Why is Feminism So Taboo?

In a recent post by the Feminist Breeder, the reluctance of modern women and men to identify as feminists was brought up. Her post is cleverly titled, well-written, optimistic and refreshing. She discusses being surprised at the fact that nobody wanted to raise their hand when asked in a gender class if they were feminists. In fact, for self-identifying feminists in America, it probably reads like a breath of fresh air, especially because her definition of feminism is so inclusive.  Her criteria for feminists includes 3 points:

  1. Believing that women are human beings
  2. That men and women are fully human
  3. And political, economic, and social equality between the genders

Sadly, not many American people have such an expansive view of feminism. Even at my undergraduate university, albeit a fairly traditional Catholic and Jesuit one, students who were asked by a group putting together a feminist edition of a magazine to have their picture put in a collage titled “this is what a feminist looks like,” were either reluctant to identify as feminist, or reacted with surprising anger towards feminists. The students falling into the latter camp generally seemed under the impression that all feminists hated men and caused political unrest.

These Feminist Blogs Create Thought Bubbles

While I don’t think the first part, the man-hating part, of that statement is true about feminism as a movement or a belief system, even if there are feminists alive who claim to hate men, I do believe that the second part remains true, the political part, and that is what makes feminism so taboo. At its core, feminism’s tenants question the dominant ideological structure. If that political aspect of feminism still gives feminists a bad reputation, then I might be hard pressed to accept a better one.

Twisty from the blog I Blame the Patriarchy fairly recently brought up the ever-so-fine distinction between subjection of women and subjection of all “other” people that the ideological structure imposes itself upon. She argues that, “because sexism has been so comprehensively assimilated across the board, the elimination of racism, classism, ableism, homophobia et al cannot obtain without the simultaneous liberation of women from patriarchal tyranny.”

I don’t want to feel threatened when I identify as a feminist. Further, I do think it is pretty sad and also confusing that people get so up in arms about feminists, although that is also a move of patriarchy and an attempt to subjugate women’s voices, or if you consider the quoted section above, truly patriarchy as a system attempts to destroy any opposing forces. According to the Feminist Breeder’s definition feminists can be anyone interested in the equal rights of all people. Unfortunately, although I do want to be optimistic as well, I don’t feel like the general public cares about equal rights, which is one of the reasons that patriarchy still thrives. The people on top want to stay on top, and the people at the bottom just want to replace the people at the top.

Do I wish that feminism was less taboo? Sure I do. However, I fully understand the political choice I am making when I self identify as a feminist, the choice to counteract a dominant patriarchal ideology which subjugates all non-subscribers, and quite frankly, if it makes other people a wee bit uncomfortable, I am OK with that.

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E

Be a Man, Read Some Trash

Writer: Allen B 

I had something odd happen to me the other day. I was sitting at the Elliot Bay Book Store (great place, if you don’t know it, go find it, get a coffee and a book and improve your sad, sad life) reading a novel I had recently bought. The book was called Danse Macabre by Laurell K. Hamilton and for those of you who have never read her work, it is a collection of hot sex, horror, hard-boiled detective, with a tip of the hat to the great Anne Rice and a flip of the finger to those sparkly angsty characters of another series which I will not here name. Some might call it trash but in my not at all humble opinion, it’s better than candy.

Sipping my coffee, I looked up to see a very good looking man reading a book by Slavoj Zizek, one of my favorite political theorists. I smiled, he smiled back, I thought about getting his number, and then he glanced at the book in my hands. He didn’t say anything, nor did I, but for a moment, I felt a sting of embarrassment. I know it doesn’t matter that from time to time I read novels that may go on for pages (or chapters) about how hung a sexy vampire is, but for some reason I didn’t want to be thought about as the kind of guy who reads… that sort of thing at that moment.

I wanted this to be a symptom of intellectual snobbery, I know what that is and to be honest, I’m fine with it, but it wasn’t. I was embarrassed in the same way I was when some boys from my middle school saw me looking at the Barbie’s at the toy store in the mall. For some reason, I felt insecure because on some level, palpable caught there in the stare of that tall, sexy man, I didn’t think it manly to read romance. I went as far as putting the book in my bag and pulling a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun off the shelf when I went to the café to see if I could find him.

Sadly, he was already gone but as I stood there with the manly book (which I already owned) in my hand I wanted to know what the hell was wrong with me. I’m not one, in general to give a shit what other think of me, I’m a god damned lit student, people already think I’m a confusing mess, so why should this moment be different? I know the answer, you probably do too. There are some times when gender norms extend, however ridiculously, even to books. Once again I was caught looking at Barbie dolls in the toy store. Even worse, this time I was playing with them. I was more than a little annoyed at myself and rather than take the long bus ride home hiding the book in my bag, I picked it out of my bag, found a table where I could look at the passing guys (yeah, I’m kind of a dog), and then sat reading it shamelessly for anyone to see, even getting a kick out of being in public when the main character talked about things having to stretch.

In the end nobody cared. I wanted to know though, are there things that others have never read because of the ideas attached to them? I’m not talking about political ideas, I’m not going to try to talk any hard core right wingers into embracing The Grapes of Wrath, at least not today, but is there anything you chose not to crack open because it wasn’t ladylike or because it wasn’t manly? Guys, have you ever wanted to read Little Woman or a Jane Austen novel? Ladies, were you ever just a little curious about why some guys love Tom Clancy or John  Le Carre?

In the end, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that reading a novel with some erotica or that centers on a marriage plot won’t cause a man’s nuts to pull up inside of him like 40 degree water, and that some gun play and loveless sex won’t make hair grow on a woman’s chest. But maybe the problem has nothing to do with what we think these books will do to us and everything to do with what we think our friends will do to us.

Would I make fun of one of my guy friends for reading Sense and Sensibility? You bet your sweet ass I would; I’d ask him if his lady parts hurt and tell him to hold on because one day his prince will come. (Don’t hate me for the move into heteronormativity, I was after all brought up in America.) If I saw Miss E. reading some Hemmingway I’d make fun of her too, “Breaking out of the kitchen through fist fighting and womanizing?” But should that keep The Sun Also Rises out of her hands or a dirty erotica novel out of mine? To be honest, reading things that are out of my normal field have helped me to learn a lot about myself and where I stand in terms of sexuality, choices. I sucked it up and read Danse Macabre at the café in the bookstore.

So let’s be honest, it won’t threaten my manhood to read this kind of thing in public, and I was being a fucking sixth grader for reacting that way. Try it this week; go get something you’ve always been curious about. Some of the best nights I’ve had in my life have dealt with pushing the limits of my curiosity, (I’m talking literature and so much more.) If it makes you tingle in places you don’t want to talk about, all I can say is congrats. If you feel like your manhood is in question or your womanhood is being put upon, keep reading—you need to be threatened.