Monday, March 2, 2009

Amanda Marcotte Speaks On International Womens Day

Amanda Marcotte can be found at Pandagon.

1) It is my understanding that you identify as a feminist. What was your click moment?

That's a tough one, because sexism was so out in the open when I was growing up that I don't remember a time before I was exquisitely sensitive to it.  My adolescence was a feminist awakening, even if I was behind in other ways politically.  I remember teenage boys that were friends of mine carrying on about how women were just not as smart, when I was as smarter or smarter than them.  A boyfriend who said he really couldn't imagine being a fan of female musicians, and another male friend who believed firmly that women were physically incapable of being good rappers.  Seeing my mom do all the housework and cooking with no gratitude. 

But most of all, I hated how people assumed they knew everything they needed to about me just by looking at me.  They assumed that my greatest hope in the world was for the big poofy white dress wedding and a passel of kids.  When I denied this---I imagined myself as growing up to be bohemian and rejecting poofy weddings and child-bearing---I was told that I would change my mind, because they knew better than I did what I really wanted.  I still confront people who assume that I want these things deep down inside, though it's 31 years running that I don't.   Realizing women can be different from each other was the first big step.

2) In what ways does feminism speak to the woman you are today?

It's hard to say what I don't owe to feminism. That I got to be the woman I imagined in my youth is all due to feminist struggles.  That I get to have a boyfriend who takes my opinions seriously instead of railroading me is due to feminism.  That I get to be involved in organizing for political change and treated like an equal by men is all due to feminism.  My opinion matters now in pretty much every context I enter, whereas 40 years ago, I'd be asked to make some coffee and then take off my clothes.  Even the fact that I get to wear jeans and skirts without pantyhose is due to feminism.  That I can put my hair in a ponytail and go to the grocery store without make-up is a feminist achievement---my mother didn't feel like she had that right when I was growing up.

3) What would you say is the most important issue, or issues facing women today?

Depends on the woman, I'd say.  Our bad economy is affecting us all, but women, on average, have more to worry about because they're more likely to be caring for children or have a second shift of housework that cuts into their abilities to put in the extra hours at the job that might keep you there when someone else gets sliced out.  Women's continuing economic dependence on men is a major issue---way too many women feel like relationships that started off as love matches have drifted into being a servant-wife because their dependence makes it so.  This isn't their fault---pay inequality plus increased child care demands makes it hard for women to engage men at home on an egalitarian basis. 

That said, I imagine that women in abusive relationships or struggling to get past a rape or struggling against health problems that are related to the sexism built into our system (lack of access to cancer screening, contraceptive care, and other female-specific care because anti-choice politicking has made women's health care a political issue) have even more on their plate than economic worries.  Women still suffer depression more than men, and all of the above are reasons why.

4) Much of your blogging is of a political nature, to what degree does your feminism inform your political perspective?

More than I let on, actually.  I believe that our political system is gendered to the core, resulting from sexism being used to classify the Democrats as feminine and the Republicans as masculine.  These classifications ensure that the parties will get disparate treatment from the media in the same way men and women do, with women being held to much higher and different standards than men.  Like this recent debate over bipartisanship.  The Republicans are the ones who won't engage, but Democrats are blamed by the media.  That's likely true for the same reason that a woman is blamed if a man hits her or cheats on her---why didn't she work harder to make him be nice to her?  But to delve too deeply into these issues is to invite a bunch of grumpy people nay-saying the gendered nature of politics as an excuse to ignore the larger issues of unfairness on the table.

I was actually startled when I got into blogging to discover that a lot of people think of feminism and politics as separate categories.  Feminism is political.  All is politics.  I suspect it's because there's this belief that politics is men's work and therefore real, and feminism is nothing but the ladies' auxiliary.  That's a shame, because a lot of male political analysts would benefit from a feminist education. 

5) In the last election, the division between the second wave and third wave became really obvious, what changes can be made to bridge the divide and deal with the ageism that is becoming a growing problem in the feminist movement?

I think a lot of the differences between second and third wave are exaggerated by the media.  Most feminists I know don't fit the stereotypes at all.  I know a lot of older feminists who supported Obama, and a lot of younger feminists who were Clinton supporters. The issue of intersectionality as a "third wave" phenomenon bothers me a bit, too, because I feel it ignores the substantial contributions made by women of color in the past who approached the issue from a feminist lens and an anti-racism lens, always.  I'm supposedly a third wave feminist, but I grow tired quickly of apologies made on behalf of the mainstream porn industry myself, and I remain skeptical of the idea that being a sex worker is somehow a feminist act when your customers will never, ever see it that way.  (Though I 100% support any effort to legitimize sex workers as workers---your rights are not dependent on whether or not your work is feminist. Making shoes isn't inherently feminist, either, but that doesn't mean the law should have a right to harass you.) 

If feminists want to fight ageism in the feminist movement, they need to do so by not buying into the media hype about young Obama supporters vs older Clinton supporters.  They try to turn us against each other in order to break up our power.

6) One of things I admire about your writing the most is your commitment to challenging gender performativity. In what ways do you feel natural gender roles are harmful to women and how can we combat them?

The first way that gender roles hurt people is the way that dissenters are immediately crushed and mutilated by society, and for what?  It doesn't hurt anyone else if a woman is a butch lesbian or a man decides to transition to a woman or people are queer or even if a woman decides she doesn't like cooking.  And yet the hate crime problem against transgendered, queer, or even people just perceived as queer is sky high in America and all over the world.  Even people who escape physically intact suffer major self-esteem problems.  It's criminal that nearly every single gay person alive has to go through this coming  out process that's marked by fear and often recriminations.  Why can't people just be themselves with ease?

But even as someone who fits into her gender role well enough to largely escape pain and harassment, I can see the damage that gender perfomativity does to my life and that of people like me in that they're not obvious dissenters.  Femininity evolved to meet the demands of a patriarchy, and even the fun parts of it (dressing up, giggling helplessly) are problematic in that they send the signal that the feminine woman is submitting to male domination.  Of course, if you don't submit, you're also oppressed, so it's a real damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation.  The final result is that women get less respect than we deserve, which poisons our relationships, our self esteem, and hurts the world that is deprived of women's talents.

7) Many third wave feminists state a commitment to intersectionality however, many women still feel marginalized in feminism. What steps do you feel we need to take to ensure that all women are represented?

I really do wish I had the magic formula for that, but I will say that I think that the reproductive justice movement is one to look towards and model other feminist movements on to reach this goal.  Reproductive rights was, for the same old structural reasons, a movement dominated by white middle-class women and it reflected their priorities.  Which isn't to say that these priorities weren't also important to women of color and women with lower incomes---the right to abortion and contraception is important to all.  But the white domination of the movement meant that other issues, especially access issues and the right to  have a child, were largely ignored or sacrificed.  In fact, we still have this problem, when you see a supposed voice of the pro-choice movement like Hillary Clinton capitulating completely and voting to uphold the Hyde Amendment, which denies women who rely on federal funding for medical care the right to use that funding for abortion.  This, even though all reasonable reads of the equal protection clause (and SCOTUS decisions like Brown v. the Board of Education) would show that the Hyde Amendment is not only immoral, but unconstitutional.

Reproductive justice was a movement that evolved to deal with this problem, and it forefronted concerns of women of color and low income women, including the right to have children.  And they were extremely effective, I think, in remaking the broad sexual and reproductive health agenda of progressives change dramatically.  The whole thing about abortion prevention "compromise" with so-called pro-lifers owes nothing to pro-lifers and everything to the women of color-led reproductive justice movement.  Once the right to have children was put into the reproductive rights agenda as a priority, a lot followed, including a new commitment to health care access, better schools, decent welfare programs, etc.  Once that was in there, someone realized that making it easier for low income women to have children if they want would directly reduce the abortion rate, which meant that it would be a great cudgel to use against pro-lifers.  So everyone does better by broadening the scope of the discussion---classic win-win situation. It's been insanely effective, and an excellent demonstration of the power of diversity when it comes to creative thinking. 

So that's not specific steps, exactly, but it's a model that feminists should keep in mind when they're planning new modes of attack or organization.

8) What opportunities has running Pandagon opened for you and do you feel online feminism has the potential to lead to radical changes within the feminist movement, thus ending and or reducing the role of academia as the major driving force?

I don't really see academic feminism going anywhere, no.  I don't really want them to, either.  I think the internet has a great deal of power to educate and involve average citizens more in politics, but I don't think it's going to change the need for political scientists. 

That said, I do think internet feminism can create radical change, and relating it back to you last question, it can do so by diversifying the voices in the conversation. I was reflecting on the dramatic change in the way that feminism talks as a whole in just the past few years, since I'm reading a book from the pre-blogging era, and it's dominated by academic feminism and all its blind spots.  The theoretical arguments about the liminal nature of porn between oppression and expression is all well and good, you know, but it doesn't do much for actual women who are currently struggling against humiliating expectations put upon them by lovers who watch too much of the stuff, you know?  And that's just a minor example that doesn't even touch on the importance of lived experiences of violence against women, racism, struggles with fertility management, economic issues, you name it. 

I like, for instance, the back to basics beauty of your period blogging.  It's not laden down with theory, but it still provoked me tremendously, because it made me think in a very realistic way about how much misogyny really does play a role in how we regard menstruation. 

And while academic feminism adds so much to the conversation, it's not so great at reaching out to young women who might be put off by dense writing.  I'm no snob---I think that pop culture forms of communication like casual writing, video, and audio are great ways to communicate even complex ideas in a way that makes them accessible.  So much of my feminism was influenced by riot girl punk, and I see nothing shameful in that.

9) Feminism seems to exist as a side niche within the progressive blogoshere, in your opinion what can we do as online feminists to gain a wider audience and thus bring more attention to womens issues?

Keep plugging.  We have a much bigger presence than we did 5 years ago when I started out.  Then the notion that feminist blogs were even part of the progressive blogosphere was up for debate, if you could even say there was such a thing as the feminist blogosphere as an entity, since it was just a few disparate blogs.  One thing we need to do to keep from being pushed off into a niche is to embrace the linkage. Self-identified feminists need to write about a variety of issues, including ones dominated by the so-called boy blogs.  Instead of seeing boy blogs as the enemy, we need to make alliances and friendships.  This is happening more than it used to, but it needs to keep happening.  Make connections between the issues of the day and feminism.  How does the tanking economy relate to feminism?  I'm sure together we can come up with a million ideas that will improve the visibility of feminist issues and help come up with solutions to ideas considered more important in the mainstream.

In other words, be the change you seek.  If we want to see feminist blogs more central to the liberal blogosphere, we need to act like we're already there.  Fake it until we make it.  And realize it won't happen overnight.  It's taken 5 years to get this far.  It may take another 5 to get where we want to be. But in the grand scheme of things, that's not that long a period.

10) Finally what long term goals would you like to see for feminism and what do you feel would be the best way to accomplish them?

Hee, I guess the main goal of feminism has always been to make itself unnecessary because women are treated as fully human.  I guess here's a short list of things that would have to be true for this to happen, though it's far from comprehensive:
*Men and women share childcare, housework, and public work equally.
*Women make as much as men.
*Health care for everyone as a basic right, including all reproductive health care, without any obstruction.
*Sex workers are afforded full rights and are no longer harassed by the state. 
*The end of the double standard, and a world where women found sex as satisfying as men do.
*Full rights for LGBT people, no excuses. 
*Divorce would no longer impoverish women.
*Rape would be reported, prosecuted, and punished like any other crime.
*Domestic violence would be treated like a hate crime, not some kind of everyday dispute.
*No children would live in poverty or go without a basic education. No woman would have to make her reproductive decisions in fear of having children who go without.

I could keep going on, but you get the idea.  The way to go about them is to go forward with the belief that feminism is about the shared humanity of us all, and never lose sight of that.  If we remember that, the policy choices will be easier to make.

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