A few months ago, my philosophy professor and I had an extremely humorous classroom conversation regarding “women's literature”. I can't remember what spurred the discussion in that direction, but I am almost certain it was a student quarreling with his explanation of a piece regarding the absence of great women artists in historical texts. What I do remember clearly is the resulting exchange between the two of us. He asked me what counts for women's literature. My ever so articulate response went something like: “Umm, well, uh, it's usually literature which is written by women and concerning some issues that affect women.” He, being the wizened old wise ass that he is, pressed me further by asking who, exactly, decides what constitutes a women's issue. At this point, I was a mess of giggles (it was the end of a very long semester) and could barely stutter out my response “some invisible group of people.” Giggling aside, the point of that particular conversation was to highlight the fact that, whenever the artistic or intellectual output of one group is primarily defined as being for and by that group, the effect is not liberating, but further marginalizing. This marginalization is further highlighted when the definition or categorization is left to the will of some elite group of arbiters. In the case of women's lit, it has the effect of saying “hey woman, you should want to read this, you know, because you're a woman.” This is not, in and of itself, problematic as I, like all women, have the ability to merely bypass that particular section of the bookstore.
However, perhaps the more insidious section of the local book outlet is the “Women's Issues” section. Yes, like the women's lit section, I can easily walk past it in favor of other areas but the women's issues section offers a slightly more powerful and insidious message. The message emanating from that section is loud and clear “You must care about these issues if you are a woman. These issues affect you because of your sex and failure to pay attention to them will result in your oppression.” Obviously this is a slightly exaggerated characterization of the message which is being offered, but it has, like all good jokes do, an element of truth to it.
I, like many other people I know, am prone to simply wanting to know what is going on in any area of thought which claims to be about me. This desire has led me to hold, smell, browse, purchase and read many a book from the women's issues section of many a Borders and Barnes and Noble. I have learned a great deal from these books. I have learned that I am, alternately: oppressed and worshiped, oversexed and sexually repressed, lying to myself about not wanting to settle and continuing the good fight by not settling, a slave to my biological clock and fully liberated from the need to breed, empowered and victimized, forced into fetishistic submission by the dominant patriarchy and free from the shackles of oppression thanks to porn, comfortable in my own skin and a slave to cosmetics. The list is shrill, interminable and utterly confusing. In short, I have learned that I am a deeply disturbed individual with a tendency toward multiple personality disorder, simply because I have an innie instead of an outie. What is interesting to me here is that no one, ever, not once, has stopped to asked me how I feel about these so called issues. Instead, they are merely there, freely mapped onto me and every other woman as if we can not decide for ourselves which issues truly affect our psyches and our lives.
If the preceding complaint sounds familiar, it should. It is my understanding that this sort of condescending external prescription of what a woman should care about is exactly what the second wave of feminists were fighting against in the first place. Only now, instead of being told what she would want by some predominantly male power structure, a woman, essentially, being used as pawns in what can only be described as a never ending cat fight. We are constantly fighting over the right way to live our lives as liberated women. This argument is never ending and all encompassing. Are strip clubs repressive or empowering? Is being a stay at home mom a total dishonor to those who had no choice or is it a good example of a woman taking the reigns over her own situation and dropping out of the corporate rat race? Should we expect our societies to help us find solutions to issues such as rape (which, I have to point out, is not a crime which ONLY effects women, no matter what the makers of Rape-Axe say) or should we take matters into our own hands by sporting a newly minted vagina dentata? Again, we are faced with a never ending list of questions, only now, we are duking it out like Dynasty characters, only with less hair pulling.
I'd like to ring the bell on this grudge match for just a moment and ask what may be the most important question of all. I'll wait while we all re-fluff our curls and adjust our bras. Ok.. Now. Listen up. WHY ARE WE ASKING OURSELVES THE WRONG DAMN QUESTIONS? And trust me, they are most definitely the wrong questions.
I do not mean to indicate that I don't believe that oppression exists in our society, or that rape is a problem or that people are being abused and downtrodden every minute of every day. They are, it is, it does. However, when we take these issues and make them sex specific or, even worse, spend time squabbling over non issues such as if it's ok to simply be a mommy, we are reducing real issues to niche memes and clever bumper stickers and forgetting the fact that women once died for our right to make a choice, any choice, on our own. You see instead of worrying over what a woman ought to care about, perhaps it would be more fruitful to take advantage of the relatively new luxury of being able to speak out and make choices by focusing on those things which we all care about, and which affect all sexes.
The fact is that things like senseless violence, wholesale oppression, rape, poverty, starvation and a lack of care are issues which are extremely present in our society. Only most of them are not relegated to one sex, one race or one sexual orientation. They are nearly equal opportunity offenders. Of course there are still some battles to be fought on behalf of one group or another, including the right to marriage for all individuals and the fact that to be poor in our society is to have virtually no choice, but these issues are certainly blind to our genitalia, and when we pretend that they are not by engaging in such silliness as the so called Mommy Wars or psychotic infighting over how we cover our breasts we are merely distracting ourselves from areas in which we can all stand to suck it up and make some real changes. Furthermore, when we do this, we are dishonoring those who fought for us to have this luxury while they actually were being oppressed. To that end, I offer the following: Ladies, lets get the fuck over ourselves, stop engaging in this mindless fighting over non issues and get out there and help those who really need it. We can start by walking on past the Woman's Issues section in favor of the Current Events or Sociology sections and learning about what's really happening in the world.
-Shannon (Who Now Wishes To Be Addressed Exclusively As Shanwow)