I’ve been wrestling with the Iron Jawed Angels and their sisters abroad to whom I owe so much since high school. I haven’t called myself a feminist since reading Dorothy Sayers essays in “Are Women Human?” and sharing a philosophy class with a particularly loathsome feminist who embodied, to me, all that has gone wrong within the movement. Even while I’ve distanced myself from the word, I can’t distance myself from my feminist heritage.
All my life my greatest ambition and desire has been the freedom to pursue my own path, wherever it may lead, and no matter how meandering. This is the same ambition and desire you’ll read in great feminist authors like the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, and Sylvia Plath. Unlike them, and somewhat because of them, I have been much more free to pursue this ambition. I didn’t have to fight to attend college or graduate school with men. I don’t have to fiercely defend my desire to be more than a mother, if ever a mother. There are many other smaller and yet meaningful freedoms that I share in constantly.
I am able to be the woman I am because of my feminist heritage.
Yet there is so much about the movement now that also makes me cringe. I hate how men are so often vilified for simply being men while women are almost always painted as the victim. As if we women are capable of no evil simply because we are less likely to be physically violent (though more likely to be emotionally and verbally violent?). It drives me crazy that in the process of destroying bigotry they decided to destroy chivalry too, as if the desire to protect the women in your life is a crime instead of a kindness. This list could go on and on.
Most of all, I dislike the oversimplification of the movement that paints the world into categories of victim or oppressor, privileged or underprivileged, male or female. I feel as suffocated by their obsession with oppression and gender as Woolf, Chopin and the Brontes were by their generations’ obsession with gender roles.
Dorothy Sayers observed, “What is unreasonable and irritating is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs. That has been the very common error into which men have frequently fallen about women – and it is the error into which feminist women are, perhaps, a little inclined to fall about themselves [and others].” This is what I find so unreasonable and confining about feminism, besides the facts that they ignore.
There are women who oppress women. There are whole systems and codes of society by which women oppress women. There are many men who in many ways have supported and aided women. There have been many honorable and noble codes and practices towards women established and maintained by men. Similar things can be said about “the oppressed” and the “underprivileged.” Personal responsibility itself is often nearly ignored while the annoying and destructive tendency to classify one’s self as a victim is lauded. All these things are no true benefit to women, or the oppressed, or the underpriviledge.
I can’t at all understand or respect the feminism that’s structured like a race with the Joneses, with the Joneses being men. To be honest, these women make feminism a farce. They shape their lives around an adolescent principle: “If he can do it, I should be able to!” Not stopping to ask themselves if what that person is doing is actually worth doing, or should be done at all. Or without keeping in mind that “The only decent reason for tackling any job is that it is your job and you want to do it” (Sayers).
For these reasons, when I met Sayers I felt that finally I had met a sane woman, who understands what’s really at stake, what really matters. A contemporary and friend of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, she lived at a time when women wearing pants was an outrage and a woman leaving the home for a profession was harshly critiqued. In her life and her essays, “The liberation of women was not a cause that she espoused, but a way of life that she practiced on the premises that male and female are adjectives qualifying the noun “human being” and that the substantive governs the modifier,” as Mary McDermott Shideler summarizes in the introduction to Are Women Human?. That is the way of life I practice and the philosophy I am satisfied to espouse.
In short, I cannot call myself a feminist, because I am more interested in the fact that I am human. The feminists who I appreciate, respect, and owe much to are the ones who wanted what I have, the freedom to pursue the life we were born to live. No one who pursues a good life does so without some obstacles, to struggle against them and defeat them is honorable, to whine about them and see them in everything is to defeat one’s self.