Rebecca Traister is a senior editor at Salon.com who writes about women in media, politics and entertainment from a feminist perspective. Her new book, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything For American Women, is being released tomorrow as a hardback and an ebook. I plan to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible, for two reasons: 1) I really like the way Traister thinks and writes; and 2) I believe this will be an important book not only for feminists, but for anyone who is interested in American politics.
Below is a video of Traister talking about some of the issues she deals with in the book:
Salon.com also just published Curtis Sittenfeld’s interview with Traister about the book, which you can read here.
Let’s get something straight: a feminist is not someone who dictates what others should do with their lives. Sarah Palin and her ilk insist that they are feminists even though they would take away all women’s right to determine whether or not they will have children. The irony here is that these pseudo-feminists are also against the federal government sticking its nose into anyone’s business—unless of course that “anyone” is a woman who wants to have an abortion. Apparently it’s all right for government, state or federal, to decide categorically that some citizens do not have the same rights as others.
To make the distinction clear, we ought to change the terminology used by both sides of the abortion debate. Just because you’re against abortion doesn’t mean that you are the only ones who value life. (In fact, it’s amazing how often anti-abortionists are also for capital punishment and complacent about killing in war.) And alternatively, just because you’re for choice doesn’t mean that you like abortion. It merely means that you uphold a woman’s right to make a choice about her own body.
I consider myself pro-choice and pro-life. I am not pro-abortion in the sense that I think abortion is the only answer for an unwanted pregnancy. But I am anti-force. People like Palin are pro-force. They want to force women to have babies they can’t afford to have, whether the cost is financial, emotional or physical.
I have four daughters. When they asked, I told them about my own abortion. And then I told them that they should never get themselves in the position where they would have to make that decision. Because abortion is regrettable. It’s morally and ethically complicated. Whether a woman makes the decision lightly or anguishes over it for the rest of her life is something we can’t anticipate or regulate. Every woman had different reasons and reactions. It’s not for any one of us to say what they should believe or how they should act on their beliefs.
A woman who insists that you cannot ever have an abortion is no more a real feminist than one who insists that you have to get married or stay home with your children. And if we allow such women to call themselves feminists, real feminists will forfeit their right to represent all women.
Sarah Palin does not represent me or my beliefs. I don’t represent hers. But if she had her way, my views would be irrelevant. They would be sacrificed on the altar of arrogance and insensitivity.
Nora Ephron recently said that she is a director, not a woman director. “When you make a movie, there is not the remotest sense on a day to day basis that you are not exactly the same as anyone else who directs a movie.” But Abbie Cornish , who worked with Jane Campion in “Bright Star,” says, “I just notice, with a female director, there’s definitely more of a connection to the emotion and the feeling of a scene, and the physicality. They’re much more intimate on set.”
There are obviously two schools of thought about this. One asserts that women bring something different to the table just because they’re women. The other school, typically attributed to Second Wave feminists, is that women and men are interchangeable. Ephron obviously holds the latter view.
But is she right? And does what she say hold true for all types of roles? Is a mother interchangeable with a father? A female firefighter with a male firefighter? A female politician with a male politician? A businesswoman with a businessman? An actress with an actor?
I’ve heard this argument before. In the 1960s, the most iconic female in the world was the supermodel, Twiggy. Her name described her looks: long, skinny limbs, no breasts to speak of, pixie haircut and large, childlike eyes. She looked like a little girl more than a woman. Her popularity coincided with the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement and feminists saw a conspiracy of sorts in the way the media publicized her looks. To them it seemed that the patriarchy was feeling threatened by these women who were calling for change and trying to liberate women from their “God-given” roles as wives and mothers. And it responded by trying to get women to think of themselves as powerless children.
You have to wonder if something similar is going on today. Only now the stakes are even higher–and consequently so are the standards. With the rise to power of women like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin plus the last five decades of women’s advancements, it may be that the list of things that women must do to be “real” women has been lengthened on purpose. Nowadays women have to look great in a bikini (the skimpier the better) which means great breasts on an impossibly fit body on which all body hair has been removed. Women are made to feel that if they don’t fit the ideal, they’re of no consequence in the world.