It’s International Women’s Day!

I was reminded that the day this post first appears is March 8, which has been designated as International Women’s Day, so despite the fact that I had another post almost finished, I decided that I should write about women.

I mean, I am a woman. While I like a lot of things coded male — swords, for example — I am definitely not male. In fact, my current go-to answer when asked to name my gender is “not male.”

And while I find the idea of non-binary attractive, especially since I do not fit particularly well in many of the niches coded female and am fine with “they” as well as “she” when it comes to pronouns, I am a woman. I am also very sure that nobody gets to tell me what that means.

In particular nobody gets to tell me it means wearing pink or wanting babies or civilizing men, not to mention that nobody ever — EVER — gets to tell me that I can’t do such and such because I’m a girl.

I resisted that lie as much as I could while growing up, which, of course, meant that I never fit in much of anywhere.

I still don’t fit in much of anywhere, but one of the best things about getting old is that you don’t give a fuck.

I’ve done some things to push boundaries in my life, like criticize sexist practices in organizations, go to law school back when women didn’t much, and get a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, but here’s the thing I’m proudest of:

I love my body.

I came to this love through martial arts because I discovered in training how my whole body informs who I am. So part of this love is the fact that my senses and the way I move are integrated into who I am.

But also, I’m capable of looking at my naked body in the mirror and enjoying the shape of it, the curves of my hips and breasts, the width of my shoulders, the strength in my chest and legs, my height.

I don’t have a supermodel body; my height’s in my torso, not my legs, and there’s no way I could get skinny enough to fit into those tiny clothes even if I wanted to because my bone structure is too large.

Also, I like food way too much to starve myself. It’s my understanding these days that, despite all the uproar about obesity, being what is labeled “overweight” is actually healthier than being “normal,” not to mention “underweight.”

Which is to say that our norms for health and weight are completely entangled with our norms for beauty and it’s hard to take any of them seriously. I claim overweight with some pride.

Another thing I’m proud of is that I am not afraid of men.

Now I am afraid of a lot of things. Pandemics, for example. Fascism. (Individual fascists taken one on one are not scary, but the overall movement is.) Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Climate change. Guns.

But men in general do not scare me. And when they try to intimidate me by looming over me, they just make me mad.

I may be old and I don’t throw people around on a daily basis anymore, but I didn’t spend forty years studying martial arts for nothing. I will not back down.

My response in those situations does not always comport with my Aikido training. I know there are better solutions, but I will confess that men trying to loom over me tend to push all my buttons.

(See years of being told I couldn’t do things because I was a girl.)

I read a lot of work by young feminists — by which I mean people under 50 and mostly women — and while I really appreciate what they have to say, I often find myself saying “but we addressed all that in the 1970s.”

Lyz Lenz has a new book out called This American Ex-Wife in which she praises divorce and talks about what’s wrong with marriage. I haven’t read the whole book, just some excerpts from it, but what I’ve seen is great — she’s a wonderful, funny writer.

Still, every excerpt from it makes me think of what people said in 1972 about marriage. Wasn’t anyone listening?

How did millennials grow up to make the same mistakes our mothers and some of our contemporaries made?

There are some valid criticisms these days of second wave feminism. So much of it ended up being for middle class white women, many of whom seemed to be glad just to be allowed to pursue careers that had previously been denied them and didn’t credit the feminist movement that made that possible.

I mean, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, but any woman who isn’t one is missing the whole point.

And too many straight feminists were scared of being called lesbians, though as someone who ended up with a lot of lesbian friends through feminism, I found that stance irritating and cowardly.

Black women were left out in part because they had to navigate both racism and misogyny and in general for all the reasons people don’t listen to Black women in the United States.

And of course, there was very little understanding of gender beyond the binary, though you can find people who got it.

But on marriage, sex, birth control, abortion and other reproductive and health rights, career opportunities, women in elected office, and women’s rights generally, second wave feminism was dead on.

Also, by the way, on self defense. Many women took up martial arts in the 60s and 70s and also started teaching self defense. The National Women’s Martial Arts Federation is still going strong, but with a few solid exceptions, you don’t see much about that sort of thing in academic gender studies.

Which is a damn shame, because those things are how I learned to love my body and not be afraid of men.

(And yes, I know all the arguments about how abusive men should change their behavior. When you figure out a way to get them to do that without enabling women to tell them to fuck the hell off, you let me know. I spent too many years as a lawyer and watching governments to think passing laws makes enough of a difference. I’m all for going after rapists and abusers, but I’d rather stop things before a person gets hurt.)

Anyway, all you women out there (yes, that includes trans women) this day’s for you. To me it’s also for all those people who are questioning gender in so many different ways, though I doubt anyone official will say so.

So far, a day to make nice about women is about all the international community wants to do for us, but I have no doubt that we’ll continue to push for one hell of a lot more.

10 thoughts on “It’s International Women’s Day!

  1. I really like the ‘not male’ answer. With your permission, I shall use it.

    I was active in the Australian women’s movement for 20 years and we didn’t get enough capacity to change the deep culture biases. We changed some, but not enough. This is why the wars are being fought all over again. it’s harder here (and I suspect in the US) because Jewish women are excluded unless we are the ‘right’ Jewish women and do not think for ourselves. So many of us who once fought for equal rights have now been put in a corner because our background is wrong and being silenced.

    On the bright side, at least we all got equal marriage through to law before this happened. I wish we had got more safely ensconsed before the anti-human-rights movement came to power, though.

    1. You are more than welcome to “not male.”

      Given the extremism of the US right wing, I’m not sure marriage equality is safe. Hell, I’m not even sure interracial marriage is safe despite the fact that one of the most right wing members of the US Supreme Court is, in fact, in an interracial marriage.

      We live in disturbing times.

  2. I loved this column.

    Something you said ages ago on LiveJournal (yes that long ago) has stayed with me. You said to beware of beauty standards that when met make you weak and vulnerable. It was in the context of the damage from wearing very high heels.

    It generalizes so well to defining being skinny and wearing clothes that limit your ability to move freely as Healthy and Beautiful.

    Anyway, thanks for writing these things.

    1. Thanks and I’m so delighted you remember what I wrote so far back (and probably don’t even have a copy of these days). I’m glad you brought up that connection. I like thinking of those things together.

  3. You’ve inspired me to say, “I love my body,” too! Now, maybe this is a twisted take on what you’re saying, but family and friends alike feel free to comment on how I look–specifically, how thin I am. My primary care doctor says, “Tell them I say you’re healthy.” But it never quite puts the matter to rest for them.

    I wish I could say ‘I’m not afraid of men,’ but I still feel vulnerable. I’ve never studied martial arts, yet I am confident that I could rise to the occasion to whoop somebody’s behind if need be.

    I would be remiss if, on this International Women’s Day, I did not raise up our sisters in Palestine and Israel. Whether suffering the anguish of a loved one held hostage or the starvation of one’s family, as Americans we owe solidarity to their plight.

    1. I’m glad to spread the word on loving one’s body. Some people always seem to want to comment. I think our culture has conditioned us all to assume that only certain body types are acceptable — not too thin, not too fat, not too athletic, etc. — especially for women. And it seems to me that none of us ever quite hit the “perfect” mark!

      I’m sure you can protect yourself. When I’ve taught self defense, the most important lesson is to recognize that you really can take fight if you need to. It’s really important to me for women to know that they do have that capacity.

      As for all the suffering in war-torn places: it is heart-breaking.

  4. So much of what you say here resonates with me, including the fuck this-and-thats.

    I never fit in, either. My sweet face became grossly disfigured when I was a baby because of a congenital hemangioma that grew and grew. To ‘fix’ me, I was started on radium treatments at Bellevue, the famed public hospital in NYC. I was 18 months old. Treatments continued until I was 13, when the practice, applied to infants and children in many countries, was finally stopped. Evidence of accrued damage to patients made the risks unacceptable, even to those who experimented on the ‘uncomplaining bodies’ filing through hospitals like Bellevue: people hoping to get help for themselves or for their children with afflictions of all kinds.

    I learned to complain. A deep distrust of the medical establishment has saved my life more than once. Including when I had an ectopic pregnancy and the misogynistic ER doc wanted to send me home with aspirin for the pain. I refused to go. They had to call a specialist. He operated immediately and saved my life.

    Not having a ‘normal’ face is traumatizing for anyone, and certainly for a girl in this culture and in most cultures. During adolescence I had three major reconstructive surgeries and a more normal appearance as a result. I still have the radiation burns. They’ll never go away. I don’t know how I would have wound up if, like many, I didn’t have access to the compassionate side of modern medicine.

    Some say our attitudes about beauty are quite primitive and associated with the presence of health that would be passed on and give children the best chance to survive. That may be part of it, but it also speaks to our vulnerability to deception. For example, ‘beauty’, at this point, can be engineered to mimic that bias, but no such engineering fixes the heap of vicious history landing on the brains and bodies of girls and women that takes such a toll today.

    For many of us, It takes work to get out from under that load, but some traditional indigenous people carry wisdom that offers a different perspective on judging or responding to people based on how they look. This has helped me, too. I know I’m not a mistake.

    Even so, I can’t say, unequivocally, that I love myself. Pretty darn close, though. I can say that bullies, however they identify, get my hackles up and bring out the avenger in me. I might be afraid, dry-mouthed, heart pounding, but I stand up to them anyway. I, too, think we must hold rapists and abusers to account, even though I also think most of them are likely traumatized themselves or otherwise enabled by the great goon fraternity.

    Thanks for a great post. Here’s to you and to women loving themselves everywhere!

  5. I didn’t know about that type of radium treatment, but it’s the sort of thing that makes you realize that you do have to think for yourself when it comes to medical treatment and not just take a doctor’s word. Of course, as a child you have no control over those things and parents are often frightened and want to do whatever they can. And of course, as you point out, many people don’t have the opportunity to get help correcting such bad treatment.

    I really think I came to love my body because of learning to appreciate all the things I learned from touch and movement and senses generally. It became important to me. I spent a lot of years thinking I needed to make it perfect before I reached that point; now my main focus is on staying healthy, which means balancing my own knowledge of my body with what medical advice I get. That remains tricky.

    I don’t know much about indigenous cultures and beauty, but I suspect there are useful lessons there as well. As a resident of California, I live in wildfire country, and have become aware that a lot of the current problems with dangerous fires is a direct result of ignoring the way that the indigenous people here maintained the landscape for centuries.

    And I’m so glad to have sparked conversations here!

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