pisaquari: Who are you known as on the internets?
Jenn: Jenn, or “Jen” if someone misspells it. The double ‘n’ is not to be cute, it’s a shortening of my real name. I suppose I started using my nickname because it was what I was referred to by my family and close friends. In public, I go by my full name. I compartmentalize; the persona I present as “Jenn” is much different than the persona I present when I am referred to by my full name. Neither are complete pictures of the person I am, but Jenn is much closer to who I am and what I think than what I’m known by under my full name. I’m also published under my full name on completely different topics, and I know that how candid I am on my blog might come back to bite me in the ass at a later date, especially in academia, where I already have to deal with sexism.
pisaquari: Site(s) you blog? If any?
Jenn: I used to blog over at blogger, but I moved XXBlaze, my personal site, over to WordPress a couple of months ago. I love it, it’s a great blogging platform. I contribute periodically to Female Impersonator. I also write political columns under my real name for some political sites, but I haven’t had a lot of time to do that lately. I’ve also become quite sick of politics and talking about “the important issues” which is basically making everything about sexism or racism invisible. Not very fun.
pisaquari: Places you most frequent/comment (can be nonfeminist)
Jenn: I especially love radical feminist blogs. I guess my most frequent haunts would be for example (or have been, if they’re on hiatus) I Blame the Patriarchy, Hell on Hairy Legs, Shapely Prose, Rage Against the Man-Chine, Womanist Musings, and Echidne of the Snakes. Although my focus is usually on feminism, I frequent a lot of sites about race, fat acceptance, and gay interests and rights. None of which, I might add, are mutually exclusive to feminism.
pisaquari: How would you describe your background? Naming as many points for which you are privileged and oppressed as possible.
Jenn: Jeez, this one is hard because I always leave at least one out. I guess I can start by listing what privileges I’ve had. I’ve never been completely destitute. I’m white. I’m not disabled physically. I’m American. I’m conventionally facially attractive without much aid from beauty products. I have a naturally high aptitude for the kind of intelligence (over)valued in academia. I have both parents, alive, and they still support me a bit. I’ve never been physically abused, my home life was never the kind of thing put in horror movies or the business of child protective services.
My oppressions are intersecting. The biggest one is that I am female. I’m attractive because of striking and unusual features from a non-standard European background; both a privilege and an oppression because I’m not invisible when I want to be. I’m naturally heavier set. I have minor learning disabilities. I have chronic health issues that impact my daily life (see the “spoons” discussion on other blogs for an idea). I’m short and physically non-threatening, I’m easy to overpower. I’m working class, below middle class, so completely invisible in American politics. I have absolutely terrible skin conditions that can be visible and quite unacceptable to the beauty standard. I’m disproportionate: I carry my weight in my chest and stomach while having thin legs, making buying clothes without going broke challenging. I’m allergic to tons of things I encounter every day (more spoons). My parents are extremely unhappily divorced, and my family has a history of physical abuse, abandonment, early mortality, alcoholism, adultery, and narcissism. I’m Jewish and have little to no grasp or common ground with the Christian ideology. I live in an area where I can’t afford to live anywhere but at home with a verbally abusive brother and a supportive, but mentally disabled, mother.
pisaquari: How did male supremacy first touch you?
Jenn: The first second I was born, of course. My family was extremely traditional when I was younger, before the divorce. My father was into beer and football and working long hours, and my mother did nothing but take care of me and my brother, cook, clean, and go to mother’s groups. My father was extremely controlling, and highly valued traditional and abusive masculinity. Weakness was abhorred in our household, and later my father had such disdain for traditional femininity that my developing body was controlled to the point my clothes resembled something out of a Mormon cult.
After the divorce, my father disdained how my mother was “controlling him” by refusing to let him have joint custody unless he actively contributed physically and financially to our upbringing. He bullied my mother in court so that he could remain in control of our lives without any of the responsibility. My family life was the very picture of traditional gender roles, and what happens when they cock up, which is inevitable. My grandparents operated the same way, apparently.
pisaquari: Were there any feminists closely involved in your upbringing?
Jenn: Not really. I guess how my mother handled the divorce was “feminist” in a fashion. Although she was the picture-perfect version of Texan housewifery earlier, she spent little to no time changing the locks and ferreting away at least half our assets when my father walked out. She never entertained notions of “what did I do wrong?” She was always a positive role model for me; I can never think of a point in my life that I didn’t know that my mother loved me, accepted me, and would help me in any way she could. Her poverty now tears her up because she really wants more than anything to provide her children with everything, while my father wants more than anything for us to come begging for money so he can control us.
I guess my mother is not the traditional feminist, or even knows that she’s a feminist, but the way she never imposed body consciousness on me (that was all my father and public school) and shame (I apparently touched myself a lot as a child. My father would discipline me, and my mother would scream at other parents when they scolded me or stared).
Really, the biggest privilege of all is having my mom in my life.
pisaquari: Was there an “aha” moment for you for feminism? For radical feminism?
Jenn: I can’t say that there was an “aha” moment. I was always extremely academic and into learning (I read history textbooks for fun) and Legos more than Barbie’s. I spent most of my day outside, not inside playing with dolls. That didn’t stop me from wearing dresses and bows in my hair though. When I took Women’s Studies, it was kind of the “aha” moment for what I already thought. I was already extremely liberal, and my notions of equality demanded a feminist consciousness.
That consciousness was, at that time, false. It was still that nebulous “sexy fun” feminism, and I still hadn’t realized and accepted that the relationship I was in at the time was sexually abusive or that I was gay. It took a retreat to my academic concentration, philosophy, to cohere a more complete picture of the world and how it works for me to discover radical feminism within myself. I think the first time I heard the word as used by a radical feminist was when I linked to Twisty’s site from Feministing, which I perused every so often. I know that Twisty wasn’t exactly feminism-lite, but everything there seemed so intuitive. It was like she was saying what I thought, albeit way more eloquently. After picking up some Dworkin and other radical feminist theory later, I never looked back. Radical feminism, above all other feminisms, is the most historically entrenched in theory. As someone in Philosophy academically, that definitely appealed to the way I think.
pisaquari: What attributes in your personality/upbringing do you think made you more open to radical feminism?
Jenn: Like I said, my mother. Also, the notion that something was not “quite right” with the way I viewed the opposite sex, and the way they treated me. Of course, part of that was because I was gay or the horrible example of my father. I hate my father in a very subvert way (I still depend on him financially, so I can’t express it), so ideologies that express and explain why he was wrong, and I knew he was wrong, and how he’s motivated just sort of made seemingly random facts of my life suddenly make sense. Also, I did a research project my Sophomore year of college for the sociology of Divorce-partly to come to terms with my rocky and emotionally abusive childhood-and found the radical feminist interpretation of the results the most intuitive. There really hasn’t been anything in my life that refuses or is mutually exclusive to the ideology, unlike other ideologies I flirted with (like libertarianism, liberal feminism, anarchism, etc).
pisaquari: Do you call yourself a radical feminist to others?
Jenn: Tentatively. Depends on who’s asking. My family knows that I’m a feminist, and a pretty strident one, but I probably only mentioned “radical” once or twice. They do know, however, that I think a huge restructuring of society is needed to solve the problem, not just more laws and sex, so they know I’m “radical” because they know that I fit the definition, although they don’t know what the word is for what I say.
I’m just as guilty as most for shying away from the word “radical” for its connotations. I immediately know that others will tune me out as “biased” once I identify the name for my views, so I avoid anything but “extremely liberal” and “feminist”, but that’s not to say that I would deny that I’m a radical feminist if asked. It’s tricky, because my academic career depends on the appearance of subjectivity, or at least objectivity within the acceptable realms of biases. I’m not allowed to have a different bias than what is “normal”. Thus, my increasing frustration and disenchantment with academia.
pisaquari: How do you integrate radical feminism into your personal relationships? Buying habits? Love? Family?
Jenn: I only consort with non-misogynists. Most of my friends are gay men, gay women, very liberal women, and total “free spirit” type men. I generally avoid those that think innuendo and sexual comments are necessary in a talk between men and women. I don’t date often, because I can’t stand the stupid reverting back to gender roles for men. If I date, I confine myself to women, although I go both ways (and other ways, if I come across them). I don’t buy makeup, women’s magazines, watch movies that are misogynist, read “real” (only for white men) news and take it seriously, and I have absolutely nothing to do with the college culture of exploitative sex, drunkenness, and sexyfun feminism. I’m the black sheep of the family, because I tell my elders to “shut the fuck up” if they comment about my weight, or my mother’s, and ask family friends to “speak up so everyone can hear how you’re an asshole” if they insist on talking about how gays are horrible, how liberals are stupid, or anything else that makes me feel like my membership as a person in this society or my family is threatened by their bigotry. I get extremely angry when my family members use female-specific or race-specific slurs. I’m generally considered a bitch or crazy by all but the most liberal of my family.
My buying habits have altered considerably. I usually don’t buy extremely frilly tops or pants, nor have I bought anything with a heel for years. Makeup hasn’t been touched or bought in months. I try to buy as much local and natural as I can, although that habit was instilled by my family long before I became a feminist.
pisaquari: What has been the hardest part of radical feminism to integrate into your life?
Jenn: Picking my battles. I can’t express all that I think to much of anyone, and I typically censor myself greatly in person, even to the closest of friends. If something really offends me, others may think that my reaction is extreme, but it’s usually the culmination of dozens of slights that just can’t be ignored anymore. I’m not an extroverted person, I like to withdraw rather than create or face controversy. Curbing my natural timidity and balancing it with the passion of my convictions is extremely frustrating.
pisaquari: How do you survive/find happiness living in a patriarchy? What are some things you like to do?
Jenn: I compartmentalize. When something really bothers me, I express it in a safe place-like my blog-or just forget about it. I do as much as I can to resist without ruining my life or severely negatively impacting my life style. I’m extremely involved in academia for various non-feminist issues, so I have to submit somewhat to get my things published and have opportunities I wouldn’t have if I expressed exactly what I thought of my more conservative and bigoted peers and professors.
I try to enjoy things that I didn’t have the courage to before I found feminism. I ride my bike late at night. I hit on girls. I read subversive literature. I rediscover all the “dorky” interests I gave up-astronomy, science fiction, video games, graphic novels-when I thought being normal was more important than being happy.
pisaquari: What sort of activist activities are you involved with?
Jenn: The usual Take Back the Night stuff and sometimes feminist book clubs. My university, one of the largest in the country, is pitiful when it comes to feminist-friendly clubs and activities. I get involved where I can, but most of the time there’s nothing to do, or I simply don’t have the time. My academics are demanding and my job is exhausting. My chronic illnesses and health conditions often make going out after class and work a chore or impossible. I hope to be able to use the work I am doing now to eventually get involved or hired in an agency or organization that serves feminist goals (for instance, I’m interested in becoming involved in judicial reform for sexual crimes), and I write and blog as much as possible.
pisaquari: Okay, so there is a radical feminist island–you are there right now: what are you doing?
Jenn: Probably enjoying the hot sun, topless (because nobody cares), and reading the wonderful thoughts of my fellow islanders. Then we could have a lovely bonfire later that night with foods we grew ourselves, cooperatively of course, reminisce about the backwards societies we grew up in, and how much we’re looking forward to raising our children-if we choose to have them-in a positive environment.