Archive for the ‘Feminism Friday’ Category

yup, late again. *sigh*

there comes a point when a movement for social change questions whether it is wise and/or prudent to continue to work within the mainstream system that they are trying to change. this is a question that I find myself asking all the time in regards to my politics, and more and more I feel like moving into the woods and setting up a little commune like in the movie The Village. this isn’t a new urge. in the 1960s and 70s, separatism within the feminist movement was high – particularly in two areas: non-hetero sexuality, and women’s health.

Lesbian separatist communities were strong in some cities in the 70s. There were lesbian-only workplaces, businesses, housing complexes, bars, clubs, and social circles. The tag line at the time was “Feminism is the theory. Lesbianism is the practice.” And, so I have read, there was a strong tie between lesbian feminism and radical feminism – the idea being that relations between men and women would always already be fraught with sexism, and the only way to avoid such sexist relations was to live a male-free life. And this is where the idea that all feminists are lesbians comes from. This way of life was clearly separatism. Some might say that it didn’t work, because these communities did not get uptake from the dominant system. The dominant class scoffed, turned up their noses, joked about, and largely ignored the lesbian feminist movement. No uptake. I’m not sure I would categorize lesbian separatism as a failure because it was not acknowledged by the dominant class, but there certainly wasn’t uptake involved. I’m not sure how strong lesbian separatism still is, but my hope is that it has survived somehow, somewhere, quietly, and is working out great for those who participate.

The women’s health movement, however, was fairly successful in getting uptake. Tired of medicine – a largely male-run and male-oriented field – telling women about their bodies from an outsider perspective and theorizing about women’s bodies without asking for their input, several collectives of women gathered together and began making their own investigations, their own knowledge, about women’s bodies and women’s health, spawning feminist medical textbooks and illustrations such as Our Bodies, Ourselves, and even performing medical procedures such as abortion, like the Jane collective. Here, however, a major difference occurred between the lesbian feminist separatism movement and the women’s health separatism movement: the women’s health movement genderated knowledge that was given uptake. Eventually, medical illustrations began to become more like the feminist drawings, and women’s experiences with their bodies became seen as a source of (phenomenological) knowledge. It’s still not perfect, of course, but there was some degree of the medical community accepting new information from an alternative location. Win one point for separatism.

And this is kind of how I feel lately. I feel like the only way to get to any kind of objective knowledge is to separate from the dominant class and their system. Because you see, the dominant class has an investment in keeping things the way they are. They like having control over knowledge validation processes, and being able to decide what is and is not “true”. It’s a system that works for them; of course they will defend it. And of course, they will try to subjugate the knowledge of the underclasses any way they can. (right now, I think that this is being accomplished most effectively through the media.) So for me, separatism makes sense. generating knowledge from alternative locations is the way to greater objectivity.

And yet, how realistic is it to accomplish? Is it possible to live outside the dominant system? Can this be done? what about the old postmodern hag, relativism?

see, I think it could be done. I think that separatism, at the very least of ideology and knowledge production, is necessary in order to overthrow the dominant system. And I think this can work for feminists, for people of colour, for the disabled, for LGBT, for the poor. And the common goal, of wishing to overthrow the dominant system, can be a uniting force between and across these arbitrarily drawn lines, the ones created by the dominant class in order to divide and conquer.

this is a bit loosey-goosey, but I’d like to toss it out there for some feedback and thoughts. I’d particularly like to hear from those who are not members of the dominant class and who do not make a practice of defending the dominant system. what do you think?

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Yes, this is late. I was working an 11 hour shift on Friday, and when I got home I basically had a bath and fell asleep in front of the TV.

A recent report estimates stay at home mothers are doing the work of 10 different jobs (housekeeper, cook, day care center teacher, laundry machine operator, van driver, facilities manager, janitor, computer operator, chief executive officer and psychologist), work on average a 92 hour week (that’s 52 hours of overtime), and all this work, if it was paid, would be worth $138,095 USD a year. Women who work outside the home full-time would be paid an extra $85,939 for their domestic labour.

And instead, they are paid $0.

Now, I dunno about all those jobs – some of these (like psychologist, early childhood educator, and CEO) require a lot of formal education that many stay at home moms just don’t have (hat tip: DBB, who has a very different view on this than I do). Some of these I think are pretty accurate: laundry, cook (DBB didn’t like this one because he thinks it’s based on “chef” and that people who cook at restaurants don’t get paid to feed themselves, which is bogus because I know for a fact that many people who work at restaurants eat there for free everyday, sometimes twice a day, and also it really depends where they get their figures for this salary, because not all cooks are chefs with formal culinary training) driving, facilities manager – these all sound about right to me. Also, I think they could have added personal shopper and personal stylist in there, considering that most parents who stay at home end up doing all this sort of work as well.

However, I do want to talk about this a little bit. First of all, the report is framed as “stay at home MOTHERS” rather than “stay at home PARENTS” – which is reflective of reality in the majority of cases but doesn’t exactly help matters. There is nothing about any of these jobs that are gender-specific – just as there is nothing about ANY job that is gender-specific. More men are staying at home with their young children, and that leaves them out of the equation here. But I do wonder if stay at home DADS would be worth more money, seeing as men still get paid more for the same job as women. Just a small, tongue in cheek point, but perhaps one that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Which brings me to my second point: none of these jobs are gender-specific, but many of them, and certainly all of them together under the name “stay at home mother” are naturalized as female jobs. Cooking and cleaning and childcare and laundry are all still seen as women’s work, and the argument is that women are “naturally” better at these things than men, because women have something inherent about them that makes them well-suited to this kind of labour (whether paid or unpaid).


But the main point I want to discuss is how domestic labour, the work of reproduction, is left out of the capitalist economy of production. Production work is the only work that is assigned a value in the capitalist system, but reproduction work is considered to be very different. It is considered to be a duty, an obligation, and thus undeserving of pay – a labour of love. This is work that we are supposed to be happy to do, to be grateful to do, in the name of our families and despite deep personal sacrifice, and doing that work is supposed to be fulfilling in and of itself. Indeed, this is work that is inherent to women, work that women are born to do. And so, many balk at the idea of assigning it a monetary value. That just seems so callous, so “unnatural”. By assigning this loving labour a value, a price, it suggests that perhaps this work is not “natural”, that these workers are not happy and grateful and fulfilled to do it, that perhaps the personal sacrifice is not made willingly.

But, truth be told, this is a heavy expectation. Every job has value to someone, and raising the next generation of people is a pretty important one, I think, on a broad social level. It’s time to start recognizing that mothering is a job, it is work, and it is difficult. Recognizing the “labour” part doesn’t automatically negate the “love” part – it simply gives credit where credit is way overdue.

And so, I support this report, despite my hesitations with a few of the items included. I support it in principle because I do not believe any role should be naturalized, nor should anyone be made to feel like they must play a role to be a “real” woman (or man). This report helps to identify institutionalized gender essentialism, and I’m all for breaking that shit apart.

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Women: the weaker sex.

Ever since I was a child, this phrase rankled me. First of all, are not, I know you are but what am I, I’m rubber and you’re glue, etc. Second of all, why say “weaker” instead of something else, like “gentler” or “peacefuller” or something. Third of all, are not.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a little bit lately, in relation to the whole power in language thing I’ve been talking about. What is “strong”? What is “weak”? Who gets to decide and define these words/concepts? To what advantage? To whose advantage?

Those who like to point out the biological differences between men and women (as if that’s justification for thewidespread social oppression women experience) usually like to point this one out, like it’s a given. Men are stronger than women. Period. Full Stop. Some are a bit more generous and at least point out that men have better upper body strength and women have better lower body strength. But of course, we know what’s valued more highly, even when it’s not said explicitly. Because everything to do with men is valued more highly.

But what is “strong” anyway? It obviously has nothing to do with childbirth (but that wouldn’t be fair to use as a point of comparison, of course, since men can’t do it and we’ll never really know, so they say). And of course there are women out there who are plenty strong, stronger than most men, women who bodybuild and are athletes and things like that. There are women who could kick the ass of just about anyone reading this, male or female. And there are men who are far “weaker” than the “average” woman. But of course, these cases are atypical, so shouldn’t be considered to be counter-examples. We’re talking about the general “truth”, so they say.

Now, regular readers will know that I am obsessed somewhat with social construction theory. So consider this: perhaps women are “weaker” than men because women are socialized to be weaker than men from a very young age. Girls are taught that things like dance and gymnastics are proper ways to express one’s girl-self. Girls are taught that they must keep their movements restricted to avoid opening their legs too far and exposing their private-but-covered-with-underwear va-jay-jays, because girls are dressed quite often in frilly and impractical clothing that they mustn’t ruin. Girls are taught to settle down, don’t be so loud, don’t be so raucous, just sit there quietly, knees together, ankles crossed, hands folded, be demure. Girls are taught that sports are a bit “butchy” and unfeminine. Girls have few female role models to look up to who are professional athletes because not every sport has professional leagues for women or even allow women to participate. Almost all the professional sports teams and leagues are male only, and when women do become wonderful athletes, they don’t get support, they are called derogatory names before a national audience to shame them. Girls are taught not to eat too much, and in families, usually see their fathers and brothers getting larger portions (particularly of meat) than their mothers and sisters. Girls are in a double bind, because they are taught to be concerned about their weight, but also to be restricted in their physical activities, which leaves girls to dieting and eating disorders to keep their weight down – which results in undernourished girls who are, indeed, physically weak.

Then, of course, there’s the whole legacy of ovarian determinism women have to deal with: our wacky hormones make us unpredictable and hysterical and prone to fainting, and our menstrual cycles are controlled by the moon, and what could be crazier than that? Don’t laugh, this was one of the dominant medical discourses that came about around the time of industrialization and caused women to be relegated to the private sphere and not be permitted to participate in public life, after a couple hundred years of agrarian living during which women were pretty heavy labourers and despite the fact that all domestic work fell to women (and we’re not talking about setting up the Roomba and doing some light Swiffer-dusting, we’re talking about carrying huge pots of water for the laundry and scrubbing it by hand, and dragging all the carpets outside to beat them and then dragging them back in again).

So again, what is “strong”? what is “weak”? and how much of it is really biologically driven?

Besides that, if women are really weaker and that is a matter of pure unadulterated biology (although, of course, nothing is unadulterated biology because we always have an interaction of biology and society that transforms the biological through social practice), why should that be a negative thing? Why should (male) strength be more highly valued? Why should it be that “men are strong and women are weak,” instead of “women are not quite as strong”? Why does everything to do with men get higher value, and why does everything have to be “men as a class” compared to “women as a class”?

This is the stuff that drives me: around the bend, as well as to keep on discussing and breaking these false binaries apart. (Sage, how about this as a lesson for your gender and women’s studies class?)

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Did you read this week that so-called “partial birth abortions” have been banned by the US Supreme Court?

Let’s talk about this a bit. “Partial birth abortion” – sounds grotesque, right? Sounds like pulling a baby half out of the birth canal and slitting its throat or something, right? Or perhaps one might picture a baby in the womb being punctured with a sharp object until it is mutilated into a pulpy mass of half-formed flesh?

Notice the difference in how pro-life/anti-choice folks talk about pregnancy vs. how pro-choicers do. For pro-lifers, pregnant woman are carrying babies, little innocent children, people, persons. For pro-choicers, pregnant women carry fetuses – babies only exist outside the womb. This is, of course, the “medically correct” way to talk about pregnancy. Not that that matters one lick to the pro-lifers. Same goes for the actual terminology used to talk about abortion.

See, the truth is, “partial birth abortions” don’t technically exist. It’s a politically, emotionally charged term for a medically necessary procedure that quite often saves women’s lives. Who do you think came up with the term? Not the doctors who perform it, and not the women who have it done.

So, as per usual, power comes into play in the naming of things, in this case, a medical procedure typically performed on women whose lives are at risk. The religious right strikes again in its ongoing efforts to control women’s bodies and women’s rights, force women to carry fetuses that for one reason or another they do not wish to carry, to punish women for getting pregnant and being such sluts to begin with. Let me tell you, late-term abortions are typically only performed when the woman’s life is in jeopardy, and quite often these women are not aborting fetuses that they don’t want, but fetuses that they very much wish they could continue to carry and give birth to and nurture and raise. Other times, late-term abortions are performed for women who did not discover they were pregnant until very late in their pregnancies, and would have terminated earlier if they had only known.

But this is ultimately irrelevant. Women must be able to decide what to do with and what happens to their own bodies. It doesn’t really matter whether they would have aborted sooner if they could have. It doesn’t really matter if they would really rather give birth to their fetus. What matters is, women have the right to decide what happens to their own bodies, and now the options are more limited. Oh but right, “their bodies aren’t just theirs anymore, once they’re pregnant.” Um, yeah, they are. Women’s bodies are still and are always their own bodies, no matter if they are pregnant or not. Do recall, fetuses are parasites who derive all their nutrients from the bodies of their hosts, and quite often pose to their hosts serious health complications and risks. Any woman carrying a fetus is being generous.

so what we’re talking about with this ban is valuing fetal life over women’s lives. Why? Because “fetuses are innocent” and “women have to live with their decisions and be responsible.” Which translates, contra-positively, to “women are guilty and irresponsible.” Which sounds about right, from the righties. So it’s better to ignore the wishes of the women who don’t want to carry fetuses to term for whatever reason (and whatever reason is a good enough reason for me), and the professional opinions of their treating physicians. Because fetuses are innocent. Never mind the complication of original sin, that’s not important in the context of abortion. Because what we’re talking about is how guilty and sinful women are. Right, righties?

So is this all what abortion law will come down to? Who has the power to name, to define, the terms? It seems that way to me. And it comes as no surprise.

For other perspectives on this decision:


and again

and again

Reclusive Leftist

The American Prospect Online

If you read any other posts or articles on this, please leave a comment and I will add the link to this list.

UPDATE:  Just found this post this morning over at Huffington. By Jill of Feministe.

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Hi all –

well, finally finished that final paper. boy, it was really kicking my ass. I got two – count ’em, two – extensions on it. part of the problem was that I already felt like I was finished for the term, since this was my last assignment. anyway, I finally turned it in today, and I feel much better now.

However, I’m not really up to any heavy mental lifting right now. I know, I should be blogging about Don Imus, or the Duke lacrosse case, or about the ridiculousity of the Indian government asking women to detail their menstrual cycles.  But I just can’t right now.

I also realize it’s my first FF post for a few weeks now. which makes me feel guilty – although others have started participating, which totally rocks my world.(Check them out on the sidebar under FF Participants – great posts up this week at Rainbow Girl’s, Unapologetically Female, RiotGrrrl’s, and Canace.) I love it, and I hope others continue to participate. Maybe someone could design a sidebar button or something. That would be great. It can’t be me of course, but if someone else did it I would be totally supportive.

So, instead of the usual kinds of FF posts I write, I thought this week I would write a kind of fluffy post. I watch a lot of TV – when I can – and I have certain shows that I totally can’t miss for anything. Right now, those are Lost, Heroes, Grey’s Anatomy, and 24. I love them. So anyway, being the denizen of pop culture that I am, I thought I’d write about some of the strong women characters on TV, and ask you to share the women characters you find inspiring.

OK, so number one, although she’s not really a character, is Oprah. I can’t help it, no matter the criticism I hear about her, I still think Oprah’s great. She’s so generous – I wish I could be so giving in my own life.

onto the fictional characters…

Sydney Bristow of ALIAS (played by the lovely Jennifer Garner, who I love in everything she’s in) – kicks ass and looks awesome in every weird costume they put her in. I want her muscles!

Brenda Johnson of The Closer (played by Kyra Sedgwick) – she gets what she wants by being the perfect southern belle, which I think is actually rather subversive. Good manners never hurt anyone.

Karen Hayes of 24 (played by Jayne Atkinson) – she plays the National SecurityAdvisor to the president. One of the most powerful women in the fictional version of america, and  she actually has a conscience!

Catherine Willows of CSI (played by Marg Helgenberger) – yes, she’s got a troubled past, it’s true. Coke habit, exotic dancer, abusive ex. But, she pulled herself out of all that and made a life for herself and her daughter. She’s tough, and smart, and good at her job. (although I do admit I don’t watch the show anymore…)

Kate Austin of Lost (played by Evangeline Lilly) – she rolls with the guys, does everything they do, no matter how physical. She’s one tough woman!

Cristina Yang of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Sandra Oh) – tough, stubborn, smart, competitive, driven, dedicated. Yup. And she cracks me up.

Miranda Bailey of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Chandra Wilson) – “the nazi” is her nickname. Bailey’s a total control freak with her interns, pushes them to their limits and teaches them with tough love. But, the love is there – she’s like a mother hen to them too.

Addison Sheppard of Grey’s Anatomy (played by Kate Walsh) – she’s the only female doctor in the running for Chief of Surgery at the hospital. She’s smart and sexy and beautiful and caring and good at her job. I love that!

Neela Rasgotra of ER (played by Parminder Nagra) – she’s my favourite character on ER by far. She’s been a bit lost, trying to find her niche, and now that she’s in the surgery program, she’s kicking ass. She’s a good friend, smart and beautiful, and she was a good wife to her husband.

Kerry Weaver of ER (played by Laura Innes) – I always liked Kerry. She’s really smart, dedicated, hard-working, and she doesn’t back down. Also, I LOVE that she’s an out lesbian on the show, and that she and her partner had a little son together, and that when her partner died she fought and won custody against her partner’s homophobic parents.

Claire Bennett of Heroes (played by Hayden Panettiere) -SAVE THE CHEERLEADER, SAVE THE WORLD! Claire is the practically indestructable cheerleader, and she’s awesome. She’s smart and sensitive and super brave. and totally cute as a button!

Anita van Buren of Law and Order (played by the amazing S. Epatha Merkerson) – the “Lieu” is awesome. She’s good at her job, she’s been there a long time, she’s a strong black woman. I think she’s actually the longest-running black woman character on TV – meaning Merkerson is the longest-employed black woman actor in TV history. That’s pretty fucking cool.

Olivia Benson of Law and Order: SVU (played by Mariska Hargitay) – well, I don’t watch this one anymore either, but Olivia is one of the strongest female characters on TV, for sure. She’s a good cop, and she shows a lot of caring in her work. Strong doesn’t have to mean uncaring.

Ruth Fisher of Six Feet Under (played by the absolutely incredible Frances Conroy) – I can’t tell you how much the characters on this show affected me. I bawled like a child when the series ended, I was devastated. I so loved Ruth, because she was searching. She had spent her life making a family, and she had a hard time when it came time for her to make a life for herself. I think that is really real for a lot of women. I just loved that about her.

Samantha Jones of Sex and the City (played by the super-sexy Kim Cattrall) – I know, a bit controversial. I admit, Sam was over the top. But her approach to sexuality was definitely sex-positive feminist, I think.

Ok, that’s my list of women TV characters that I think rock it. Agree? Disagree? Which characters do you think are particularly strong?

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I noticed in my dashboard today that another blogger has joined in the Feminism Friday fun – Tracey over at Unapologetically Female, with this post, which was a great read. Also, Tigtog of Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog has joined in on her other blog, Hoyden About Town, with this post. I thought what I would do is create a sidebar link category for Feminism Friday Participants, instead of posting all the links I came across to the various FF posts.

So, each Friday, check out the blogs listed under this link heading. And if you or someone else you know of are participating in FF, please let me know and I’ll add them to the link list.


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As I will be working on a paper most of the day and don’t have time to write a post, I recommend reading the FF post at Pandagon about compulsory femininity instead.

And then, read this post about domestic violence [via Pandagon, thanks Amanda].  Here’s an excerpt:

I know this happens to men, too. That in similar circumstances, they feel the same humiliation, the same self-hatred, the same rage at their total loss of control over their lives and fates. But it sure doesn’t happen to one in three of them, and they’ll never get the help they need while abused women are marginalized, are not taken seriously by law enforcement, or are told that it’s all their fault. Men socialized into a macho society will always have a hard time admitting that something that women are blamed and mocked for, something that women are supposed in some bizarre way to ‘deserve,’ has happened to them.

Because that makes them part of the underclass, and the best way to preserve an unfair hierarchy is to convince certain members of the underclass that they have an automatic leg up on others, to turn them into enforcers and tell them that they can be Big Cheeses, too. If they get victimized in the same way as mere, lowly women, then the gig is up. If they admit it, that is. The only way to help those men is to stop treating domestic violence like a punchline.

My story is personal, but as they say, also political. The horror of it for me was long years in fear and constant anxiety. Years of having no meaningful control over my life. Years of being ruled by the whim of someone whose mood I depended on absolutely for my well-being, privileges and favors.

This is the dynamic, also, of the feminist demand in politics.

Women want the right to decide whether or not to have children and equal footing in sexual relationships. Women want the right to pick our own medical care. Women want the right to have a say over how money we have a part in earning is spent, whether that money is part of our household budget or part of the national budget. Women want equal protection under the law from violence perpetrated specifically against us by intimates, just as men can expect protection from the violence that may be perpetrated against them by strangers.

Women want not to be threatened for asking for these things, which should be our right and due as human beings. We want dignity and independence, and we will demand it if it isn’t given. Even though it may take a while before we speak up for it.

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