Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Sex, Class, and Occupy Wall Street   19 comments

I’ve been following the Occupy movement with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s the first thing in a very long time that’s given me any hope for this country. It’s high time that we start focusing on economic injustice and the damage done by the greed of the mega rich and the corruption of those who do their bidding. The system is badly broken, as evidenced by the fact that politicians of both major parties are talking austerity and cuts to safety net programs at a time of record unemployment, growing poverty, and economic inequality comparable to the developing world. Clearly there’s a desperate need for a movement that raises awareness of the class war the wealthy have been waging on the rest of us.

Which brings me to my first issue with Occupy Wall Street. Who exactly are “the rest of us”? From a branding perspective, the 99% versus the 1% is very appealing. But is it accurate? Clearly not. If your household income is half a million a year, I’d say the system has been working very well for you. You may even be part of the problem if you outsource jobs or pay workers less than a living wage. But you’re still part of the 99%.

At the same time, “the 99%” has become synonymous with the downtrodden, debt-ridden, and dispossessed. I remember a Tumblr entry written from the perspective of a small child who’d witnessed her mom cry because she was unable to buy her kid a birthday present. It ended with the words, “My mom doesn’t know that I know we’re part of the 99%.” Huh? The mom doesn’t realize her kid knows she makes less than $590,000 a year? No wonder people are confused. I’ve seen numerous blog posts and comments by individuals with low six-figure incomes stating that they “stand with the 99%.” No, actually, if you have a low six-figure income, you are the 99%. In fact, if your household income totals $190,000, it could triple and you would still be part of the 99%.

So. Not very useful, is it? The bottom 90%, on the other hand, have an average household income of $31,244, which is probably more like what people have in mind when discussing the economic difficulties experienced by “the 99%.”
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Uber-Privileged Feminists Say “F*ck You!” to Low Income Women   4 comments

And to lesbians and to immigrant women and really to anyone who isn’t wealthy, straight, white, and preferably male and Christian. Because that’s what you’re doing when you’re supporting the presidential aspirations of anti-feminist wingnut Michele “Kill the Poor” Bachmann. And yes, The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women’s activist group, is actually urging women to vote for Bachmann, or Palin, should she throw her hat in the ring.

For those not familiar with this organization’s history, The New Agenda was founded by former Wall Street executive Amy Siskind in the aftermath of the 2008 election. Siskind, a longtime Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary and, like many of us, was appalled by the sexist treatment of first Clinton, then Palin. And so The New Agenda was created to combat sexism and elect more women to political office. Laudable objectives to be sure, except for one thing: The politics of the women they champion appear to be irrelevant; simply being equipped with a vagina is all it takes to win the support of The New Agenda.

As a result, Siskind’s organization routinely supports conservative candidates whose policies do enormous harm to huge segments of the female population. Such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who championed the nation’s toughest photo ID law in an effort to disenfranchise low income voters (who tend to vote Democratic). Cheering on Bachmann, however, is a little surprising, even for The New Agenda.

For one, Bachmann is an outspoken anti-feminist who believes wives must obey their husbands. But no worries! Siskind explains that while Bachmann may not be a feminist, she’s definitely “pro-woman”! In fact, feminism is kinda passé; the new “pro-woman” movement is where it’s at!
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The Sheltered Middle Class and Upper Class View of Acquaintance Rape   8 comments

So British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has gotten himself immersed in some hot water by suggesting that “date rape” is different from “serious rape.” The truth, of course, is that he was merely saying out loud what many people continue to believe: Serious rapes are stranger rapes; when the victim knows the perpetrator in some capacity, that automatically makes the rape less serious.

Even feminists are not always immune to the misconception that stranger rapes and acquaintance rapes are fundamentally different. I’ve seen feminist bloggers conflate date rape and non-forcible rape and claim that acquaintance rapists lack “any obvious malicious intent.” And then there was the argument I got into with a couple of self-identified feminists on another blog who felt very strongly that a rapist’s relationship to the victim provides meaningful information about how dangerous he is and the “severity” of the rape, by which they meant the level of violence used, the injuries inflicted on the victim, and the likelihood of the victim being tortured (aside from the rape itself) or killed. They argued that stranger rapists are more dangerous and stranger rapes more serious and that feminists who insist on treating stranger rapes no different from acquaintance rapes are doing women a disservice. Because, you see, the reason the “most dangerous rapists” aren’t getting longer prison sentences is that misguided feminists have convinced the public that all rapes are the same and stranger rapes are no more serious than acquaintance rapes. And that’s obviously very bad because everyone knows that acquaintance rape isn’t very serious at all.

Of course there can be aggravating factors in rape just like in other felonies. What that usually means in the context of rape is the commission of other crimes, so it’s not so much that one act of rape is “worse” than another, but that some rape victims suffer additional violations such as kidnapping, imprisonment, drugging, battery, torture, mutilation, death threats, and death. Multiple rapes and multiple assailants obviously also count as aggravating factors.

Where people routinely go wrong is in assuming that:

  1. The presence of aggravating factors–particularly severe violence–is limited to or found largely in stranger rapes.
  2. The absence of aggravating factors–particularly severe violence–automatically makes rape less traumatic for the victim.

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What Kids Learn When They Don’t Learn About Patriarchy   2 comments

“Boys and girls are equals,” we tell kids, and then we send them to school to learn about presidents and emperors and generals and religious leaders and explorers and astronauts and civil rights activists and revolutionaries and judges and scientists and inventors and philosophers and composers and painters and sculptors and poets and novelists–almost all of whom were men. Of course kids can’t help but wonder how it is that men achieved so much and women so little. Did women try to accomplish great things as much as men but weren’t smart enough, talented enough, driven enough, strong enough, good enough? Or perhaps women were perfectly content to be wives and mothers because women are meant to raise sons and support husbands who do great, important things instead of doing great, important things themselves?

If we don’t teach kids the truth about our history, those are the type of conclusions they’ll draw. The truth, of course, is that for thousands of years, women were chattel. A girl was her father’s property from birth. When she reached a certain age, she was given or sold to another man in an arrangement called marriage. Her purpose in life was to serve her family (first her father’s, then her husband’s) and bear her husband’s–preferably male–children. She had no choice in the matter, and her owner/husband was socially and legally empowered to beat and rape her if she disobeyed his orders or attempted to resist his sexual advances. Even murder was often permissible, particularly if her husband could argue convincingly that she was an adulteress.

Unlike boys, girls were not raised to be individuals with interests and aspirations of their own. The goals of a woman’s father or husband became her goals. The traits valued in men–intellect, creativity, curiosity, leadership, courage, ambition, self-determination, individuality, independence, and so on–weren’t valued in women. A woman’s life revolved around serving her family–particularly its male members–and her value was in her sexual attractiveness and reproductive capacity. The “good woman” was obedient, nurturing, chaste, and above all, selfless. Women had no access to political power (including voting rights), higher education (go back far enough and most women were deprived of even an elementary education), the marketplace (outside of prostitution and a few low status, low pay positions), or the world of ideas (not only were women considered incapable of all but the most rudimentary logical and analytical reasoning, but depending on the time period, women who dared to challenge the status quo ran the risk of being shunned, killed, or institutionalized and lobotomized). A woman wasn’t able to sign contracts or own property because she was property. A crime against her was literally considered a crime against the man who owned her–her father if she was unmarried or her husband if she was married.
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Why I Despise Gender Essentialism (Part 1)   3 comments

Let’s cut to the chase: I abhor gender essentialism and not just in the abstract sense that this stuff hurts women as a class (though it does and that would certainly be reason enough to detest this type of biological determinism). My reasons, however, are personal as much as they are political. My life has been marred by extreme violence and abuse, body image issues, anorexia, addiction, and severe depression. I spent much of my teen years hating myself and wanting to die. But it wasn’t always like that. As a little girl, I was an entirely different person. Happy, confident, curious, a natural leader. What happened, you ask? Gender happened. Specifically, being forced into the female gender role. You know, the one that should have come naturally, given that I was born female and all.

In this post and the next, I’ll be discussing gender essentialism–the belief that women are one way and men are another way and these differences are the result of biology, not socialization–and the damage done to girls when they are forced into the female gender straightjacket. Unfortunately proponents of gender essentialism are everywhere. And it’s not just conservatives, MRAs and evo psych adherents (lots of overlap there) who believe that men and women are inherently different due to biologically determined gender roles. Recently I’ve come across several self-described feminists and feminist allies seemingly invested in denying that gender is a social construct. My guess is that most people believe, more or less strongly, that at least some gender differences (not to be confused with sex differences though they frequently are) are innate. This is very much the mainstream view, which is why it’s so annoying when those who subscribe to it pretend they’re courageously speaking an unpopular truth that some of us ladies just don’t want to accept.

And why would women be particularly reluctant to accept an essentialist view of gender? Duh! Because while the gender binary is limiting for men as well, in a patriarchal society (and which society isn’t?) it’s far more limiting for women. Gender essentialism has been used to advocate, explain, and excuse the oppression of women for eons, what with us being “naturally” passive, submissive, emotional, illogical, helpless, nurturing, self-sacrificing, dependent, peace-loving, and all that.
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About Those Oppression Olympics   4 comments

The term “Oppression Olympics” refers to the claim that the oppression faced by one group of marginalized people is somehow worse than the oppression faced by another group. Competing to see who’s more oppressed is rightly viewed as counterproductive and a derailing tactic in social justice activism. Aside from the general futility of such arguments, competitors in the Oppression Olympics ignore the reality that many people face intersecting oppressions. Therefore it’s far more helpful to think of individuals as privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, rather than attempt to create a hierarchy of oppression in which the most oppressed is considered the winner.

One thing I’ve noticed is that feminists are more likely than other social justice activists to call each other out for “engaging in Oppression Olympics.” However, most of the people called out for this offense aren’t saying sexism is worse than other *isms. What they are usually saying is that sexism is considered more normal and acceptable than some other types of bigotry. Simply pointing to the success of another social justice movement and asking, “How can we learn from that?” is enough to get feminists accused of playing Oppression Olympics (interestingly, several of the commenters in the Feministe thread making the Oppression Olympics charge are serious competitors in the games themselves).

As I’ve mentioned before, the male hosts of our local radio station’s morning show are unabashedly sexist. In fact, that’s true for the hosts of every single morning radio show I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing. They may very well be racist too. I suspect that they are. But they know better than to make racist jokes on the air. Not because racism is a thing of the past, but because the anti-racism movement has succeeded in making racist on-air pronouncements more or less unacceptable. I’ve noticed the same thing slowly starting to happen with anti-gay jokes, thanks to the work we’ve been doing in the LGBTQ rights movement. Sexist and misogynist jokes, however, remain as acceptable and noncontroversial as ever. But we’re not supposed to talk about that? Or we can talk about it only if we neglect to look at other social justice movements that have been more successful to see what we can learn from them? No wonder we’re not making more headway.
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Blonde Privilege My Ass   2 comments

I just learned about a new privilege I have: blonde privilege (no, I ain’t linking that crap; go Google if you must). It’s true; my hair is naturally blonde. Light blonde even. Now let me tell you how great it was to grow up with all that blonde privilege.

First, there was the steady flow of dumb blonde jokes ranging from the idiotically sexist to the viciously misogynistic with such hilarious punchlines as the one about women who look like me being too dumb to know when we’re being raped. I know, right? That’s a real thigh-slapper. Particularly when told to a girl who’s both blonde and a rape victim. Hearing that shit on the radio or TV was bad enough, but it was even worse when people I knew, supposed friends even, told such “jokes” right in front of me, expecting me to do what? Laugh?

Then there were the wonderful assumptions many people routinely made about my intelligence and supposed shallowness. Not only was I often presumed to be dumb unless and until I repeatedly provided evidence to the contrary, but lots of people also figured I had neither knowledge of, nor interest in “serious” stuff like politics, law, environmentalism, and social justice movements. Because everyone knows that girls who look like me are airheads who are all about fashion and guys and parties and shopping.

Another huge advantage of being blonde was the type of guys I attracted. Thank goddess I have small breasts or I would have hit the trifecta. Still, talk about being a magnet for the biggest assholes around, the type of guys who think of their girlfriends as trophies. When I was too young to know better, I actually dated a couple of guys who introduced me to their friends like a prized possession while I stood there wishing the earth would swallow me. Meanwhile the progressive and alternative dudes I was interested in thought they were “protesting” mainstream culture with its constant messages that all guys prefer blondes by NOT being into blondes. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized any guy who thought a woman’s hair color was this important wasn’t worth my time.
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