This is, sort of, a follow up post to yesterday’s Choice and Responsibility.

In a response to Twisty’s original post, Bujor Tavaloiu at Strength Never Power makes the point that casting a critical eye over choices that are patriarchy-approved as suitably feminine – while useful and necessary – misses something important.

What it misses is the rottenness of the whole idea of marking out certain choices as “feminine” and others as “anti-feminine”. Our culture (by which I mean, of course, patriarchy) sets out a whole raft of behaviours* and labels them “feminine” / “womanly”, and therefore rubbish – beneath the dignity of a Man.

* Like these
Wearing pink,
At the kitchen sink,

Sweeping, dusting,
Weeping, fussing,

Grieving and moaning
Heaving and groaning

Nursing, caring,
Not cursing or swearing,

Sewing, knitting,
Blowing, submitting.

If you are a woman who does these things, makes these choices, acts “feminine” then you get a mixture of scorn (for being feminine, and not being interested in the same things as men, and therefore being rubbish) and, if you are lucky, some condescending approval (for being a proper woman – not as good as a man, obviously, but at least you know your place). You might even – a la Victoria Beckham or Nigella Lawson – get some economic power, some independence and some status or, if things really go your way, a rich husband.

If you are a woman who rejects these things, and chooses “to blaze forth in a fury of white-hot anti-feminine iconoclasm” then you get a mixture of scorn (for not being a proper woman) and, if you are lucky, some approval, in the form of a condescending kind of respect (for at least having something in common with the men who scorn you). You might even get some economic power, some independence and some status. You might even – a la Margaret Thatcher or Nicola Horlick – make a grand success of life in a man’s world and acquire super-heroine status.

In other words: to be successful you have to either embrace “femininity” and make it your trump card, or you have to reject it and play up your “masculine” qualities. Either way, even if your efforts are met with success, you will still be scorned by some. Sexed-up female celebs are called pop tarts or bimbos, or sexbots, while de-sexed female powerhouses are called ball-breakers or unfeminine or simply mannish.

Rejecting the sexbot model for success, what’s a feminist to do but try the latter tack, or to give up on success altogether?

What, indeed. It did strike me while reading the Linda Hirshman essay (this one) yesterday that her recipe for fixing the ongoing second-sex status of women was to encourage women to be more successful in the workplace, by better and fairer arrangements in their homelife. My own reaction to these suggestions is always something like a Yes, But.

Yes, women should have fairer arrangements in their home lives so as to help them be successful in the workplace. But, why are we letting the existing (patriarchal) definition of success govern our ambitions? Why does success need to involve going out and making lots of money? Why should childcare continue to be treated as something unsuccessful people do?

Yes, But – should we not, at the same time as empowering women to be successful in the hitherto male-dominated workplace, also be demanding a shift in our cultural evaluation of the work women already do? This would (1) make women who do it more valued and (2) encourage more men to do it, thereby freeing the women who don’t want to do it to do something else.

Yes, But – let’s redefine “success” and “value” to mean something other than merely economic success or economic value.

Trouble is, it won’t work. Nobody wants to know. Men don’t want to know. To bring about such a radical shift in attitudes is more than anyone can dream of achieving.

Ick, ick, ick. Can’t we tear it up and start again? In our new world, can we please, please, please be allowed to like both knitting and fast cars? Can we be allowed to wear pink without looking girly? Can we be allowed to work like stink and be rewarded for it if we want to? Can we be allowed to choose staying at home if we want to? Even if we are men? Without having to think about the rotten bogging politics of it all, and the what-will-people-think?

Sadly, we can’t tear it up and start again. We have to live with what we’ve got.

Which means that knitting is a political act, just as much as ogling fast cars. Wearing pink is as political as refusing to wear pink. One follows patriarchal femininity and one rejects it, but either way we are responding to patriarchy.

Because we can’t just say Screw Patriarchy, I Like Pink.

It’s a bugger. Innit.