Two Books Check in on Feminist Revolution in Wake of Shulamith Firestone's Death
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Where Moran focuses on women’s wedding obsession—“Weddings are our fault, ladies. And you know what? Not only have we let humanity down, but we’ve let ourselves down”—and tendency to spend massive sums of cash on the big day, Halberstam says that heterosexual marriage as we know it is on the decline, citing rising divorce rates and an increase of non-hetero and single headed households.
Like Moran, Halberstam does draw from her own experience as a trans person who embodies what she terms “female masculinity.” Mostly regarding her interactions with her partner’s two young children, and impressions of heterosexual relationships at Parent Teacher Association meetings, her theories do build from her life.
For instance, Halberstam says that kids view gender as unfixed, if given the freedom to do so. When one of her partner’s children asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Halberstam explains, “When I did not give a definitive answer, they came up with a category that worked for them—boy/girl.” The point being, rigid gender rules are prescribed, not natural, and kids growing up now will likely have an entirely new perspective than even young adults today.
On the other hand, How To Be a Woman skims the surface. As a memoir, the book is hilarious and vivid. I found myself rapt by her childhood experiences, often laughing aloud, waiting for adulthood chapters to bring on something new and more developed that never arrived.
Moran writes that everyone with a vagina is automatically a feminist: “Do you have a vagina?” she asks. “Do you want to be in charge of it?” If you said yes to both, “Congratulations! You’re a feminist.”
Here, it is clear that Moran is speaking to white, western cis women. Although a crucial population of women in a discussion of reclaiming feminism, it leaves out most of the world’s women. Moran tackles workplace sexism with a similarly simple rule of thumb.
In her chapter, “I Encounter Some Sexism!” Moran discusses sexism at work saying, “Don’t call it sexism. Call it ‘manners’ instead. When a woman blinks, shakes her head like Columbo, and says, ‘I’m sorry, but that sounded a little…uncivil,’ a man is apt to apologize.”
It is not helpful to rename the offense as something un-gendered. Moran agrees that sexist attitudes are commonplace in office settings, which is all the more reason to promote a direct response. Indeed, her suggestions are often inactive.
“We don’t need to riot or go on hunger strikes,” Moran says of women at large. “There’s no need to throw ourselves under a horse, or even a donkey. We just need to look [sexism] in the eye, squarely, for a minute, and then start laughing at it.”
Certainly, feminism need not outlaw humor to be effective, but laughing at such issues as work place sexism is not a solution. Further, it ignores the fact that we are in a time that demands changes be made; in 97 percent of congressional districts women earn 77 centstoaman’s dollar on average, but in some parts of the country and among some racial groups, the number is much lower. Instead, it suggests that attitudinal shifts are all we need.
Moran’s conclusion is this: “To just...not really give a shit about all that stuff. To not care about all those supposed ‘problems’ of being a woman. To refuse to see them as problems at all. Yes—when I had my massive feminist awakening, the action it provoked in me was a…big shrug.”
The pages shortly before this statement focus on the expense of laser hair removal, and the waste of time that is feeling fat, hairy, and unfashionable. This statement tells us that all it takes for equality between men and women is the right attitude. That said, her own attitudes toward certain women are less than accepting.