Ms. Integrity- Feminism and the Guilt Surrounding Me

I am going to admit something.   I am a feminist. A die hard Roe V Wade fighter who wants equality for us all.  I want women to be seen to be just as powerful as men.  It crushes my soul that we have not have a female president.  I was not the biggest Hillary fan but I desperately wanted little girls to see they could hold the highest office in the land. I want fair pay and childcare to be something that both employers and the government give a shit about. I was empowered to see the turnouts internationally for the Women’s March to protest our new administration.  I will go to my grave hoping and that not just the women of this country see better treatment but that women all over the world do, however I will also probably always carry a burden of guilt secretly on my shoulders. Well, not so secret now I guess since I am writing about this- but a burden of guilt none the less.

I grew up the product of first and second wave feminism.  The women of my family lineage were and are strong figures dating back to the Victorian era. My grandmother on my maternal side is still with us, 96 and worried about the Trump agenda. My mother fought in the 1960s for civil rights. No part of my upbringing made me feel like less of a human due to my gender. I went to progressive private schools in my childhood years that my grandparents paid for as my parents were too poor on an academic salary t0 afford such a luxury.  The bulk of my high school years were spent at an art school where women were a tour de force on the faculty out numbering the men.

My complicated relationship with feminism began in the 1990s.  I was in high school and the third wave of feminism was emerging.  I was at the center of much of it being a part of the local punk scene in Richmond Virginia.  The riot grrrl scene was strong in the area- probably in part due to our proximity to DC where Positive Force was an epicenter of 90s political activism via the punk scene.  Also Richmond had VCU, a university which had an art school that attracted liberal creative types from all over the state and country. Richmond had the perfect climate for activism in the 1990s.

I was a little younger than most of the riot grrrls in the scene so I was a bit of an outsider from the get-go.  I also did not share certain interests that the riot grrrls I knew did. I didn’t feel like I needed horn rimmed glasses and a retro betty look to fight the man. I loved Crass but did not feel that by the 1990s being a “Shaved Woman” made me a collaborator. I got the sentiment but did not feel that I needed to join in on every aspect of this new movement.

I have always been an individualist.  My family taught me at a young age to stand up and be who I am and that I needn’t conform to anyone’s mold, particularly my father- which may tie into some of my feminist guilt. My mother had some mental tough times in my youth which meant that my father often ended up being the one to be my moral compass. My father is a staunch libertarian who hates power going unchecked. For instance he sat me down in my early teen years and explained to me my rights with the police and to threaten to call the ACLU if I was being fucked with.  He never addressed civil rights in terms of being a woman or a man to me, just a person.

At this time in my youth I also ended up by happenstance hanging out with more men than women.  The Richmond punk scene outside of that Positive Force/Riot Grrrl world had few females involved. The music that I was more drawn to in sound and style had a more masculine fanbase and I honestly do not know why.  I do not feel that the punk and metal-punk that I was into at that time had a sexist or even machismo element to it (other than tongue and cheek like the Meatmen or the Dwarves).  If you listen to Buzzoven or Eyehategod, who were at the center of the man “scene” I was a part of I think you would be pressed to see them as sexist bands.  There was little cross over in fan base too locally- you would see very few riot grrrl types at metal/punk gigs and vice versa.

So here I was, a young girl trying to decide who I was, immersed in a subculture that made me feel like I had to “take a side” to a certain extent.  If I was a “good girl” I would attend the local Riot Grrrl meetings and work towards bettering my gender in society as a whole. If I continued on the path I was on, not conforming to certain feminist ideals and aesthetics I felt that to some extent I was failing my gender. And honestly, not much as changed for me.

I constantly feel at odds with feminism to some extent even in my middle age.  Now I am not faced with a grrrrl with a pamphlet about the patriarchy blatantly telling me what I should do but with a movement that does not fully embrace who I am.  I work as a makeup artist- a career dominated by women and gay men, yet diametrically opposed to many of the tenants of feminism. In the eyes of the philosophies of Crass I am a full on collaborator not only by shaving my body hair, but showing other women how to change their appearance in ways viewed by many feminists as making them slaves to the “male gaze”. I also make less money than my husband and spend much of my time in the “domestic sphere” at home. I enjoy cooking and being a care taker.  And I feel guilty for all of this. The third wave of feminism of my youth left me a conflicted human being.

I hope as we enter into this new wave, or fourth wave, of feminism we can embrace ALL women fully.  That we can agree that feminism is about empowerment for all.  That being a woman is a magical thing.  Let us not pick each other apart.  Let us learn from the mistakes of the feminists before us.  And let us embrace men who want to join us in this cause. We can all be feminists. We can accept that being a “feminist” can mean anything and that you can be successful in any sphere whether it be domestic or in the workforce, or hopefully, one day, the highest office in the land.

 

PS- The title of this essay is a play off of the L7 song “Mr. Integrity”, a song about an overly concerned political punk who does not want to see bands like L7 sign to a major labor and therefore “sell out”.  It is this type of in-fighting and nit picking that made third wave feminism not always effective- let’s learn from my generations mistakes and fight for the big picture just like L7 and other female performers like Wendy O Williams, Lydia Lunch, Girlschool, Kim Gordon, Dinah Cancer of 45 Grave, Tam from Sacrilege and countless others have done.  These women did took no shit and fought their way into a male dominated world- just like you and I can. If you have not heard these artists here are some links below you should check out.

 

 

 

 

 

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