Monday, November 13, 2006

The cost of feminism, and why I can't afford it

My exhaustion with feminism, or perhaps just on-line feminism , is that the debates, intents, judgments, finger-pointing, accusations of betrayal and ritualistic back-stabbing all in the name of the good seem to be set by people who have values which seem to come from the great land called “entitlement.”

Let me give you examples. A month or so ago, there was a great boo hoo about which feminist bloggers waxed versus those who didn’t; the idea of giving into the beauty expectation versus personal choice and even Hugo, the male feminist, driven by angst, repented of his chest hair shaven and proclaimed himself hairy and righteous again. Another toted issues is regarding where and how one shops; of course never at Walmart and always organic, but then making sure that is it local organic and not the new “branded” organic and how aware and conscious are you regarding your shopping choices; how much do you buy into the beauty myth? How many beauty products have you bought, what type of lingerie you allow yourself, etc? Okay, there is, for me, a HUGE problem with these and similar debates: they assume you have money.

I don’t wax: because I have no money. We don’t buy organic: because we have no money (strangely, when on a very tight income, even a small price difference means we can have more to eat if we don’t eat organic). We buy at Wal-Mart: because we have no money (the reason so many people buy at Wal-Mart is….it’s cheaper - $50 a paycheck cheaper on average, which is why working class people go there to shop). We don’t buy at local coffee houses over Starbucks, we don’t go buy out at all: because we have no money! Do you see a common theme here? Do you see how alienating, annoying and insipid it might seem to have people declaiming a person can or can’t qualify as a feminist revolving from arguments which arise out of disposable income. We don’t buy CD’s of local artists, we don’t buy whole earth products, owe don’t buy beauty products, we don’t buy any products, or go to any restaurants or music festivals or events because: we have no money.

Ironically, in the debate about body image, weight and exercise, I would love to participate; but I can’t afford to. Because I can’t afford to go to the gym, and haven’t been able to afford to for years. At the Y, which has a form for people on low or fixed income, we are below the income expectations of their form. Their form allows deductions for transport (either car or bus – neither of which we can afford), but not for shoes. Nor does it allow for the types of little costs which slowly sink any money you might get: haircuts, having to replace glasses, emergency dental problems, medical costs, replacement of clothes.

In Canada, feminism achieved educational equality by helping to put quotas on the employment of university lecturers and professors. Which is nice, but again, the action seems designed to help the very types of highly educated women in positions where disposable income and voice are available; aka – those who are setting the tones of the feminist debate. I (and I think a lot of working women) would have other suggestions for what could be fought for. Equity in cost of haircuts would be a great change. I mean a REALLY great change. Or equitable cost in clothes. Or free birth control. Another thing that would make a great difference would be making companies that pay minimum wage (or near to it) supply their clothes requirements. I applied for a minimum wage retail job recently which had stricter clothes requirements than Linda’s workplace (who works for the government). Taking a minimum wage job would have required me to spend between $200-$400 to work there. And even elsewhere, a woman is judged more on what she wears than how capable she is (The director Linda works for told his previous assistant that if she wanted to be considered for management, she needed to come to work in suits). Or instead of quotas at university, quotas for supervisors or managers at retail stores. That way Wal-Mart (who has as many employees as there are employed teachers in the US) wouldn’t be facing a giant class action suit from the women at Wal-Mart who are routinely passed over for jobs that have promise of promotion.

I realize that I am still one of the privileged because we chose getting internet access over a TV; so throw in free internet access and computers – because that is one of the economic standards which determines who gets to participate in the debate. Greater funding for libraries would make a dramatic difference; I know they have in my life, as my library has free CD’s and DVD’s and online search capability which means I reserve lists of items and they are delivered to the library down the block, then I am emailed, free of charge. That is how I can afford to watch 20 documentaries, or foreign films. My ability to understand the plight of others around the world from the isolated island where I live is, in many ways, economically determined. Thankfully, for me, the library allows me to educate myself. What about those who don’t have that opportunity?

You see, I have no interest in a feminism that doesn’t address the issues which faces me and which doesn't either include me, the women I know, or my mother or grandmothers. There have been times in my life when feminism and dignity was getting a hot shower (how exactly does that work in the Beauty Myth?). You see, I always thought I was one of the lucky entitled ones, (and I still do) because though I’ve rarely had enough funds that buying something didn’t involve having to sell something else, I’ve had the luxury of education. I can think and read and speak and write. Only, It seems I don’t have the ”right” experiences or issues to involve myself in the debate. For example, I can’t be objective or hardline about prostitution or the sex trade because, for me, when you often teeter a few steps above giving blowjobs to survive, the knowledge that when the world has determined it has no need for the knowledge in my head, they will still want to rent an orifice or two, has far more power to inform me than an academic debate. The whole thing reminds me of why I didn’t blog in Britain, and why when my publisher suggested it, I explained that survival isn’t interesting – writing “Worked 12 hours to survive; didn’t have running water....again!” isn’t a good narrative when printed day after day. And it is still why I don’t write much about what I do; because beyond the sacrifices made for fencing, I live in my head – because beyond my temperament, it’s what I can afford.


Faith said...

This entire post is part of the debate. Like you, most women do not have the resources to afford decisions that ivory blog feminists are debating.

Currently I am blessed to have the money I need but my past reeks of .39 cent fava beans and phone sex work.

It is important that your voice not back out of the discussion because of a little elitism (or even a lot). If all we thought about was the patriarchal connotations of waxing, we'd be a sorry group.

kathz said...

There's always been this debate between middle class and wealthy feminists who were merely interested in questions informed by privilege and those who really cared about wider questions of equality. In Britain there was a split between the Pankhurst sisters Christabel (glamorous) and Sylvia (who worked with women in the East End and was a pacifist). I've always had more time for Sylvia. Having said that, some beauty myth debates do matter, as they affect teenage girls in particular whether they're rich or poor. But in recent years I've come to the conclusion that class (and differentials of wealth) may matter more than feminism. But here it's OK to make jokes and crude generalisations about working-class and poor people - and there are still people to object if the targets are women or non-white.

I think everyone should live on a poverty income for part of their lives. Living in poverty with no certainty that things will ever get better is the only way to understand what it's really like. I know - I'll never forget.


man, you are always spittin' some knowledge chica! you would be a rockin' a$$ college professor. Great post!

Sober @ Sundown said...

Sorry I haven't been by in a few days.... You always have such thought provoking subject matter in your blog. Thanks for opening my eyes to a different perspective.

annulla said...

Just found my way to your blog and wanted to tell you that I have no connection with academia. I've honestly never heard of on-line feminism, let alone any debates, intents, judgments, finger-pointing, accusations of betrayal and ritualistic back-stabbing. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a feminist blog.

But no one can tell me I'm not a feminist. I'm a big, fat, honkin' old feminist from a family of big old feminists.

Most of them are gone now, and most never had the chance to get much schooling, let alone go to college. They never set foot in an organic market, attended a music festival or bought a CD, and they would have laughed at the very idea of use wax for anything other than candles & canning.

But make no mistake, they were feminists. They had - and helped each other through - illegal abortions, badgered the police into arresting abusive husbands and non-supporting fathers, defied family and authority to make their voices heard.

They marched in the streets, fought to legalize birth control, fought to get hired in fields that weren't considered "women's work," fought to make a living wage, fought to give their daughters choices.

They believed in equal opportunities, equal wages, equal rights. That's what they taught me and it's what I believe, too. That's what makes someone a feminist; that's what counts.