A couple of days ago I read an article - this is embarrassing, but I don't remember what it was - that had to do with some feminist viewpoint or issue. Let's substitute the Time breastfeeding cover story and the ensuing kerfuffle, because that's a pretty prominent story and the same effect I'm going to write about below happened then, too.
Have you ever seen a horse try to get up from the ground, and miss its mark, and then have to try a different approach and rouse itself again? Sometimes turning its legs to the other side? That's what my brain did when I read this story. I went to a women's college, and all that
inculcation education, plus my own actual feminist instincts, tried to find enough purchase to get the hell up and really have an opinion about what I'd read. But gravity won. I just didn't care.
I could probably form an opinion about whether it was bad or good to have such an image on the cover of Time, and I could form an opinion about the actions of the woman represented in the image (because it was always my bet that the pictured woman is a model, not a real mom). But I didn't really want to, because breastfeeding is simply not that important to me, and the cover turned me off for reasons I can't defend, and anyway I'm not a mother so I don't really have a dog in this fight.
This reaction put me in mind of something I read in an interview with Caitlin Moran:
I want to write a column next week for the Times about how I think we need to impose a world moratorium on having opinions on shit that women do for a month. Whenever something happens to a woman anywhere, everyone's gotta have a fucking opinion on it, like the new CEO of Yahoo!, and suddenly every feminist writer I know is being rung up by newspapers going "What's your opinion on this? Was she betraying the sisterhood by getting pregnant? What does this mean, what does this mean?” It's someone who got a job, if it was a man, we wouldn't be bothering about it. Every woman is seen as emblematic of like, two and a half million other women. It's horrible pressure, that's why women fuck up more than anything else. So maybe just for a month, unless it's a massive emergency, you know? Unless like, Diane Sawyer turns into a weird vampire, we should just not have opinions on anything women do for a month and let's just see if sales of Xanax and white wine have gone down by the end of the month.There are lots of reasons why I think Moran is a fantastic role model for women (not least her filthy mouth), but this is one of the best I can put my finger on. Why is it necessary for me to have an opinion about every little thing that happens to women in this country, just because I have a vagina? Why do I need to retrench and dig in and find my real position about all things before I can say I've done my duty as a woman for today?
It's stressful. It's really really stressful to have an opinion about everything. And sometimes I just don't.
So it occurs to me that I need to own that. Partly because I'm quite a lot happier when I'm not spouting off on my beliefs about this or that. We live in a country where it's more admirable to boldly claim a truth you don't understand than to say "I don't know" or "I don't care". But I learned the value of "I don't know" some years ago (and relearned it like how over the past week), and the value of "I don't care" is now coming clear.
This morning I spent far too much time reading about a giant firestorm in the skeptic blogging community. This Slate article got me started (do NOT read the comments DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON), and then I read the entire history of the thing here. After reading all that I ended up with a few opinions about what happened and what was said, many of them angry and some of them uncertain, and my brain said the word "mansplaining" more than it usually does in the course of any normal hour, but ultimately I discovered apathy in my little heart.
In the last year I've gotten very riled about the state of female-being in this country, but none of my rilement has done anyone any good, and it hasn't clarified my positions any further from what they were before the advent of mandatory ultrasounds. Mostly I felt throughout my twenties that the men I was going to come in contact with on an everyday basis were probably decent guys, some of them a bit non-maliciously clueless about how it feels to be in a female skin, and that some small percentage of them were jerks or aggressors. I felt with certainty that I live in a patriarchy, but found that it infrequently affected my life in a way that injured me. I felt that unfair things were happening to women all over the country, surely, but I knew and know that activism is not the best use of the energy I was given in this life.
I also felt, increasingly, that I wanted to be a woman-writer, not just a writer, and that I wanted to talk about women and women's issues for an audience of both women and men. I wanted this influence to appear in forms both obvious and subtle, and even if I never wrote straight-up feminist fiction, I wanted my female voice to permeate what I wrote in ways small and large.
Women's voices are tamped down in all sorts of ways, and over the past year I could feel a chip starting to materialize on my shoulder. But this week I've decided to discard it. I'm not going to presume I'll be whistled at and dismissed even before I begin; I'm going to endeavor to walk into the rest of my life with the same it's-probably-okay attitude I walked through my twenties. Everything else, I've discovered, just sends me into spirals of despair and angry self-pity. Nothing productive. Nothing positive.
I'm not going to shut up entirely. I still see the world as a feminist (a Caitlin Moran feminist, if you like, not a Dworkin feminist). But reading about feminist hair-splitting in the blogosphere from people who all essentially mean well but are now infuriated at each other just angries up the blood, and doesn't serve me. And I don't need to have an opinion. I don't need to care. I'm not flunking some big test if I just shrug and read something else.
Just before beginning this post, I listened to this song:
That's what I want to be. This artist has a feminine voice and sensitivity, but her music is just plain old lovely, nothing more or less. Even in college, I disliked political art. Time to lie back down - not as the victim, but as the horse who's comfy under a nice tree - and just be.