Feminist Catch Words and Phrases

In any discussion about feminism, there are bound to be certain catch words and phrases. Here are some from the ’60s and early ’70s: sisterhood is powerful, male chauvinism (or male chauvinist pig), the Patriarchy, consciousness-raising, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, the “other,” Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, sexual revolution, make love not war, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, fear of success, dread of women (both concepts from psychoanalyst Karen Horney), dependence as a state of subordination, male dominance, pornography as violence against women, women’s liberation, herstory, womyn, sex object, socialization, women as property of men. This not an exhaustive list, of course. But it does give you an idea of where I come from.

The ’80s brought a whole new array of catch words and phrases. This was the era of Susan Faludi’s Backlash, a word that could typify the ’80s’ reaction to feminism. The movement appeared to go underground during that period, but in reality the emphasis was on formulating feminist theory. The revolution was becoming academicized. Women’s studies programs were popping up all over the nation and many seminal books and papers were written, but not widely known. Some argue that feminism lost its spirit when it climbed the ivory tower. There may be something to that, but I also think that the movement lost its momentum when Reagan took office and the “Me Decade” began. Society became focused on making money rather than revolution. Social analysis was no longer de rigueur. No one wanted to be reminded that not so long before, the emphasis had been on soul-searching about the capitalist system, the war in Viet Nam, the War on Poverty, civil rights and racism, sexism, political abuses, and materialism. A conscience was not required nor particularly desired. Americans just wanted a break so they could become self-serving, instead of always having to worry about being politically correct, or “PC,” another catch phrase of the ’60s and ’70s.

In the ’90s, feminist backlash continued, or at least a backlash against Second Wave feminism. A Time Magazine cover asked in 1989 if there was a future for feminism at all in the ’90s. Some asserted that a Third Wave of feminism had begun. (Read Kim Allen’s view of the ’90s from 3rdWWWave.com, a site that seems to represent feminists of the ’90s.) In my opinion, I don’t know if enough time has passed to judge whether there is indeed a third wave, or just a refinement of the wave that started in the ’60s. After all, the First Wave is considered to be from 1848 (Seneca Falls convention) to 1920 when women finally got the vote. But I’m sure that feminists like Alice Paul had views that were markedly different from those of Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The ’90s also saw the splitting of feminists into categories: radical feminists, liberal feminists, eco-feminists, Marxist feminists, Chicana feminists, neo-feminists, post-feminists, to name just a few. There was also the riot grrls movement. “Lipstick lesbians” are one manifestation of the reassertion of a woman’s right to be beautiful and sexy.

I think millennium feminism is a good tag. After all, the 2000s do look a lot different than the three or four previous decades. For one thing, we live in a much shakier world. And we are much more aware of the global community. AIDS is an issue that hasn’t gone away and indeed has hit epidemic proportions among African women. This is the decade that saw a woman run for Democratic candidate for President and another run for Vice President. People are beginning to search for meaning beyond capitalism, nationalism and religious differences. It is too soon to tell what feminism is going to look like in the 2000s, but one purpose of this blog is to try to describe what feminism looks like today.

Update on HHS Proposal

President Bush is not giving up the ship without one last volley. I reported in my post, “Protecting Anti-Abortionists’ Rights,” on a Health and Human Services proposal that had been circulating around Washington that would prevent firing or refusing to hire employees in the health services who have an objection to abortion, and who want to be excused from any duties that are at all related to preventing pregnancy. That’s right; the way the proposal is written it would give anti-abortionists great leeway in what they consider to be abortifacients.

Doctors generally agree that pregnancy begins at implantation; therefore anything that prevents implantation is not an abortifacient, but birth control. There is a growing number of anti-abortionists, however, who are contending that even the Pill and IUDs cause abortion. They are extending the meaning to include anything that prevents a fertilized egg from being implanted.

It is important to note that it is not known exactly how the Pill and IUDs work. The general consensus is that the Pill prevents ovulation, for instance, which makes fertilization and thus conception impossible. Even so, if the proponents of this proposal have their way, a doctor may refuse to prescribe the Pill or insert an IUD, a pharmacist can refuse to fill such a prescription, and even nurses and other health workers can refuse to assist in any procedures or even patient care that involves them in what they believe to be “abortion, or other medical procedures.” (Language of the proposal.)

Even if all the proposal dealt with was anything that interrupts a pregnancy (post-implantation), it would be giving great power to those who oppose abortion and limiting the rights of those who seek to prevent or interrupt pregnancy. This is clearly a blow against women’s reproductive rights, and would lead to a diminishment of them. Now the proposal is about to be set in stone as a bona fide regulation.

Regulations already exist which protect an individual’s right to refuse to participate in any activity that is against his or her religious beliefs or even moral conscience. See the statement by the National Women’s Law Center about the HHS ignoring the success of existing federal protection of religion in the workplace. The only reason for this new regulation is to strengthen and expand the definition of abortion.

See “Countdown To Conscience Clause Regulation” (September 22, 2008) from the Our Bodies, Ourselves web site. See also “Take That, HHS!” (November 21, 2008) on Salon.com, which is about Sens. Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray introducing legislation that would block the proposal from being enacted.

Housewife Activists

The Housewife Theory of History” by Rebecca Solnit is an article about “undomestic troubles and unsung heroines.” I’m citing it today in contrast to the article I cited in my last post, “Too Focused On Women?” which was partly about the author’s disbelief in the notion of women making a difference, just because they’re women. This article isn’t exactly saying the opposite, but it does show how women, even “mere” housewives, can have political clout.

The question of whether or not women have a unique role to play in power arenas is dependent on the argument about biological differences. If we say that women are more nurturing, for instance, is that a biological difference or is it a socialized difference? If it is a socialized quality, then one must assume that men could be “trained” to be more nurturing, thereby eliminating the difference between the sexes. The opposite is also true: can women be taught to be more aggressive?

And then there is the issue of generalizations. We all know women who don’t want to be mothers, who seem to be naturally aggressive and not at all nurturing, just as we know men who are passive and emotional. Is this a result of nature or nurture? Or a little of both? Is it fair to generalize that women would bring “feminine” qualities into their endeavors when those qualities might not be present in every women? Or at least not to the same degree?

Yet we all know that there is some justification for generalizing, just as there is truth in every cliche. Women as a group tend to exhibit qualities that are thought of as feminine. The real question is whether or not those qualities are considered desirable. The problem with categorizing women as feminine is the fact that feminine characteristics are thought of as less valuable in the wider society than are masculine qualities. They’re fine, even thought of as necessary, for women who are wives and mothers. But they are not recommended for a woman’s life outside the home. If she acts “like a woman” in the outer world, she is denigrated. (So is a man who acts like a woman.) But she is also denigrated if she acts like a man. She can’t win either way.

I think it’s time that we stop talking about qualities as being masculine or feminine and start to seriously consider what kind of qualities we want to see in the all the people who are in positions of power, including those in the home. Wouldn’t we rather see our daughters also capable of standing up for themselves and our sons as also capable of caring for others? Wouldn’t the ideal be politicians who are as prone to choose dialogue and diplomacy as they are action and aggression?

I look forward to a day when there are no more distinctions between feminine and masculine behavior. When an individual can exhibit both or either without being thought of as unnatural. There are always going to be individuals who don’t fit their assigned molds. So let’s get rid of the molds and start seeing their characteristics as merely human.

Too Focused On Women?

Lisa Jervis in her article, “If Women Ruled the World Nothing Would Be Different” states that the trouble with the feminist movement today is its obsession with women. Yes, that’s right. We’re too focused on women, too concerned with getting women in positions of power instead of changing the system, and too prone to think that women have all the answers. Some of her charges merit examination and in fact that’s why I’m referencing her article today: it makes you think.

This article was originally written in September of 2005 for the now-defunct LiP (online) magazine and was partially reproduced in the online Utne Reader as a counterpoint argument to traditional feminism. I’m assuming that the author is the same Lisa Jervis who is a co-founder of Bitch magazine, which is a “Feminist Response to Pop Culture.” I would also assume that Jervis is a feminist. She critiques a form of feminism which she calls “femmenism” which seems to be the opposite of a “transformative, progressive feminism.” (I don’t know how she came up with the name or what it’s supposed to mean exactly.) If I had to categorize her, I’d call her a Marxist-feminist. See what you think.

Election Reaction

It’s been two weeks since the election and I still haven’t written about the outcome. Those of you who have been reading this blog for the last six months know that I was originally a Hillary supporter. When Obama won the candidacy, I was very disappointed, almost to the point where I considered voting for McCain. That, however, was just a fleeting moment of insanity and once McCain picked Palin to be his running mate, I didn’t have another moment like it. I was never officially a PUMA (see my post, “Rethinking the PUMA Position“), but I was certainly not sold on Obama. I came into his camp reluctantly.

Once I opened my mind to Obama, though, I found myself getting more comfortable with the idea of him as President. But I didn’t get over the rejection of Clinton for a long time. It wasn’t until I’d seen how Obama conducted himself in debates and on the campaign trail that I began to develop a measure of respect for him. By the time I voted, I was firmly in his camp, but that had more to do with my fear of another Republican presidency than because I was so certain that Obama was “the one.”

All that changed on the night of the election. I think I’d become so pessimistic about Democrats being able to win the Presidency that I didn’t dare hope that it would really happen. As the night progressed, though, I became more and more hopeful. When it was finally announced that Obama had won, it hit me: this was a historic moment. I was moved by the thought that this country with all its racism was able to look past that and elect a black man to be its next President.

I was impressed by McCain’s concession speech and actually felt sorry for him (a little bit), but I was far more relieved than anything. I felt like a disaster had just been averted. I’m not naive, I know that there are plenty of people who are upset, even angry, that Obama won. In fact, my greatest fear is that he will be assassinated by some crazy racist. I pray daily for his safety.

And now Hillary is possibly being reborn as Secretary of State. I can live with that.