What If Tiger Woods Was a Woman?

Tiger woods closeupAccording to Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Tiger Woods has given men a bad name by his philandering ways. As if men needed Tiger Woods for that. Cohen himself writes that men are conditioned to “spread their seed around” while women are conditioned to mate with the alpha male and mother the resultant children. “This is the way it is and this is the way it’s always been,” he says in his December 14th column.

He even goes so far as to say that the reason the Glass Ceiling hasn’t been broken is because women have different priorities. In other words, it’s not sexism that keeps women from succeeding; it’s their own choices.

Echidne of the Snakes, one of my favorite bloggers, begs to differ: “It could be that our biological inheritance explains the dearth of female Tiger Woodses. But I’m pretty sure that a culture which condones the male type (nudge-nudge) and disapproves of the female type has a role to play, too. And so do writers like Richard.”

I have a bit different take on the problem. I think the reason there are more men than women behaving badly is because men start to believe their own press. When someone like Tiger Woods achieves the level of prestige and power that he has, he thinks he is untouchable. Women rarely achieve that status because women aren’t accorded the same power that men are. Women know that they have to behave themselves. Even Madonna has limited her liaisons to the times when she has been single. And would Oprah have the same respect if she didn’t have “Steady Stedman” in the wings? What if she were caught cheating on the guy? Would people say, “That’s just the way women are”?

Continue reading “What If Tiger Woods Was a Woman?”

The Happiness Index

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers released a paper in May of this year for the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) about “the paradox of declining female happiness. ” Soon after, op-ed columnist for the New York Times  Ross Douthat wrote a column about the paper titled “Liberated and Unhappy.” And now we have Maureen Dowd, another NYT columnist, weighing in on the same topic in “Blue is the New Black.” (I don’t understand the title, but maybe that’s just me.)

We feminists are used to being blamed for all of society’s ills. In fact, women in general ought to be used to that, especially the ones who are uppity enough to sound off about their complaints. Look at parenting: which parent comes under the most fire when it comes to the success of their children? Apparently all the dad has to do is be there to be effective. (How many times have you heard it said that single-parent–read “mother” –households would be better off if there were a man in the house?) But the mother has to do far more than just be there. And God help her, if she doesn’t fulfill all her roles, she will be blamed for the problems her children have, as well as for all the ills of society.

This could be part of the reason women are unhappy. But does it account for their greater unhappiness which has coincidentally occurred since the feminist revolution? Douthat writes:

“In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.”

Dowd goes a step further:

“When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.”

And yet how many of today’s women would want to trade their lives for the lives their mothers lived? And is it really all the choices that are making women unhappy?

I have compiled what I call “The Happiness Index.” What it does is list several factors that can contribute to a sense of well-being (or the reverse) and asks a woman to rate where she stands on a scale from 1 to 5, or “very unhappy, “unhappy,” “neutral (neither happy or unhappy),” “happy” or “very happy.”

  1. If you are in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  2. If you are not in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  3. How do you feel about your marital status (single, divorced, married)? (Indicate what your status is.)
  4. How do you feel about being a parent, if you are one?
  5. If you are not a parent, how do you feel about being childless?
  6. If you have a career outside of your parenting and household duties, how do you feel about it?
  7. How do you feel about the work you do outside of the home?
  8. How do you feel about the work you do inside of the home?
  9. How do you feel about how appreciated you are (by partner, child(ren), friends, employer, co-workers)? (Answer for each category.)
  10. How do you feel about your economic status?
  11. How do you feel about where you live (the neighborhood, city, country or your actual home)?
  12. If you have a religious affiliation or a spiritual life, how happy are you with either/both?
  13. How happy are you with the part politics and government play in your life?
  14. No matter what you do, how do you feel about the amount of autonomy you have? (Do you wish you had more or less?)
  15. What is your attitude about your looks?
  16. Are you happy with how you are aging?
  17. How do you feel about your health?
  18. How do you feel about your sex life?

Now add up your scores. The higher the score, the happier you are (and the lower, the unhappier, of course). Pretty simple.

Blaming–or crediting–the feminist movement alone for your unhappiness or happiness is pointless. It’s not the degree of choice that stresses women out, it’s whether or not they have choices. It’s not what your marital status is that makes you happy or unhappy–it’s how you feel about your status, not to mention the quality of the relationships you do have. In fact, what you make of all these situations is the greatest factor of all.

And then there’s the question of the effect feminism itself has had on all of these areas. To what degree can you blame feminism for your looks, how you’re aging and and your health? Does feminism aid or hinder your parenting or relationship skills? Has feminism made your economic situation better or worse (or are there other factors that have contributed to your economic stability or instability? If you are divorced, has feminism given you more power in the negotiations? Do you think you would have gotten that promotion, salary, admission or career without feminism? Has feminism made it more or less likely that you will be stuck in a low-paying job? Would you have had enough courage to ask for sexual satisfaction or to seek out birth control if this were the ’50s?

I deplore knee-jerk reactions in either direction when it comes to the debate about what feminism has done for women–and men–in our society. What is really called for is a thoughtful consideration of all the factors that can influence happiness levels. The pursuit of happiness is a tricky thing, but important enough to be mentioned in our constitution along with life and liberty. What part does feminism play in your life satisfaction? Only you can decide.

The Female Condom

The female condom is not a new product, but it is definitely unfamiliar to most American women. Its biggest market is in Africa where 45 million were distributed last year. Why isn’t it more popular here?

For one thing, since male condom use is so high in the U.S., women don’t have as great a need to find something similar to protect themselves and are more likely to use conventional female contraceptives.

For another, information about contraceptives, period, has been limited because of the prevalence of abstinence-only sex education. If women don’t know how to use the female condom, they are less likely to purchase them.

Then there is the fact that not even health professionals are familiar enough with the product to recommend it to their patients.

Up until recently, it has been fairly costly: $2 to $5 a condom. That’s much more expensive than other forms of birth control. Now there is a second-generation female condom that is considerably cheaper. (I didn’t find any cheaper ones on the Internet, but that could be because those are first-generation condoms.)

Go here for a how-to video and a chart comparing male and female condoms.

Source article on Care2.com by Laura Sessions Stepp, Senior Media Fellow at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Also check out the National Campaign’s website, SexReally, which “seeks to foster conversations about relationships and sex while addressing gaps in people’s knowledge about fertility and contraceptive use through polling, videos, podcasts and other content.”

The Twin Evils

The twin evils: domestic violence and child abuse. We don’t usually talk about how they go together. But in reading the paper this morning, I realized that there is a connection. They may not both occur in the same household, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they often do. I haven’t seen studies on a possible correlation, however.

The paper I was reading was The Columbus Dispatch, the only daily paper in Columbus, Ohio.  (There used to be two, but the fact that I remember that dates me, big time.) The first article bore the headline “Cases of child abuse multiply.” Apparently there has been a 26% increase in child abuse cases from 2007 through 2008 and a 15% increase over the same period so far this year, according to reports from Columbus’ Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But similar increases have been reported across the nation.

What is most disturbing is that child abuse fatalities have more than doubled over this past year. Nationwide Children’s saw five cases in 2007 and 12 in 2008. These cases draw from the Central Ohio area of which Columbus, the largest city,  is still only three-quarters of a million in population. The thing about child abuse, and especially fatalities caused by abuse, is that even one case is too much.

The most upsetting case I recently read about was where an infant was so abused both her femur bones were snapped off at the hips. The abuser, her father, was sentenced to 21 years. The paper says of the child, now 16 months old, only that she “is recovering.” What a horrible way to start a life.

Then I looked at the next page and saw where a man in Holden, Louisiana, killed his estranged wife, son and two-year-old grandson and seriously injured his pregnant daughter-in-law (who subsequently delivered three months early) before taking his own life when police caught up with him 20 minutes later. And guess what? The wife had a restraining order against him. Surprise, surprise.

In the article about child abuse, the medical director at Nationwide Children’s Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Dr. Philip Scribano, is quoted as saying, “One could argue pretty compellingly that the most potent explanation [for the increase in child abuse cases] is, in fact, the economic decline. ” He said that he believes “that there is something between the stress that families experience during a downturn and how that stress is manifested in the home.”

Might not this also include domestic violence? Our families are at risk because of the worsening economy and the most common victims are wives and children. Not all abusers are male, but the vast majority are and that’s just one more reason to be vigilant about how we teach our sons to handle stress and strong emotions. You don’t snap off the legs of your infant daughter. You don’t murder all the members of your household, including your two-year-old grandson.

Yes, I may be overstating the situation, but to the families of the victims, I’m probably not stating it vigorously enough.

Tuesday Tidbits

Misogyny, Up Close and Personal” by Melissa McEwan in the guardian.co.uk. How we can love men while not liking everything they do.

Marcella Chester’s blog about being a rape survivor:  “Abyss2hope.” This particular article is about the incidence of sexual abuse among boys and girls.  Also check out her website, “Date Rape is Real Rape.”

Bitch Magazine blog post by Mandy Van Deven about the classist, sexist, racist, homophobic and just plain mean blog, People of WalMart. (I could find the Facebook page for PeopleofWalmart, but not the website.)

Feminists Naomi Wolfe and Phyllis Chesler “face off over the veil” at Salon Broadsheet. This one’s especially interesting to me because like Wolfe, I defend any woman’s right to wear a headcovering, but I identify with Chesler’s views since I am also a Second-Waver. Read the article by Wolfe that started the debate:  “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality.”

Another Reason Why Women Shun Feminism

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why women shun the feminist label and I think I’ve hit on yet another reason: they don’t want to see the world the way feminists see it. They don’t want to view men, themselves or society as negatively as it seems that feminists do.

They don’t want to see men as the enemy.

I can understand that. There are good men out there. Perhaps they feel that theirs is one of them. At the very least, they don’t want to write off all men because of those who are unfeeling, demanding and abusive. They have to coexist with the opposite sex. Many of them are dependent on men for their support. Men make it possible for them to have children (who also need men’s protection). And damn it, men can be irresistible. Most women are hardwired to desire them (and the ones who aren’t are considered “unnatural”). It’s uncomfortable, sometimes impossible, to be resentful of the very person you also love.

They don’t want to see themselves as victims.

When feminists critique male/female relationships all too often it sounds as if women themselves are part of the problem. They’re weak and compliant. They assent to their own second-class citizenship. But they resent being told that they are second-class citizens. After all, they don’t feel that they are. So they conclude that feminists are the only ones who think of them that way. (Because most men won’t openly admit that they see women that way.) So they resent feminists.

They don’t want to see society as a big conspiracy to put them down.

Many women avoid identifying as feminists because it makes them look and feel paranoid, as if there is a patriarchal bogeyman underneath every bed. They don’t see the difference between criticizing the social structure itself and criticizing the people who make up that structure. They think that feminists make it sound as if men sit around in smoke-filled rooms plotting how to shortchange and dominate women. They don’t understand how a whole society can be influenced by a few misogynistic men.

Feminists don’t have all the answers but they have enough awareness to know there is a problem and enough courage to question why. Sure, it’s easier sometimes to not rock the boat, to accept things the way they are, to stop expecting a perfect society. (Besides, no one agrees on what that perfect society would look like.) But feminists are not satisfied with the status quo. They see the big picture, not just the individual pieces. They are capable of imagining something that works better for everyone, not just for men.

All movements are fueled by visions of a better world. Feminists are not asking men and women to see themselves negatively. They are merely asking men and women to see the world as it could be if everyone was a winner. Some people cynically declare that such a world is impossible. But feminists are eternal optimists. They refuse to let go of their dreams. And they are willing to shake things up to make their dreams come true. All they’re asking is that people try to see the world as a place of possibilities instead of missed opportunities.

Feminists are not just trying to change the world. They’re trying to make it a better one.