For those who have been too busy thinking about, oh, world peace or the government shutdown, apparently Miley Cyrus upset some people by twerking on TV and appearing naked in a music video.
Then Sinead O’Connor published an open letter to Miley Cyrus, responding to Miley’s acts and the publicity that followed.
Then Amanda Palmer published an open letter to Sinead O’Connor about her open letter to Miley Cyrus.
You follow all that? I did, and it reminded me of a landmark moment in my life.
I’ma set the wayback machine to about 2006. It is Memorial Day weekend, and I am at Wiscon, the oldest-running feminist science fiction convention. It is Sunday. I am brunching with five other hairy-legged, bra-less seventies feminists and a younger lady whom I will call a stiletto feminist. I made up that term, but you may know what I mean. If not, read on.
The seventies feminists present are authors, editors, well-known trufen, matriarchs of Wiscon, maybe even one or two founders of the James Tiptree Award for Gender Bending SF. Solid credentials. The younger lady is also an author, and an editor and publisher of erotic SF and fantasy. We older feminists are all dressed like authors—i.e., basically, we take off our bedroom slippers and put on shoes so we can show up in public. The younger lady is wearing a corset, fishnets, thigh-high black boots, heavy drag makeup, and lots of cleavage.
Without trying to be in any way pejorative, several of the seventies feminists present are trying to tell the younger lady that her clothes are worrying them. They’re all for self-expression. They believe in the empowerment of women. Don’t get them wrong. But are those clothes really, well, consistent with feminism? They want her to prove she’s a feminist, but they’re afraid she can’t. They don’t see how that’s possible.
She isn’t getting defensive, and that rattles them, too.
I realize about halfway through lunch that in their day (okay, our day, I’ll cop to my age)…well, a woman dressed like that would be thought of as “asking for it.” They’re worried about her. Concerned for her safety.
The younger author explains that in her experience, when she dresses in an aggressively sexual way she gets less harassment than when she is more modestly dressed. Guys may look, but generally they look at her with alarm. (Maybe it’s the riding crop sticking out of her boot.) Your true predator, she says, backs away and goes looking instead for a nice girl who wears long skirts and clutches her books to her chest.
As I listen to this conversation, I remember an expression which Wikipedia tells me comes from the twelfth century: “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” Says here Bernard of Chartres came up with this, although he’s not the only one to speak of the idea.
I begin to feel very humble and very proud. I am in the presence of a distinct new version of feminism, a generation who does what my generation could never do, and she couldn’t do it now if we hadn’t done what we did. She has actually surpassed our struggle; she has new barriers; ours no longer trouble her. She doesn’t worry about some guy whanging up a boner and blaming it and all his subsequent behavior on her. If he does so and behaves inappropriately because of it, by law it is his fault, not hers. She’s willing to use it, in fact, against him. Her sexual power has become her power, not his.
Back in our day, a man’s boner was always our fault. We wore boxy pantsuits and horrid plasticky fake-silk shirts with attached floppy ties that covered us right up to the chin. We tried to act like men in the workplace, so that we could not be accused of fishing for a husband or a bedmate. We got called names like ball-buster and dyke and bra-burner, and we were accused instead of being asexual because we were struggling to avoid provoking any man in our workplace into feeling sexual about us. We accepted the blame.
This new feminist doesn’t have to take the blame. Because we took the namecalling and fought the seemingly-hopeless court battles then, now she is no longer responsible for some guy’s failure to manage his erection. Because we concealed our sexuality in pursuit of equal work and equal pay then, now she doesn’t have to conceal hers in pursuit of the same things.
She can wear her stilettos to work. She still wants equal work and equal pay. She’s a feminist, too. Like us, she will use whatever weapons she has available to her to fight the same fight we fought. The rules have shifted. We did our work well, and she benefits.
I can’t imagine how she will change the rules for her daughter.
I admire her and envy her and I’m terribly proud of her.