An Awakening

Today’s guest is from Heidi, as a continuing part of our Doves & Serpents and Exponent Blog Swap.

Heidi has a reverence for books and music that most people reserve for church. She is an American living in England with her husband and three children. Everyone in her house has big feelings and strong personalities. Sometimes people pay her to write. Most of her days are spent doing yoga, cooking, walking, reading and listening to music.

The children are all mysteriously, gracefully, occupied and my husband and I are watching music videos alone, one of our favorite and oldest shared pastimes. We flip through the channels quickly, lamenting how awful things are, making too many Beavis and Butthead references and playing games of brinksmanship to see who will cry uncle first when we’re sitting through Bryan Adams, 80’s metal or Lionel Ritchie videos (Just Kidding! We LOVE Lionel Ritchie videos.) 

The Enrique Iglesias gem, “Tonight, I’m Lovin You” (NSFW) comes on. We happened across the unedited, euphemism and subtlety-free version on the Internet six months ago and, at the time, we both sort of admired the brazen lack of shame in Iglesias’ lyrics.

Watching it for a second time, my husband says this:

“Look, it’s like he’s in a hot chicks store where he can buy the one he wants. ‘There’s a blonde one, I’ll have one of those. And a brown-haired one, hmm she looks nice and ooh, an acrobatic one. Yes, tonight I’ll be having you.’ Have I been hanging out with you too long, or is this incredibly awful and sexist?”

“No! It’s not just you, it is incredibly sexist.”

“You don’t really notice sexism at first, but once you see it, you realize it’s everywhere.”

. . .

I’ve claimed the feminist label for a long time now. So long that sometimes I’m surprised when people find it alienating. Feminism gives me a framework, a tool to break down the tangled relationship between religion, culture and history. But any tool that is used to understand human beings must be flexible because people are layered and complex. I see sexism everywhere, but it’s not the only thing I see.

. . .

A few days later, I tell my husband I’m writing a piece about the Enrique Iglesias conversation.

“It’s about your feminist awakening,” I say.

“It wasn’t really a feminist awakening, more of a feminist epiphany.”

“What’s the difference?”

“You’re not going to make me sound like a douche, are you?”

“Why would having a feminist epiphany make you sound like a douche?”

“I don’t know. The thing is, I’ve never ever thought that a woman isn’t as smart or as good as a man, but I don’t think I really got all the sexism you talk about. And then watching that video the other day, maybe because it was so blatant, the penny dropped. I just really saw it.”

“So, would you ever think of yourself as a feminist?”

“No! I just don’t want my little girls to grow up believing that the pinnacle of their existence would be to be hot enough to have a threesome with Enrique Iglesias.”

“Let me ask something else. Would you like your little girls to grow up to believe that the pinnacle of their existence would be to be modestly hot enough to attract a righteous priesthood holder and make babies?”

“Anything is better than Enrique Iglesias … but not really. I’d like them to grow up and make babies if they want to make babies or be artists or scientists, I want them to be whatever they want to be.”

“Hmmm, it sounds like you are a feminist.”

“I don’t think it’s OK for men to call themselves feminists and then come in and tell women what to do. Women need to own feminism.”

“A lot of women do, but being a woman doesn’t automatically make you a feminist. And both men and women are heavily rewarded for sustaining the patriarchy and keeping it going. Look at church. If you step outside the culture, things start to look weird — like women not being allowed to be in the building without a priesthood holder there to ‘protect’ them or all the times I’ve seen women in leadership positions pray about callings, receive inspiration to call a certain woman and have that inspiration ignored by a bishop who puts someone else in the calling instead. But when you are in the culture, that is just the way things are done and often the men and women who enforce these things are really nice people. You need some of those nice people, both men and women, to question the status quo.”

“It’s not that I don’t see that, but I don’t like the label. Women are feminists, men can’t be feminists. Men just need to stop being sexist.”

. . .

My husband is uneasy about the label. Who can blame him? People still think that female feminists are shrill and overly sensitive and male feminists are Birkenstocked and pretentious. Feminists don’t like laughing at Steven Segal movies on late-night TV, World of Warcraft or boobs. They don’t like fashion and sex or have a sense of humor. They can’t simply be men who care about the women in their lives and see them as whole people or women who believe equality is better for everyone, not just women.

 

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

You may also like...

33 Responses

  1. SilverRain says:

    And this is partly where I have a hard time calling myself a feminist. While I think the “pinnacle of my existence” would be to become a true disciple and exemplify charity, I don’t think a bad second would be to find a loving, supportive, righteous husband and create a family with him. Why is being a scientist or artist such a better choice? I am both, but I don’t consider either to be the “pinnacle of my existence.” Being a great scientist or artist is a good thing, but not really what I find ultimately fulfilling. Human relationships are ultimately fulfilling.

    • Heidi says:

      SilverRain, I think many men and women feel the same. But I don’t think it is an either/or choice. I don’t think women and men have to pick between having meaningful work and being parents and partners. One of the reasons that I do choose to use the feminist label is that I think it points towards a vision of men and women that is bigger and more inclusive and allows the kind of choice that I want for myself, my husband and my children (both my boy and girls).

      • alex w. says:

        Heidi, this comment is exactly how I feel about feminism. 😀

      • SilverRain says:

        It may not be an either/or choice as far as what you do, but when you’re talking about “pinnacle of existence,” there is generally room for just one at the top.

        In other words, if I had to sum up myself in one word, I’d not pick “scientist” or “artist” no matter how much I enjoy doing those things.

      • Heidi says:

        It may not be an either/or choice as far as what you do, but when you’re talking about “pinnacle of existence,” there is generally room for just one at the top.

        In other words, if I had to sum up myself in one word, I’d not pick “scientist” or “artist” no matter how much I enjoy doing those things.

        SilverRain, This is a really good point. For me, I think the problem comes from the idea that there would be one thing, one role that would be more important than all the others. I feel like my writing, work that I’ve done, my love of my children, my role as wife, friend, daughter etc are always working together and are all enriched because I am not just one thing.

  2. SilverRain says:

    Nice, thought-provoking post, by the way. Thank you!

  3. Can’t there be another term?

    Whenever we look at each other as objects (women and media also do this to men) we have a problem. When we view people of another skin color or socio-economic background as objects, we have a problem. What would be the term that we look at each other as human beings?

    • Corktree says:

      Humanist.

      And labels are what you make of them. I myself still enjoy the shock that comes from outing myself as a feminist and then watching the wheels turn as someone tries to put all the pieces together and reconcile what they think they know with what they think they see. Defying expectations is one good way to turn prejudice on its head.

      • kmillecam says:

        I totally agree with Corktree on this one (and Heidi in the OP when she says that she’s sometimes surprised at the reaction to the word “feminist”).

        I love owning the label feminist, and proudly.

    • Humanist? Or is that taken?

    • Heidi says:

      I like a huge dose of humanism in my feminism and, in fact, I think they compliment each other well and share a lot of the same goals. Where I find that feminism is a more useful tool is in its specific understanding and critique of patriarchy. Without that understanding I think it is difficult to really talk about change because patriarchy is the water we’re swimming in.

      Cultures do evolve, but old ways of doing things aren’t usually replaced as much as new ways are layered on top — like sedimentary rock. We may have some shiny new feminist layers on top of our current culture, but we have layers and layers of patriarchy and, particularly in patriarchal cultures like Mormonism, you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface before you get to those patriarchy layers.

      • Katrina says:

        “Where I find that feminism is a more useful tool is in its specific understanding and critique of patriarchy. Without that understanding I think it is difficult to really talk about change because patriarchy is the water we’re swimming in.”

        Yes! That is exactly it. The problem is that until people *get* why patriarchy is damaging, they don’t usually understand feminism either.

  4. Heather says:

    I love this, Heidi.

  5. What a great piece! I’ve often wondered what it is about the term feminist that evokes such varied responses in people. I know so many people interested in equality who eschew the label, and I wonder why they have such strong aversion to a word whose description they clearly fit.

    Then, I got it. I was talking to a friend of mine – a friend who is a working Mom, who constantly speaks her (feminist leaning) mind at church. She once told me, “You’re NOT a feminist.” I asked her why she thought that and she said, “You are not an angry lesbian who tells other people what to do and think!”

    At certain times, in certain places labels seem to be helpful, and at other times and places, not so much. While I easily describe myself as a feminist, I can see that rather than getting people on board with a label, it’s so much more important to keep the conversation and the epiphanies rolling.

  6. Heather says:

    Oh yeah–my students (approx. 20 years old) often say, “Oh, you’re one of *those* women?” And that’s what they mean–a, gasp!–feminist.

  7. CatherineWO says:

    Interesting post and comments. I have identified myself as a feminist for so long that I no longer think about the term’s negative implications. It is probably good for me to be reminded once in awhile.

    I have to agree with Laurie:
    “…rather than getting people on board with a label, it’s so much more important to keep the conversation and the epiphanies rolling.”

    But I really do like the strength inherent in the word Feminist (especially with a capital F).

    • Heidi says:

      I have to agree with Laurie:
      “…rather than getting people on board with a label, it’s so much more important to keep the conversation and the epiphanies rolling.”

      But I really do like the strength inherent in the word Feminist (especially with a capital F).

      Catherine WO, I completely agree. I believe in an expansive, big tent when it comes to feminism and I’m not too bothered with how people self-identify, but, for myself, I like the strength and power of the word.

  8. Mraynes says:

    Thanks for this fantastic guest post, Heidi! It has been so wonderful to have you and your co-bloggers at Exponent this week.

    The one thing that really jumped out at me is your husband’s assertion that men can’t be feminists, that rather they should just stop being sexist. I get what he’s saying that women should own feminism and I even agree with him to a point. But I wonder if by claiming the title “feminist” it would increases the buy-in that men have in the movement and its ideology. It’s an interesting idea that I hadn’t considered before and it left me wondering how we market feminism to men so that they are willing to actively participate? Is it even possible?

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks Mraynes! I’m loving the swap, as well.

      One of the interesting things that has come from this post and my conversation with my husband (aside from making him uncomfortable as my muse) is that he has started reading a lot about Feminist theory and history. He started with Wikipedia and now he’s on to Feminism 101 etc. As we’ve had more discussions, I think that he is opening up to the idea of identifying himself as, at least, feminist friendly and understanding.

      A few years ago, I had the realization that as much as patriarchy and rigid gender roles are harmful to women, they are also harmful to men (such as, the pressure on men to be “manly,” assumptions that they are slobbering out-of-control pornn addicts etc). Since that time, I’ve become increasingly interested in how to make that point to the men in my life. I’m not entirely sure how to do this other than having a lot of respectful conversations over and over, but another reason that I like to boldly claim my feminism is to make it more ordinary and familiar to the people in my life.

  9. alex w. says:

    I rarely forget the negative connotations with feminism, and it only reinforces my choice to self-identify as a feminist. Like many feminists, I believe men and women should be able to choose to live how they do, and be feminine or masculine or whatever in the way that they feel is right for them, and to not be stuck into being one way because of their gender. (eg., I don’t think being a working mom or a stay at home mom is better. What’s better is that YOU are doing what is right for YOU, and that you’re happy with it. So what if someone else chooses to live differently?)

    For me, saying I’m a feminist is a way of “taking back” the title, turning the image of a man-hating, bra-burning lesbian (which is fine if that’s who you are, of course) for all feminists into…I dunno…a mirror, I guess.

    Earlier this year, when I got married, my dad asked me what I was going to do about my name because my husband and I are both named Alex. He said to me, “what, are you some kind of women’s libber?” to which my mom said “that’s not what it’s called anymore!” and I reverted back to being a teenager and just rolled my eyes at him because there wasn’t really anything else I could do.

    Yes, I kept my name, yes, I am a feminist, but that doesn’t make me hate fashion, bras, marriage, or men. As a matter of fact, I’m a big fan of all three! 🙂

    • alex w. says:

      Also (I just can’t stop talking today…), it’s interesting to read about your husband’s reluctance to self-identify as a feminist even though he holds many feminist ideals. Not that it’s super uncommon, but usually I hear about it from the perspective of women who don’t want to be labeled with “the other ‘f ‘ word.” Now I think I should pick my husband’s brain and ask him why he chooses to identify as a feminist.

      • Heidi says:

        Alex W — I would be interested to hear the reasons as well. I don’t think my husband’s aversion is rooted in anything ideological, but more in his sense of how feminism is viewed by others. But, to be fair, he isn’t a big fan of labels and “isms” in general.

  10. Alisa says:

    Heidi, I love this thought-provoking post (and want to echo mraynes on how wonderful it is to have you and the D&S bloggers posting here this week–I’ve just loved it!).

    What’s amazing to me is that I am continually woken up to my feminisism. I always thought for myself, but I also accepted so many things that were not really meant for me. I studied feminism academically. But it wasn’t until later that I experienced a painful awakening to what it meant in my own life, that things weren’t as hunky-dory as I’d thought they’d be, and that life was, in fact, very much unfair to women. My deep feminist awakening was born out of a lot of pain and loneliness. I don’t wonder that a lot of people don’t want to make that journey to see what comes out on the other side.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks Alisa!

      I think most of our deepest realizations and growth arise from pain, but that isn’t very comforting and not a huge motivator for most of us.

      I can really relate to that sense of having an academic or intellectual understanding that unfolds and deepens when it comes into closer contact to the reality of our lives. For me, reality hit with motherhood, but I’m still having these little awakenings all the time.

    • Katrina says:

      Alisa, I SO relate to this! My feminist awakening started out as quite intellectual but has now become very visceral and right now painful.

  11. Mel says:

    “Let me ask something else. Would you like your little girls to grow up to believe that the pinnacle of their existence would be to be modestly hot enough to attract a righteous priesthood holder and make babies?”

    I’m LOVING this . . . modestly hot enough 🙂 I don’t want my little (almost big now) girls or boys to believe that the pinnacle of their existence is any one relationship. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have amazing and wonderful relationships and marriages or that we don’t value them. It means our lives aren’t defined by them.

  12. Kmillecam says:

    First of all, I love the photo of galen dara’s art you used in this post. In fact, I love it so much that I have it hanging in my house 🙂

    I love to hear your husband’s though processes regarding feminism. It really is such a dirty word for so many people, and seems to be seen as the emasculating obstacle many men have to get over to claim the title “feminist”.

    I find that to be one of the most fascinating things about feminism: the women who claim it are supposed to be angry, bra-burning, man-hating lesbians, and the men who claim it are supposed to be hen-pecked, not “real” men, and/or gay. That says a whole lot more about how our society treats gender roles than the problematic nature of the word “feminism”.

    That’s why I like claiming the title of “feminist” and insist on using it much to many people’s chagrin: in a single word it cuts through the haze of sexism, revealing where people stand with regard to equality and gender. I find it an extremely useful litmus test (personally) indeed.

  1. September 29, 2011

    […] LunchesToday’s Twelve Lunches column features a Guest Post from Mraynes as part of the The Exponent and Doves and Serpents swap.My name is mraynes and I blog at the Exponent. I am currently a graduate student working towards a […]

  2. November 20, 2011

    […] Heidi’s guest post, An Awakening,  she proudly identified herself as a feminist but told us that her husband won’t wear the label […]

Leave a Reply