Jenn’s Sunday Sermon – Feminist Edition
What is a feminist?
The answer changes from person to person. The MRA’s tell us women are out to dominate the world and reduce men to babbling pink and lavender shells of their former selves. There are women, like Phyllis Schafly, who have made careers out of telling other women not to have careers – but don’t anyone think about telling them to get back to the kitchen. There are patriarchy-haters who see anything associated with men, marriage, and/or children as evil. There are feminist-haters who see all change and progress after the 1950’s to be evil.
So, what exactly is feminism? What separates a “feminazi” from a “feminist”? Who draws those lines that say “this” is okay, but “that” isn’t, and “that one” is in the murky gray area?
The problem is the lines change depending on who’s drawing them.
Conservatives drive me batty because every single line they draw is contradicted by another line they draw.
You have those who say women shouldn’t work, that they should get married, stay home, raise their children. But, show a woman who does that and needs the help of a government program – SCHIP, for example – and suddenly she’s drawing fire for spending time at home.
That’s just one example, but it applies to nearly everything “they” believe about what women “should do.” If you’re well-to-do or even wealthy because of your educational and career choices, then your ass belongs at home raising and nurturing your children. If you’re poor because of a lack of skills or lack of jobs above minimum-wage, then your ass belongs in the workforce.
Except, it’s not that simple, because some study is going to come out showing children of fulfilled career mothers do better in school or something, and then another will come out that says children whose mothers work have lower self-esteem or something, and then another comes out that says children do better in school if their mothers stay home and teach them happy little songs, and then another comes out…. Well, you know the drill. No choice we make is ever going to be the right one.
And that’s just the motherhood example. The “debate” between those who are childless by choice and those who choose motherhood (or had it chosen for them by failures in birth control, etc) can be even more vicious, but trust me, there is so-called “debate” over every possible choice a woman could possibly make about her life.
So, you’re asking, what do I call a feminist?
For me, feminism is a movement that expresses the belief that women are entitled to equality in everything. Not that we should be the dominant gender. Not that we should be entitled to more than our share. I don’t believe men are inferior to women, but I don’t believe they’re superior, either.
Feminists like myself believe that women are entitled to make their own choices based on their own circumstances, needs, and desires, that the choices we make are equally valid and should be as respected as those made by anyone else.
We believe that we should be paid the same as a man for identical work, that we are just as capable as men of making our own decisions, and, above all, that there is no job, no career-choice that should be “males-only.”
The biggest obstacle to equality, however, is not just men, it’s other women.
We are mean to each other, ladies. Stay-at-home moms against career moms. Higher-income versus low-income. Married women against single women. City versus suburban versus rural. Moms versus the childless-by-choice. And every variation in between.
And worse than being mean, too many of us like tearing our sisters down. If one of us accomplishes something special, extraordinary even, there are women lining up to explain why it doesn’t make her special and, in fact, proves she’s a bad mother/bad wife/bad worker/bad human being. We have some sort of internal wiring that makes us say, “I can’t do that, so she shouldn’t have either.”
Ever watch Mean Girls? Once you get past the wonder that is Lindsey Lohan’s hideously-orange drug/alcohol-puffed face – and the fact that Rachel McAdams is 10 years older than her Queen Bee character, Regina – there is an actual message: in GirlWorld (and WomanWorld as well) being “better than” is all that matters.
We call each other sluts and whores and bitches. We criticize someone’s looks, their weight, their choice of clothing, the amount of makeup they wear, where they shop, who they associate with. We question each other’s perfectly-valid decisions and judgments.
We’re critical, and judgmental, and so smugly certain of our rightness. And whatever criteria defines our acceptance or tolerance is based on how much the “other” is “like us.”
Don’t believe me?
Take Hillary Rodham Clinton, for one example. (And this is not an endorsement.) First woman to be a strong contender for the Presidency. Disagreement with her politics and policy positions, her votes in the Senate, and her campaign donors would be perfectly acceptable.
Instead, we get constant barrages from “news” personalities talking about Mrs. Clinton’s marriage.** She’s been called a bitch, a lesbian, a frigid cunt. Adjectives like domineering and and controlling and ambitious (with the negative connotation) are used almost constantly. Her hairstyles and clothing choices are attacked often. Unflattering photos are distributed far and wide.
Or Elizabeth Edwards. She and her husband, married twenty-some years, make a decision – together – to continue his campaign for Presidency, to continue fighting against the “Two Americas” despite her diagnosis, and what happens? The concern-trolling. The talking heads “debating” whether or not she should just go home and wait to die. (They don’t say that, but that’s what they mean.) The talk of her two small children and if she isn’t being “selfish” by staying on the campaign trail.
An example from the other side would be Ann Coulter, who’s supposed “mannish” looks are fodder for jokes about transvestism and transgender, rape, and subjugation.
Here’s another example, this time someone not in the political arena:
A British woman wins the New York Marathon just 9 months after giving birth. And what’s the headline at MSNBC?
For bleary-eyed new moms, the image of Paula Radcliffe celebrating her astonishing New York marathon victory just nine months after giving birth is more than slightly surreal.
Nine months after having a child – and 14-15 months after she started showing – this woman is lean, fit, and ran 26.2 miles and won a frickin’ marathon. That isn’t surreal. It’s awesome!
I clicked on the headline, wondering what the hell the debate could be, and gee whiz – turns out there’s people debating how healthy exercise is for pregnant women and how much exercise is too much.
Radcliffe’s triumph Sunday, running 26.2 miles in two hours, 23 minutes just 291 days after childbirth, inspires equal amounts of awe and envy. But it also highlights a medical debate about just how gung-ho women should be about exercise during pregnancy and afterward
Some doctors believe women used to rigorous exercise can continue it at least early in pregnancy and resume soon afterward, but that this is not the time for inactive women to suddenly decide they want to try a marathon. Their advice is often that it’s OK to continue what you’re used to, but don’t push it.
Other doctors are “pretty nervous about women exercising during pregnancy” and advise against, said Dr. Linda Szymanski, a Johns Hopkins obstetrician and exercise specialist.
It goes on, with comments from a couple of mothers – a woman who jogged several times a week before pregnancy and can’t imagine even running on a treadmill within weeks of giving birth, and a blogger who jokes (I hope) that “It’s been 3,285 days since I last gave birth and I get winded just walking to the refrigerator.” There is a quote from a doctor who mentions pregnancy brings about changes that can both help and hinder athletes.
Then it mentions that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology discourages women from “bouncy or high-impact” workouts during pregnancy and to go easy after giving birth because one isn’t immediately back to their pre-pregnancy body afterward.
The group says some lower-impact activities are generally safe during pregnancy, even for beginners, including swimming and walking. Marathon running isn’t listed. [my emphasis]
How … snide. She didn’t run the marathon while pregnant, you morons!
The problem here isn’t just what we women do to one another. It’s how the things we do and say to one another gives men the leeway to do the same.
Threats, intimidation, name-calling, treating us as children incapable of rational thought, etc., in place of actual debate and discussion? It doesn’t stop until we stop doing it to each other first.
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** Here again – the contradictions of the conservatives: Most conservatives like to talk about the “sanctity” of marriage and blame lax divorce laws for the failure of Americans to stay put. Unless, of course, that woman is Hillary Clinton, who learned of her husband’s infidelity and, after much prayer, counseling, and soul-searching, decided to stay with her husband. Then, of course, that’s the only thing worth discussing, based on our “news” media’s obsession with their marriage.
Conservatives believe in that “till death do we part” stuff … unless it’s their own life. Rudy Guiliani is on marriage number three, while Fred Thompson, and John McCain are both on marriage number two.