Every now and again I back myself into a conceptual corner and sit there yelping in confusion and distress.
I realised very clearly the other day just how subversive feminism actually is. I’m not sure that women can live financially and professionally independent lives without un-weaving society around us. I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it. It’s an unsettling thought – particularly from a position of feminine freedom and privilege.
But feminism is good – right? I mean it’s freedom and self-actualisation isn’t it? How can that be wrong?
But communities are good – right? They’re caring and supportive networks of people reaching out to help each other. When communities fall apart we end up with underclasses and gang warfare and drugs and knives and guns.
Shit! I’m turning into a Daily Mail reader before my very eyes.
I’ve always known communities aren’t necesarily either caring or supportive. There are too many places in the world where you can’t be gay or trans or bi, where you can’t be a woman and educated, where you can’t be poor and ill, where you can’t be an atheist and hold office for me to think for a second that communities are safe places to be. But on the other hand, we are social animals and we do need some glue to hold us together: if you are a round peg, then those round holes and cosy and snug.
What I hadn’t realised is that if you are a woman and you don’t suit the community you are born and raised in, then you will either damage yourself or undermine that community.
I realised this when I had lunch with a friend the other day. The friend is Asian, 30ish, educated, professional and has a strong stream of self-determination in her temperament. So far so westernised. She is also a sincere believer in her religion and a committed member of what she refers to as “my community”. Her religion, her family and her roles as a daughter and aunt are part of her identity. But she doesn’t want to become another one of the submissive women she sees around her, tucked in to an arranged marriage and made bitchy and manipulative by boredom. She wants to be herself within her family, her friends and her religion, and respected for it. It’s like looking back in time to the 50s or the period before the first World War. My friend’s position is very much the same as that of my grandmother’s sister a century or so ago who left home to become an actress: to do that she left her family, any hopes she had of marriage, her friends and the places she knew. These things are more common than not in the West now, and we forget how hard they were.
My friend wants to have her cake and eat it, and I don’t think she can. Communities function best when men work and women don’t (oh, goddess, the Daily Mail) because men bond when they are active and women bond when they talk. This isn’t how it should be, not in a society of human beings where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are more or less taken care of. But darwiniansim sucks and it’s an observable fact that communities start to fracture when more than a few of the women work, and communities where the men don’t work fall apart. Social cohesion happens when women share conversation, motherhood and domesticity and men win bread or hunt mightily.
You can see why this thought has left me yelping. Unfortunately we can’t wrap ourselves up in warm value judgements about social justice, ethics and how things should be: this is a matter of wiring.
So women like me, my grandmother’s sister and my Asian friend, who aren’t mothers, who work in predominantly male environments, who have friends of both sexes, who network rather than gossip, we pick away at the glue that holds communities together.
And women like my friend and my grandmother’s sister have to choose between cutting off one part of their identity of suppressing another. Individual western women are luckier: we don’t have such strong and cohesive communities and families to constrain us. But collectively are we worse off? They are not there to support us either, because we’ve torn them down pay-cheque by pay-cheque and latch-key by latch-key.
Which means that the mad feminists of the 70s who said that the patriarchy were inherently opposed to wimmin’s freedom were right.
The mad feminists AND the Daily Mail?