I discovered recently that the answer to the last question is, not at all.
I'm not much for labeling myself something so that I can simply adopt the views espoused by those who share that label. Rather, I choose the labels because they give me a foundation from which to build my views on things, make me ask the questions I need to when I'm evaluating my thoughts or a course of action on a matter. For instance, I'm not a Christian because it gives me the answers. What attracted me, in part, was that it gave me a foundation from which I could construct my answers. My neighbour has a broken foot. How can I show my love for that neighbour?
My other labels and roles are useful for the same reason. Being a parent, being a homemaker, being a homeschooler. It's also why I'm a little reluctant to call myself certain things. I get squirmy and uncomfortable when I attempt to call myself an artist because I'm well aware of what that would demand I start asking of myself. When am I going to work on my drawings? What do I need to do to improve my skills?
But feminist? What questions does that prompt in me when I'm going about my day and sorting out my life and ideas? I think I have the start of an answer.
I was reading a blog post yesterday about the Feminist Theory of Science. It's really a good read, as are the comments but one thing that stuck out for me was,
Just consider the field of primate research, for one, which is perhaps the most famous example. When all primate researchers were male, they saw only alpha males in primate groups, and dominant male behavior. When females began to do observational work on primate groups, all kinds of behavior that had gone completely unnoticed suddenly began to be observed and reported, and the field of primate research was completely changed. All because a different perspective had been brought to bear on the same data sets.
It also brought to mind feminist theology. In biblical criticism the real gift of feminist theologies has been noting what, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, was simply not noticed by the men. Were early Christian women involved in church leadership? That wasn't even a question for the longest time until someone noticed that perhaps you don't tell people not to do something, as in Timothy 2:11-12: "A woman must learn in silence, in all submission. I do not permit a women to teach or to dominate over a man, but to be in silence", unless someone is doing it.
I've also been looking at the work of Artmesia lately. She was a post-Renaissance painter who's work is very different from what many of the male artists of the period were doing. Look at her women and you'll discover they have personalities. They are there to help tell story, not to please the male eye. In looking at her art you realize, by contrast, just how alike the women in so many contemporary paintings were and how narrow the view of the artists was.
The last connection was a blog post I made a year and a half ago on a different blog. The New Avengers and Herman's Head deals, sort of, with the classic superhero team in comic books made up of a selection of male characters that represent differents personalities but then just one or two female characters who are there simply to represent the the feminine. The token girl.
All this relates the theory of the male gaze.
The defining characteristic of the male gaze is that the audience is forced to regard the action and characters of a text through the perspective of a heterosexual man; the camera lingers on the curves of the female body, and events which occur1 to women are presented largely in the context of a man's reaction to these events. The male gaze denies women agency, relegating them to the status of objects. The female reader or viewer must experience the narrative secondarily, by identification with the male
Though the essay that talked about this (by Laura Mulvey) deals with the cinema it's not hard to see how, once you understand and accept the premise, it affects science, theology, art and even comic books.
So back to me and feminism. What makes me a feminist is that I can see and acknowledge that male gaze. Furthermore, that when I make decisions and evaluate my actions I will take into consideration and give due value to my very female gaze and further, acknowledge that there are more gazes then these.
That's as far as I got. I haven't really figured out what useful questions all of this will prompt or how to test and use them. But I do know that at least there's a foundation under the label of feminist that I will be able to build on.
Any thoughts or comments or welcome. I realize this was a bit of a ramble but this is a blog and, at times, that's what they're for.