What I'm Not

13 March 2001

I'm supposed to be writing a review of Declare for Speculon. I liked Declare, and I'm sure I have a lot of stuff to say about it. Also, I'm supposed to be writing nonfiction for children about Chinese immigration to North America -- or at least I'm supposed to be doing the research for that. Well, I've spent the morning on the latter task, and as Arlo says, "You can't always do what you're supposed to be doin'."

Some of this research has me really shaken. It's one thing to know, intellectually, that quite a lot of people were hanged and burned and decapitated for being "different" and quite another to read the specific accounts all morning. The early history of Chinese immigration here is just not fun, guys: either they were being killed by white folks or by each other. When they were lucky, it was railroad and mining accidents. Joy. Why couldn't I have done one of these books about my own ancestors? Then it would have just been religious infighting and starvation.

Oh! Religious infighting. Yeah. This reminds me. Michelle asked me why I insisted on not defining myself as a feminist. I get this question from people who define themselves as feminists a lot. Mostly the problem is that they believe feminism is what it was in the early Sixties or even in the mid-Seventies. And I don't. So they're saying, "Why don't you tell people you're someone who believes women deserve equal rights?" And that's not the question I'm answering.

Yes, this does tie in with religious infighting. Here's the thing: I've almost gotten to the point where I don't call myself a Christian any more. I call myself a Haugean. It's a true statement, and most folks don't know who Hauge was, so if they really care what I believe, they ask instead of assuming that I believe the same thing as the random Christian of their acquaintance. Because chances are awfully good that I don't. If Bishop Spong of the ECUSA and your average Southern Baptist minister are both really Christians, I'm not really sure how the term can convey much of any meaningful information about a belief system.

Okay. So either feminism is like that, and pretty much everyone with a pulse is some flavor of feminist or other, or else it has a narrower definition. I would prefer to believe that people who call themselves feminists are trying to convey useful information about a belief system. So I opt out, myself. I don't need to be on Gloria Steinem's team. Me and Andrea Dworkin can bat on opposite sides. I'm totally okay with that.

It's mostly affirmative action that's got me soured on feminism. I think it's a pretty decent litmus test of whether you're a feminist: do you buy into affirmative action? I don't. And I think it hurts the people it purports to help.

My college degree and the quarters of grad school I have were in physics, with an intent to do nuclear physics. Guess what? I'm a girl. Guess what else? I was pretty much the only one. I'm sure there's a female nuclear physicist somewhere. I'm not entirely sure where, though. I was officially a minority. And, my oh my, was I a sought-after minority. The director of one of my summer research programs apologized to me that I was the only woman in the program -- that they'd "looked and looked" for other qualified women and "just couldn't find any."

Think about that a minute. I had just been told that I was the best young woman who had applied, and that they had been bending over backwards to look at the other applicants. Maybe you think that wouldn't make you doubt your own qualifications. Maybe you think that wouldn't make the men in your program doubt your qualifications. Give it a shot sometime and see how well it works.

Affirmative action is an example, for me, of how the modern feminist establishment patronizes women (and, incidentally, ethnic minorities, but that's a related issue). It says, "You need help! You can't do it by yourself! We know best how to get you success in your chosen career." That kind of help I can do without, thanks very much. The same thing goes for the classes in women authors or women's history: if it's important enough to be taught, it should be taught in regular classes. It is thoroughly condescending to relegate some authors to a "women's lit of period X" class when there is no corresponding "men's list of period X" class. I firmly believe that the goal of any women's studies class should be (or should have been) to render itself unnecessary.

There are other issues in which I think the modern feminist establishment infantilizes women and men alike. I'll gladly discuss those over e-mail with anyone who wants to agree or yell at me or just hear what I think. And I know there are some people who will try to claim that there is no feminist establishment. You know, I didn't mean to make this a running theme in my journal, but once again: you don't get to be Young Turks any more. I think the goal of equity feminism was to make feminism obsolete -- and you'll see old school feminists like Joanna Russ making that point themselves. It was her hope that The Female Man would seem quaint and odd to readers, like she was making a big deal out of things that they took for granted. I think she's well on her way to succeeding. We don't live in a world of perfectly equitable initial conditions. We are closer than we've ever been, though. (We will never live in a world of perfectly equitable results -- that's like requesting that you get fifty heads followed by fifty tails in a row of one hundred coin flips. Possible, but not statistically likely.) But gender feminism seems to have taken over the feminist establishment. It does not have the goal of making itself obsolete. It neglects issues of real equity in favor of identity politics. Gender feminism is all about set-asides and special protection -- in many cases, protection from the consequences of your own actions. And that is why I'm not a feminist.


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