thornythalia (thornythalia) wrote in kissmyass_cosmo,

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What is the Purpose of Feminism?

So I've been thinking.

I got into an argument online and with friends about taking the husband's name when you get married. Someone said that you can still be a feminist and take your husband's name, to which I responded (inarticulately, unfortunately) that you can still be a feminist, but taking your husband's name is not a feminist action, and you should acknowledge that you're being affected by society and NOT making the decision from a blank slate. At which point a friend of mine offline took big time offense at me implying that she's bowing to the patriarchy because she would take her husband's name when she gets married, because she doesn't like her own last name, and who am I to talk anyway and feminism is about being able to make your own choices and how it's people like me who give feminists a bad name blah blah blah you get the point.

And I just dropped the subject, but I've been thinking since then that maybe the purpose of feminism isn't so much giving women the choice but more about educating them about their choices. I mean, you can take your husband's last name when you get married, but that's not a feminist action and everyone will assume that you did it because of tradition and paternalism and you can't exactly go around telling everyone that you totally just did it because you were sick of your own last name, or because your father is an asshole, or whatever. So, just keep that in mind and weigh that out with the pros of taking his name.

To make this more on-topic with this community, this also could be why it's so important for us to criticize pop culture depictions of femininity. Yes, how you express your femininity is totally up to you, but you might want to think about how you're just playing into what it's easiest for people to think about women.

For example: you might like the feel and appearance of your legs when you shave them. But keep in mind that you started shaving your legs because someone gave you a razor and you saw the nice smooth legs in a magazine. You don't necessarily want to play into the image that women are always smooth and hairless, because we aren't. I'm not saying that you can't shave your legs and be a feminist, definitely not. Just...maybe go out in shorts with stubble sometimes :-)

For example: I like wearing make-up. It evens out my skin tone and makes me feel pretty. But I've always been very careful to not get in the habit of wearing make-up every day, so as not to get to the point where I feel like I can't go out in public without make-up on.

It's pretty small, but I like to think that I'm raising awareness that it's okay to be stereotypically feminine, but it's also okay not to.

Any thoughts?
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Although it is important to be educated about your choices (no matter how trivial they may seem, like shaving your legs) I think as soon as you start criticising someone for exercising a choice in a way that coincides with tradition/patriarchy/whatnot, it's just as bad as not allowing them the choice in the first place.
why? why is criticism seen as this huge awful thing we should try to avoid? Feminism is criticism. It is ideology-critique of patriarchy and its ideological commitments.

I don't think that criticism means telling people they are wrong or shaming people or trying to draw insanely restrictive sectarian lines between people. However, sometimes people feel uncomfortable feelings when they are shown that something they do-- something they like to do, especially-- is not their free choice, or is in some way implicated in patriarchy. That sucks, but does it really mean that we should just stop any time anyone gets uncomfortable?
I argee, however pretending that that choice was made in a vacuum instead of real life is even worse. I'm not saying someone does not have the ability to make the choice to for example not shave their legs because it itches, however you can't deny that the mere fact that shaving your legs is supported by society and seen as proper, hasn't partially played a part in the decision. To illustrate this further, imagine someone who made the choice not to shave their legs, no matter why they made the decision, society does not approve and will give you a hard time because of it. The choice to defy society will always remain a much more difficult and inaccessible choice than to comply and on an subconscious level this will play a part in the decision. Making people aware of this is not necessarily critisizing it. It may even change the decisions people make.
she has to tailor her choices based on what other people might think? doesn't sound very "feminist" to me.

if she wants to explain that she didn't like her last name, whatever... it's not what everyone else thinks of you, it's what you think of you that counts.
Keep in mind that not everybody shaves their legs because of the ideal that hairy is not femenine...I picked up the razor and chose myself. I understand what you are saying and for the most part I agree please accept that not everyone does it because they saw it in a magazine
I think it is legitimate to say that you chose to shave but NOT legitimate to say that you chose freely. Any women who shave (unless they have some random medical problem that requires them to shave-- if that's even possible) do it because of the influence of the dominant culture, i.e. "what they saw in a magazine." (except it isn't ONE magazine or JUST magazines, obviously)


April 22 2010, 08:25:47 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  April 22 2010, 08:28:46 UTC

nope...I did because I dont like the feeling of body hair. Aside from whats on my head...I dislike the feeling. I also wear pants and tights and with my skin I get rashes from long hair rubbing up against the fabric...I also get massive ingrowns. No one told me to shave and I have never read girly mags and I never watched much tv. I always read computer mags.
Before I started shaving I got major red rashes all over my legs. The moment I started shaivng they ceased almost immediantly. (The then I found out that the rest was a different rash and in fact ezcema)

I really dont like it when other people tell me I did something for whatever reason when I know I did not.
I stopped because I do like the feeling of hair. I wear loose trousers or long skirts and am always comfortable. Good to meet another aesthete.
Me too! :)
Although I understand where you're coming from, as I believed the same thing for a long time, you have to realise that however little tv we watch, however little magazines we read, we don't live in a vacuum. From the moment we are born we deduct 'rules' from society and have 'rules' implemented in us. It is not necessarily a conscious decision to shave for society or because people tell me to. It is more an idea implemented as a result of living in this world and realising that is a really scary thing, which is why its especially important to realise that it does happen, in order to somewhat lessen the effect.
Although I don't agree that you chose whether or not you "like the feeling of body hair", though I do agree that you chose to shave (or not) as a result of that feeling.

We all have feelings and preferences and it seems outlandish to me to think that these are neutral, as you seem to be implying. It also seems outlandish to me to suggest that you were/are not significantly affected by the culture we live in, which promotes shaving and other beauty standards. I have never read girly mags, either, nor have I watched that much tv relative to "the average american." But do you think that beauty standards and, in general, gender norms are only enforced through magazines and tv? Even if that were true, which it patently isn't, you were still raised in a culture made up almost wholly of people who do read magazines or watch tv, and who probably also do shave.

I find this attitude that only intention matters and that you are this all-powerful agent who, in the end, determines everything about yourself freely, to be especially odd for a feminist. Feminism is about structural inequalities embedded in our culture and the way a hierarchical gender system is imposed on nearly everything in our culture, even things that have nothing immediately to do with women and men-- like concepts, e.g. earthiness, rationality, etc. That means that our actions and thoughts are far from wholly dependent on our intentions and sense of agency, they are in fact highly shaped by the way our culture and language organize (hierarchically, in most cases) concepts, values, people, and actions.

Your "I really don't like it when other people tell me I did something for whatever reason when I know I did not" to me seems to say that you believe that you alone have privileged insight which gives you the last and essentially only say in why you did something. The fact of the matter is that we don't often know exactly why we do things, and sometimes others even know better. This may or may not be a case of the latter. I don't know why I prefer vanilla ice cream over chocolate, or literature over film, and I admit that to myself.

In short, I believe that you chose to shave for a variety of complex reasons, many of which I can't know, but I can not at all believe that beauty standards had no influence or that your "dislike of the feeling of body hair" has no tie at all to beauty standards which teach us that body hair is disgusting/ugly/ought to be removed.
This conversation reminds me of this article in The Onion.

I disagree with both of the views of feminism that you've outlined, because both of them view feminism as just a way for women to make relatively minor lifestyle choices. To me, feminism is about tearing down the systematic oppression of women, and acknowledging and fighting intersecting oppressions. That can't be achieved simply by women modifying their behaviour. I get that examining the way in which we've internalised our oppression and that influences our choices is an important part of our liberation, but it can't be the be all and end all of it. Short of upping sticks and forming a self-sufficient feminist separatist commune, we can't escape gender based oppression through our own lifestyle choices. I don't think that keeping one's birth name or not shaving ones legs are particularly 'feminist actions' compared to challenging misogynistic language and assumptions made by those around us, providing support for victims of gender based violence, raising our children to question sexism, voting for elected officials who will pass anti-sexist legislation etc.
I agree with your whole post until we get to the final sentence. I'm not sure how you've picked what goes in the "worth doing" list versus the "not particularly feminist actions" list. For example it isnt immediately obvious to me that "challenging misogynistic language" challenges the "assumptions of those around us" any more or less than not shaving does. Both are public. Both threaten "average joe", as evidenced by the fact that average joe usually has a strong reaction to both (be it making a point to make fun of or insult hairy legs, or becoming strongly defensive when called on a misogynistic comment). All of these things are intertwined, because all of them are part of patriarchy (and its assumptions and norms) and the binary gender system.

I just don't see why it has to be one or the other of those lists, or even the basis for making the distinction you're trying to make between "lifestyle" changes and "feminist actions." Everything we as women do is important, in different ways. And all of us have 'natural' predilections to certain issues within feminism, and not so much drive to participate in others. And that's ok in my book.

I was trying to differentiate between things which have an effect upon other people and things which don't. I forgot that for a lot of women, whether they shave their legs does have an effect on other people because, for a number of reasons, no one ever notices whether or not I shave my legs. If you interact with people who do notice whether you shave your legs it does have an effect because it could challenge beauty standards.

I just think that there's a perception that feminism is all about making the right feminist choices and that will make you magically immune from patriarchy.
Oh ok, I see more what you were getting at now.

if no one you interact with ever notices whether you shave your legs or not you're really lucky and-- I would think-- atypical.

Also, though, I think everything we do effects people around us. I mean, say you had a young daughter. I'm sure she would notice whether you shaved your legs or not. She might not comment on it, but she would definitely notice it. Kids are so attune to things like that, and kids are demonstrably aware of gender norms at surprisingly young ages.

Children are, I think, a good example of how even the most "personal" things we do effect society at large. In a way, not shaving could be seen as part of "raising our children to question sexism." We raise them and then they go out into the world and influence untold amounts of other people.
I changed my surname because a father that calls me stupid and tries to get me to become an admin assistant is not getting his name on my Physics degree. Then I found out that the grandfather whose name I changed it to was in some ways even worse. Now I could change it to fiance's name, but then I would not have the same name as the one on my published papers. Every name comes from some man, and all of the ones I'm related to seem to be people I wouldn't name even a goldfish after. I almost want to not have a surname any more.
i hate my name just because it's a euphamism, but i'm too lazy to trace my entire maternal lineage to the first use of family names and that makes me sad
My best professor ever was a Dr. Kaye - Kaye being her former middle name because she came from a less than awesome family and ended up divorcing a less than awesome husband.

Hubby and I each kept our names because we're published as ourselves =)
I completely understand where you're coming from and why you think this, because I used to think like this too. But I think that, whether we like it or not, feminism is about choice. The choices that women make - be it shaving, not shaving, promiscuity, celibacy, plastic surgery, whatever - don't matter, neither do the reasons behind the choice. What matters is that she freely chose to do it.

If you're frustrated by this, I can understand - it's really hard for us to choose what might be labelled as "the difficult option" (e.g. not shaving, keeping your own name, not wearing make-up) because we can get interrogated, mocked, bullied, and verbally abused for making what the general public view as "the wrong choice". Those who genuinely want to do things that are seen as "the right choice", like shaving and having plastic surgery, are left alone, or perhaps get more positive attention than we do for being conventionally attractive. And I think it is hard sometimes to see people taking the easy option and having an easy life, when you're doing the same thing as them - that is, doing something you genuinely want to do. But that's not the fault of the women who choose to conform to the media's standards of beauty, it's a societal problem.

I think that, just as others have said here, you can't trash people's choices or make them feel guilty about their choices, because that's just as bad as not giving them any choice in the first place.

(I hope my comment makes sense; I haven't been awake for long!)
the question becomes how we determine when someone has free choice. I mean, what you're arguing if you simply say "choice" I can only interpret as "the legal option to" when it comes to shaving or promiscuity, or whatever. But just because these things are legal doesn't, to me, necessarily mean that they can be freely chosen. It does come down to a definition of coercion/freedom, and i believe that patriarchy coerces women irrespective of law. Therefore no woman can meet the criteria for free choice in issues like that, because all women exist in patriarchy and can't just "opt out" freely or by choice.

I guess that last sentence is a possible answer to my question above (my reply to the first commenter)about why we should not criticize other's choices.
I'm sorry, but this entire post came off as condescending to me, especially toward your friend. You're assuming that she hasn't thought about the pros and cons of taking her husband's last name. You make it seem like she's an idiot who doesn't think about these things. Maybe she has, and quite in depth.

I, for one, if I ever get married, will probably take my husband's last name. My own last name has way too many Ls in it, making it hell for people to pronounce. I've hated it forever. It's pronounced exactly how it's spelled and yet people find new and creative ways to botch it all the time. You make it seem like "I don't care if your dad was a douche or if you just don't like your current last name, taking your husband's last name would be giving into the patriarchy no matter what, because it's not a feminist action!" which bothers me.

So how is choosing to take your husband's last name not a "feminist action," exactly? It's still a choice. I have always believed that feminism is about having a choice, that women don't HAVE to think or behave in certain ways.

I can understand where you're coming from in some ways. It irks me that some women automatically assume they HAVE to take their husband's last name when they get married and say they'll miss using their maiden name. I just wish it was more culturally acceptable for women to keep their maiden names after getting married or for their husband's to take their last names instead. I just hate how it's considered degrading for a man to take his wife's last name.