A (very thin and quite unfocused) feminist manifesto

As manifestos have been on my mind lately (my Dad wants to send me Mao's LRB to read, I read Emirbayer's "Manifesto for a relational sociology", and the Communist one looms large in a book I'm copy-editing), I decided to turn my mundane weekend experiences into a manifesto of my own.

After a couple of months of frustration about my lack of chess-playing skills, I decided to go watch the experts. Since the weather was lovely, I wandered off to Dupont Circle. The outer parts of the Circle, for those who don't live in this great city of ours, have 7-8 tables lined up with people playing chess. On Friday, when I was there, they were not playing regular chess but speed chess. People were moving their pieces so fast that I barely had time to note what piece was being moved before it'd been moved or captured by some other piece. As a lesson in how far I have to go to even know what's going in, this was edifying. My point, though, is not about the chess-playing that was going on. It's about who was playing (and watching). On this occasion (and I was there for about two hours), the players were almost all men (there was one woman out of about 20 players) as were the spectators (I was the only woman watching). It made me realise that most of my favourite pasttimes involve hanging out in settings where women seem rather scarce (football-watching, especially in pubs, is also a mainly masculine activity throughout most of the countries I've lived in). Why is that, I wonder? I think it's time to blame my parents for not instilling the proper appreciation for gender-differentiated activities and, instead, encouraging this fascination with football (well, with practically any sport).

After spending all of Saturday holed in TUWSNBN's PhD office, frantically trying to finish all sorts of stuff, I had a “girls' day out” on Sunday. I think all the girls I know (not many of them apparently) apart from TUWSNBN lot (I'm counting you as part of this, Serena) were there. There were four of us. What did we do, you ask? Well, we stocked a couple of eskys* up with beers and headed off to watch footy. It was DC United's first match of the season (as an aside, I think DC United is the only team I follow that has a shirt in a colour, black, that doesn't look totally awful with my skin colour—the red of Liverpool is not suited to dark skin). We had heaps of food and chairs and a table to sit around on (yes, it was posh mini-camping gig before the match started). I think I've written before that watching a live footy (soccer) match here in the United States (well, in DC since I have not watched football anywhere else in America) is completely different to watching sporting events in Britain, Australia (though I only watched rugby in Australia) or South-east Asia. There's a wide range of folks here in the audience—kids, parents, friends, local football teams (with their own gear and flags) around and not just loads of young men as in the other countries I've watched matches in. Maybe it's different in other American sports, I don't know (though ice hockey also had loads of families and couples). But, at the DC Utd match, the diversity stopped at families, girls' soccer teams or groups of blokes. There weren't many groups of adult females by themselves, apart from us. Still, it was heaps of fun (as was the chess-watching experience on Friday). Sometimes, it's good to get away from PhD-ing and just sit in the sun and people-watch and pretend that one is a normal person who doesn't have to work on weekends.

So, there's my (very slender) feminist manifesto (can it be a manifesto if there's no call to action? How about if I show that there's a will to power there? E, remind me to tell you how quoting SuperN nearly got me arrested at the Vietnam War memorial on Friday). If I were keen, I'd write about how it feels to be the outsider in a traditionally masculine world (chess in Dupont circle, watching football in pubs) but that leads to homogenising categories that I'd like to try avoid. The issue here is: I've not been hit, banned, or even made fun of (though this has happened a few times in the past) in any of these activities and I've been watching footy in various pubs since I left home nearly a decade ago. I was thinking of all this since I am currently reading a book on feminist perspectives on September 11 for a book chapter I'm supposed to be writing (actually, I'm supposed to have written it already but that's also another post for another day). I am rather surprised how almost all the authors in the book see power as something concrete which one either has or doesn't have instead of as a bundle of choices based on the situation and context one is. Often, as in the case of young girls traded for money in places like South-east Asia, the choices are very few. But, that doesn't mean they aren't there. Our task, hopefully, should be to learn about the choices and write about them. Or, on a small level, my task is to be good enough to play chess with the blokes up in Dupont. Hopefully, that'll be by the end of the summer and you're all invited to come watch me in action. That's a call to action, I suppose.

* It was pointed out to me that an esky is not commonly used here on this side of the Atlantic. It's what yous call a "cooler"--something that you can chuck ice in and then put beverages/food into. This one came with nifty wheels, which made me wonder if they'd let me take it on airplanes. Probably not.


At 4/04/2006 10:38 AM, Anonymous serena said...

depends on the size of the esky i suppose...LOL

and how did i become included...? I have never been a conformist i have to say...i'm not very girlie...i hate makeup...i hate shopping unless its for books or music and even then i go in with things in mind and leave with those...though often with a few tagalongs as well...and what else do girls like? HMMM models...those cheesy magazines about how to get a date and crap.

I hate to say it but feminisim ( i think mislabeled) is one of my favorite topics...LOL Or at least the perspective change that women need in order to see how they can change their circumstances

At 4/04/2006 11:17 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Wait..I said all girls I knew (in DC and from out of town) were there except the ones from TUWSNBN (and you formed part of that set) i.e. who was there (and who wasn't). It was not a comment on TUWSNBN girls/women/womyn and their "type" (or even if there is a type).
Sorry if that wasn't clear in the post.

At 4/04/2006 2:24 PM, Anonymous serena said...

no worries...LOL I figured out what you meant by the end just trying to rile you up!

At 4/04/2006 4:59 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Heh--I refuse to get into arguments with anyone who's not E. For E, I make an exception.

At 4/04/2006 8:32 PM, Anonymous serena said...


At 4/08/2006 2:09 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

So I should feel complimented? Lucky me.


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