communion driven tools.

Second, such a line of reasoning changes how we understand escalation. Escalation to physical violence, in many of our arguments, makes no sense, and having come this far without using physical violence to solve any problem, like ever, it is not something we are going to accidentally use. Rather, the escalation types, of which we must be most wary, all involve some kind of outcasting process. So if we want feminism-informed conflict among women, we must seriously look for ways to take this, from exiling women from feminism, to exiling women from being recognized as part of what needs to be done in female representation in business or political spheres, to exiling women from our social networks, off the table. While recognizing that our arguments may be deeply personal, and that we may indeed fight tooth and nail, we need to recognize as well, the needs of our opponents to maintain community.

These are pretty lofty demands, and it is still hard for me to understand how I would use them practically when I am in confrontation. But there is power in knowing what needs to be done.

* The book I’m writing, when – not if – I finish it, is centrally about understanding what inclusion issues in feminism teach us about feminism, both as movement and as ideology, and resolving our struggles in-Sisterhood not through solidarity that means silencing those most vulnerable, nor through assisting privileged sisters in drowning themselves in self-hatred, but in a way that recognizes our plurality and focuses on the strength that plurality brings us and the opportunity it delivers to us to build better feminisms.

** I grieve sins, far too many do I grieve, but these are not the sins I grieve.

*** Nor even everything any one woman says, you know, like even if that woman were one we hold sacrosanct within our movement. But certainly not if they’re just some bitch like me. This now being the third blog post in which I’ve dabbled in the footnotes, talking about the idea of using bitch as a reclamation word, and not delivering on it. Who knows, you might have to wait for my book.

**** These stories are far older than Norma Desmond. They have been encapsulated in things like mad songs, almost always sung by women, from ancient times – in proto-operatic forms, the mad song was even a standard component of many compositions, and in my nature of impertinence, although it is, certainly pertinent, I am listening to my favorite collection of them as I write.

On Micro- and Macrofeminism

I have been confronting issues, for which macrofeminist and microfeminist issue alignment, or more precisely, the lack of a means to align these spheres, makes feminists miserable or saps our agency. A classic example of micro- and macro- misalignment is my gripe about feminist men who post anti-sexism memes on Facebook but let their girlfriends, fiancées, wives, or lovers, do all the chores, cook all the meals, and even serve them to them. This is not an example that I pull out of thin air, exactly*. Erm.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

These terms may be new. Let me explain what I mean by them. I’m borrowing (obviously) the concept from economics, although there are important distinctions. By macrofeminism I mean our thought and discourse about, our belief in or prioritization of, and all the heartshare, that big, systemic issues take up. The hundreds of millions of girls and women who go without basic access to water, sanitation, and education are a macroscale issue to me – I don’t directly touch on their lives, at least right now. As an upper middle class Indian American in a safe neighborhood – for me, Black Lives Matter is also really a macroscale issue, although for another feminist, these issues may touch much closer to home.

In contrast, microfeminism includes, certainly, all the micro-aggressions that affect us personally, but more generally, the feminism of our daily lived experience – how we are disrespected, invalidated, or erased, how we are made recipients of misogyny (and frequently expected to say, “Thank you” in return), and how we are taught to hate and loathe ourselves or see ourselves as “less than.” These issues relate to macrofeminist issues in much the same way that economies are made up of many small transactions, the three dollars you paid the barista and the change you fed in the parking meter, and so on, which, when considered as a whole, become gargantuan. The big distinction from the economic use of microeconomics and macroeconomics is that, because of all the factors outside of sexism or patriarchy**, and because there is no unifying metric of feminism in the way that economists can at least try to convert all effects to some currency unit, what is microfeminist and what is macrofeminist may differ from person to person.

I choose these terms instead of saying something like, “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” for two reasons. First, there are actions associated with the macrofeminist issues – activated macrofeminists make voting decisions, educate and inform others, and sometimes even mobilize others for feminist movement. This is true in Teri’s case. He isn’t just lazily re-sharing memes on Facebook. His thoughts on this – including the ones that prompted this post – are deep and meaningful, and they are not lacking in sincerity. He is therefore walking and talking in alignment – what feels out of alignment is not his words and deeds, but his handling of the global and local applications of his beliefs.

The other reason I want to use these two terms, since I write every blog post I write, every speech or talk I give, not just to teach and share, but to, myself, try to learn, to learn, intersectionally, to not discount my personal experience wholly in favor of systemic issues that often have limited direct impact on me. See, as I share, particularly when I talk about anorexia and the personality traits I have that align with my anorexia experience, one of the most dominant hurtful themes*** of my childhood was learning that my hurt was always overruled by someone else’s hurt. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak my hurt, someone else would interrupt me, telling me theirs was worst. And I believed them / maybe it was. So I closed my mouth. And waited my turn. That never came. Like, ever. This is directly relevant because, all these years later, and through all my exposure to feminism, I know that I am not the only one of us – women, particularly, but also others – who experienced this. And when I look at feminist movement and women’s spaces, I see that they are filled with guilty women. And I get that. Because social butterfly that I am, I view every social interaction as an opportunity to let someone down – Teri, my friends, my team, my parents, acquaintances, strangers – my thoughts overflow, too, with guilt. I learned as I recovered from anorexia to be done with the idea that, because my hurt never measured up, it would never be my turn to hurt. I finally came to understand that this was the root of my lack of self-esteem, and overcoming this belief – allowing myself to hurt authentically – was central to how I came to have some small measure of self-respect****.

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

Back to my classic example. I would not be true to my feminism if I ignored this misogyny in my home because all my effort is on macrofeminist issues. I would not be truly feminist if I ignored it everywhere else I experienced it, like, all the time. But I admit that, sometimes, I do, precisely because of this fear that I will detract from my macrofeminist causes. These are trivial, although micro-aggression adds up. It isn’t all trivial. At its most serious extreme, and yet in this exact process, there have been times when women (not me) have been asked, “intersectionally” to overlook their own sexual assaults because their assaulter was perceived as an ally to feminist or progressive movement. Where this happened – the most flagrant, recent, example, was some of the early response to claims of sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby (where the intersection of race complicated the issue but did not warrant invalidating the claims of women reporting rape), but another prominent example from recent years was sexual assault at Occupy Wall Street and other similarly styled protest movements – we are not doing feminist movement, nor women either as a political entity nor as individual women, any favors when we whitewash these assaults.

In contrast, in my usage, say an affluent, ethnically non-marginalized feminist women can talk about black lives and the impacts of poverty and lack of access to education, or about curtailment of reproductive freedoms, for sisters who are affected by these issues in ways she is not (and in that way, is not “like her”), but also, on the microfeminist scale, not feel pushed to ignore or overlook all the times when men objectify or make unwanted sexual advances, making whatever-it-is cents on the dollar compared to men of her own ethnicity, or when she feels, say, like a sucker because all the responsibility in her relationships with men is placed on her shoulders*****. Rather than dismissing her feminism as “white” or “faux,” if she is engaged in discourse and movement both at the microfeminist and macrofeminist levels, we can recognize and celebrate this as a more integrative, and thus more intersectional, feminism.

When we do this, we make her stronger, and we make feminism stronger, rather than pitting feminist cause against feminist cause or feminist against feminist. We also empower her to learn to dynamically balance her commitment to discourse and movement on issues at both levels. I do mean dynamic. When she has just been catcalled, or something has just been mansplained to her, or when her microscale issue is something not so micro, we should understand and embrace her anger on her local issue. We should give her a moment, and not expect her to breathlessly return to advocating on a more systemic level without acknowledging her own mistreatment.

Apropos of the dynamic nature of this process, recognizing this as micro- and macrofeminist alignment has the further benefit that it offers us a robust platform on which we can engage in the kind of prioritizing we need to do, if we want our feminism to be intersectional. This prioritization would not work by denying sexism or misogyny, ever, or queuing up some experiences in dead end “slow lanes” like what was done to all my sorrows when I was younger. Rather, it would recognize that no feminist, even we who throw our bodies into the gears, should be sacrificing her own dignity or self-respect as a woman in order to support feminist movement. This is important because, as I’ve said before, it’s time to have some intersectional real talk and get beyond just saying we’re intersectional and then not thinking intersectionally.

So please give this some thought. It’s not so important that these terms take root – but the idea underlying them is different, and I believe it is one component of our pathway out of toxic, faux, and bullshit feminism, and back to empowering and fulfilling feminism.

* Meaning I’ve been calling Teri out on it. Teri is a good sport to let me publicly analyze these issues. Make no mistake, I not only love him with all my being, but I respect him – if I use him as an example it is because our relationship is a highly accessible example-base for me, because I push him to be better and I expect him to push me to be better, and also because this is entirely the point of microfeminism. I am particularly thankful for his willingness to embrace the discomfort my baring myself sometimes causes him, e.g., when I embrace the term “bitch” as a reclamation term for myself, and he cringes, still.

** Here, I use a simple operational definition of patriarchy as the system that sustains, reinforces, and expands the reach of sexism.

*** There were many positive themes, and I have lived a joy-filled life through it all.

**** This is a (life-) long journey. Much as I still see myself as fat, always, and as ugly, nearly always, even if I also am able to somewhat accept the fact that I am not fat by any sensible measure, and to understand that I am perceived as beautiful, and that all the people who use words like stunning, lovely, or gorgeous – words I receive probably somewhere or other every week – that all those people are not simultaneously lying to me.

***** All the way down, she gripes at the airport, to “annoying guy behavior,” like blocking the boarding lane at the airport gate when your number hasn’t been called yet, but you’re right directly in the line, so we have to ask you if you’re boarding (to which you always say no) to let us around you. Seriously, why do you do that?