Thinking about complicity.

There are a few blogs I read regularly, but don’t put on my blogroll for one reason or another. One of these is the always thought-provoking (and frequently hunger-provoking) I Blame the Patriarchy. I don’t put it on my blogroll because, to be honest, Twisty often makes me uncomfortable. She’s the kind of feminist who turns people off feminism – she’s unforgiving, abrasive, and unapologetic.

In her recent post, entitled “Sex,” Twisty has this to say:

“Examine your lives!” is the Twisty refrain. Don’t forget that, as a member of an oppressed class, everything you do is political. So what say you reevaluate those phony, misogynist feminine constructs? Every tube of lipstick, every coy little head-tilt, every train-yourself-not-to-gag-while-deep-throating-a-flaccid-bratwurst session is a symbol of oppression. And not just your oppression, either, but the oppression of all women. And they’re not just symbols, either, but concrete evidence of your collaboration with the dominant culture. Every time you ‘choose’ to totter down the street in a pair of heels and a pencil skirt you’re a Yay Patriarchy billboard. It says “I willingly brand myself as different from and subordinate to men. Shall I bend over now?”

This makes me uncomfortable. But my gaze is firmly navel-oriented, and so I must ask myself why it makes me uncomfortable. Am I simply unhappy with being judged and found wanting? Religious people of every stripe judge me and find me wanting all the time. So do lots of other people. I thumb my nose at them; what should I care what they think?

No, my discomfort with Twisty’s words stems from the fact that I basically agree with them. Silence in the face of bigotry condones that bigotry. High heels and makeup in a patriarchal culture condone that patriarchy. They are symbols of agreement; nods in our cultural conversation. If this seems extreme, think of the public shaming of women who don’t conform. Women who shave their heads, don’t shave their legs, wear no makeup, gain weight but don’t wear muumuus. For all the trouble it may take to maintain a socially acceptable female appearance, it’s far more trouble not to.

So here I sit, agreeing with Twisty while wearing heels, eye makeup, lipstick, jewelry, and a low-cut silk tank top. It’s a good thing I’m wearing pants, or I might actually implode. Will I go home tonight, clean out my wardrobe and burn my naughty underwear? No, I won’t. And that makes me a hypocrite. And that makes me uncomfortable.

[U]ntil the psychotic global system of dominance and submission gives way to a sane one that doesn’t fetishize oppression, there is no solution to the buzzkiller political problems inherent in all heterosexual boinking. That’s right. No solution. No happy ending. No scenario wherein prancing in a pink sportcorset can be construed as a politically neutral act. No ‘egalitarian sex’.

Is Twisty saying that until we have equality, we shouldn’t fuck? I think not. Personally, I won’t condemn anyone for compromising in order to get by. I won’t think you’re a bad feminist for dressing the way you do, or enjoying giving blowjobs, or for working in the sex industry. Obviously, I’d be a complete hypocrite if I did.

The damage comes from our denial and dishonesty about our complicity. When we acknowledge the ways in which we contribute to our own oppression, then we can identify opportunities for positive change.

Thank god for Twisty, and for everyone who makes us uncomfortable. To hell with it. I’m putting her on the blogroll now.


21 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Red Diabla said,

    What does Twisty think of someone like Peaches?

  2. 2

    Andrea said,


    I’ve always loved Twisty’s feminist analysis, but I stopped reading her when I got too frustrated about her inability to see the ways she perpetuates oppression along non-sex lines (i.e. her continual use of the words “retard” and “fucktard”, etc.). IMO, not much better than a guy who’s out there fighting racism and classism every day but expects his woman to bring him a beer and make him dinner.

  3. 3

    Really interesting post; a sign that Twsity’s writing is having the intended effect. (I remain dubious about oral sex being thrown in with breast implants again, but…)

  4. 4

    SidneyA said,

    This is wonderful. Twisty provoked you into thinking, which is, I believe, exactly what she was hoping to accomplish. You understand that she wasn’t trying to “shame you,” or (OMG!!111!) “take away your feminist card” (where do they issue those things, anyway?), and that means you are very smart.

  5. 5

    Hyphen said,

    Sorry, must disagree with pretty much everything Twisty says. When I’m enjoying a “bratwurst” it is neither flaccid nor am I anything but in complete control. If thats the way it is for her then she’s doing it wrong and no wonder she’s bitter about it.

    I dont have a problem with women celebrating their strength and beauty. To not do so, is, in my opinon, surrender to the very patriarchy she opposes. I have great breasts! I like showing them off every once in a while, and have deliberately done so at a business meeting because I knew it would give me an advantage–I’m not ashamed to admit it. Its the same way for every attractive male who is promoted over the pencil necked geek because he can actually make the sale, who wears sexy cologne to a business meeting, who holds his female boss’s glance just a little too long.

    If being a feminist means having to wear a chador just to prove something, then fuck feminism, I’m not playing anymore.

  6. 6

    MonkeyGurrl said,

    the sportset is purty cute. I could totally see myself wearing that *back in the day*.

    Besides, when you wear make up and heels, you’re not necessarily getting gussied up for guys, are you?

  7. 7

    uccellina said,

    I think the issue is that our entire concept of what is “pretty” or “hot” has been constructed in a specific context – certain things about women’s bodies are valued. So no, when I get all dressed up, I’m not thinking “I’m doing this for men,” but I am aware that my own self-image has developed in the context of a sexist paradigm.

    Also, in my own experience, people treat me better – smile, help out more – when my appearance conforms. That’s what’s so insidious about it – in the short term, it is to my advantage to perpetuate the system. In the long term, not so much. But because I live my life day to day, the short term considerations often win out.

  8. 8

    bloglily said,

    It just occurred to me that this issue of what we wear and put on our faces is so not the point — if you want to be out there fighting the patriarchy, you should be doing something about educating poor kids (boys and girls), so they can be who they want to be, and figuring out how to get better paying jobs for men and women, so they have the leisure to do the same sort of figuring out. And then, while you’re at it, maybe you could do a little something about getting women elected and possibly also figure out how to get better child care for all of us. And if you’re doing it in high heels and a corset, who gives a shit?

  9. 9

    uccellina said,

    Bloglily – I don’t think that the issue of what we wear and put on our face are the point, but I do think that it is worthy of consideration. Patriarchy (such a loaded word)is hegemonic because it encourages us to forget its myriad incursions into our daily lives. The issue of what we wear and put on our face should not be the end of the discussion, but it certainly has a place in the discussion.

  10. 10

    mandarine said,

    If there was a Twisty for every ten male chauvinist pigs, the world would probably be a better place, and we are far from the count — so it is probably a good deed feministically speaking to blogroll her.
    There is a lot of truth in the excerpts you quote; yet I am convinced that the urge to please the ‘opposite sex’ also happens the other way around, at least sometimes. Is there nothing a man does, or wears to comply to his wife’s expectations ? Who banned long johns or grandpa pyjamas ?

    I have a good example of a reverse situation – reverse in many ways, as you will see.
    I split my time between my jeans-and-T-shirt office clothes, and my stained and dusty overalls when I am at home (our home is work in progress). I shave when it itches, I often skip a shower, I wear no perfume. I love to be ready before you could say Jack Robinson, I have no time to linger before a mirror. However, occasionally, I make an effort on my appearance, just to please my wife. Nothing fancy, just have a bath, shave, pick real clothes, wear a bit of perfume. Well, I can tell you she likes it when I do this. Not seduced, not yearning for savage sex, just she likes it.

    Now, is there such a thing as a reverse echoing alienation mechanism through which men brainwash women into liking it when they are handsome ? I had rather have my wife like me non-groomed, it would save time. Still, I cannot help agreeing with her: I do find I am handsomer when I make an effort. Where’s the sin ?

  11. 11

    Celeste said,

    No matter what I wear, I will be conforming to SOMEBODY’S idea or judgment on how a woman should dress. One faction might prefer me in a skirt and heels, while another wouldn’t be satisfied unless I was wearing nothing but organic hemp. In the end, I have to dress to please myself. I would go insane trying to please everyone else (whether or not they are even looking at the time).

  12. 12

    bloglily said,

    Well said Uccellina and you are absolutely right about how pervasive and insidious cultural expectations can be. It’s good to question assumptions. I suppose I feel a bit pissy about this particular issue because I fear it will divide women more than unite. There are lots of women who are out there doing wonderful feminist work, and, for whatever reason — because of their social class, or their cultural origins — make choices about appearance that could be read as buying into the patriarchy. I worry that the tone Twisty takes will alienate the women we need to have on our side because it’s not inclusive, and can be quite judgmental.

    Mandarine, darling — I have, for the last month, been thinking you were a woman! How’s that for gender assumptions: bloggers with stylish blogs and pictures of cats, who luxuriate in the pleasure of slow moments and good books are almost always women! (or french.) xxoo, BL

  13. 13

    mandarine said,

    Bloglily, I should probably make it even clearer in my about page that guesses have a one-in-two chance of being right — less than that when unconscious prejudice gets in the way. People reading my absidea blog first probably come up with another impression. To free yourself from prejudice, flick a coin next time.

    In any case, shh….

  14. 14

    Hyphen said,

    I dont know, I dont think there can be a clear line between what is society-decided “attractiveness” and what is in reality “attractive.”

    In a simple example–should you not wear a skirt because there are a lot of men out there who think women should wear skirts based on their gender? Is it that that makes wearing a skirt attractive?

    Or is it the fact that the human body is beautiful, and to watch a woman (or man) walk and move and how their muscles and skin look in the light can be a true moment of joy in this world? And wearing a skirt makes that possible.

    There is no right answer, no right road, for how to be a properly good person, whether feminist or teacher or male or female or however one chooses to labe one’s self. What matters is doing what you think is right and good and for the best. Indluding, as bloglily pointed out, teaching kids that we are all beautiful and valuable in some way. For my part, when a female attorney told me that she didnt get a job because she didnt wear a skirt to the interview and it was one of the *female* interviewers who nixed her for it, I consider that to be outrageous and unacceptable. But that goes to freedom of choice and how to live and a desire to be valued for who I am (breasts and all) over my apperance and the labels that society (I think necessairly) wants to put on me.

  15. 15

    miss kendra said,

    theory makes my brain hurt.

    i think that because i want to enjoy my life- whether that include corsets and makeup OR hemp and a significant lack of oral- i am unaffected by this conversation.

    by making a giant deal about how we succumb to the patriarchy, i feel like some feminists would force us into another form of compliance- a reverse compliance, but still.

    i would rather people- and i mean all people- live to the best of their ability. some people relish their gender roles, and some people choose to live outside those rules. if they are happy, and i am happy, who am i to judge?

    i think the issue is far more about choice- and aren’t they all?

  16. 16

    miss kendra said,

    hyphen! i didn’t your comment because i was making mine.

    but yes!

  17. 17

    SilliGirl said,

    I’ve read some of Twisty before, although not recently. I found your reaction to her comments interesting, and had a completely different reaction. I consider myself to be a feminist, and I disagree with her premise that we are in collusion with the patriarchy by wearing lipstick or performing blow jobs. Also, I find her dismissal of the possibility that these really are choices a little bit arrogant.

    High heels and makeup alone don’t condone the patriarchy; it’s not that simple. You refer to them as “nods in our cultural conversation,” but I think that’s only true in specific contexts. And I absolutely believe there are contexts in which a woman can wear makeup or heels and still make it very clear to anyone that she’s not employing them as symbols of oppression.

    I have shaved my head (more than once), stopped shaving everything else,and worn no makeup and ratty clothes. I have also worn trendy, “sexy” clothes, makeup, done my hair, shaved my legs and pits, and “tottered down the street in a pair of heels.” I have to say that although reactions to my appearance may be different, I’m not sure I’d say I got treated “better” one way versus another.

    I think Twisty’s challenge to re-examine “phony feminine constructs” is great. We should think about why we do things and be able to leave our houses without makeup on. But not much in life is absolute, and I think it’s a pretty big leap to the conclusion that every tube of lipstick is a symbol of oppression.

    Now, I’m off to read her entire post.

  18. 18

    desiknitter said,

    Uccellina, you write very well. I really liked the way you expressed the gist of Twisty’s post in your first response to comments here. I’m going to read her entire post too, but my question is: is there at all a third choice for women beyond tarting up and frumping down?

  19. 19

    SilliGirl said,

    Desiknitter, yes!! I think so, except it is not so much a matter of three choices but rather a continuum of how one can choose to present oneself.

  20. 20

    Louisa said,

    Haven’t browsed through all the comments yet, so maybe someone has already said this or is typing it out at this moment,m but I think there is a deep human desire to adorn oneself. At different periods of time and in different places, men were just as done up as women.

    Right now, look at tattoos.

    I think there’s a difference between the covetous wish to obtain many different pots and tubes of color and smear them all over one’s face because it is FUN — it’s a kind of three-year-old thing, not gender bound –and the feeling one can’t leave the house without eyeshadow.

    Since Uccellina has studied anthropology, perhaps she would expound on this,

  21. 21

    mandarine said,

    […]As famous journalist, politician and feminist Françoise Giroud once put it: ‘Women will be the true equals of men the day an incompetent woman is nominated at a high position’. Grumpy chroniclers later pointed out that former Prime Minister Edith Cresson had indeed been incompetent. Unfortunately, she remains an exception.[…]
    in Achieving gender equality statistically

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