Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rejecting normalacy and objectivity in feminist writing

Objectivity is a keystone of journalism that extends to institutions like Wikipedia; the idea that we can somehow remove our selves from the things we think about and the contexts we exist is a bizarre USian fantasy akin to the classist racist American dream. It has its unpragmatic value: it hopes that just the facts will be enough, and that those recording those facts will report them without considering themselves, focusing on only the subject at hand.

But for my writing, commenting, and reporting? Objectivity and neutrality are not constructive mantras. I am a feminist writer, and I am not here to give my readers the party line: I am not here to give them the objective and irredeemably kyriarchal point of view. Instead, I focus on giving people basic facts and then making it clear what I think about it. I try to make my perspective, my biases, my point of view crystal clear - not obscured.

Objectivity is functionally a way to reflect and uphold and insist upon what is normal and okay and what is excluded: what is not normal and not okay. There are too many facts about any given situation to be able to divine a clear and central set of descriptions and explanations in any depth. And even then, seemingly small things like pronouns can betray a supposedly objective point of view.

Worship of objectivity shores up our idealization of what is normal, for normalcy often represents antifeminist points of view. When navigating the combustible waters of social justice, normal is a term tainted beyond any utility. In a world where some bodies are less and other bodies more, where bodies can be wrong and right, normal implies an objective standard that all other bodies must live up to.


Normal is perhaps not a necessarily oppressive rhetorical term. In non-political, humorous, or other less than explosive genres of writing, it's neutral by nature: all it means is regular. Standard. Unthreatening.

Normal as a concept is one that I put to great use in negotiating my own body. Having an idea of what is normal, what is usual for me helps me create peace and calm with myself and my body. The weight at which I feel most comfortable, at which I feel normal, is not normal according to BMI standards. My periods, too, have become normal in their inconsistency. Whereas most menstruating folks have fairly regular cycles that last about 28 days, all I know about my cycle is that it will usually but not at all always be longer than 35 days and completely irregular. Though this departure from the normal period was a little disconcerting in my first few years of bleeding and anxious after I got regularly sexually active, once I got to know my cycle my own norms became apparent, and comfortable.

But in most cases, normal is used to reinforce what we are taught by the kyriarchy: that we are somehow not measuring up, that we are mediocre, that we are too much, that we deserved it. Normal creates false ideals: points that if we can just manage to hit, we'll get it right, we'll get all the benefits of kyriarchy and win the whole damn game. But it's a rigged system; hitting those preordained marks comes at a great personal cost because few people are made or allowed access to the tools to comfortably hit all those marks.

Normalization is a form of oppression that reaches into just about every branch I experience: age (when should I get married? am I too young? when will I get mine and start earning significantly above the poverty level) fatness (how fat is too fat, am I the right kind of fat, why aren't my boobs bigger, why do I have these rolls) sex (I should have had sex earlier, am I not a feminist if I like this kind of sex), presentation (this skirt is too short this skirt is too short). Normalacy is the creator of wants inside us that declare too much! or too little! It is the concept that makes us feel less than adequate, or too adequate, or just plain not quite right. It creates internalization by making us believe that we too will grow up to live up to these arbitrary measures (and if we don't, we're failures, too).

Our experience and education, kyriarchal or otherwise, seeps into and colors our every adjective, pronoun, article. These oversights in the name of avoiding bias, in the name of being neutral and objective, of not hurting anyone, of being ...appropriate, are the doers of evil. Truth is individually experienced; relying on such subjective measures as "normal" reinforces hierarchies of bodies. As a writer, I try to look directly at that which misinforms me rather than continuing to ignore it.


  1. In my opinion, neutrality always favors power - and thus oppression - as it always fails to critique it. It in fact exalts that failure to critique as a virtue.

    So suck it, neutrality. I don't like you.

  2. "So suck it, neutrality. I don't like you."

    New motto!

  3. Rachel! This is going to be random (though no really) but I love love LOVE how deep and considerate and thoughtful each and every one of your posts are. It's really refreshing and this post is no different. And this "Normalacy is the creator of wants inside us that declare too much! or too little!" is very true! Which is common sense really, I love how you make me REALIZE what I'm thinking!


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