Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Communion Conversation (Part 2)

bell hooks (no caps on purpose) wants more feminists to talk about love. Fellmama and I tried to oblige, but we ended up conversing about a lot of different topics, including body image, dating younger men, and Otter Pops. Please check out Part 1 of our discussion on bell hooks' Communion here at The Feminist Book Project. This is the second part! (If anyone knows how to do spoilers on tell.)

Ily: Well, I get the feeling that men in general don't like me, but that's another story.

Fellmama: Let's talk about that, because it sounds interesting. Why do you feel that men don't like you?

Ily: Women are usually friendly towards me, but men tend to ignore me for the most part. Like in a mixed gender group of people, I'll end up talking to women 95% of the time, because they're the ones who want to talk to me (or so it seems). I know some men like me, but I haven't been able to have a close male friend since elementary school.

Fellmama: Huh. I wonder, and this is just speculation, so feel free to sit on me. Do you think they sense your lack of sexual interest and interpret that as lack of holistic interest?

Ily: No, because the same holds true for gay and asexual men. Granted, there are many more out asexual women than men.

Fellmama: But, and this is linking back to bell hooks: How many men are emotionally able to separate sexual interest from other kinds, regardless of personal sexuality?

Ily: I really don't know, but there could be some truth in that.

Fellmama: Not that women are necessarily able to do this as well, but in our culture women are socialized to show non-romantic interest in people a lot more thoroughly. For example, my boyfriend has a friend, Mark. (I will use his name because this is a positive example and whatnot) And he's really ~interested~ in people. He'll ask them what they do, why they study what they study, what they think of global warming . . . weird stuff, even and he's genuinely waiting for the answer. It doesn't come across as sexual or weird, just friendly.

Ily: In my experience this is extremely rare for men.

Fellmama: EXACTLY! It is SO BIZARRE FOR A DUDE. It's like he's a trained 50s housewife. I find it surprising every. single. time. I interact with Mark, because it's just not what I expect from a man.

Ily: But it's like...I don't want to associate with people who can't or won't listen to me.

Fellmama: Agreed. And this leads back to the problem of finding men for feminist women. Do we just pretend they're listening? Or do we demand more? hooks actually phrases it that way, doesn't she . . .

Ily: Like hooks says, it's hard because we worry that if we demand more, the men will just go off and find a woman who doesn't make those demands. I saw some parallels with the asexual community actually, because women far outnumber men.

Fellmama: Ah yes, here it is: "Women are afraid to hear patriarchal men speak their thoughts and feelings when what they reveal expresses a reality vastly different from how we imagined them to be." (171)

Ily: I liked that a lot. Because a lot of time, we're led to believe that if men would just talk about their feelings, it would solve everything.

Fellmama: And so in the asexual community I'd bet there's even more pressure to conform if you find a male partner."Why do you have to be so picky? He's asexual, isn't that enough?"

Ily: Yeah. I've never heard of an asexual couple breaking up.

Fellmama: That part really resonated with me, as well. Because as a het woman in a relationship with a man, I'm simultaneously afraid of what I'd get if I saw what he was really thinking and anxious that he embrace feminism and progressivism. So it's a constant struggle between the temptation to take the lid off in hopes of growth and the weariness of having to do Feminism 101 again and again and AGAIN.

Ily: Theme of this book: No easy answers. (Isn't that the theme of every book on feminism?)

Fellmama: Guh, seriously. Someday, I'm going to publish a book called "Easy Answers"

Ily: I'd read it. (I want to make sure we have enough time to talk about the body image section, btw)

Fellmama: And the contents will just be simple math and history questions. oh oh yes very much so. anyway, body image omg I <3 bell hooks

Ily: Because I know we're both into the fat acceptance movement.

Fellmama: If for no other reason than she is all "you can't be a feminist mom and tell your daughter she looks fat, WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY"

Ily: It was interesting because she said, "Passively accepting your body isn't enough" and I was like, "Damn, I passively accept my body".

Fellmama: I think what she meant there (and again with the vague), is similar to what she said of women who "give up". Just because you've given up trying to mold yourself into patriarchal forms doesn't mean you love yourself.

Ily: Well, I agreed with her, although (again with the vague) she doesn't say how we're supposed to love our bodies in spite of all the messages to the contrary.

Fellmama: So you have to reach actively for some form of bodily love, even if that love means not shaving your legs. And furthermore I think [hooks] falls a bit into the trap many fat acceptance [FA] advocates and feminists are wallowing in which is: she talks a lot about how many women come to make peace with their bodies in midlife, but she avoids that many women come to that peace through ~sustained sexual relationships~. Speaking personally, the FA train is a lot easier to ride once you've been validated as sexually attractive, even if only once.

Ily: That is my struggle. No one is going to affirm my body, let alone affirm it in a nonsexual manner.

Fellmama: I think I've reached a point in my life where I don't need a dude to validate me. I affirm your body in a nonsexual manner! Well, I could if I were there in person.

Ily: Thanks! :) I'm smiling IRL. It's sort of like the tree falling in the forest. [ie, is my body lovable if no one ever sees it?]

Fellmama: But as I was saying, I think a lot of women in middle age get to that point and think "you know, I AM hot, lots of guys want/ed to do me."And while that is a path to self-acceptance . . . how, as you say, does someone who's asexual get to that point? Or even how does someone sexual get to that point without a lot of pain and suffering?And how do we teach children, who shouldn't BE sexualized, not to hate themselves before they even hit puberty?

Ily: I've been trying to actively love my body for 3 days now, I'll let you know how it goes.

Fellmama: My advice, if you want it? Look at yourself in the mirror, and instead of focusing immediately on your ONE HEINOUS FLAW, focus on something you wouldn't normally, like your ears or your nose. It really, really helps, me anyway. When I look at myself in the mirror, it takes an act of will not to look at my tummy blubber, but if I sort of cross my eyes and just glance back, I see what other people see, which is not the Beluga Queen of the Northern Seas, interestingly.

Ily: I read a blog comment once from a fat woman that was something like, "when I look at a photo of another fat woman, the first thing I see is her smile". For me, there is definitely some kind of gender and sexuality component tied up in my body acceptance, more so than just my appearance. It's definitely complicated.

Fellmama: Yes, I see this all the time working clothing retail. There are all sorts of rituals and hedges around our bodies,and we're supposed to propitiate the Fat Gods by performing the ritual.

Ily: I don't want to be seen as a "woman" before a "person", but I'm trying to blame sexism and not my body. What is the ritual? Like going, "Urrr, I'm so fat"?

Fellmama: Oh geez, so many to choose from: "I need a new bra--I'm having a baby!"

"I need a new bra--I just had/am nursing a baby!"

"I need a new bra--I've lost [Large Number] pounds!"

Ily: Ahhh, I getcha.

Fellmama: You can't just gain some weight, you have to have an Excuse. And if you've lost weight, you can't leave it your own damn personal business.

Ily: Is this the, "OMG I LOST 5 POUNDS!" people?

Fellmama: To give them credit, the clientele at my fat lady store laughs at the 5 pounds people. Given that most of us can lose 5 pounds by sneezing, it's not considered a "significant" weight loss. I would say that the least amount of weight I've heard bragged about is 30 pounds, but dear lord Jesus, it is SO BORING.

Ily: Yeah, that's a fair amount. It's extremely boring. In my sewing class, there are a bunch
of "midlife" women who talk about weight a lot.

Fellmama: Yes, my knitting group is the same way. Let us make a pact, you and me. When we are old, not only will we wear purple with a red hat that doesn't go, we will not talk nonstop about our weights as if that is all that mattered ever.

Ily: Yes :) I think we're already past that, go us! We cannot unsee what we have seen.

Fellmama: I bet bell hooks doesn't approve of it either. If only because I'm pretty sure she'd rather talk about love.

Ily: Ha, yeah, she would.

Fellmama: But I think a lot of feminists have made this argument: There are many more important things to talk about. Not only is diet talk boring, it distracts us from meaningful conversation, and, dare I say it, genuine human connection? I don't know about you, but when the knitting ladies go off about the diet stuff, I sit there in awkward silence.

Ily: Yes, because it immediately sets up a competition. As do I [sit there in awkward silence].

Fellmama: I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings,but I honestly don't give a shit. And furthermore, I feel attacked for refusing to conform. I don't diet, I won't diet, and while I don't care who knows it, I don't talk about it because it is BORING.

Ily: It could also be so triggering for someone with an eating disorder. And they don't know I don't have one!

Fellmama: I KNOW RIGHT "I lost ten thousand pounds on the Dr. Oz Seaweed cleanse, but you there the recovering anorexic, don't listen to me! You're beautiful as you are!"

Ily: Don't 1 in 8 women have an eating disorder? That's a lot.

Fellmama: I don't know the numbers offhand, but that certainly sounds plausible.

Ily: (Although I'm sure people, when looking at me, would think I couldn't possibly have an ED...because there is the ED= thin myth)

Fellmama: I've also heard convincing arguments that every woman in US culture has disordered eating or has engaged in it.

Ily: I could believe that.

Fellmama: To which I say, amen, because while I may not be full-blown disordered, I have DEFINITELY engaged in disordered eating. Especially as an adolescent, surprise surprise.

Ily: It seems "natural" to be a little weird about food (like, for women in our culture). So it's hard to know what is actually disordered.

Fellmama: Truth. But there's, I don't care for steak, and then there's, I don't eat red meat because it is too fattening and if I get fat no one will love me.

Ily: Yeah, intent matters.

Fellmama: And again, I've noticed it's not all right to dislike food without a ~reason~. You can't simply say "I don't eat shrimp". You have to pretend to be kosher or vegan or a recovering fisherman or some shit to get people off your back.

Ily: Tell me about it. WHY DON'T YOU EAT MEAT TELL ME NOW!

Fellmama: I was going to say, surely you, as a vegan, have some insight here.

Ily: it's just bizarre because there are a limited amount of reasons for someone to become vegan, surely educated people will know them [at least where I live--a vegan-heavy area], and yet people still insist on asking.

Fellmama: I think I would go with "I don't eat meat because my entire family was killed in a tragic cowjacking gone wrong" but again, this isn't something I face on a daily basis.

Ily: I have said that I own stock in Gardenburger.

Fellmama: Frankly, as long as someone's reason for veganism or whatever isn't "so I can be self-righteous about YOU," I don't care why.

Ily: I think some people ask because they WANT me to be self-righteous towards them, so that they can feel superior to me. FOOD IS WEIRD. But really, where do feminist men hang out? (I just had to come back to this!) How do we meet them?

Fellmama: I . . . don't, I guess?

Ily: It was funny because hooks was all, "They are out there! Just date younger men!”

Fellmama: I guess she's talking about like . . . my boyfriend.

Ily: Your boyfriend is younger?

Fellmama: No, he's just about my age ,but he'd definitely be younger than bell hooks!

Ily: bell hooks is a cougar, no way around that.

Fellmama: That is my new facebook status SO FAST. But anyway, when I go to knit night or hang out at the yarn store, I'm around a lot of middle-aged women. And I listen to them talk and a lot of their achievements are like "I got my husband to do his OWN laundry! I do my own and the kids', but he does his own!"And I'm like . . . "this is the best you can do, seriously?" TI and I do laundry together, in common.

Ily: Ahh, I see where you're going.

Fellmama: if anything, he's better about it than I am, at least in terms of the "not letting it sit in the basket for days". And like chore equality, we do roughly the same amount of housework and we cook dinner together, or take turns. And my other housemates who are a couple do this, too and so do my housemate and his girlfriend who doesn't live here, at least when it comes to stuff like cooking. So she's definitely got a point in terms of LIVED gender equality. Like, my boss at the yarn store, she stayed home with her children, the youngest of whom is fifteen.

Ily: I do feel like men our age do more around the house.

Fellmama: and when her older kid went off to college, she was like "okay, no more staying at home for me!"so they bought the yarn store and whatnot. but like, she still cooks dinner ~every~ night except for Saturdays, when she's at the store.

Ily: Second Shift, yeah.

Fellmama: And then, if she doesn't like put it in the crockpot, she won't have dinner at home. Yes, very much so. And in a way it's more than second shift, it's a fundamental difference in worldview. In TI's worldview, if I'm working all day and he happens to be home, he should feed me, whereas if I'm at home, I should feed him. I honestly don't think gender enters his mind there at all.

Ily: That's probably an improvement over most men bell hooks' age.

Fellmama: Definitely. My dad only learned to cook out of self-defense when my mom went back to work (although you will note, he actually did it, and did it well, rather than whining or eating out every night). TI cooks very well, and he knows how to clean stuff, and, most importantly to my mind, he doesn't view it as ~someone else's JOB~ to do these things for him.

Ily: Good!

Fellmama: So I see a lot of hope there. And something that makes me even more hopeful is that we never actually had to discuss anyof this. We naturally fell into a pattern that more or less works and actually IS egalitarian, it didn't have to be negotiated or anything.

Ily: I wonder how common that is.

Fellmama: I'm not sure, I should conduct a survey. At any rate, anything else to say about bell hooks?

Ily: Not much, although I think a lot of what she says about "powerful women" is just a response to whatever people have said about her personally over the years.

Fellmama: I agree to a certain extent. I will say, though, I felt like I got a lot more personal pushback as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated discipline (classics) than I do as a woman working retail. So part of it might simply be that as I'm already viewed as powerless on a class/gender basis, and in a job where everyone else is a woman anyway, I'm not seeing the kind of abuse hooks is talking about.

Ily: I guess I feel like there aren't really that many powerful women out there.

Fellmama: That's true as well, although look at the horrific stuff women perceived as powerful are subjected to. Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Angelina Jolie.

Ily: Well, maybe that [my comment that there are few powerful women] isn't so. It's hard to really know what "powerful" means in this context.

Fellmama: That is a very good point. "Powerful" in terms of sexual agency? In terms of politics? Or just "powerful" in terms of "not willing to be pushed around"?

Ily: Sorry, person hassling me...I am sitting in "her chair"[in the public library].

Fellmama: Oh dear, well, you must move at ONCE or the aliens will probably reduce you to cinders.

Ily: Yeah, I tried to ignore her and she moved to the other side of the room.

[At this point, the conversation wandered apace from bell hooks.]


Janet S. said...

Well that was certainly entertaining!

I'll comment upon one point I found interesting - feminist men. I would definitely like to see more of them and to hear more about gender equality in the home!

Lanafactrix said...

I still can't believe we left out romantic friendships! Part 3?

Ily said...

@Janet: Glad to hear it! Feminist men are definitely in high demand, I just hope it doesn't go to their heads too much ;)

@Lanafactrix: I know, right? Romantic friendships are like *my jam*, even though I've never been in one. I guess it speaks well for the book that there was just sooo much to discuss. If you want to talk about it more, just let me know!

Anne said...

I'm almost the opposite when it comes to friends, it seems (I am a lady)... The majority of my friends are guys. No problems with other girls, but for some reason it's just been like this for awhile. I have no trouble talking to guys. Am I just lucky? I know a lot of awesome & friendly guys. Maybe it's my generation and the crowds I hang out with.

Ily said...

@Anne: What generation are you in? Because it seems like most readers here are around my age or younger (I'm 26). I think gender diversity among people's friends does depend a lot on general crowd though, and situations you find yourself in. Part of it might also be geographic. Where I live, it seems like a large proportion of men are really into technology, and that's an area I know very little about. At least, when I'm walking around and I overhear parts of mens' conversations, they always seem to be talking about computers!

Anonymous said...

I had a whole long thing written out and deleted it, because I don't want to be all feminist buzzkill (or at least more so than I already am), so I'll settle for this: there are lots of reasons women end up with men friends to the exclusion of women friends. Most of said reasons are pretty sexist at the roots.

Ily said...

@Fellmama: I always just assumed it was more interest-based. Like if I wanted to spend all my free time, say, fixing old cars, I would probably not find many other women who wanted to do that. On the other hand, most of my interests tend to be not very gendered. I don't really see how it's sexist for a woman to have mostly male friends, unless the reasoning is that women aren't good enough to be friends with. I'd be interested to hear your rationale, maybe you could e-mail me if you don't feel like commenting with it.

Anne said...

Ily - I'm the same age as you, so same generation. I guess I tend to stick to musical people, as a musician, along with other people who are into geeky things like board games, video games, etc. There are certainly more men involved in bands in the DIY/punk scene in my area - of course, that's a whole other discussion to have at some other time (& has been discussed many many times elsewhere). But I've never felt unwelcome amongst my male friends.

I'm not sure if Fellmama's response was directed towards me, but I don't believe I'm being sexist becuase I have more male friends. I have some really great female friends, but because of my interests & activities, I interact with more men. Of course, one could certainly argue that there is sexism involved in the music scene, but I won't get into that right now!

Jessica said...

Old thread, but I'll add anyway: obsessing about weight is very often like some sort of brain buzz, for me. It's like a very slight high.

I can become more or less obsessed about my weight, and I know EXACTLY why that is: people have been controlling me via my weight since I was in junior high.

Both my parents would tell me, in very concerned tones, that I was getting fat. Repeatedly. Other family members would also tell me I was getting chunky.

Now, later in life, I've lost some weight, and it's the other way: now my family is very concerned that I am TOO SKINNY.

The difference between my super fat weight and my too skinny weight? 15 pounds. Fifteen.

It's painfully obvious that I will never win the weight game.

Anyway, that was a digression.

There is an incredible amount of comeraderie and sisterhood/brotherhood between some people when weight is discussed. I think it's a very powerful, very emotional topic, and when I indulge myself, the emotional result is akin to really juicy gossip or watching a really entertaining movie.

Anyway. Just thought I'd share.

Ily said...

@Jessica: I'm glad to get more comments on this, and no, I don't think you digressed at all. Weight in our culture IS a no-win proposition, which is what makes it such an effective tool of shame and oppression. (Not to mention enabling the profits of the weight-loss industry.) At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, I know that no one is forcing us to discuss weight, and that we wouldn't do it if there wasn't a payoff. And it's also true that there's no one conversation about weight. Surely it's possible to talk about it in a supportive way...but I just never see that happening. Because as you say, whenever people talk about weight, it's like they enter a trance state where they don't hear reason, and they don't even hear supportive or accepting words. To me, one problem is that "fat" is now a mindstate. If a size-2 person is convinced that she's fat, and that this is the most horrible thing in the world, it's hard to convince her otherwise. But when she bemoans her fat, how are all the other people in the room supposed to feel? If she, at a size 2, is totally disgusting...then what are they? So I can't say I've ever really witnessed the sisterhood/brotherhood that you mention.

Jessica said...

Where I have witnessed the sisterhood/brotherhood comeraderie is when people are discussing their mutual desires to lose weight, their struggles with weight loss, shared strategies for weight loss, commiserated. It was not one-upmanship, when I saw it/participated, but like a sharing of something mentally delicious and addictive/pleasurable. Sort of illicit, at times, too.

I did not mean to imply that that sis/bro-hood vibe is ALWAYS there. I mis-stated.

Ily said...

@Jessica: Oh, no worries. I didn't think it was...just relating my own experiences. Since I haven't really tried to lose weight in recent memory, there's a limit to the amount that I can really participate in these kinds of conversations.