Recently I joined a discussion group designed to prompt discussion amongst fashion & feminism bloggers. I submitted an entry in the Call for Proposals "What Does a Feminist Look Like?" at Fashionable Academics. I have read with interest what other fashion bloggers have had to say on the topic. And yet, the more of these I read, the more I wonder if I actually am.
A feminist has a head, a heart, a brain, two hands, two legs, and reproductive capability. A feminist makes conscious choices about his/her gender identity and challenges the status quo when & where necessary. A feminist assumes a freedom of movement within his/her world. A feminist champions human rights.
My husband and I, for our ages, could easily be classified as second-wave feminists. I am acutely aware that for the color of our skins, we could be described as the recipients of "white privilege." I know that for all appearances we enjoy a middle-class life style.
I submitted a photo of my husband, Keith, because he survived his mother's attempt to abort him in 1954 (she shared this information with him). Many years later, he fought for custody of his four children and raised them for a number of years with the assistance of a live-in African-American woman. Then, he married me and assisted in the confusion of rearing of three third-wave feminists. He is a working class carpenter. Like any other human being, he has had to negotiate a variety of inequities in our modern world.
By contrast, I was my parents wanted first born. I graduated high school in 1972, the passive recipient of many changes in law: the right to vote at age 18, the right to birth control without marriage, the right to an abortion. My experience of "sexual liberation" was a very mixed bag--of failed birth control methods and partners who did not actually share an understanding of the responsibility implicit in such sharing. Of my five pregnancies just one was not a "problem" of some sort.
My parents paid for my undergraduate degree, but it was not until the second of my unplanned pregnancies, which the father assumed I would willingly abort that I balked. I was 25 years old and though I was a believer in the Pro-Choice position, I opted to have a child out of wedlock. Then, I opted to go to graduate school. I received my degree and then moved to a county in western Montana with a 23% unemployment rate. My skills were in low demand. I wrote a novel exploring the sexual terrain of the late 70s & early 80s, which was later published by Alfred A. Knopf.
My first marriage failed. I moved home at age 33 facing the dilemma of raising three children entirely on my own. I had not worked in five years. It took four years of working as an adjunct composition teacher before I secured the position I currently have. During my years as probationary faculty, I was a single mother, juggling many responsibilities.
My girls and I ate macaroni & cheese and wore thrift store clothing for five years, until we scraped together the down payment on a home of our own. I did not anticipate re-marriage. In fact, I told myself that I could not make an emotionally clear choice of a partner until I was fully capable of supporting myself and my children.
My point is that I have been the recipient of all sorts of battles fought on my behalf, although I cannot honestly say that other than voting Democrat, I have been much of a warrior on behalf of women politically, economically, culturally. I have been too busy doing the hands on business of raising a family, and teaching many first generation working class students, to have read up on the latest feminist theory.
I am easily intimidated by the in-grown, self-referential language of much feminist theory in spite of being an academic myself. In the classroom, I consistently respect my students' own self-definition, which is not always apparent by looking. I like to believe that this simple human compassion is actually somehow radical.