Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Personal is Political: Getting to Know Your Feminist Blogger

I usually refrain from writing about personal things here. I save those for my personal blog. However, as any good Women's Studies student will tell you, sometimes the personal is political. So, on that note:

I have never really been single in my adult life. Since I was in high school I had a string of boyfriends that were pretty much one directly after the next. I spent the past five years in very serious relationships. (One for about two years, the other for about three years.) Anyway, I am single now... really, really single.... pretty much for the first time in my adult life. And I really don't like it.

Sparing you all the details of the heart-wrenchingly miserable break-up of a nearly three year partnership, I'll say that I am sure it has altered my perspective more than a little. But even granting that, I am facing a real ideological crisis here. The crisis of knowing that I should be okay enough with myself to be single while simultaneously dealing with a tremendous heartbreak.

Being raised in a nuclear family surrounded by nuclear families in the suburbs and being indoctrinated by the Catholic Church and American mass media has had plenty of influence on my idea of what adult life should be. But I always thought that my feminism could outweigh all of that. So why am I so uncomfortable and unhappy being single?

I have amazing, supportive friends and family, I live in a fabulous city full of opportunities, I have a job that I love, I am in a graduate program that suits me perfectly, I am passionate about school and my career, basically everything in my life is right on track. But since he left I have felt like I have nothing. I allowed a relationship to really define who I am and that is something that I swore would never happen to me. In fact, I have chastised friends for doing that very thing and have written about how relationships are socially constructed.

Still it happens so easily. Even though I know I don't want to have children and probably will not get married (at least not as long as it is a heterosexist, misogynistic institution designed to maintain women's subordinate social position), in many ways I bought right in to the ideal heteronormative, repressive relationship that I have been so quick to challenge. I feel like a bad feminist for buying in to those ideologies and yet I know that it is nearly impossible to not to be part of that system, at least to some degree.

Normally I wouldn't do this in a blog either, but I feel that Susan Bordo (whom I adore) says it so well in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.

"Feminist cultural criticism is not a blueprint for the conduct of personal life (or political action, for that matter) and does not empower (or require) individuals to 'rise above' their culture or to become martyrs to feminist ideals. It does not tell us what to do... whether to lose weight or not, wear makeup or not, lift weights or not. Its goal is edification and understanding, enhanced consciousness of the power, complexity, and systematic nature of culture, the interconnected webs of its functioning. It is up to the reader to decide how, when, and where (or whether) to put that understanding to further use, in the particular, complicated, and ever-changing context that is his or her life and no one else's" (30).

Susan Bordo alleviates some of the guilt. I know that feminism and romance are not inherently at odds but I also know that I bought too much into the ideal and am now suffering the consequences. Do people actually enjoy being single? Do I sound too much like Carrie Bradshaw?

And on that note I'll say, I am sure I am not the only one at home alone on this -20 degree night in Chicago but it sure feels like it.


Not totally unrelated: while I was writing this I was looking up some stuff on feminist relationships and though I didn't find much that related to what I am feeling right now, I discovered this fabulous blog and really felt the need to share. I have high hopes.


Feminist Gal said...

Great post. Very, very well stated.

Although i can absolutely relate, i think you hit the nail right on the head when you said: "In fact, I have chastised friends for doing that very thing and have written about how relationships are socially constructed."

Being a feminist does not entirely remove you from society (although we like to think it does sometimes) ;) The thing is, some social "norms" are so deeply engrained that although we are able to intellectualize them it is a lot harder to actually leave them behind.

Also, you said that you "will not get married (at least not as long as it is a heterosexist, misogynistic institution designed to maintain women's subordinate social position)." I used to agree with you 100%, until i realized all the rights i'd be giving up. Actually, it was a gay guy friend of mine who said that although he realizes i would be taking a stance and making a statement (by refusing to get married until marriage was equal for everyone) it actually makes no sense for me to do so because by giving up my rights, i am not earning anyone else rights. So in lies another personal dilemma: knowing that the system is unequal, do you work for equality within the system, even if that means earning yourself privilege or do you abstain from all things unequal, giving up rights that may help you work towards justice?

Anyway, great post and it's nice to read something personal every once in a while, it makes us all human and none of us exempt from social pressures. Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

It is definately hard to find a balance between the personal and political when you are used to studying the personal as political.

We are all socialized into a system and we have to remember to not be overly critical of ourselves for being people within a certain place and time.

That being said, I think it is great that you are recognizing your life as part of a larger political movement you identify with most of the time. We can all benefit from this to help us understand our lives as less individualistic and part of something larger than ourselves

Cortney said...

Thanks so much for the support, feminist gal. I have not given up on marriage entirely. It is more the actual wedding ceremony than the partnership that makes me nauseous! Although the connection between the state and religion in marriages also make me really uncomfortable.

Chicagofem said...

Thanks for the post Courtney!
I am 35 and single in Chicago and can very much relate to your thoughts and feelings, despite the age difference.
While I'm in an open long distance relationship with a man on another continent (highly NOT recommended lol), I am very much single.

I guess I wonder if my longing for a man/lifepartner is socially constructed or if it is a longing within me. I think the answer, for me, is both. Part of it is the social programming, or
wanting a lifepartner for a degree of economic
security (that's a tough one to admit...
perhaps I should consider a roommate?) but a lot of it does stem from emotional, relational, sexual
longings and those are all valid.

Sometimes being single is temporary or sometime it is permanent...I'm working on accepting my
singleness and doing more nurturing things for myself. Also, after a couple of terrible dates,
a guy wanting "payment" for a dinner and
a guy wanting me to change my hairstyle,
I've affirmed that being single is
much better than than dating or marrying jerks.

A cool movie that gives a feminist take on singleness and connecting the stuggles of
western women to the global plight of women is Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman | Directed and written by Jennifer Fox

Take care and thanks!