Friday, February 01, 2008

Warning: rambly post.

No, seriously, this is just a long ramble, and there isn't any neat coming together point. If you are in search of something meaningful and profound, turn back now.

So, I'm going to Las Vegas. For a conference. And here's the thing: one of the bragging points about this conference site, according to the folks putting on the conference, is that it's a NON-GAMING HOTEL.

"The fuck?"* you may ask, incredulously, as I did. But yes, this is a selling point.

Now - what is the point of going to Vegas if not to gamble? I'm not going to see Cirque du Soleil, which I can watch on t.v. any time I want, but which I really have no desire to do, anyway. I'm not going to see Barry Manilow, though a friend of mine was really disappointed that he won't be there then and so is going to see Cirque du Soleil. I'm going to the conference, and I'm bringing $20 or $40 that is set aside to be turned into quarters and fed to the gods of the slot machines.

Is this a feminist thing or is it just a confusion about entitlement and individual rights? I mean, I know that addiction is addiction, and I don't want to make people feel that they can't come to the conference because they can't be tempted, but I'm doubtful that gambling addictions among the membership is the reason for this. It may be that this group of feminists doesn't want to support a hotel that supports gambling and thus feeds off of others' addictions, and I can respect that, but at the same time, I'm not really convinced that this is the same animal as, say, avoiding non-unionized hotels. And plus, it's VEGAS. It's not like the conference is in Windsor or Niagara Falls or someplace that doesn't have a reputation for gambling (and prostitution, for that matter).

Feminist circles - at least some of the ones I travel in - are known for trying to accomodate everyone's needs. (Aside: Doesn't that sound a lot nicer than saying something like "Feminist circles are known for policing everyone's behavior?" Because at least in this case, I think it's really about trying to meet needs of a vast and diverse group.) In the NWSA, for example (not the conference that is happening in Vegas), there are always struggles between different constituencies. The Disability Caucus gets pissed off when Caucus business meetings are scheduled for early in the morning because many of the people who have disabilities have ones that are worse in the morning - more painful, more flare-uppy, etc. The Disability Caucus also points out that people with disabilities need to stay in hotels rather than on college campuses, so that they have (hopefully) easy access to sessions within one large and accessible building and so that they have air conditioning (not available on college campuses in June). This is a moot point now, anyway, since next year, the conference will move to the fall and will always be held in hotels, but still, holding the conference at hotels has angered the Women of Color Caucus and others who point out that this is far more expensive than staying on campus and that many WoC are priced out of attending at all. There are always some sanctimonius vegetarians/vegans who complain about the food available - ok, I know, this is really harsh of me, but fer crissakes, the world does not cater to most of us, and if you're going to attend a conference at a hotel, you should expect that it will not have much in the way of vegetarian/vegan food because, really, WHERE IN THE COUNTRY HAS MUCH IN THE WAY OF VEGETARIAN/VEGAN FOOD?! Not many places. And this is not the NWSA's fault.

OK, so I've gotten off-topic, but the point is, it's one thing to try to accomodate everyone. I think we *should* try to accomodate everyone, not just in feminist circles, but in general. I mean, that's part of respecting each other, isn't it? And the concerns of the Women of Color Caucus and the Disability Caucus are valid concerns (and they are exempted from the next sentence). But I also think that there's a point where some people begin to demand for themselves an experience in life that most people simply do not have. It seems to me to be a kind of arrogance to go to Vegas and insist on staying away from even the hint of gambling, or to go to New Orleans and complain that there is a lack of vegetarian food (I'm reaching, here, but you all know what I mean, I hope), or to complain about the service in the hotel restaurant at all (it's a freakin' hotel restaurant, and you are not so special, so just sit tight and wait). Or to claim that being asked not to wear perfume so as not to aggravate people with environmental sensitivity challenges one's identity as a person who has a particular scent. I've heard feminists say/do all of these things.

What I'm really getting at is that some feminists use feminism for their own purposes of entitlement. This is certainly not unique to feminists - I mean, the Christian Right does this all the time when they claim to be an oppressed group that is offended by a particular book in a library or Halloween parties or the fact that December holidays other than Christmas do exist. Instead of recognizing that there are lots of other people around who also count, they make it all about them and cast everyone else as the oppressor. But when feminists do it, it particularly peeves me, because I would like for feminists to be above reproach. And we're not, of course, because no one is, but I would still like for us to be.

But see, I think when you're trying to live out a principle, one of two things happen. Either you get frustrated because you feel that while you are trying very hard to be sensitive to all these other folks, no one is paying attention to who *you* are and what *your* needs are, so you get to a point of saying, "heck with this, I'm forming my own group to focus on people like me" - or you end up saying really preposterous things in the service of protecting some other that everyone but you recognizes that you see as other.

I sometimes think that, as feminists, we have too many rules about what we can do and say and think in order to be *good* feminists. I've just been pointed to a blog discussion from last August that I mercifully missed the first time around, and about halfway through the several hundred comments, I realized that the core of the whole debate was in the definition of "feminist," and that half the commenters were leaving it open to people to decide for themselves whether or not they fit under that moniker, and that the other half not only knew damn well that they were defining the term very specifically so as to leave out a good number of people who described themselves as feminists, but they were also being passive aggressive and not saying this straight out until well on into the fray. And that's where I just threw up my hands in disgust and heard myself saying "blah blah blah" as I was reading one of the more obnoxious posts about what feminism IS and what it ISN'T, which was based entirely on that commenter's personal taste but being presented as solid fact. And further, the very fact that someone had dared to ask questions about feminism that these commenters didn't approve of was seen as encroachment on their territory as feminists. So in this case, the very claiming of "feminist" as an identity label was being approached as an entitlement, as something that various people felt they had the right to control.

I told you there was no neat coming together point here.

*My friend's mom reads this blog, or at least she used to, and whenever I swear here, I always think of her and kind of blush.


Renegade Evolution said...

ah yes, the whole "show me your creds" diatribe...

Lana Wood said...

Feminists are people, sometimes people are assholes. This issue of what is the definition, and who conforms to it, and how do we marginalize everybody else is something bothers me too. Not just with feminism, but with any group I am perceived to be a part of, it gives people misconceptions about who I am, and what I beleive. And, also, it robs me of the chance to talk about the issues at hand becasue we are too busy talking about who has any business talking about it.

I firmly believe that anyone who has a vagina, or has ever met, been parented by, spawned, employed, or otherwise come in contact with someone who has a vagina, or hopes to have a vagina has the right, ability, and obligation to talk about what it means to have a vagina, and all its implications. If we do not talk, and more importantly listen, to each other, how do we learn? How do we move forward? What can we accomplish? It has to stop being about who is right.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Yes - I have seen this at work in other politics, and it's gotten to the point where I just run away from it when it comes up. I mean, like, literally, I leave. I just don't even engage IRL.

I think I would take your "vagina politics" a step further and say that it doesn't even have to be vagina-related. I think it's just a matter of being human and talking about that.