Second Wave Outrage

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I just read Rebecca Traister’s article on Salon.com about Hillary supporters. The title is “Why Clinton Voters Say They Won’t Support Obama,” and the subtitle is “The Attack of the PUMAs, Or A Dozen Reasons Why Clinton Voters Are Too Angry To Come Home.” I thought she hit the nail right on the head. And then I read some of the comments.

I was appalled at the ones which railed against white middle class Second Wave feminists as if we were a bunch of racists, just because we wanted Hillary to get the nomination. I wasn’t for Clinton because she was white and I wasn’t for her just because she was a woman. But her gender influenced me, sure. Are you going to tell me that Obama’s race doesn’t influence some voters (i.e., black ones) to vote for him? Why else would it be said that he has a loyal voting bloc among African-Americans? Oh, but it’s okay to want to be loyal to your race. What isn’t okay is being loyal to your gender!

I wouldn’t have voted for just any woman for President, although I admit that I would give a female candidate a little more leeway than I would a man, because I think it’s about time we had a woman president. So sue me.

So will I switch my vote to Obama? Yes, because as Traister points out in her article, there is nowhere else to go. There’s no way in hell I would vote for McCain. But that doesn’t mean that I’m happy about Obama, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s black or male. I feel that we (white middle class Second Wave fems) are having to settle for second best. I’m not a PUMA (“Party Unity My Ass”), because I will remain true to my party. But I’m still angry. I know I have to get over it in order to give Obama all the support he will need to beat McCain. But for now let me stew in my juices.

Division in the Ranks

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I was reading an article this morning in Salon about the divide among feminists when it came to the vote between Obama and Clinton. The writer divided feminists into optimistic feminists and pessimistic ones. Second Wavers tend to be pessimistic: they saw the Clinton campaign as the one chance in a generation for a woman to get close to the Oval Office. (Geraldine Ferraro was in 1984). The optimistic feminists tend to be mostly young women who just don’t think that sexism is a big issue anymore.

Although I agree that Clinton’s campaign has broken new ground for women in politics, I still think this is a much more patriarchal (and white) society than people want to admit. For one thing, the infusion of immigrants has done little to dispel that: many of the immigrant groups are just as patriarchal in their structure as American society has ever been. Many are even more patriarchal. While it can be argued that second-generation immigrants often become assimilated to their new country and its mores quite quickly—which means that they put their family’s patriarchal outlook behind them—there are still going to be vestiges of their parents’ prejudices toward women in their attitudes for at least another generation. I don’t think the battle is won yet. For all the women who have broken the gender ceiling there are hundreds more who wouldn’t even think of trying.

I’m probably displaying my Second Wave sentiments with that last statement. Not every woman has to try to break the gender ceiling. Women should be as free to choose the kind of women they’re going to be as men are free to choose what kind of men they’re going to be (which, admittedly, is not as often as or to the degree that even they would like). What I want for women is that they can genuinely feel that they have choices, and more significantly, that their daughters have even more choices. A woman who stays home with the children by choice but still feels unfulfilled is not investigating all her choices. She could work part-time or get child-care while pursuing an interest. She could get her husband to take on more child-rearing responsibilities while she takes advantage of income-making opportunities. But for many women it’s easier to “just” be a mom. Thus a free choice becomes somewhat of a trap.

Then there are the women who work out of economic necessity. Where is the quality and affordable child care that makes it possible for them to be mothers as well as workers? That is another manifestation of sexism. Those women are not being well-served in this society. Their needs are being left out of the equation, because, after all, no one made them have children, or go to work after they had them. Right.

Yes, things are better than they used to be for women. But as long as biology dictates different responses to reproduction and sexuality, there are going to be differences in the way that women are treated as compared to men. As long as women and men look at each other from across a broad divide, there will be a certain amount of competition between them. And the men are used to winning. They won’t give up their power easily. They may play lip service to the idea of sexual equality, but they don’t really believe it and they undermine women in subtle ways. And in a post-feminist world (as many see it), they are even more careful to keep their sexism under wraps.

If this sounds like I’m paranoid, it’s because I’ve tried to function in a sexist world all my life. I graduated from high school in 1970, I was married by 1972 and by 1980 I had four children. I’ve been married four times and divorced three. I was married to a minister the first time (instead of becoming one myself) and was made to feel inferior for being a woman. (For instance, I wasn’t supposed to talk in adult Sunday School discussions.) I’ve fought for custody and lost, gotten poorer after each divorce while the man went on with his life unscathed (or even flourished), and found myself directed toward womanly pursuits and livelihoods at every turn.

Maybe the feminist movement is divided because it’s not the same world it was for Second Wavers. We’re not going to breathe easy and young women are not going to be cautious. We need to understand each other’s worlds. Older feminists are being made to feel extraneous and younger feminists are being made to feel naive. As each new generation comes along they have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater: their parents’ ways have no validity for them. And the older generation finds it difficult to transition to what is a very different world than the one they grew up in.

My generation would love to be more optimistic, but we fear that the younger generation is too optimistic. A healthy balance between the two would be the way to go. The worlds each inhabit are neither black nor white. Life has a tendency to be shades of gray. We need each other to make it through the danger zones to our destinations. And we need to remember that each woman’s destination is her own to choose.

Worst Prejudice: Gender or Race?

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I’m still in mourning for Hilary. I feel like attaching a black ribbon to my Hillary campaign button, except that I don’t have one. I never bought a button, yard sign or bumper sticker. Partly because I’m cheap, but mostly because I was leery about announcing to the world that I was a Hillary fan. Let’s be frank: it was unpopular to be for Hillary. Especially where I work, which is on a college campus. To be aligned with her is to be tarred with the same brush. You must be a ball-breaking woman, or identify with one. If you’re a feminist, you have to be from the Second Wave, which translates to out-of-touch with the “New World. ” Or worse: you might be a racist, because why else would you prefer a white woman over a promising black man?

There has been surprisingly little written about the debate over which group suffers more discrimination: women or blacks. Most people would probably deny that Hillary’s loss had anything to do with gender discrimination–it just had to do with her. But if you reverse the equation, if a 47-year-old woman was running against a 60-year-old man, who do you think would be elected? There is no way that people would believe that a relatively young and inexperienced woman could have what it takes to be president, the way they’ve been willing to believe it of Obama.

I’m not saying that there’s no racial discrimination. There most certainly is and it may cost Obama the presidency. The Democrats may have waged a historic campaign, but as soon as it became clear that Obama and Clinton were the two contenders for the nomination, it must have made the powers-that-be groan, if not tear out their hair. Everyone has been so hyped up about Obama and Clinton fighting it out, that they’ve neglected to face reality about the effect that either type of discrimination would have on the national campaign. Democrats are put in a vulnerable position either way. There is no question that racial discrimination will play a major role in this election, but it would have been equally touch-and-go if Hillary had won the nomination. Either candidate would have had a handicap against a white “seasoned” male.

I’m fine with backing Obama, but I’m worried that he can’t beat McCain. I think Hillary at least had a shot at it, because of her age and experience, but I would have been just as worried about her. It’s hard to get most people to be honest about their prejudices. Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with yourself. We don’t like to think that we would base our decisions on race or gender. And I’m not saying that we will be, totally. There is also the issue of age–another kind of discrimination. McCain might be seen as too old, Obama as too young.

I think it will boil down to who gives us more hope for the future. It won’t be about gay marriage or abortion, or whether someone was a war hero or not, and ultimately it won’t be about age or race. But those prejudices will be part of the mix, you can count on that.

Weddings, Part 3

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My recent train of thoughts about weddings came from my seeing the new movie, “Sex and the City.” The main story line is about Carrie and Big deciding to get married and how it turned into a circus and ended up freaking him out. He doesn’t show up for the service, she is publicly humiliated and they break up. I won’t tell the rest for fear of spoiling it any more than I already have. (However, the story line was pretty easy to predict.) I never had a wedding anything close to the kind that Carrie starts cooking up, but it made me think a lot about what we do to get married and why. Not to mention whether or not it brings us satisfaction.

Sometimes I think big weddings either end up obscuring the fact that the whole thing is about two people who love each other or they make up for the fact that they don’t as much as they should. It’s so easy to get caught up in the production you can’t think clearly at one of the most important times in your life. How many people can say that they honestly enjoyed the process of getting ready for a big wedding?

Maybe my attitude toward big weddings partly comes from the fact that I was never able to afford one. So of course, every detail had to be agonized over: can we afford this, can we leave out that? Maybe if I’d had plenty of money I would have loved to have made a huge production out of at least my first wedding. (I recognize that it’s kind of tacky to do so when it’s your second, let alone third or fourth, wedding.) But most couples have to watch the dollars and since the wedding business is all about big bucks, they have to make some hard decisions: about how many people to invite, how big and what kind of reception to have, how fancy a cake, how many bridesmaids, how expensive a dress, and on and on and on. I didn’t realize until my own daughter decided to get married how many things are involved these days. For instance, they didn’t have “Save the Date” cards when I got married; now they seem to be de rigueur.

I’ve empathized with my daughter as she’s gone through the process. One thing that is often overlooked about weddings is how they express one’s life philosophy. If appearances are very important to you, if you yearn to fit in, you’re more likely to do it all by the book. If you hate the idea of spending what could be the down payment on a house on a wedding, you’re probably going to curtail a lot of the expenses. If you always dreamed of being a bride you’re going to have a completely different wedding than someone who came to the idea kicking and screaming.

And what about if you’re a feminist? Is having a big wedding at odds with feminist principles? I think my daughter is struggling with the concept that the wedding is her chance to be a princess. That’s just not the way she is, but it’s all so tempting: to get that dream dress, buy foundation garments and expensive shoes, have your hair done, and generally arrange everything to complement you. She has bucked tradition in a lot of ways, but she’s found it hard to hold onto her principles. So much is expected of you. Everyone has this ideal wedding stuck in his or her head and the further the bride and groom stray from that the more eccentric they are judged to be.

There are some people who think that feminists are against marriage period. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even lesbians (and there are those who think feminists are all man-hating lesbians) and gays are pushing for the right to get married and it’s not just for legal reasons. I’m sure there are marriages that are based at least in part on the fact that there are real advantages to being married. I think my daughter’s is one of them. But marriage is still a meaningful concept. At least it should be.

My Swimsuit

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A little break here to discuss why I had my review of my new bathing suit put on my blog. Partly because I could. I wanted to see if it would work And it did. I debated taking it off, but then I thought that I should explain what it means to me, especially as a feminist, to look good in the clothes I wear. I used to think that worrying about makeup, clothes, hair, nails, etc., let alone spending money on those things, was a waste of time. Of course, I’ve never had the money to spend on them, so it was easier on me to discount their importance. But in the past year or so, I’ve developed a different attitude toward all things that make a woman attractive.

Maybe it’s because I’m older now and feel like I need all the help I can get. But that’s not all of it: I’m sure I could have benefited from better-looking and fitting clothes and so on, when I was younger. But benefited how? What difference does it make if I wear makeup or not or have new and flattering clothes? And God forbid that I should spend a fortune on my hair or to get a pedicure or manicure. (I’m still conflicted about the $60 pedicure I got the other day–only the second one of my life).

Part of what made me a convert to this new (for me) way of thinking was watching “What Not to Wear” on The Learning Channel. At the risk of sounding superficial, I’ve come to believe that it does matter greatly how you look. Not just when you’re trying to get a job, but all the time. The women who get makeovers on the show also get a makeover of their attitudes: they come to believe that they weren’t doing justice to themselves by wearing unflattering clothes and hairdos and not using makeup. It’s a matter of self-esteem. These things make you feel better about yourself, yes, but they also signify that you think enough of yourself to make an investment in them.

Don’t get me wrong: some people are attractive no matter what they wear or how they do their hair or whether or not they wear makeup. But for those of us who have imperfections, it’s a real boost to our confidence to do all that we can do to make the most of what we have. At $50, my new swimsuit is the most expensive one I’ve every bought. But it’s light years away from the bargain basement and hand-me-down suits that I’ve had in the past. (I’ve been wearing my daughters’ old bathing suits for years.) I look fantastic in it and not just because it’s a beautiful suit. It makes the most of my strengths (my bust) and minimizes my weaknesses (my belly). How can there be anything wrong with that?

My Review of Shirred Swimsuit

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Originally submitted at Chadwick’s

One piece mailot with a surplice neckline and shirring detail. Tummy control panel creates a flattering fit. Nylon/spandex. Hand wash. Imported

Misses

Shirred Swimsuit

Fantastic!

By miteypen from Columbus, Ohio on 6/4/2008

5out of 5

Pros: Attractive Design, Lightweight, Flattering, Good Fit, High Quality

Best Uses: Beach, Swimming

Describe Yourself: Sexy, Stylish, Comfort-oriented

I am overweight and this swimsuit makes me look like a million bucks. The overall style is slimming but it also has a tummy panel which is very comfortable but really works. And the color is stunning.

(legalese)