Feminism 101: How are we supposed to take feminist bloggers seriously if they post about shoes?

Occasionally, I get emails from men who tell me (rather dubiously) that they really want to get on board with the whole feminism thing, but they really wish I'd stop blogging about shoes, or my marriage, or too many clasps on my trousers. I have to be serious, they tell me, if I want to be taken seriously.

A similar complaint has come up in the semi-annual "Where are all the women bloggers?" navel-gaze, though the idea is more that women bloggers tend to be too personal for serious, detached, objective political bloggers to consider them a serious part of the serious political blogosphere.

The general drift you're probably starting to catch by now is that women's lives are unserious things.

(As opposed to cat blogging and lists of what's on one's iPod, which don't actually undermine the gravitas of a blog in the same way publicly being a woman does.)

Not long ago, Shaker Belial forwarded me the link to this great post at xkcd, in which Randall looks at the absence of women in popular film. Coincidentally, Iain and I had just had a similar discussion about a month ago, when he was, for reasons I don't even remember, reading me the list of IMDb's Top 250 movies, and, around #40 I said, "Have there been any movies on this list so far with a female lead?"

I could write a lot of exposition here about women's stories not getting told, but I quite genuinely believe most of the people disposed toward accepting that reality will grok the concept intuitively, and the rest will ignore everything I would say to argue that Charlie's Angels proves me wrong or tell me that films aren't written with women at their centers (or books, or television shows, or news stories, etc.) because women never do anything worth writing about. So let's skip ahead with the understanding that most people with two brain cells knocking together and a modicum of social consciousness will agree that women's stories don't get told, at least not like men's do, and/or that women are much more infrequently cast in roles that, by any accounting, could be filled by either sex.

(There's also the "token strong woman who's segregated from other equally strong women" phenomenon about which I've written before—see: Eowyn, Leia, Trinity, Hermione, Sarah Connor, Ripley, et. al.—which reinforces the ideas that girliness is bad and that women must compete for coveted roles as tokens among men. That's a pretty damn white list, too, you'll note.)

So there's a distinct purpose to feminist/womanist women bloggers publicly telling stories about their lives, talking about the minutiae of womanhood as well as sharing personal anecdotes and experiences that have nothing whatsoever to do with being a woman, except insomuch as it's a woman telling the story. We're filling in all the cultural gaps left by the deficit of women's voices. Part of the reason I love threads like this one (the discussion, more than the post itself), in which women publicly—and seriously, ahem—discuss their periods is because the only mainstream pop culture reference to menstruation I remember seeing last year was in the loathsomely, despicably, gobsmackingly misogynist and rape advocating shitpile known as Superbad, in which a young woman gyrates her crotch against a teenage boy's leg at a party, leaving behind a smear of menstrual blood. (Hilarity ensues.)

One could argue that there's no reason such a scene shouldn't be in a popular film—what are ya, humorless?!—and, although I would argue there's really no reason why it should, either, that's not really my point. My point is about balance, or the lack thereof. When the most widely-ingested popular reference to menstruation is about a woman who couldn't control hers, despite the fact that women generally dedicate an egregious amount of time and attention toward ensuring they don't even spot their clothes, no less bleed on other people, that's a really problematic disparity for women. It's not merely unrepresentative of their lives; it's actually contra-representative, that is, representing women not merely in an untruthful and atypical way, but totally opposite of any common reality.

Contra-representations of women are ubiquitous in the minority of films, television shows, books, news stories, etc. where they're represented at all. And when female characters aren't being used to promulgate misconceptions about women, they are frequently used to honor "exceptional" women, the ultimate recent example of that being Juno, in which an amazingly precocious teenage girl fails utterly to be wise about preventing pregnancy, then wise-cracks her way through a pregnancy and adoptive process, emerging with nary a scratch on her. (And manages to stay in boys' clothes the whole time, too.) Oh, and did I mention that her mother abandoned her? And her best friend and stepmother are brainless idiots? And her little sister is described (by her own mother) as stupid? And the adoptive mother has no personality, aside from being a giant, throbbing womb desperate for a baby? Other women are wastes of space, but that Juno—what a gem!

She could have been a gem—smart and witty and unique—while also bearing some of the other traits of womanhood besides a bulging pregnant belly. She could have been a gem even surrounded by other women who are gems, too. But movies about women are not about gems, plural; they are about diamonds in the rough. Diamonds who would never actually wear a diamond, because, eww, icky, stupid, that's what girly girls do.

It's because of that sort of messaging that there was a time I never would have worn pink shoes, no less blogged about them. I wanted to be one of the women who didn't care about being a woman, because those women aren't worth talking about. Their stories suck.

Suffice it to say, I've changed my mind.

And one of the ways in which I use my teaspoon is to dole out little dollops of my own story, publicly and unapologetically, and make space for other women to do the same. One of the things of which I am most proud about Shakesville is the community of women, who genuinely love one another, and gather in a room where we don't feel obliged to compete for attentions, or present ourselves as exceptions, or reserve our stories lest we not be taken seriously.

Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women's stories aren't told, it's incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance.

Telling our tales is not a weakness. It's a strength.

No matter who says otherwise.

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