Saturday, April 3, 2010
So I just started reading Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work is Done by Susan J Douglas, and I can already tell that I am going to love it. It is articulating a lot of my frustration with the way that women are embedded in culture. Female Chauvinist Pigs was a good one that I read a couple years ago, that I think I will find similar themes with this book, but Enlightened Sexism is a lot more holistic.
Enlightened sexism is a manufacturing process that is produced, week in and week out, by the media. Its components--anxiety about female achievement; a renewed and amplified objectification of young women's bodies and faces; the dual exploitation and punishment of female sexuality; the dividing of women against each other by age, race, and class; rampant branding and consumerism--began to swirl in the early 1990s... Some, myself included, have referred to this state of affairs and this kind of media mix as "postfeminist." But I am rejecting this term. It has gotten gummed up by too many conflicting definitions. And besides, this term suggests that somehow feminism is at the root of this when it isn't--it's good, old-fashioned, grade-A sexism that reinforces good, old-fashioned, grade-A patriarchy. It's just much better disguised, in seductive Manolo Blahniks and an Ipex bra (10).
Living in my bubble of liberalism and empowerment, sometimes I forget how the majority of the world is not as educated in the exploitation and inequality of women today.
Here's an example:
On Wednesday I was tabling for the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance in conjunction with "The Clothesline Project," which is a movement to raise awareness about the number of women affected by interpersonal violence/abuse. It's always funny to table FMLA and watch people walk by who are very clearly, visibly sounding out the "Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance" sign in their heads. But while I was there, a guy comes up to the table and asks, "What is the ...Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance?"
Me: The FMLA is the college affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which is a national organization that fights for the equal and civil rights of women--
Him: You think women don't have equal rights?
*Sigh* I wish he had said that sarcastically, but the tone was arrogantly ignorant. When I told my roommate about this later, she said, "You must walk around with a sign on your head that says, 'Ask me stupid questions.'"
Me: Well, women do get paid about 78 cents an hour for every dollar that a man gets... and this is the Clothesline Project, which is raising awareness about the amount of women affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. Each t-shirt color represents a different kind of abuse-- green is incest, red and pink are rape--
Him: What does rape have to do with women's civil rights?
Again, I wish this had been a joke. Unfortunately, he was completely serious. It's not like when other FMLA members come to the table and pretend to not know what feminism is. This young man actually could not see the connection between a woman's right to sovereignty and security of her own body. Which is really not acceptable. So, I tried to explain best I could until his eyes glazed over and he mumbled "Okay," and walked away.
How can a 18-22 year old kid not know about that? How can he be so old and be languishing in that extreme amount of ignorance? But he was. And I can only hope that he walked away from that table somewhat more informed on the reality of women's situations, but... who knows?
The next day I was with some of my male friends before a meeting got started, and they convinced one of them to give me his "talk" on why women are fundamentally subordinate to men.
"Well," he started, "women are not as productive members of society..."
"Oh, keep talking," I said, giving him a look.
"I've never seen him look so terrified in his life!" one of the other guys interjected.
He continued on, stumbling on his words more often than he usually does, while nervously eyeing me. I remained stolidly fixed on him the entire time.
"... and women... are fundamentally less rational than men because they are so emotional... so they cannot be in positions of power," he finished.
"Let me ask you a question," I said. "Do you think that was a rational thing to say? To me?"
He shifted in his seat. "Well," he started, but I interrupted.
"And if I hit you right now," I said, "it's not because I'm emotional, it's because I am aggressive." The other guys cheered. Among them, I get a lot of flak for being a feminist because they think it's funny, even though they are (mostly) feminists themselves. But the reality is that people actually do hold these opinions.
A couple months ago, in the Women's Studies class I am a teaching-assistant in, we were discussing why there weren't more women in positions of power, and one girl raised her hand and said with confidence that she and her dad had talked about that, and she agreed; women get too emotional and irrational during their periods to be trusted with something like running a country. (Never mind that there are and have been several successful female Prime Ministers and Presidents of countries... not in the US--yet.) The professor asked her, "What about a man who hits his wife? Isn't he being emotional? Can't men be overcome with intense, irrational emotions too?"
So, for all that women have achieved towards gaining equality... that's great. But this is definitely no time to be resting on our laurels congratulating ourselves. There are women all over the world who cannot go to school; who don't have access to clean water (read this month's issue of National Geographic!) ; who are forced to leave their home countries to work as domestic workers in rich countries; who cannot realize their full potential because of war, famine or poverty; who choose English as a major instead of math because they think they can't; who have babies too young; and who feel like there aren't other options than the ones that society presents them.
Feminism (the belief that women and girls should be free from any form of degradation or discrimination) is important, and as long as there are women in the world, it will be important. Get over it.