I said it. I said the “F” word. Does it make you uncomfortable?
I am a feminist. A certain *kind* of feminist. Until recently, I didn’t realize that I am what is called a “difference” feminist. As opposed to an “equality” feminist.
I have always felt that equality is for the birds. I do not believe in it. Never have. Even as a younger woman, I never bought it. It seemed antithetical to me for women who were advocating for equal political and economic power to argue that we had to act like a man in order to have it. I mean, really. I don’t know how to act like a man and frankly, I don’t want to.
The fact of the matter is that one of the most influential statements that I ever heard came from my Daddy, of all people. Daddy is a tortured feminist. He’s sort of a paternalistic chauvinist in a lot of ways – but he had daughters and he thought we should be taken seriously for our brains and not our looks and that we should get paid the money that we earned. Anyway, on one of our long drives back from college (when I was about as radical as I ever could be) he said to me “Tonya, you don’t have to act like a man to be equal.” Now, I think that I had long thought that – but I don’t think I’d ever heard a man say it. But in any event, I took it and ran.
So here goes.
Men and Women are NOT equal. Nope. Not at all. Apples are not equal to Oranges. The Pacific Ocean is not equal to the Atlantic. North Carolina and New York are not equal. I could go on, but hopefully you get my point. I think demanding equality and then implicitly accepting that in order to be “equal” we have to strip ourselves of the femininity that makes us women in the first place is a tacit admission that men are still the standard by which all others are measured. I don’t think men are the standard here – I just think that they think they are.
So what do I think?
I think women have inherent power. I think that women have unique gifts and perspectives. I think that traditional characterizations of femininity such as beauty, grace, guile, temperance, flexibility, nurturing and yes, boobs – and all they symbolize, have power and influence. And I think women should embrace them. Use them. Demand them. Stipulate to the fact that you are not a man and then get on with it. They’re not better. They’re not stronger. They’re not more able. They’re just different. Let them be different. Lets admit that we’re different, too and use it.
Now – don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should have to walk out of the house every day wearing stilettos and perfume and eyeliner and all that if you don’t want to. I’m not saying that makeup is the definition of femininity.
But I am saying that I love heels and perfume and makeup. I love bags and I am not above using my boobs to win friends and influence people. If men can play golf with judges on the weekend then why the hell can’t I wear a v-neck blouse to Court if I happen to know that certain judges enjoy lawyers with breasts? Why wouldn’t I use all the powers of persuasion that I possess along with my considerable education and intellect? Has anyone ever told a good looking, well-educated man to stop diminishing himself by flirting? Maybe. But I doubt it.
You know why women feel bad about doing these things? Why we think we shouldn’t use male definitions of female sexuality to get what we want? According to Simone de Bouvier, its because (traditionally speaking) the power of sex is the only power that men have been willing to recognize in women. And as soon as they recognized it, they deprived us of using it. That’s right ladies. Good girls and virtuous women don’t use sex to get what they want….. according to God and the Pope and the President and law makers of old… And just like that, they stripped us of power. And we went along with it. And when the revolution finally came, we still went along with it.
So what is a woman to do?
Be your dadgum self. If that self has good legs and wants to use them – go to it. If that self has a witty and devastating sense of humor – use that too. If you like wearing lots of mascara while you do it, more power to you. Use your brain. Use your smarts. Use your guile and your beauty and your charm and your education.
What women must do is beat down the walls. Every. Single. Day. We must (and I will argue that we have) hit the patriarchy like wave after wave from the ocean and wear it down until it looks more like us. Until it caves in to our overwhelming femininity. Until it recognizes and admits that the unique and overwhelming power of women is needed, welcome and yes, valuable. But we can’t expect MEN to recognize our value if we don’t recognize and embrace it ourselves. I think that successful women do that – whether they admit it or not. And those are the women who are reticent to call themselves “feminists”. They aren’t angry. They don’t sit around railing against the man even though we are well aware that he still exists. They just go out into the world as their powerful, feminine selves and they do it. They do it the only way they know how – as women.
And you know what? They’re getting shit done.
I’m a lawyer and The Law abhors change. And the men who practice law don’t like change, either. And The Law and the way it is practiced was set up by men, for men and the way men could do it – all the time and without the burden of pregnancy, child bearing or cramps. And then women hit the legal profession in wave after wave. And when the profession resisted change, the women started packing up their ovaries and going home. Going to do other things. In short, women looked at The Law and told it to go fuck itself. And you know what? By that time it was too late. The Law realized that it couldn’t have the best, brightest and most talented lawyers if it didn’t keep, nurture and value its female practitioners. Yes. The Ladies made their mark. And when The Law started losing that talent, it did something unprecedented…. It changed. It changed to accommodate the demands of women and just like that the legal world became better. Not because we’re equal. Not because we ceded the playing field and started acting like men. But because women demanded change and because we’re uniquely talented and valuable – we won.
Pretty cool, huh?
Now – there are men who may read this and feel vindicated. They usually point and scream and get ripped out of the frame because their point has just been proven. WOMEN DON’T WANT TO BE TREATED EQUALLY! THEY WANT *SPECIAL* TREATMENT!!!!!
Um, no. We just aren’t going to let men define “equal” anymore without reference to us.
In the end, there are things about me that I see as essentially and intrinsically feminine. And I see these things as who I am and I see them as a source of my power. And I’m going to use my power as *I* see fit. And isn’t that what this is about anyway? When I know a male lawyer is short, I wear my highest heels just so I can tower over him. It’s a power play that I adapted from the boys – and not only does it work, its fucking fun.
Will there be men in my way? Absolutely. What do I do about them? I step over them. I walk around them. In a lot of circumstances I have looked at them and thought “I’m just gonna wait until you die. I’ll still be here, wearing my heels and you’ll be dead.”
So I’m just going to call myself a neo-feminist because I don’t care if maybe a man thinks that the Tonya I am is too soft spoken, too girly, too whatever – or if he thinks that my unwillingness to play by his rules means I want special treatment…. I won’t do it. Will not.
Chime in and let me know what you think.