I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying – trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is stand on the moral high ground.
“So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
I fucking love Tina Fey.
Are we surprised?
“This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal. When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a women helps, we feel less indebted. She’s communal, right? She wants to be a team player. The reverse is also true. When a women declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is “busy”; a women is “selfish.””
This article from The New York Times is fascinating, as it takes a look at why American women often don’t re-enter the workforce right away after having children.
…a lack of family-friendly policies also appears to have contributed to the lower rate [of joblessness among women]. In a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of nonworking adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States, conducted last month, 61 percent of women said family responsibilities were a reason they weren’t working, compared with 37 percent of men. Of women who identify as homemakers and have not looked for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters said they would consider going back if a job offered flexible hours or allowed them to work from home.
For many women with children, it seems, the decision about work involves weighing a particularly complex set of benefits and drawbacks. And often the challenge is insurmountable in part because there is a dearth of programs and policies in the United States to support women in their prime career and childbearing years. In Europe, meanwhile, such policies have continued to expand and evolve in recent years. They include subsidized child care, generous parental leaves and taxation of individuals instead of families, which encourages women’s employment. Social acceptance of working motherhood has also made a difference in countries like France, where the birthrate has risen even as more women enter the work force.
But perhaps here’s a reason:
But some attitudes in the United States have also stalled since the feminist revolution. A Pew Research Center survey from 2007 reported that 41 percent of adults say it is bad for society when mothers with young children work and just 22 percent say it is good. A recent Harvard Business School study found that among its graduates in their 20s, men expected that their careers would be more important than their wives’ and that they would do less child care, while women expected equality. Because of these conflicting attitudes, women sometimes feel unable to work even if they want to.
Certainly makes me nervous about starting a family, while at the same time, acknowledging the fact that I – as a person, and a woman – derive real satisfaction from working outside the home. For more on my thoughts on this issue, check out my review for Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?
Everyone’s been talking about the Jezebel piece, where a woman walked around New York for 10 hours and recorded how men talked to her. Then, a few days ago, one of my Facebook friends posted this article from Bustle, describing six things you might not consider harassment, but really are.
It’s no secret I’m a feminist, though I normally don’t go around marching, protesting, and generally making a big deal of it. I’ve also been lucky enough to avoid any serious harassment during my 28 years as a female. However, one of these items touched a real nerve with me, and brought me back, in fact, to just a few weeks ago.
First of all, what Bustle says about telling a woman to smile:
Men often think they’re doing you a favor by telling a woman to “smile” in the street. But guess what? A woman can do anything she well pleases with her facial expression, whenever she wants. Women NEVER tell other women to smile in the street. They never tell men to do it either. That’s because there’s an inherent dynamic within our culture that (even subconsciously) makes men believe:
- A woman’s autonomy exists only in so far as she is pleasing to male proclivities, at which point…
- …as the ultimate owner of the female body, the man is within his rights to dictate to her how she should be conducting herself within it.
Because of this dynamic, being told simply to “smile” is harassment that reinforces this anachronistic power structure, leading women to feel out of control, and potentially in danger.
A few weeks ago, I was walking on my university campus and some guy leaning against a nearby building told me to “Smile, baby!” At the time, I just smiled and walked on by. I didn’t really think much of it, other than it was kind of funny. Later that night, at roller derby practice, I told my teammates about the incident and joked that he obviously had a problem with my resting bitch face.
But the incident continued to bother me, and I didn’t realize why until I read this article. Smiling obviously makes you appear more attractive, however, as a woman, I am in no way obligated to appear attractive or pretty for anyone – especially a stranger on the street. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean that I have to go about my day, performing and pretending to be happy and smile-y, if only so other people will find me pretty. I am a human being, and I am allowed to have all kinds of emotions at any given moment, including when I’m walking down the street. Maybe I was pissed off that day. Maybe I was lost in thought. Maybe it was just a Tuesday at 5 p.m. and I was f*cking tired and wanted to get home.
I know the guy wasn’t “coming on” to me in any dangerous way. I did not feel in danger at the time. However, had I responded to this dude with the above response, I would probably be in danger of putting myself in a potentially threatening situation, which is just ridiculous. Defending yourself and your ability to walk down the road, un-bothered, can be dangerous for a woman. THAT is the sad state of affairs that the Jezebel piece hopes to point out.
Now to think up a good response the next time a guy tell me to smile. Or a car full of dudes honks at me for 10 seconds at an intersection (which also happened relatively recently). … I wish I knew the answer, frankly. But this resting bitch face ain’t going away, I know that much.
Please read this report on decades’ worth of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column from Ladies Home Journal, in which the author reveals jaw-dropping marital advice from the 1950’s-60’s (“Your husband is hitting you? Shut up so that you don’t provoke his temper!”). Seriously, if you don’t understand why feminism happened, then you don’t understand the blatent, and frankly disgusting, sexist standards American women were forced to live with during the 1950’s and 60’s. Then tell me that you want to return to the 1950’s. No thank you.
And if you think we have nothing to worry about now…well, you’re also wrong:
Of course, there are corners of US culture where being a so-called ‘surrendered wife’ is still a desirable goal. Socially conservative marriage commentators such as the evangelical Christian psychologist James Dobson of Focus on the Family and the US talk radio host Laura Schlessinger, continue to counsel wives to leave their desire for control behind in order to have happier marriages.
Why Have Kids?
A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness
By Jessica Valenti
- Date finished: Aug. 28, 2014
- Genre: Parenting, Feminism
- Year: 2012
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Summer 2014
- Grade: A+
- Thoughts upon reading:
You know, I haven’t given too many books an A+ grade this year, but even though Why Have Kids? seems like it would be your typical “flavor of the month”-type book, I really feel like Valenti deserves it.
I heard about this book around the time it came out, and at some point, wrote it down as one of those nonfiction books I really wanted to read. And so, when I was making my fall reading list a few weeks ago and looking for some other books to round out my summer, I thought, “Why not?”
Now, this book was short and I read it pretty quickly. I should probably re-read it, especially so I can let Valenti’s arguments sink in a little further. But I knew this was a great book when I felt moved about halfway through to send my best friend a message, urging her to read this book. I also had a long and surprising conversation with my younger brother about this book, which was a little weird but then not, because gosh darn it, all I wanted to do during that week was talk about this book! Over and over again!
This book is about pretty much what you think it would be: a discussion of why we – as modern, American women – are having kids in 2014. It’s about the gendered and political expectations surrounding motherhood and parenthood. It’s about the myths that surround this expected rite of passage for most heterosexual married couples, from “maternal instincts” to whether children actually make us happier. It’s about what happens when a women decides she doesn’t want kids, or doesn’t want them when most other women want them – how this makes her “unnatural” and deserving of every rude comment you can possibly think of.
It’s a very interesting, and very, very, very good book. OK, maybe it’s not for everyone, and I’m not going to say that this a blanket recommendation. But as a young woman about to turn 28 (!) in a few weeks, whose been married for almost two years now, and whose friends are popping out babies all over the damn place … it was very, very, very relevant to my life. This book was full of what’s been on my mind for years now, and it was so relieving to find someone else who was able to hold this kind of discussion, not to mention in such a fearless fashion.
When I did recommend this book to my friend, I did feel the need to warn her that Valenti is a Feminist with a capital “F”, since I wasn’t exactly sure how she felt about the whole feminist movement, and whether that would distract her from the book’s overall message. I definitely didn’t have a problem with it. Ever since I read The Feminist Mystique last summer, I’ve done a lot of thinking about gender roles and what is expected of women in our western, Judeo-Christian-based society. While I am pro-choice and do believe women should earn wages equal to men, those are not my battles; my fight I feel, is about gender roles. Who says that, as a woman, this is what’s “expected” of me? Who says my life, and what people believe I’m capable of, should be defined by my ovaries?
Valenti nails this, attacking the ideas that, as women, we are expected to: desire motherhood, quit our jobs to stay home with the kids, be satisfied with earning less money than our husbands, and just “be OK” wiping up spit and doing laundry all day. That’s not to say that, as a woman, you are not allowed to want those things – I’m not on board with the militant feminists who demand that all women, everywhere, should deny feelings like that as unnatural and be men. If being a mother is something you want in your life, then you should be unashamed of that desire. However, I do have a problem with the idea that a) the only people who are capable of having these feelings are women, and b) as a women, it’s unnatural if I don’t feel like this. Why aren’t we constantly asking men: “Why don’t you have any children yet? Don’t you feel the need to be a father?” And why do we – as a society, as women, as mothers – treat each other like absolute crap and lay on the guilt whenever you make an “unnatural” decision regarding womanhood? “Oh, you’re going back to work and sending your baby to daycare? That must be so hard on you. Don’t you want to be home with your child all the time?”
The guilt game that’s unfortunately such a huge part of modern motherhood has also properly scared me about this whole business. Nowadays, you can’t do anything without running up against some new expert, whether it’s a “real” expert (even if what they’re spouting is stupid), as well as the experts we all think we are these days. Valenti has an interesting discussion about how, given all the conflicting new parenting advice that circulates every five minutes, parents are feeling more and more confused, stressed out, and well, like they’re bad parents. Arising from this is the “natural” parenting movement, which instead says that the parents are experts on EVERYTHING when it comes to their children – suggesting, I don’t know, that how to make organic baby food is written in our DNA. Unfortunately, from this you have the nut jobs who are refusing to vaccinate their children because of their poor ability to filter and analyze random information they find on the Internet, which is turning into a bigger problem every day.
Anyway, I can go on and on about this book, which is (again) the reason I gave it such a high grade. I would recommend this book to anyone of procreating age, whether you’re a feminist or not, if only so that you’re forced to think analytically and critically about parenthood. Because for me, that’s what parenting will be: a decision I make with my husband based on facts, taking into considerations the real risks and timing concerns, and not glossing over the hard realities of what parenthood will involve. We are not particularly religious, and so we’re not exactly “called” by any higher power into raising little ones, so that may set us apart from others’ and their lives. But even if you are religious, we all need to be having these discussion. We all need to be questioning things. We all need to realize that it’ OK to fight back against expectations and make decisions that work toward YOUR ultimate health and happiness.
It would also help if we weren’t so uptight about this issue, and would just be a little nicer about it. Geesh.