The Wednesday Weigh-In: When feelings and feminism collide

It’s time for the second weekly Wednesday Weigh-In! And I want to talk about feelings, you guys!

This week, in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, there’s been a lot of debate around the “appropriate” reaction to the news. As Joan Walsh noted, “Battles raged Monday not so much over whether the U.S. killing Osama was morally or legally justified, but over the right way to feel about it, and the right way to express those feelings.”

I personally didn’t feel any happiness about Osama’s death and basically agreed with the many progressives–including Cord Jefferson, Mona Eltahawy and Tim Wise–who criticized the nationalistic, “frat boy,” USA! USA! reaction. But my disgust for that response was more about the crass militaristic patriotism, not the rejoicing. Claiming that our government’s ability to kill Osama somehow makes the U.S. great is one thousand kinds of fucked up (as Kai Wright so powerfully said), but I don’t believe that feeling happy about Osama’s death is automatically wrong. And I think it’s possible–and necessary–to separate our criticism of the act itself and the public discourse surrounding it (its morality, justice, implications, etc.) from the varied, personal reactions of complicated, fallible human beings.

Which is all to simply say that we don’t always feel the “right” way. Sometimes our emotions even fly in the face of our deeply-held political beliefs. And, sometimes–dare I say it–the feminist/progressive blogosphere isn’t the most forgiving of that fact. So, in that vein, today’s question is:

When was the last time your feelings didn’t line up with your feminism? And how did you reconcile that?

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Donna Haghighat

    Last Friday! I was invited to attend a luncheon celebrating the royal wedding. The whole fairytale princess thing is SO not what I am about ( had BOTH my mom and dad walk me down the aisle). Made the best of it and made sure to point out how proud I was of Kate Middleton’s mother for her dignity in response to remarks made by William’s friends several years ago such as “doors to manual” when they referred to her because she used to be a flight attendant. At least she has had several successful careers which is more than these trust fund friends can say.

  • Jenny

    I’ve never really thought of myself as a patriotic person- since I was very young. And the main reason for this, I believe, is because our country is so fragmented and there is so much that I dislike and disagree with going on in our government- I don’t even know that there is something solid to be patriotic toward. In that sense, it is as if patriotism itself is subjective.

    The last time I felt that my feelings didn’t line up with my politics was just the other night when Osama had been declared dead and I found myself saying “Go. America.” quietly under my breath. And I could be just rationalizing this- but in the interest of full disclosure- I do believe in the death penalty for people who have committed particularly heinous, planned murders which have witnesses and/or overwhelming evidence. Perhaps I am simply a vengeful person-and that’s something I will have to deal with. But I do believe that people who make other people live their last moments in horror deserve more than “the death penalty”- I think they deserve the slow and painful death they brought others and I’ll be damned if they are allowed to see the sun shine again- even if it’s from inside prison walls. I wish for them to die only after long hours of wishing for death.

    So when I said “Go. America.” I believe it was because I think Osama is a heinous murderer who deserves to die. The American government just happened to be his murderer. And if North Korea had executed the murder, I would have been satisfied as well- perhaps even more satisfied that Osama would have died at the hands of a government at his level of militant, selfish, Hitler-esque zeal.

    I know this is extremely vengeful and I feel guilty that I can’t muster up the “murder is always wrong” sentiment or the “there’s good in everybody” sentiment. But I just feel he is downright evil(and I don’t use this word often, nor am I using it in the religious sense. I’m atheist).
    Every time I hear about a person or people who, in our own country, take families hostage for hours on end in their own homes, rape mothers and daughters, torture and beat fathers, set houses on fire and leave people to die in horror just to steal their cash and jewelry- I can’t help but think “There are some people in this world who are downright evil, who nobody can help, and who deserve to die an agonizing death.” Osama bin Laden is one of those people and the U.S. are the mercenaries who took care of the job. Therefore I say: Go America.
    Being able to find peace only when a perpetrator has suffered an equal amount they have brought others, I realize, will only lead to my unhappiness. I do not believe in Karma, nor do I believe in Hell. So, I feel we need to bring it to them and, at this moment in time, vengeance about these things is just how I feel, sadly.

  • Allison

    I think most often my feelings don’t line up with my feminism when it comes to relationships. It’s so hard to actually make a gender-neutral or balanced relationship happen – first you have to be aware of what the default is (for example, asking him to fix my computer), recognize when it happens, and then take steps to, you know, do it myself. It’s more work for me! Sometimes I would rather just ask him to open the jar. And I dunno, there’s some kind of perverse pleasure in having “my man” do something for little ol me.

    We’re not living together yet though, and I think that’s when things will get really interesting. He says he’s committed to a balanced relationship, and calls me out on my heteronormative things all the time, but we’ll see who’s the one who ends up emptying the dishwasher.

    • Morgan

      Allison, I completely agree! I came here to comment on exactly that sort of dynamic and saw your post. I struggle with my feelings for romantic partners a lot in terms of expectations of marraige and children (even though I am still too young for both). How do you reconcile, as a feminist, potentially wanting to enter the inherently patriarchal institution of marriage (which still does not allow everyone to partake)? It creates a lot of cognitive dissonance for me.

    • Jenny

      I feel this way *sometimes* with my boyfriend. I don’t know what your situation is or all the things that you do- but I feel like it’s not un-feminist to concede that some people can just do things better than you can-including your boyfriend. And of course, there are things I can do better than him and he asks for help in those situations. If your boyfriend is 6 foot five and you’re five foot three, whats the harm in asking him to grab something off the shelf for you? If you have trouble lifting something and he’s obviously much bigger than you, what’s the harm in asking him to lift it? Save your back, right? (of course, I’m a massage therapist so I’m all about proper body mechanics and not overdoing it.) I guess it becomes a problem when you don’t do something for yourself even when you know you can, just because he’s there and he’s your big strong man. I definitely see women friends of mine do that a lot. I also don’t like it when men offer to do something for me when I’m obviously just fine-ESPECIALLY AT WORK. If I’m obviously struggling- ok. But if I’m fine- it’s not polite to just assume that I’m weak and take care of it for me.

  • Dan

    I can be happy that he is no longer at large, without rejoicing at the fact that he was killed. I see no moral issue with killing him, and only a very small concern about the other people killed in the raid. Osama Bin Laden has stated publicly that he was going to target civilians, and he has. That makes him many things, including a soldier in time of war.

    He’s dead now, and I don’t think he was shot while trying to surrender. Would we be having this discussion at all if it was a military leader of a wartime country, rather than a looser organization?

    The other people killed in his compound are presumed to have been assisting Bin Laden, at least by assisting him to remain hidden. It’s possible that someone may have been held there against their will, then killed during the raid. I believe that the attack focused on the combatants, and that no civilians were targeted intentionally or negligently.

  • nazza

    I often feel conflict regarding the gender essentialist/societal conditioning argument. Most recently, I was pondering the means by which I should encourage men to attend my Meeting. Should I make a concession to their discomfort in female-dominated and designed spaces, particularly if their own privilege may lead them to refuse to participate? Or should I insist that men learn to work in a female-centric environment the same way that women have had to adapt and cope to male-centric spaces over the centuries?

  • Suzy

    I feel like a bad feminist when I feel fat or concerned with my appearance.

    I also felt concerned about how much I admired and would sacrifice for my last boyfriend, how much I needed him (not in the sense that I needed his help, but in the sense that I would be heartbroken if he were gone and he enriched my life). But I realized, that’s not a gender thing, it’s a love thing.

  • spacey

    What I consider reproductive “gray areas”.

    When a young girl has her first child at 15, and has three children by her 20th birthday.
    When a woman has had ten babies, all of whom she either left at the hospital, or were forcibly taken into state custody.
    When a woman has had seven abortions.

    Freedom for all in all of these areas, but when a person shows over and over again that he or she does not possess the instinct for responsibility (whether for children or own body) sometimes I feel like it would help if someone stepped in and steered the person in the right direction. And, if I became pregnant accidentally right now, I feel like I am too old (28) for an abortion, and I have a family that help me in any way I needed. I would feel selfish, but this conflicts with issues of “choice under any circumstance”. Please understand, though, that my situation is mine alone.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I suppose my feelings don’t line up if I’m honest that I not only exercise and eat right for my health and agility, but also for my appearance. I know the size and shape I’m happiest with myself at, it’s not what they’re touting in mainstream magazines, but it’s also nothing a size-acceptance advocate would cheer over. Nonetheless, I do take my appearance into account.

  • Napoleoninrags

    My feelings collide with my feminist sensibilities and commitments on a rather regular basis, if I’m honest with myself.

    This, however, is not one of those times. I have absolutely no problem celebrating the death of an evil ideologue who actively sought not only to kill civilians but to limit the rights of all women. No conflict there.

  • linasl

    I think the one thing I feel that contradicts my feminism most is my discontent with being single. I am shy and not involved much in the social scene at the university I attend, and I am not involved in the hookup culture or dating. I spend a good amount of time thinking about this. I can tell myself over and over that I don’t care, and I’m single because I am focusing on myself and school, but the thoughts that accompany this discontent (such as worrying about my appearance) are totally not feminist. I feel guilty about this sometimes. When my mother or a friend makes some comment about “when I get married” (in the hypothetical future), I always feel the need to interject that I don’t know if I want to get married, and I don’t know if I want to have children, but sometimes I feel like I am lying to myself. It’s just natural to want a romantic partnership and sexual relationship, but I think all too often I veer into classic gender role territory.
    In response to the comments about the murder of Osama bin Laden, I did have that little “go America!” feeling when I heard the news. I justified this by telling myself that this was good for our reputation, that we managed to ‘save face’ politically, and that our country’s coercive power in international relations is not yet entirely gone. Also, I am not a pacifist, and I think that hearing that Osama bin Laden was killed was practically music to my ears compared to all of the horrible things we read in the news nowadays. To be entirely honest, I don’t really have any positive or negative feelings now about his death. I do feel embarrassed and disgusted by our government’s handling of it, but I do not feel like my reaction greatly conflicted with my feminist values.

  • Tori Rodriguez

    Here’s another one: I definitely feel like my feelings and feminism are at odds when I experience jealousy in regards to other women. I’ve been wanting to write a lengthier piece about this, and would love to have input from you all.

    Suzy & Jenny-
    Great points. I’m a feminist psychotherapist who specializes in food & body image issues, and I think as feminists we inadvertently reinforce one of the most damaging aspects of these – and many other – issues, which is dichotomous (all-or-nothing, black-and-white, either-or) thinking. It’s posed as a choice between diet culture or total disregard for weight, when in fact there are many degrees of healthy middle ground.