Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
The Kind Of Feminist I Am
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2013 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I don't use makeup. I put lotion on my skin and balm on my lips if they feel uncomfortably dry, if you want to call that cosmetic. If someone wants to film me then they'll have to find some powders or whatever that suit my skin tone, because I don't have any. I don't shave my legs. I don't own "heels." I think a few of my shoes may have, like, a quarter-inch rise in the heel compared to the toe. I usually keep my hair so short that combs barely affect anything; if bangs start existing, an old headband keeps them out of my eyes. A barber shears my head every few months.
Also: I'm still not on Facebook. That's right, I'm an online community manager, have been for two years, and I can get along fine without Facebook. I don't eat red meat, and rarely have sustainable fish or organic free-range poultry. "Vegetarian" is basically right. I don't imbibe massmedia about the visual appearance of famous people. I didn't watch most of the Matrix or Lord of the Rings movies, and I don't read TechCrunch or Gawker or that ycombinator news site.
I post this as part of the project to normalize diversity. If you think "everyone" is on Facebook, well, no, because I'm not. If you think every woman shaves her legs, no, I don't. I am a successful person who has given influential speeches and mentored others, and I don't have to do any of these things, so you don't either. It's all of a piece.
Caitlin Moran recently wrote a very good feminist book, How To Be a Woman. She discusses some sexist expectations (that women should wear uncomfortable shoes and epilate ourselves all over and so on). It's unpaid labor and it's nonsense and I say to hell with it. Some sexist expectations still get in my way. For instance, men interrupt me more often than they interrupt other men. And if I run a meeting efficiently, I'm less likely (compared to a man) to get thought of as a "strong leader," and more likely to get thought of as a "bitch." It's annoying enough to have to spend any thought on avoiding that crap, so I skip all the other, more optional crap as much as possible.
It saves big chunks of time and money to omit "oh but everyone does it" junk. It's pretty easy for me to just go with my own inertia -- I never started wearing makeup, wearing pointy heels, or using Facebook, or smoking pot. I tried out leg-shaving and longish hair and earring-wearing and tens-of-thousands-of-people conferences, and they just don't deliver ROI for me, so I stopped.
I know not everyone can just say "screw it" and walk away from this crap with no consequences. Intersectionality exists. Thank all goodness that I can dismiss as much of the crap as I can.
Mobility's one part of that privilege. I move around a lot and have had a bunch of jobs, and sometimes that's annoying, but a cool thing about it is that I'm not as stuck with one small consistent group of authority figures who might be jerks about my choices or reinventions. I can be blithe about other people disapproving of my choices, because I have a great job, certifications of a good education, a sensible spouse, a lucrative career, reasonably good health, and various convenient privileges. It also helps to be a bit socially oblivious, and specifically to have a tough time making out soft voices in crowds; if anyone's gossiping about me in whispers, I won't hear it! It's great!
So this is one reason why I'm in favor of good government-sponsored education and healthcare that levels the playing field for everyone, and reproductive rights, and easy border-crossings, and public transit. I love mobility. I love the means by which people can get away from their old selves and the people who thought they knew them. I love the fact that I get to choose whether I care about my high school classmates. (Make your own Facebook-related joke here!)
Exit, voice, and loyalty. Forking. For adults, the most fundamental freedom is the freedom to leave, to vote with your feet.
But right near that is the freedom to walk around in public without having to slather paint or a smile on your face. If you want to, cool! Performing femininity, like playing the guitar, ought to be a choice.
Crossposted to Geek Feminism where I got an earful of critique you may want to read.
01 Apr 2013, 16:05 p.m.
01 Apr 2013, 23:26 p.m.
Amen. Thank you.
There is an opportunity cost to having opportunity -- I think that you and I have given up some other things in exchange for our nobility and freedom. But there's always a tradeoff somewhere, and we've decided that this price is worth the other prices we don't have to pay longer down the road, I think.
03 Apr 2013, 8:45 a.m.
+1 to picking and choosing which one of your 'random-co-passengers-in-inertia-led-institution' you want to stay in touch with :)
This is a great post for so many reasons - thanks for writing it. It's one of the smaller points you make, but I'm totally going to embrace the bad hearing as a preventive against gossip mindset. Since I don't have much choice about the subpar hearing, I'm at least going to appreciate this as an upside!