Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An army of me

I was listening to that song on the way here (the internet café); old-school Björk in one of her less esoteric moods. I think it fits where I am in life right now, politics-wise. Here I am, a feminist, in a foreign country, on International Women's Day, I gotta write something thought-provoking and interesting! No pressure!
(That's why I didn't post anything on Nov. 11; I was in freaking Verdun on freaking Armistice Day, it was too much, I wasn't up to the challenge)
I haven't reflected too much on how living in Europe has influenced my politics. I haven't had the chance, really, to catch my breath; too busy adjusting and cramming as much French into my head as possible. But, in addition to the usual culture shock, it's been disorienting to be cut off from my feminist grrrls back home, the vets of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. We keep in touch via email, etc, but it's not the same. I've been trying to suss out the feminists here in France, and it's been a challenge, being in a small rural town (a university would really, really help), but, after several months of trying, I've made some headway. France isn't much different from the States in that respect, at least my neck of the woods; a sweltering mass of heterosexist bourgeouis capitalism, but the feminists are there, and the queers and the punks too, you just have to know where to look. Back home I know where to find them; here I've been hampered by a different culture (and a LOUSY, PATHETIC excuse for a library system) and a language barrier. Paris is where it's at, of course; Strasbourg and I think Lille aren't too shabby either, from what I gather.
Toute la journée, je travaille sous-payée
Tous les soirs, je travaille au foyer
Quel bonheur d'être libérée!
Le 8 mars, pas assez!
Féminisme toute l'année!
This is one of the chants of the Parisian version of the Radical Cheerleaders, les Pom Pom Queers. Roughly translated:
I work all day, underpaid
Every evening I keep house
It's so great to be free!
March 8 is not enough!
Feminism all year round!
(Thanks, SCUMgrrrls!)
That's kind of become my philosophy, here in France. Feminism every day. I'm the only self-identified feminist in town, or at least that's what it feels like. Being a foreigner, it's tough to break into the progressive scene, if you can even find it, and being an American, I bring all kinds of cultural baggage with me, whether I like it or not. Before France my feminism was of the activist academic variety: I'd go to my Women's Studies classes during the day, FMLA meetings at night, go on marches and protests and conferences with my professors on the weekends and school breaks. My identity as a feminist was very much tied up with being in an organization, and having older mentors in my professors. It was exhilarating, learning new theory and strategies in class and then going out and putting them into practice. And, all the internet access I could wish for. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had a huge support group. But it was exhausting too. I was discovering feminism and progressive politics and learning about activism and figuring out group dynamics and leadership and coming-out and lobbying my congressmen in their offices and traveling to DC and generally burning myself out. So here in France, I'm all alone, which is difficult, but it's also something of a respite. Back home everything felt so immediate, my country is being taken over by theocratic fascists and nobody seems to notice, I have to do something now! I've kind of had that burden lifted from me for the time being, given a chance to recharge my batteries.
I've found my feminism, here in Europe, has become more personal. I like Winter's term: stealth feminism. In France, I'm a stealth feminist. My activism is not about waving signs and marching in the streets and generally making a public nuisance of myself. It's small, daily acts of resistance, of disruption. Today I'm decked out in my feminist regalia: blood red V-Day shirt ("Saving the World One Vagina at a Time"), buttons aplenty, "dyke" wristband (which I knit myself), my Doc Martens. Le Tigre on the headphones ("Feminists we're calling you!/Please report to the front desk!/Let's name this phenomenon/It's too dumb to bring us down!") Living among the incredibly high-maintenance hetero French femininity, I've gotten more butch. I teach my classes with my hair spiked into a faux hawk, wearing a tie. It's an unconcious reaction, I didn't realize it at first. And yet I still wear my skirts all the time; sometimes with pants and a tie, just to mix it up. I don't shave. I pick the least hetero-centric Valentine's Day activities for my kids. I don't eat meat (vegetarianism is a political act, for me), which is fucking tough to do here. I come out. I honor the earth, every day. I use alternative menstrual products. I don't wear make-up. I'm not good at confrontation, so most people don't realize that a) I'm gay and b) I'm a radical feminist. But I don't hide my opinions, or try not to, once I'm asked. Stealth feminism. People get to know me, I'm a polite Midwestern girl, I'm nice and sweet, and are always shocked when they find I hold SCARY SCARY opinions like abortion should be free and on demand. I'm a radical dyke feminist. I'm not threatening. I'm a nice person, you like me, we're friends, we hang out all the time. So maybe feminsim isn't as freaky as you think it is. Yeah, I'm hairy dyke, and yes, I'm friends with you, even though you're male! I don't mind!
An army of me. I'm hoping that by just being myself, honest, unapologetic, I might make people think, just a little bit. I'm certainly not what people here think of as an American. I'm not what they imagine when they think of a feminist, or a lesbian. Just being exposed to people who are different, interesting, themselves, helped push me toward feminism, to becoming more myself. And hopefully I'm achieving the same thing here, with my students, with my roommates and friends. Maybe it will make them that much more open-minded, more receptive to new ideas. It's not much, but it's something.
Of course, once I go home, watch out. Missouri needs it's own chapter of the Lesbian Avengers!


At 7:11 AM, Blogger HB said...

Great song, great post! And "gratulerer med dagen", as Norwegian women say to eachother today.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Winter said...

Most radical feminist hairy dyke people are actually very nice - weird that, eh?

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

I had no idea feminism was such a part of your identity (in retrospect, a little dense of me). Your post makes me just a little sadder that we didn't manage to keep FMLA going.
Good luck with the Lesbian Avengers!


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