I purposely set up my last post to lead into this one. I correctly anticipated that several people would respond to my last post by saying in essence, "Why do you care so much what people think?" or "Just eff 'em all and do your own thing." If you made such a comment, I am not necessarily faulting you (it depends on the nature and tone of the comment), but I would like to respond.
Point One: Of course, women should reject (to the extent possible) the conventions that unjustly constrain them.
I agree with the commenters' sentiments in part. I think that feminist women should buck gender damaging norms, without regard to the disapproval of others, to the extent possible. Multitudes of women over the past decades have rejected traditional gender constraints, especially in the west. These women's lives and choices have changed gender expectations drastically in my lifetime. These women's insistence on doing their own thing has made it infinitely easier for women of ensuing generations, including my own, to do their own thing.
So, yeah, a big part of the solution to the problem I raised in the last post has to do with individual women having the courage to make their individual choices -- especially now that many of the legal constraints and opportunity constraints on our choices no longer exist. I have certainly lived my life in this manner to the best of my ability.
Point two: Which is exactly why TALKING and WRITING and BLOGGING about constraining gender norms is helpful.
But women throwing off their metaphorical shackles is not the whole story. There is one thing that bothers me about many (not all, but many) of the "do your own thing, who cares what others think" comments. These comments often imply or state outright that it is stupid or a waste of time to write about certain issues because all women have to do is reject convention or gendered expectations, so why don't you shut up and quit yer whining already? Easy-peasy, right?
Which strikes me as kind of silly. Each woman is supposed to be an uncommunicative island making her own choices without ever talking or listening to other women who may be noticing and thinking about the same things? This seems like an utterly arbitrary standard to impose on women (and I can't help but wonder what drives this desire to get us to shut the hell up.) And, what, men have no obligation to consider the expectations and constraints that may be burdening the women in their lives and to which they may be contributing?
As for women's task of trying to do their own thing: I think that talking and writing and comparing notes is an extremely useful exercise. It's a lot easier to say, "To hell with the naysayers in my life," or "To hell with my own internalized sexism," if you know other women out there are dealing with the same issues. And don't forget that a lot of women out there are dealing with far heavier cultural and community expectations than what I have described in my own life. I think it's helpful all of us to read about other women's lives and see other possibilities out there.
Point three: Action by individual women in their own lives is great but another piece of the puzzle is widespread change of unjust gender expectations -- again a goal that is potentially aided by TALKING and WRITING and BLOGGING about these issues
And don't forget for the conscientious men among us, this isn't just women's problem. I certainly hope that the men in our lives can be allies. Ending prejudice and spreading a greater understanding among all people as to what it really means to reject damaging or demeaning gender norms is important -- and requires again both talking and writing. It is important for both sexes, but perhaps especially for those wome who are ambivalent about feminism but who would benefit from it, to understand that rejecting certain norms doesn't mean you have to be indifferent to men if you're straight, or that you are by definition cold or selfish to your husband or children. Doing your own thing is fine, but a far better solution that will benefit more women is to try change societal expectations.
Point four: We all live in community, so don't tell me that concern with the perceptions of others is somehow a sign of weakness.
Another problem with the idea that women should just shut up and not care what others think is that this ignores that women, like all human beings, have a basic desire for respect and for community. For me personally (but not for all women), I don't care at all if others disapprove of my choices, if their disapproval is based on standards that I reject. I don't care a whit that my great aunt thinks that I am a bad person because I didn't take my husband's last name, or if some guy thinks I'm a "slut" because I have had more sexual partners than he deems appropriate. But I do care if others misunderstand my choices, especially if the misunderstanding is demeaning to me in some way. I am not going to apologize for having a basic human desire to be seen and understood by those around me. (For example, a public wedding -- an occasion which is universally considered an important life event -- is essentially a communicative act.) Men in general certainly care about being seen and understood by others -- that's why respect is universally considered important. I have as much a right as a man to be concerned about being respected. And even more than being concerned about people respecting me, I am very concerned about young people growing up, as I did, seeing disrespect towards women as a norm -- thousands of small daily examples that may seem trivial in isolation but add up to a very clear picture that the female half of the human race is less than.
Furthermore, while I have the luxury and the temperament to not care about disapproval so much, many women may care deeply about the disapproval of their family members, friends, acquaintances, and members of the clergy. Are these women weaklings? No, they're human. None of us is an island. We all live in connection to others. So don't try to tell me that women who struggle to reconcile their feminism with the standards of their communities are somehow silly or weak. I think it's perfectly legitimate for women to care what others think. Caring what others think is a basic aspect of being a human being.
In sum, I don't think it's particularly helpful to argue that a particular topic isn't worth discussing. Despite all the progress in the area of women's equality, especially for women like me, the multitude of small humiliations women suffer throughout their lives add up and are very much worth looking at. I will never be convinced that it's whiny, or silly, or weak to name a problem and discuss it.