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The right to be bad

  • 09 May 2014

I am never quite sure what I believe about the present. Is it good, or is it bad? Are our human conditions improving, or catastrophically deteriorating? Psychologically, I can only measure my state of being in relation to the present and whatever my memory and education tell me. Scientifically speaking, the data is not conclusive except for, well, climate change. So, the present is simultaneously the best and the worst.

This feeling penetrates how I interpret the many facets of my feminism. There's no way to quantify what my satisfaction levels would be if I were born into another time or another culture, and so it's not entirely up to me to determine how others interpret their own lives. Liberal feminist rhetoric, which is tethered to the capitalist machine, is fairly certain that progress is natural and inevitable, and that equality is bound up in financial liberation, or liberation as determined by the self-made individual.

Sexual liberation, on the other hand, has fallen out of favour. The porn industry kind of exploited that one. Women's liberation from domestic enslavement has taken a hit, too. In the era of the mummy blogger, that just seems judgemental. So here's a proposal for the new woman: to be liberated from niceness.

Not that there's anything wrong with being nice; it is a virtue. But women need to stop asking nicely for equality, and instead just expect it, in every social interaction.

An anecdote: my housemate, wide-eyed and mouth agape, knocked on my bedroom door to ask me if I happen to be named after a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The character is Eleanor Savage, and to paraphrase my housemate and John Lennon, I am she and she is me.

I read the Eleanor Savage chapter 'Young Irony' in This Side of Paradise (1920) and squealed. Her physical descriptions match mine, she loves, and lives through, literature, she is a bit of a petulant smartypants, and she doesn't tone down her feminism for any man. She is characterised as 'wild', an adjective long attributed to me by half-smiling elders who are probably concerned for my safety. And 'crazy', which is more than problematic.

I identified with Eleanor much more than I expected to, especially in her final scene, where she unleashes on her lover a tirade of pent-up frustration:

Oh, why am I a girl? Why am I not a stupid — ? Look at you; you're stupider