Losing Ground: The Balancing Act of the Radical and the Practical

My mom and I talk often about feminism and feminist issues, as these are questions close to both of our hearts. However the two of us come from very different eras of feminism: my mother came of age in the time of free love and (supposed) bra burning. She fought to let women keep their own names when they marry, for contraception rights, against painful and oppressive clothing, against sexual harassment in the workplace, against unequal pay and unequal hiring practices. She did some damn amazing things and her generation set the groundwork for the conversations my generation is having now.

But my mom and I disagree on a lot of things. An example: one of the conversations in feminism right now is about presenting as femme and how that presentation is often devalued. Many people have come to accept that wearing make up and dressing femme are personal choices and there’s nothing wrong at all with presenting as feminine (thinking there is may actually be the problem). A lot of people are embracing fashions from Mad Men, vintage clothes, high stilettos and reimagining them in ways that they find empowering.

My mother is appalled by this. She fought so that women didn’t have to balance on spikey little heels that destroyed their backs and made it impossible for them to move or do much of anything physical. She thinks we’re losing ground. She thinks women have forgotten what it used to be like.

So who’s right? It seems to me there are valid arguments on both sides: choosing to wear clothes that hurt you and render you physically helpless seems like a pretty bad idea and fairly oppressive. At the same time, telling anyone else what they need to wear and implying that things coded as feminine are bad is really not ok. Are we losing ground or are we coming to a more complex understanding of what clothes signify and how “femme” coded things are often viewed distastefully?

Well both. Here’s the thing: feminism is always a balance of the practical and the idealistic. When we tell young women that they shouldn’t have to protect themselves against rape, that they should be able to wear the clothes they want to wear, we are imagining an ideal world and we are trying to force that ideal world to exist with our actions. When our mothers tell us “please be safe, please think about how you can protect yourself” they are desperately trying to be practical and keep us safe because they know that the world that exists now is not ideal.

We need both. I would never shame someone for their clothing choice but I also sure as hell would never leave my drink unattended at a party. Even if we try to . We live in a world that is not ideal and yet we are hoping against hope that we can make it closer to the ideal. This is a difficult place to be, because when we fall on the wrong side of the balance either we get hurt or someone else gets hurt.

When I look at the differences between earlier waves of feminism and today’s feminism, that question is often what I see: should we aim for the practical or the radically idealistic? Those of us who are working on feminist issues today are in the incredibly privileged position that we even get to look at the ideal. For my mom, that was not always an option: asking men to respect you whatever your clothing choices took second fiddle to actively protecting yourself from rape, assault, and abuse, and if that meant wearing a different set of clothes then so be it.

There are all kinds of issues that this crops up in: we only get to debate the ideals of consent because our forebears put in place protections against rape that have given us the space to breathe. We need both the practical and the idealistic, but we always need to be keenly aware of who might be hurt and who might be helped by any of our rhetoric.

It also seems that if we reimagine the differences between the various waves of feminism in terms of where they draw the boundary of radical and practical, we may come to a better understanding of why people did what they did and how we can build off of their successes. Perhaps this can also lead current feminists to be less defensive about their choice feminism and recognize some of the practical aspects to their choices: while it’s great to imagine a world in which femme-coded clothing is on par with masculine clothing, in the here and now that clothing was designed to be limiting to your body and your abilities, and that is a reality that needs to be taken into account.

I’m not sure where the balance is on a lot of these questions. I do take steps to protect myself from rape, even as I try to explain to the men in my life how they can keep from putting women in uncomfortable and bad situations. I have no idea how possible it is to act consistently while being both radical and practical. I’m sure that there will always be swings back and forth between them.

One thing the feminists of today do need to keep in mind is that the space we have now to imagine the ideal was not always there and is not a guarantee. We do need to remember what things have been like and why, and remind ourselves that whatever steps we take in moving forward, we must be careful to protect ourselves from the potential of moving backwards. Perhaps instead of reclaiming heels and tight skirts we could work to create a new sexy, a new femme, because we remember the oppressive nature of those items in the past.

What does seem clear to me is that many of the debates that are happening in the feminist world right now are about how safe we feel and about whether we want to take clear, practical steps in the world as it is to protect ourselves or whether we want to begin to act as if the world is the ideal one we aim for. If we were all perfect, brave, impossible feminists, we would make this world our ideal. We would not flinch when we act radically outside of the norm and put ourselves in potential danger. But I can never fault someone for trying to keep themselves safe and healthy in the world that they live in here and now.

Odes to Bootyliciousness

Last night I had a lovely dinner with my boyfriend and we went for a walk afterwards. As I was opining the horrors of having to return to my dull job in the morning, he gave me a delightful suggestion of how to occupy my time during the day. It was brilliant! And so here I present to you all a series of odes to my boyfriend’s bootyliciousness. I hope they give you all a light on this dark Wednesday to guide you to beauteous Friday.


Round, firm, delicious

Just juicy enough to love

Bootylicious ass



I sit on the couch

You are busy, bustling to and fro

I cannot help but watch as you pass by me

Your jeans cup, gently rubbing across skin

Oh that I were those jeans

And could be that close

Spooned lovingly around your cheeks

Giving you the support and comfort

That your gracious gluteus deserves

My hands unconsciously curve to match

The curves of your cuppable caboose

Oh perfection!
Oh beauty!
Shining with the light of divine creation

Glowing in the morning sunlight (as my x-ray vision can see through your jeans)

I am in awe

Jaw-dropping awe

You turn to move into another room

I sigh, but your glorious fanny lives on in my memory

Outshining all other posteriors

Pretending to be badonkadonk



Apple-Bottom John

I like to sneak a squeeze in the middle of a crowded space

So you know I’m appreciating your fine fanny

It’s a secret for the two of us

And we know from the matching grins on our faces

There are some happy cheeks here

People and Profits: Finding Some Middle Ground

So my dear friend Benjamin who inspires about 99% of my posts lately (and who will be getting 75% of the $0 in profits I make from this post) linked me to the comments of the Abercrombie and Fitch CEO this morning. And I got annoyed (I think understandably) with the comments. And Ben was frustrated. He said that he could understand why Abercrombie marketed the way they did. While he thought it was wrong, it made sense and so he didn’t like how some people attacked it.


It took a while for us to get to the bottom of each other’s opinions, but I think a very telling statement he made was the following: “You are asking a man to give up his company, lose stocks, bankrupt 100’s of stockholders, and put him into poverty

I’m more asking for a solution”


I have NEVER heard someone say this straight out when I’m trying to criticize a company for bad policies before and I thought it was incredibly illuminating. Oftentimes when those on the left ask for higher standards from corporations and marketing, we think that we’re asking them to adjust to our demands as their market. We DON’T think we’re asking them to destroy their companies by taking actions that will sell no goods whatsoever and leave thousands of people bankrupt. We do think we might be asking them to take a slight hit in profits to balance with better marketing policies.


So I’m going to try to explain my thought process and what I think is the process of many social change advocates with an eye to capitalism and profits, and how we are NOT trying to bankrupt anyone or leave anyone out on the streets. Now first and foremost, it is the job of the people running a company in a capitalist society to listen to the people they’re trying to sell to so that they know what will sell and what their customers would like from them: the customers are always right after all. However with this knowledge in mind, big corporations also have a great deal more power than any of their individual customers because they have a lot of money and the actions or words of any individual will probably not really hurt them. Little old me writing this blog and saying “Abercrombie sucks and should be nice to fat people” will not cause Abercrombie to adopt fat-positive policies that then ruin their business. Nor am I asking them to.


When social justice advocates criticize these kinds of comments, what they are trying to do is send a message about the customer base. They are trying to say that the marketing techniques that are being used are not condoned or useful for many customers. They are also trying to bring to light to other people what is wrong with the comments and advocate that people boycott or in some other way illustrate their displeasure. We understand that profits are what drive corporations. And we are willing to reward corporations with profits. Dove has done fairly with with a positive body image campaign because people want to reward corporations that are doing things they see as good. If Abercrombie were to apologize and include XL and XXL sizes in their stores, I am fairly certain that the social justice crowd would be more likely to shop there. So what we are trying to do is exert the power that we do have as a group of customers.


This does not leave anyone homeless or any company bankrupt and without profits. What it DOES do is ask them to do their jobs effectively: to pay attention to what marketing strategies work and to change in accordance. If they cannot do that job and their business fails, that is their own fault. If they have pinned their business success on policies that don’t work, that offend their customers and drive people away, it is their own fault if their business fails, not the fault of those offended.


In addition, the likelihood that the CEO who made these remarks will ever end up homeless is very,very low. He has made a great deal of money off of these policies. However he hasn’t done so at no one’s expense. He has actively discriminated against fat individuals in his hiring practices. These kinds of policies are part of why fat individuals have a much harder time getting a job and advancing in their jobs. These kinds of policies COULD very easily and probably DO lead to AT LEAST one fat person being homeless or jobless. So the trade off here is that a company might go under if they can’t adjust their policies, and their management likely will survive without too much difficulty OR we can continue to discriminate against a large swath of the population and do things that we know for a fact severely diminish their quality of life.


So I think I’ve done a lot to explain the “liberal” position as it were. But what about the position that says “We need to make profits?” Well I don’t think liberals are really ignoring that position. In fact, what many of them are trying to do is simply shift where the profits lie. And I DO think that it’s understandable that some people have opinions that I disagree with. But that does not make them immune to criticism. What I think liberals COULD do to be more understanding to this position is to recognize that when we say “stop having douche policies” a lot of people hear “give up all your profits and go live in a cardboard box under a bridge”. We need to be very careful about what we’re saying: make it clear that we’re not asking for HUGE IMMEDIATE CHANGE THAT DESTROYS ALL PROFITS AND LEAVES EVERYONE DESTITUTE. We’re asking for the market to adjust itself and for consumers to adjust themselves so that our economy can continue while also promoting social justice causes. Emphasize that these things aren’t mutually exclusive (see Dove, although it does have its problems). Emphasize that we’re not trying to PUNISH anyone, we are simply asking for them to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. If their actions piss off a lot of people, they have to accept the responsibility for that.


Profits ARE what drives the world right now. Many of us don’t like that and we have the right to criticize that. However if we’re going to criticize those people motivated by profits, it works a lot better if we play their game.