It has been one of those weeks where I think about feminism lots. And basically as a married, white woman living a rather isolated life as a homeschool mother and social activist, I’m pretty protected from a lot of the problems women face in the world. So I can forget about feminism for lengths of time, while I homeschool my children and go about daily life. But then little things remind me more, why I need to make reading and improving my feminist analysis a bigger part of my life.
I think about how we women are supposed to feel grateful if our husband’s do any housework or show an interest in their kids. I have a really, really wonderful husband but I want to be grateful for his sense of humor, his caring, his interest in politics, his love for his children, for who he is, and not because of leftover remnants of societal expectations for men vs. women dictate that he’s doing me a favor by sharing in parenting. It’s not a favor to me. It is something he does for himself and for the kids. It’s him being human, not just society’s expectations of male. So I really appreciated when the following appeared on my facebook feed:
“As a culture we have incredibly low standards for male behavior. If we want to change this, we need to raise the bar considerably.
As women, we are grateful if the men in our lives do not kill, beat, rape or otherwise molest us. If those of us who have male partners are treated kindly by them they are thought of as ‘good men’. If they assist with the rearing of their children and are kind to them and help provide for them they are deemed ‘great fathers’. If they listen to us, support us, denounce prostitution and pornography, engage somewhat with feminism, and try to be accountable for their mistakes, they are seen as ‘exceptional’. We consistently compare the men in our lives to the worst of their kind and not the best. We are happy with mediocrity and not excellence.”
The quote is from Saba Malik of the Deep Green Resistance Advisory Board and it was posted with a link to the Deep Green Resistences Feminist Solidarity Guidelines. And my interest in the quoted paragraph goes beyond just not wanting to have to feel eternally grateful for the wonderfulness of my husband. This week I’ve also been thinking about how working within a social justice setting, I end up struggling with how to deal with misogynist men who are working for the same causes. We don’t have enough activists to really exclude them, and somehow they don’t bother everyone, but I struggle with how to be around them. Social justice work is about inclusion, right, not drawing boundaries about whose behaviour is acceptable or not. Or is it? How do I hang around with, socialize, work with men who call my friends nasty misogynist slurs? To what extend do I end up internalizing their criticism, the idea that I’m somehow the bitch because I don’t want to be around them? Because I see their behavior as part of the problems we need to be working against?
Besides these aspects of my own life, the internet brings me more assurance that feminism is incredibly necessary.
Then there’s some random memes that keep popping up on my facebook feed. There’s on that has a picture of a light switch with a man drawn onto with a line about “Save Energy: how would you like it if someone turned you on and left?” I’m all for turning off lights, but the implication that someone else is responsible for undoing a man’s turn-on is infuriating. This is not a message we should be accepting.
Then there’s an older advertisement from a men’s magazine showing an almost naked model and the line “Becoming an organ donor is probably your only chance to get inside her.” Somehow that picture is making its way around the internet again. It implies organ donation is equivalent in some way to sex, trying thus to make organ donation sound more appealing to men. But what is the cost of implying that? The implication that the woman doesn’t want the guy inside – that his only way of getting inside is by organ donation – jokingly implies using an alternative means to “get inside” a woman. If organ donation is in some way equivalent to sex, does a woman accepting it from a man she wouldn’t sleep with sound a bit like rape? Or at least a person in a position where she’ll have to accept anything from the man?
On facebook someone was trying to argue that there’s no problem with the ad, it makes the woman look sexually desirable but not an object. And I stop to try to think about that one. Is displaying sexual desirability the same as objectification? Sure, desirability is about someone else being the subject desiring the object. It is objectification. When we position women as something that men are supposed to relate to through desiring to be inside them – joking perhaps that organ donation is the only way a man would accomplish that with a woman – there’s problems.
There’s also a weird acknowledgement in the ad of a hierarchy of desirability. The ad portrays the model like she’s someone a person can’t hope to really interact with in a human level (possibly because the only thing a person is supposed to want from her is to be inside her). And people might try to say that being desirable is a good thing, that it means the woman is held on a pedestal of sorts, but I look at it with the thoughts of how through out history men have fought for control of women’s sexuality. Is the idea that she’s out of men’s league really a freeing thing for her or is it more of men using access to women as a way of jostling for power amongst themselves? What’s the implication for women who don’t look like the model, and their ability to be choosy about sex?
Elsewhere on my facebook feed people were discussing an absolutely horrifying article called “When Her No Means Yes” that argued:
“In the modern context, rape is essentially the act of ultimate validation and a rape accusation is the ultimate act of attention whoring. I’m not supporting it of course, don’t be silly. But think about it. If a man finds a woman SO incredibly desirable that he would throw his freedom, reputation, his whole life away to fuck her, that shows the woman is on the highest echelon of desirability. And in fact, women have begun to routinely accuse men of rape purely for the ego validation that the onslaught of attention brings them. Even though the night before, they gleefully received the gent’s ravishment.”
I will not link to the source of this quote. There’s no need to give him that acknowledgement. I am disgusted such pages exist and I probably shouldn’t be acknowledging them at all. Except I wonder, how many people believe this kind of nonsense? Too many, of course, but how many is that? And how do we help challenge these views?
I think of the Onion article about a woman taking a half hour break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. And I think about how the very idea of calling out sexist behavior can end up getting a person accused of having no sense of humor, being un-fun, and a bitch. People accuse a person of being too concerned with “political correctness” as though not being sexist or misogynist was a bad thing and not a good thing.
I am thankful for the feminists whose writing I’ve been reading recently. I’m thankful to the women willing to talk about feminism – not just dealing with the big ticket items of liberal feminism, abortion and equal pay – but also those willing to wrestle with other questions. Questions like the following (and I’m going to link to articles that while not encompassing the whole question relate to it in some way):
- how intensive mothering (often “attachment parenting”) reinforces gender roles and unrealistic expectations
- where talk of sexual freedom feed into objectification and sexual exploitation
- the feminization of poverty
- trying to find balances to protect women from potentially abusive men without paving the way for women to rob men of the ability to share in raising their children too
- listening to (and prioritizing) the voices of women of color
- addressing violence against women without expanding the prison culture
Feminism is important not just for fighting for women’s rights but also for thinking about and understanding different rights and different questions of meaning.