Last night I went with my friend Brandi to see Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a documentary film about (stating the obvious here) Jean-Michel Basquiat. Afterward we were discussing how cool it would be to just give up on life and go be homeless like that. Okay, that's paraphrasing, and it was mostly me thinking it would be super kick-ass to give up on life and go be homeless. Brandi commented that it made her want to do something. She said the homeless part was easy because he was famous, but there was a scene in the film where he says in an interview that at the time he was homeless, he was prepared to be homeless forever. The fame and riches never figured in during the homelessness part. The part I admired was the willingness to give up everything and take a risk. It's entirely likely at the time that he would die poor and a nobody. That just happens to be not what happened.
I'm not a fan of the idea that eventual outcomes justify actions. Had he died poor and a nobody, would his decision to take the risk have been less worthy? My dad likes to say that if my boyfriend and I someday do get married it will justify the fact that we are now living together without being married. Is that true? Does "all's well that ends well" hold up? As a fan of the idea that it is the motivations for an action that are most important, not necessarily the outcomes, I think taking a risk and failing is just as valid as taking a risk and succeeding, but this is not even really the point of my story for today.
Brandi commented that it was worth it because he became famous. Then she said, "But it's easier for men." What she meant was that it is easier for men to live on nothing, take said risks, and, ultimately, become famous. I said, "You think so?" rather naively.
Just the other day another friend of mine said the same thing, and, again, my reaction was a sort of wide-eyed, "Really? You think so?" This morning I was reading some blog posts at feminist websites, which is something I do often partially just because some of these ladies write some really great, snappy, witty commentary. But I have to say, I just don't really feel all that oppressed. In fact, I don't feel oppressed by men at all. I think there are some real douche bags out there, to be sure, but I also think there are some ladies with whom I'd rather not associate, either. The existence of douche bags--even female-hating ones--does not equal oppression, though. Oppression is when someone else actively makes it impossible for me to try to accomplish whatever life goals I've got going on, and, really, I think someone can only make this impossible by passing a law that says, "You, ladyperson, cannot try to accomplish your life goals." Notice the use of the word "try." That's all I have a right to--the right to try. Women failing at something is not proof of sexism. Plenty of men fail at things, too.
My father loves to trot out my grandmother as the original feminist. He points out that she did what she wanted to do, period. I know this is true because I remember her, and I remember exactly who was in charge whenever she was around. It was her. I don't think I ever even heard my grandfather speak until she died. My dad likes to point out that she worked and was very, very opinionated about pretty much everything. That stuff runs in the family. All of the women in my family are opinionated, pushy to varying degrees, and ultimately make our own decisions. In a world full of men I've managed to get a college degree, get jobs, have relationships, and mostly do my thing with the amount of setback I'd expect anyone to face. I will say that I think modern life is kind of a bitch, but I think it's pretty much a bitch to everyone in some way or another.
I just don't feel like anyone's sexism is holding me back. People can have opinions; those people don't necessarily have power over me.
I'm left wondering if maybe we've come to define ourselves by these ideas for so long that we just continue to believe they're true even when they're not. I was raised with the same ideas. I believed them for a while. I used to get into heated arguments with people over every single seemingly lady-hating comment or action, believing these things to be evidence of my oppression. Then I got wrapped up in trying to accomplish my own goals--a motley and rag-tag set of goals to be sure--and woke up one day to realize that at no point had I been beset by sexist foes. Could it be true that maybe men don't hold as much power over my ability to try my hand at life as I once thought they did?
Being empowered doesn't equal having sway over the outcomes of anything. It means understanding that you can do whatever you want. It means understanding that you might not succeed easily or even at all, and, yes, this struggle or lack of success might be due partially to the fact that there are douche bags out there. But unless they pass a law saying that women don't have the right to pursue their own goals, then I'm just not so sure it's as hard as we really like to think it is.