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Part 2: Feminism Revised

3 Jun

I’ve spend the past half a year doing a lot of reading, talking, and unfortunately not enough writing on Feminism. At the end of these six months there were three salient points of learning, for me.

  1. Feminism is narrowly about advancing social rights to women but broadly it is about addressing and fighting Privilege.
    1. Privilege is about power. The dis-empowered cannot be privileged.
    2. Privilege is the ability to be perceived as who you are as opposed to your stereotype or class.
    3. Privilege is the ability to feel like any possibility is an option, and accessible!
  2. Feminism has evolved through the years.
    1.  In the U.S., the first wave Feminist of the 1920s were trying to secure the right to vote.
    2. The second wave Feminists of the 1970s were securing access to education, industries and careers.
    3. And the third wave Feminists of today- us? We care about work life balance, access to adequate child care. We combat the dilemma of “opting out” vs “leaning in.” We’re more sensitive to issues affecting all women regardless of race, income level, employment status, profession, beauty or cultural upbringing. And ultimately we identify as women but as just one of many adjectives and titles that makes up the summation of our independent, individual selves.
  3. As a voting base and political force Feminism (capital F) is waning in power. BUT as a umbrella term for equal opportunity and fighting the glass ceiling of privilege, feminism (lower case f) has evolved, but is still just as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago when women lacked the ability to vote in the U.S.

In Part 1 of the blog series, the open ended question was if women still haven’t reach true equality, why is there a hesitation among women to identify as Feminists and lead the movement of the third wave?

My friend J (a man) had the following to say upon reading my original post an watching the Miss Representation documentary:

It’s depressing that your female friends were hesitant to identify as feminists. The fact that the right has so poisoned young girls into thinking that feminism is synonymous with being a pissed-off lesbian demonstrates their media power. The documentary was powerful and disheartening.

Previously I would have agreed with J but my readings suggest this is an oversimplification of the problem.

It’s not just the Right but it’s also a trend of our generation…we don’t like to be “labeled” period. Additionally, some of the alienation is actually due to the legacy of the 2nd Wave Feminist who in fact rejected stay-at-home moms and women who didn’t conform to their idea of “What it means to be a Feminist” including minorities.  Many of the women from this second wave are still leading figures and voices of the movement. So there is a strong argument that while women’s issues are still very relevant they are also different, and the Feminist movement has not been re-branded to embrace this new face. A big part of new feminism (lower case f) is that furthering women to be able to make true choices, have a level playing field, and be perceived as individuals and not an imposed stereotype involves furthering men, furthering minorities, and furthering LGBT as well. In my opinion, the new feminism transcends just females but Feminism (capital F) has not caught up yet.

This identity crisis might not be the only reason that women today, my peers, hesitate to identify as Feminists. In fact it might not even be the primary reason. BUT it is and will continue to be a significant deterrent in the ability of the Feminist movement to gain the membership and traction needed to have the right type of influence in the issues relevant to today’s women. To be revived, Feminism must first be revised.

Part 1: The Death of Feminism?

12 Dec

I LOVE my Birthday. Yes I’m one of those. Every year I try to tell myself, “This year I’m going to be more calm. This year I’ll just play it cool, you know let it sneak up on me.” Well this year rolled around and, like every other year, weeks and weeks before the Big Day I started talking it up, telling the world, and getting the hype going. I know, it’s a totally arbitrary reason to celebrate ourselves and narcissisticly expect everyone else to as well, but shooooo it is just so much fun!

Well the Big Quarter-Century Day rolled around and as it happened to be a rando Monday I decided to reserve the party monster celebration for the weekend. Not wanting to be alone on my day of birth, however, I last minute rallied my gal pals and had just the most wonderful celebration! We all gathered at my friends’ abode where we had a tasty sampling of oven pizzas, some yummy appetizers, and a few drinks. All of this was followed by a screening of the documentary Miss Representation, about women in the media.

The night was just amazing. It’s busy season at work and it was wonderful to relax, catch up, slow down, and actually shut my brain down from thinking about work for a whole night. However, the post documentary discussion left me a little unsettled. A handful of us sat around chatting about the movie and what it had to say about women. Something that came out was that my friends found themselves hesitant to identify as Feminists. I found myself on the defensive because I am a  Feminist and proud of it! I felt like the world and the Right had corrupted this term to turn it into a symbol of extreme, man-hating, raging vaginas.  Yet I couldn’t contest the reality– women my age, smart, intellectual, powerful women whom I respect and love don’t care to identify as a Feminist.

But as Miss Representation makes so clear:

  • 65% of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors.
  • The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth 18 or younger more than tripled from 1997 to 2007.
  • About 25% of girls will experience teen dating violence.
  • Women are merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • The United States is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.
  • Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).

Women clearly have not reached parity in the world. And yet Feminism is becoming a taboo topic. So where’s the disconnect? And that’s it because I don’t just know.

So over the next few weeks I’m going to dedicate my time reading and learning at least what some of the possible answers to this dilemma could be according to those smarter than me. My gut tells me that my friends are not alone and there is a greater trend at place. So stay tuned for Part 2 as I go on the hunt for Feminism in America and please share your thoughts as well!

Yes, No, Maybe

26 Nov

My friend Elaine sent me this excellent post by Rachel Kay, Why I Never Play Hard to Get. I read it the next morning as I was getting ready for work and I immediately felt the desire to write a post. The unfortunate realities of the day to day prevented me from executing on this desire until today.

Kay builds on Jackie Klein’s resurrection of “No Means No” (we can clearly use the reminder given all of the political discussion around rape) and the persistent dismissal of the female voice. As a society we don’t teach men or even other women to yield to a female’s protests or resistance on something as basic as teasing. And while this doesn’t always snowball into rape, the undercurrent of dismissal remains and is relevant. When No is no longer enough, we are a long way off from Yes is required.

And isn’t this the true heart of the matter? Sex should not be a given unless a woman says no, it should only be granted if a woman says yes. And yet we haven’t moved past the first part: why does “No Means No” have to reaffirmed still? How is this not a given? Klein helps establish that we’re not there yet. And Kay helps provide at least one answer for why: love and romance is a game of the chase. And the chase is perpetuated by women playing hard to get and men pursuing despite the verbal cues (if not body language) of his pursuer saying no.

Playing hard to get is a women’s way of saying read between the lines, interpret the context of my words. Everything shifts: a No becomes a Maybe and a Maybe becomes the green light. There are no hard stops. Pursue long enough and the woman will change her mind. This, Kay points out, is love in the world of conquest and is still heavily romanticized. The alternative is a world of communication, where No means No, Yes means Yes and Maybe means…maybe?

Kay uses the historical era of rape and pillage as the origins for the current world of conquest. I believe that what continues to perpetuate its existence is the uncertainty around what we want and hesitancy to assert it when we know.  As I read Kay’s article I couldn’t help but think– what if I really do mean maybe? What if I’m not sure. And in that case if a guy can “convince me” then isn’t that a decision? The chase is a girls way to delay having to decide and shifts responsibility onto the man for making the decision. So by choosing to enter the world of communication, we also choose to take on the empowering and yet heavy responsibility of bringing clarity to our feelings and desires. For the conversation to shift from refusal to requirement, we must first take back ownership of our right to choose.

The female voice can only be resurrected if we stop dismissing our own voice (regardless of gender).

This holiday I’m listening to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” a whole lot differently.

Thanks Christine for sending me this song in relation. It is the perfect ending I think!

A Quick Duh…

1 Aug

Today I got an email with the subject line “Thank You Jeff” which went on to say “we were greatly moved by Jeff’s contribution towards marriage equality.” Being behind the times, I had to do a quick google search which brought me to this Daily New’s articled entitled “Amazon founder Jeff Bezos Donates $2.5 Million to Washington State Marriage-Equality Campaign.”

What?! Didn’t the state legislature pass same-sex marriage back in February? Clearly I’ve been a poor Washington Citizen. Turns out that same-sex marriage opponents got enough votes to get the bill up for a referendum vote this November. Referendum 74: vote yes if you’re pro marriage equality, vote no if…. well according to Preserve Marriage Equality you should vote no to Referendum 74 because

“if this law goes unchallenged, voters would have no say and marriage would be changed for every person in our state from being the union of one man and one woman to being a genderless institution.”

To which I say….

DUH!

Well duh to the second part. Voters have had a say because their democratically elected legislature passed the marriage-equality bill. And voters will again have a say this fall when they will pass Referendum 74. But at that point, members of Preserve Marriage Equality, you must be willing accept that voters actually– dare I say it?– WANT marriage to become a genderless institution! Hell we want the work environment, education, healthcare, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to ALL become gender-less, race-less, age-less, class-less institutions based on one single concept: we all have human dignity, no matter where we are in life.

Thank You Kate

9 Jul

My  best friend sent me an article last week entitled “All the Single Ladies” from The Atlantic. It took me a while to get through it, in fact I was skeptical when I started. Within the first few paragraphs you find that the Author, Kate Bolick, broke up with the ideal partner at 28 because “something” was missing and she wasn’t ready to settle down. One paragraph later, it turns out that breakup was in 2001 and Kate is now 39 and still single.

Still single! Ah! I have no shame in using the F word (Feminist!) and absolutely believe that our policies, work cultures, and social expectations still have a ways to go before there is a more true form of gender equality. But I must also admit that I do have a fear of being alone. I’m a social person, a huge extrovert, and thrive off human connections. Moving to a new city where I knew nobody ten months ago was  more than difficult. Living alone was a mistake. And yet I can relate to the Author and her desire for independence and this single person itch. I often go months to years between relationships and every time I enter into a committed relationship, I do find myself acutely aware of the trade-offs. The new friendships I’m not cultivating or the old ones I’m ignoring.

I have no shame in using the F word (Feminist!) …But I must also admit that I do have a fear of being alone.

So while I might be 24 and youthful and optimistic now, the vision of me waking up one day at 35+, single and lonely with no good available men gives me more than a mild level of panic if I entertain that fantasy for too long. So you can imagine how refreshing Kate’s words were to hear.

What I love about her piece is that she doesn’t really tell us, the reader, one way or the other: was she looking for a mate and couldn’t find one and therefore has accepted this alternative lifestyle of the single lady or does she genuinely not want to marry and have a one mate for life? She doesn’t quite define it, which is perfect because IT DOESN’T MATTER.

It doesn’t matter because her last page paints an alternative picture: no matter what you end up choosing, so long as you spend time investing in relationships of all kinds you can wake up 35+, single and not be chronically lonely (I mean even people in loving marriages have bouts of loneliness).

And part of what helps sell me on this possibility is her own life as an example: a life full of other female counterparts who are single and happy and have their own support network. You are no longer this rare specimen, the black sheep if as a woman that is what you choose. As a grown adult, what is wrong with having a house where you and several of your best female friends just lived together? It was fabulous in college, why should that community and level of camaraderie be sacrificed just because society has for so long disapproved of anything but the traditional picket-white fence family structure?

As an adult, what is wrong with having a house where you and several of your best female just lived together?

I mean that honestly sounds fabulous to me. I suppose raising children is always something that makes me a big uncertain because I really do think that balance is good and it’s critical for children to have 1) stability (which as a single woman by myself I know I would not be able to provide) and 2) both positive male and female role models.

And while I probably could raise a child in this commune style approach, I feel that though I’m all for using my own life as a social experiment I wouldn’t want to do that with children, especially because if I have children I want four (enough to justify having a lazy susan at the dining table!)

My takeaway from “All the Single Ladies” is this: we might be destroying the traditional concept of marriage only to replace it with a wider selection pool of how to conduct our personal life. As homosexul and transgender individuals start to carve out their own place in the bookshelf of life, why not reevaluate the traditional heterosexual approach in its entirety? We are constantly on an evolutionary path to something else after all.

We might be destroying the traditional concept of marriage only to replace it with a wider selection pool of how to conduct our personal life.

This is a double edge sword, however. Expanding the stamp of approval is liberating. But with so many more options- gosh, how do we ever decide?  I know the correct answer: act with complete conviction based on what you feel right now even if it that opinion or goal changes tomorrow. But given that success often requires long-term commitment and conviction and options also don’t have an infinite shelf life….the real question is how do we decide and live without regret?
How do we decide and live without regret?
Before for me it had always been about choosing “correctly.” If you believe in yourself and weigh your options carefully enough, even if you fail the bad outcome only could be SO bad because you put time and effort into being judicial in the initial choosing. But now as I’ve departed my college bubble and entered my mid-twenties/rest of my life bubble, there are more options and even more variables. Calculative judicial thinking and decision making, while still something worth practicing, can no longer be the isolated source of comfort. As my quarter-life crisis has taught me, it is also foolish to deceive yourself into thinking that you can always just go back and hit the rewind button.
Maybe the key is to just not get too attached, don’t sell yourself too completely on any one vision. Instead sell yourself on the feelings. Perhaps it’s not so much who do you want to be in ten years but how do you want to feel in ten years. There are a multitude of paths to feelings but not quite so many to identities. I don’t know how sold I am on this answer but it’s just one attempt at tackling an age old conundrum.
Perhaps it’s not so much who do you want to be in ten years but how do you want to feel in ten years.
So thank you Kate (and all the single ladies of the 21st century) for helping me feel slightly more at ease with infinite possibility and uncertainty.