Feminist Nonfiction is a blog about the role that feminism can play in the real lives of people in the US. It’s also a blog about what feminism is, what I want it to be, and what it just plain isn’t. Like a lot of people, while I was growing up I cobbled together a working knowledge of feminism in disparate, inaccurate images absorbed primarily through media. I knew about the Spice Girls and “girl power”; I knew that women had (historically speaking) only recently gained the right to vote; and I knew that some people were angry about beauty magazines allegedly causing eating disorders. In high school, I encountered young women who didn’t shave and referred to menses as “moon cycles”. I briefly considered joining their ranks, then brushed them off for the time being as quirky eccentrics. I didn’t call myself a feminist, because it seemed unnecessary and I had not yet realized how much gender was shaping my life or how much it shaped the lives of the people around me, other than to know that I felt alienated around other women and to be fairly sure that I preferred the company of men.
A few things happened in my early twenties. I fell in with a new social circle shortly after becoming pregnant with a baby girl. For the first time, I was exposed to meaningful ideas about gender inequality that made sense to me and were commensurate with my own experiences. This may or may not bode well for my feminist credibility, but those earliest messages came from men. Intelligent men whose friendship and opinions I valued. In a world where women and our voices are so often dismissed, men who are feminist allies can be a bridge that helps newcomers get over those first barriers to thinking critically about gender. It would be nice if things had been different and my feminist consciousness had blossomed naturally out of close friendships with other women and feelings of sisterly solidarity early in life. However, that’s just not my story. My path to discovering feminism began when a man said to me, “Of course I’m a feminist. You’re not? Why?”
Why, indeed? I had accepted a lot of regrettable cultural scripts that I had never bothered to stop and analyze. One of my university professors would later introduce the trope of the mythical feminist as an “angry, ugly dyke”. I had dated misogynistic guys who would blame my emotional responses to their bad behavior as my “being crazy” – and I believed them. I had befriended girls and young women who later disappointed me or were disappointed by me – and I rationalized these problems as being symptomatic of the inherent difficulty in maintaining relationships with women, rather than normal hiccups in maintaining healthy friendships. I had read articles in magazines about how annoying feminists are and had seen them caricatured on television. Honestly, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. Clearly, I was wrong. But a lot of people are in this spot. They hang out here, possibly indefinitely, until someone makes that bridge. I want this blog to be a bridge – or if it can’t be a bridge, I want it to be a board in that bridge. I want to challenge the way that the media represents feminism and also the way that it represents women. Finally, I want to challenge the way that feminism represents itself: especially the ways in which mainstream feminist outlets sometimes dismiss or outright slander women of color and people with non-conforming gender identities. There is a lot of good in feminism, but as it is a complicated movement with many strains, there is a lot of junk, too, that comes in the form of ignorance and bigotry. It’s something that we need to talk about.
Finally, I wanted to distinguish this body of work as “nonfiction” because, while analysis of fictional narratives in books, television shows and movies is often useful, it’s not my focus. Other people are already doing that work and many are doing it quite well, so I don’t see a need for my voice in that arena. For that reason, my writing is fundamentally centered on the way that feminist theories apply and interact with real people, from the individual level all the way up to broader institutions, government, and society.
As a person who is flawed and does not have deep roots of longevity in the feminist movement, I’m still learning about it myself. I have read quite a lot of diverse feminist theory and am always looking to grow and see new ways that feminism is defined and interpreted by people of different backgrounds. I will happily share my reading list with all of you as it evolves. I welcome and encourage respectful dissent and sharing of ideas. However, I also want to make sure that when sensationalist and clearly false representations of feminism make their way through mainstream media outlets that there is a voice to answer back. As of right now, that voice is mine. Let’s see what happens.