Ok, so wait, what happened to the yoga? You thought this was a blog about the yoga, right? That's why you came?
Hey now, it says, "and stuff."
I was thinking, as I walked across a parking lot with a paper bag full of yummy Thai curry soup, that I've claimed the term "feminist" as an identity for almost twenty years. Certainly since the late 1990s.
But what I really mean is "anti-patriarchalist."
Now, no definition of "feminism" is solid simply by itself, in my opinion. They're all historically-based and grounded, and when rhetoric from a feminism is taken away from its historical ground, it can be made to do dangerous and stupid things, which is how almost all anti-feminism that I've ever seen, operates. I mean, more largely, that's how most conservative rhetoric about almost anything, in the States, operates. Take the history away, disembody the concept, make it into pure rhetoric, and then beat it up with your counter-rhetoric.
The left is also guilty of that strategy, but I see it more often, more easily and more frequently on the right.
In saying feminism isn't "solid," I suppose that what I mean is that I understand effective feminism to be a combination of theory and practice, and so for it to be effective, it needs historical ground. No one can be an effective feminist by just spouting rhetoric; if you can't link that rhetoric to a practice you want to change or a belief system you want to alter or historical conditions which produced it or on which it can act, you're just talking out loud.
This is also how I understand art and yoga. Dada, for example, is just nonsense (haha) without the historical context of World War I and the idea that the non-art object is still aesthetic (and as such, non-aesthetic, because Art didn't recognize it as such). Dada consummately operates on specific histories.
The yoga needs practice; a yoga that's all theory isn't a yoga. Even jnana yoga, which is so cerebral, aims to change your cerebrus (yes, I just coined that). The "historical context" which the yoga changes could be understood to be your "you," with all your samskaric business and your gunas and all of that.
So, feminism. My feminism is anti-patriarchal. By this, I mean that my feminism hasn't historically been about being "pro-woman," it's been about being "anti-patriarchy." As Chantal Akerman once said about patriarchal understandings of gender roles, "men are hurt by it too."
I learned that in my long abusive relationship. 1995-2002. When in those days I said I was a feminist, it meant more like, I am a body-ist (notably, NOT a "human-ist") and this body challenges and shakes the rhetoric of what a "man" and a "woman" are and how "he" and "she" should behave, and who should have the power, and who is abusive to whom under what circumstances. Basically, as I had with Catholicism, I retreated into embodiment, into blood and sensation, in order to smash linguistic and conceptual formations from the partially-colonized turf of the body itself. No wonder that led to my later enjoyment of Foucault.
Now, I realize how half-baked this "assault rhetoric from embodiment" is, but it's an apt description of how I tried to manage my own subjectivity.
But see how that kind of thinking never led to my being "pro-woman" because it was about something far more interior and personal than the legal, social, economic and other status of women in Western culture?
As a reckoning with patriarchy and an attempt to undo its pernicious effects not just on my psyche (bodymind) and others, my "feminism" took a direct line of assault to patriarchy's fingerprints on my bodymind, and by extension, to others' bodyminds as well. This is the type of ranting I was doing from 1999-2004, at least, on internet personals (you'd think that'd be off-putting, but no, my friends, not in those days, those were the high days of BUST magazine and that sort of publication; pierced angry do-it-yourself feminists were EVERYWHERE).
Those were the days of my investigations of trans communities and kink communities, embodied beings and practices that, in their deviance, either did or could be made to take up a counter-rhetoric. And there again, it wasn't "pro-trans" or even "pro-kink," it was anti-patriarchy. Smash the man, with whatever's at hand. Smash the man with anything. But smash the man, for damn certain. Vengeance.
I ran with feminist groups on campus and did activist things, but that didn't change the energy: anti-patriarchy. And my adoption of a "sex-positive" rhetoric (which seems to have shown up coastally in the 1990s and then more broadly, even in the Midwest, in the first decade of the 2000s), was about smashing the man, also. The sex-negativity of conservative talking heads. To fuck freely, was to make Rush Limbaugh shut the fuck up. How sixties of me! And sure, I was also learning about Reich's orgone rhetoric and anti-fascism. Sexy stuff; incoherent, but then, so is a lot of Surrealism (and speaking of Surrealism, there's a lot of that "body as transgressive" stuff there too--who remembers that Dali was Catholic? Right on!).
My personal preferences for company colored my "feminism," so that I'd be willing to talk feminist ranting and rhetoric ALL DAY with someone who was smart like me, angry like me, understood sexual expression as revolutionary like me, who was basically LIKE ME.
A one-man feminism for THOSE LIKE HIM. Doesn't sound as complimentary and activist leftist when it's put THAT way, does it?
I got quieter about my feminism as 2004 rolled on, and the nation seemed to also. In 2002, students would just up and declare that they were feminists. By 2005, this got very, very quiet. Maybe the two bohemians in the back, who oddly read a lot of Beat literature, would claim to be feminists (it's well-known that the Beats are not a feminist group by a long stretch). But no one else. Students began to declare that they were avidly NOT feminists. They began, when prodded, to speak old stereotypes about bra-burning and man-hating (this is precisely what I mean by ungrounding the rhetoric from its historical base).
And still now in 2012, only the occasional student or two even knows what BITCH or BUST are, and those are always the hipsters who are simultaneously wearing vintage clothing and listening to death metal or some other combination of identities that, at best, belies a do-it-yourself feminism, but with no clear platform often than, well, anti-patriarchy.
I don't mean that as some stereotype; I'm not trying to attack my students' sensibilities, I'm trying to describe them as I actually experience their discussion (or not) of what feminism is today. Keep in mind that this is at a public art school in the middle of a big city in the middle of a famously conservative state in the middle of the country.
So when my household got pregnant and J simply stopped our sex life in its tracks with no warning, no discussion and no consent, I did not have what you might call a "feminist" reaction.
Perhaps a feminist would have said, "Ah, I feel your discomfort." Empathy or something. She at one point gave me a link to a "feminist father" blog (there are many, many more than you'd think) and the writing there just made no sense to me. No frustration, no angst, no confusion, no wrestling with inner demons.
Now, my insistence that we retain some kind of a sex life (and sure, 3-4x/year is SOME kinda sex life, but it's almost more frustrating than anything else, like it's JUST ENOUGH to remind me of what it is that I'm not getting) is not a patriarchal thing, not in any way that I can understand.
I don't insist on it, I don't bring it up a lot, I rarely give her guilt about it (that only happens incidentally when we argue about our priorities, it's never a thing I consciously do, and I'm unhappy about it when I see that effect), and I would rather kill myself with a butter knife than pull the "I'm the man, you have to please me" card.
But at the same time, right around every three months (i.e., right before the tension ends), I am virtually HOMICIDALLY INSANE with frustration. What is a "feminist man" supposed to do in that kind of situation?
Well, if you're me and your feminism is largely anti-patriarchy, you can't do a damn thing. She's not a patriarch, and doesnt, as far as I can tell, have any patriarchal sex-negativity, she's simply too busy to afford the energy expenditure of sexing me on a regular basis. She's said as much. Or she'll say, she wishes that love could come in little packages, like presents, and you just unwrap it and then it's all done.
There is nothing for my "feminism" to attack, and I realized, thinking about the relationship, that my feminism doesn't have a positive edge, what you might call a "pro-woman" edge. But I don't want it to. What "pro" could I possibly have, that would be good for ALL women, for all those different races, ages, histories, experiences? And then that's when I discovered (again, but in my personal, felt experience, which changes everything) that identity politics really won't work. It didn't before, it doesn't now, and it won't later. For my feminism to be anti-patriarchy is RIGHT. It's effective, and it lets me activate and act with total ideological accuracy, because what I believe is Anti-Patriarchy. When I see patriarchy and its bullshit, I act against it in some way, even if it's just reposting a meme on Facebook. I know who my enemy is and I know how and why to organize others against this enemy, and I don't have to get all anxious about "who they are" or "if they fit the model" or any of that identity crap.
But what this feminism does NOT do is tell me how the fuck to deal with my relationship. "The personal is political," sure, but what does that mean when what I have is an overworked household and one partner who thinks sex is an additional expenditure of energy (how tiresome! do we HAVE TO? I'm so sleepy!) and one partner who thinks that sex is brilliant stress relief (ahhh, FINALLY) AND interpersonal contact (ahhh FINALLY) AND a revolutionary affirmation of the body as affectionate and incoherent, the bodymind as a temporary pulse of warm blood in the universe (ahhh FINALLY)? A conceptual and embodied re-affirmation of the REAL TRUTH of the body, in full impermanence.
And I don't link here often, but this post got a nice answer (and before I even WROTE IT) here: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/2012/04/08/on-the-nature-of-being-nice/