Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Letter to Kortni

This is a letter I wrote to a woman who is the same age as me, however, she will sit in prison until the day she dies. She is a very smart person with dreams and aspirations that have managed to survive, despite her life sentence. We have decided to chat about philosophy and society -- she is learning as much about me, as I am learning about her.


Hey Kortni-

I have decided to write you on the computer because a). I type faster than I handwrite, and b). my handwriting can be tricky to decipher at times.

So. Thank you for the latest letter; I truly enjoy these philosophical discussions! First, let me clear up a question you had. Like you, I am a very quiet and often reserved-into-my-own-thoughts-in-public type of person. I enjoy writing, because it gives me time to think; in addition to making me feel less on the spot. I tend to blush when I talk to folks about extremely deep subjects, and therefore prefer to do a lot of thinking in writing. You can do the same if you like – particularly because we only get a minute or two in class to chat amongst ourselves.

Second, how interesting that you speak about women being too much on the level of men – leaving our femininity and replacing it with manliness. I just read a book by Ariel Levy, called, “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.” If you get the chance to read this, please do. The book basically says that women who take part in societies endless attack on women’s liberation – through things such as being a stripper, taking part in videos such as “Girls Gone Wild,” being overly sexual on TV, etc – are actually reversing the hard work that our earlier feminists have put in.

Meaning, the women who are engaging in the above-mentioned occupations or events think that they are empowered because we have gotten to a point in our culture where it is ok, accepted, and fun to show off our bodies. Um. No. It is not. According to Levy, these counteract the original ideas of equality because it is still a man’s world, and the ones who are getting paid off of, and being titillated are men. In various interviews, women who are strippers, etc. say they do not enjoy their jobs, and the very fact that we are commodifying women’s sexual prowlness, identity, beauty, etc. is debilitating for women on a whole.

Further, she also talks about tomboys. I am not a woman who wears makeup, deep v-necks, has manicures and pedicures, nor one who wears pink, glitter or heels. Nope. I like my brown-colored clothing, my Chucks, and wife-beater tanks. In the book, Levy says that if one is not wearing frou-frou clothing, sipping martinis, and being, well, feminine, then she is also doing her part in reversing the hard work of the feminists who came before us.

Why? Because if being equal to men means losing the identifying factors of being a female, then all we are doing (by dressing and acting the way men do) is wanting to be like men; emulating men. That is not equal, she says, instead, it is a culture of men.

Hmmm. I see her point, however, I have been educated in areas that include gender.

First, like everything else in the world, there is nothing that is black or white. While there may be the societal definitions of both male and female, there are also people who are biologically male, but present as a female; and biological females who present as a male. There are biological females who present as a female, but identify with being male, and so on. Really, there are many combinations. Therefore, I do not think that we moving towards an all-male society just because we act like men. Why? Because who said what a man is supposed to be like, look like, act like, etc? Not me. Why could it not have been that women are the aggressive population, and men are the demur ones? Why is it that we cannot move beyond the stereotypes and molds that some culture hundreds of years back set up? The answer is simple. In order to maintain the status quo of male culture, power, and enslaving women to their duties of motherhood, housewife, homemaker, etc – even in the career world women still only make 80 cents to every dollar a man makes.

How interesting that an author such as Levy thinks she is empowering her audience by telling them that their prowlness is not for themselves, but for men at large; but in actuality, what she is doing is perpetuating the stigma and role that we are supposed to play. How many folks in prison portray their femininity – make sure their hair is in place, their makeup is on every morning, no fighting, cussing, eat only salad, etc? Is it scary for you to be around that many women who look like men (as you put it in your letter)? What do you think about my argument about the tags we stick on biological males and females? Can we eliminate them without losing equality?

Next, without getting into the same Marx discussion, I wanted to thank you for your thoughts on the Conflict Theory. As you could clearly see, America is most certainly a mirror – many fake truths and mirages lie in our paths. And while it is easy to simply attempt to avoid the pitfalls, often, we are so pigeon-holed into stereotypes – regarding race, class, age, sex, orientation, and so on – that actually moving up the ladder is very hard. And when one does – because often society allows whose who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” to be respected because of their hard work – as soon as they mess up, this country will punish them by drudging up the old stereotypes.

You asked if I am a captain; if I hold the power to control. Yes and no. I have worked hard – and continue to strive daily to educate myself, reach deep into the foundations of our society and uncover the truths, break down walls, etc. – yet I am still a woman who comes a family with no money, who is the second kid in my family to graduate from college (my YOUNGER sister completed her degree a year before me), who was raised by a single mother, who has addicts in her family, whose OLDER sister is a lost soul who has abused her body through prostitution and drugs for so long that it weighs heavy on my heart and shoulders…these details are part of me, and they marginalize me, and stigmatize me. In many ways, I embrace them because without someone telling me what I supposed to be, I would never find the words to fight that mold. In that way, I am my own captain – but in so many other ways, we are all captains of one another. As the saying goes, we do not live on our islands – instead we must work, live, learn and embrace each other.

Anyways, I hope you have a great holiday, and I look forward to hearing your response to all of the topics mentioned above. You are a wonderful, intellect who deserves the best in life. May you find the strength to continue the struggle.

All the best,