“Feminism is the belief that women are as valuable as men.”

Have I mentioned that I love Chicago? I’m thinking yes. And one of the things I absolutely love (over and beyond any number of experiences that I’ve detailed elsewhere on The Interwebs) is an independent shop on Broadway named Unabridged Bookstore.

This is about feminism. Feminisms. I’m getting there, I promise.

So. Unabridged is my quintessential bookstore. When I think of a bookstore, the kind that encourages browsing and hanging out and asking questions and finding new and fantastic things that I didn’t even know I needed, this is what I’m thinking about. It’s the closest thing there is to a Platonic bookstore, to a Weberian ideal type that coincides with the term.

Yes, I realize there’s no such thing as an ideal type in reality. Trust me, this comes pretty damn close. If Weber had written about shopping, and had been to Unabridged, his theory would have been very different.

As would his notion of dour Protestants, but that’s another story.

Given the number of times the store shows up on “Must See” lists about Chicago, I can’t be the only one who feels this way. This is a bookstore in the traditional sense—no coffee shop, no music section, no dvds taking up the space that should be given over to bookshelves.

No racks of gourmet cookies, a recent bookstore addition that, quite frankly, baffles me. Because eating chocolate and turning pages are not activities that mix easily.

People go here to buy books. They do it using lots of methods, including browsing the wonderful children’s department (sunny windows, bright colors, lots of stuff you don’t find elsewhere that’s been selected by people who love kids and love reading) and finding out what particular volumes are suggested by the employees and the owner.

And, not for nothing, but the section on queer theory and gay/lesbian themes is one of the best I’ve seen anywhere. The folks who run Unabridged know their audience, they take the time to really think about what they sell, and I make time every visit to shop there, even if it’s only for an hour.

This week I put aside an entire afternoon. I needed the break, after encountering gentrification gone awry in Rogers Park, and there’s nothing more soothing than a walk around a Chicago neighborhood, window shopping and people watching and stopping into a few of the places I used to love to spend entire days in.

It was a bit weird not to be there on the pull, but whatever. Different kind of fun.

And I meant it when I said this was about feminism. Because, for all that I love it to an embarrassing degree, and for whatever commercial reason, the one place that Unabridged falls flat is when it comes to books on bisexuality. One half-filled shelf is not encouraging, and when I couldn’t find the actual book I was looking for, I came close to giving it up as a lost cause. Surely, if they didn’t have a copy of Baumgardner’s new book, that was a sign that I was not the intended audience for their otherwise awesome choices. Which would be sad, and a little strange given how much money I’ve spent there over the years. Were there really more transgendered people than people who were interested in bisexuality? Or was it a function of something else?

Luckily, it turns out that I’m just a bit of an idiot when it comes to book shopping. I’ve bought so much stuff online that it no longer occurs to me to check the new books section for, well, new books.

Right. So. Shiny purchases in hand (Anthony Rapp’s autobiography, a collection of mid-19th century Great Lakes stories, Ed’s top book of 2005, and the aforementioned Look Both Ways) I bid adieu to Boystown and headed off to find a restaurant. With coffee. And a lack of tourists.

And sat down to read and think about the spaces that are left out of politics and feminism and queer theory and any number of things that are supposed to be inclusive but which, in many ways, aren’t. It shouldn’t be so easy for me to mess with the assumptions of the guy sitting next to me on a plane, because the connections between “bisexual” and “slut” are unwarranted and yet ubiquitous. The flag on my laptop shouldn’t lead to rolled eyes and snide comments about growing out of it. My wedding ring shouldn’t dictate whether I’m really queer. I didn’t check my sexual preferences at the altar, any more than I discarded my education or my gender.

And yeah, maybe sexuality isn’t political, maybe it’s something private. But I get so tired of coding my beliefs to fit the assumptions of the people around me. I get tired of doing work that isn’t part of mainstream IR, and having to look for panels that stretch the boundaries of what is considered academic, only to have them canceled without notice—in this case, replacing queer theory with the vaguely interesting issue of activism and academia, and whether the two are mutually exclusive.

(I also get tired of the disciplinary actions of those who attend conferences, but that’s a rant for another post. Let’s just say that, if you’re going to intentionally refuse to make introductions or allow conversations, it’s nice to make some sort of effort to disguise it. Seriously. If I can tell I’m being excluded, than it’s probably passed the line from obvious to downright rude. And I wouldn’t care, except that the assumption of the other people in the conversation is that there’s a reason for it. And that reason is either that there’s something wrong with me, or that you’re a dick.

Either way, it reflects rather badly on both of us.)

Anyway. Baumgardner’s book is angry, and funny, and thoughtful, and owes a lot to another book I purchased this weekend—Anecdotal Theory—and it pisses me off. It makes me absolutely furious that every other sexual orientation is decided based on the stated preferences of the people involved, while bisexuals are determined by the orientation of their partners. It annoys me that my experiences are, from the stories that she shares, the norm rather than the exception.

And it makes me sad that feminism, which is such a big part of my identity and of the things that I’ve been able to accomplish and the spaces that have been open to me, has no real way to deal with this. That in some ways, feminism doesn’t solve much of my real issue with the world that I live in, which is that so much of who I am and what I believe to be true is located *between* the places that people (or women, or theorists) are allowed to reside.

The more I think about it, the less surprised I am that campus, and conferences, and academia in general are uncomfortable spaces for me. Of course they’re uncomfortable. I don’t fit into any of the slots that have been created for me, and until I decide whether I’m willing to change what I do and who I am to fit, I’m bound to experience some cognitive dissonance.

And I suspect that I’m beginning to feel the same way about feminism. That the wide open spaces I thought I saw aren’t really open or all that wide. And that’s both a failing of feminism and an understandable result of the ways in which women have been only partially successful in creating spaces and equalities. It’s another place to seek change, a place that is ignored and glossed over and denied space for speech. It’s a case of feminism (perhaps with some reason) acting in ways that it accuses the patriarchal system of behaving, and it’s something that, for all today is meant to celebrate women, needs to be talked about.


At 3/09/2007 9:43 AM, Anonymous serena said...

I hesitate to comment here about female nature as I have seen it play out...but I will.

I think those gaps and discrepancies you see in feminism have a lot to do with how women have evolved within the patriarchy...so as to become judgmental and exclusionary of people/things they do not understand or agree with. When one sees most things as a threat to the celebration of feminity, I think it gets harder to become inclusive rather than exclusionary...this is the problem with many ideologies and theories even when they hope to create equality and inclusion.

Have you checked out ecofeminism? If not I can suggest some good reads there, though you have to broaden your application of the theories and ideas presented. I have used it mainly as a basis of thought to build a life practice around for some time.

I'm not sure any of this helps or even applies, but I tried.

At 3/09/2007 6:38 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I am familiar with ecofeminism--it has some interesting things to say, although the insistence on linking women to nature tends to bother me. And I don't know that I'm necessarily seeking a real answer to the problem. Just throwing it out there *as* a problem, as something that even radical feminism tends to ignore in favor of women-centered arguments about sexuality.

At 3/10/2007 8:01 AM, Anonymous serena said...

I figured that. I think that it is a problem with just about any theory or school of thought, however. I don't see any really all-inclusive theories out there.

I think it becomes inclusive only when those subscribing to the theories as ways to live apply them in that way. I guess that's the gist of my point. :)


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