Discouraging Teen Pregnancies

The British Health Service attempted to run an ad campaign by disseminating a convincingly real cell-phone video of a schoolgirl giving birth on the soccer field. You Tube banned the video but you can still see it via this article on Salon.com’s Broadsheet. I’m assuming it’s designed to scare the hell out of teenagers who might be having or contemplating a sexual relationship. The idea is that teens will think it’s real and send it to each other by cell-phone, thus discouraging them from having sex (presumably because it would be too embarrassing to give birth at school with everyone watching).

I don’t know what will work, short of making it illegal, to discourage teens from having babies. Maybe we should take the baby away from the underage mother and put it up for adoption without her permission. Or how about forcing the fathers to pay child support? (Oh, yeah, that’s been tried.)

The bottom line is, women (and girls) getting pregnant when they didn’t mean to has been happening from time immemorial. And the answer to their dilemma is not to limit their access to contraception, like some faith-based organizations propose we do. (Either because they think giving them access encourages sexual behavior or because they think that almost all contraception causes abortion–both misguided notions.)

The only thing that will discourage teen pregnancies is to give women something more to look forward to than getting a man and having babies. I started my family after I dropped out of college to support my husband while he finished school. To be honest, I wanted something that was all mine, too, like his college degree was his. But since I assumed that he would be supporting the family, I didn’t feel the same impulse to finish school and start a career. And once I had kids, it looked too hard to go back to school. The money wasn’t there for one thing, and more importantly, the encouragement wasn’t there. From my husband or from society.

Girls need to be inculcated at an early age with the idea that they need to be able to support themselves and that they might as well do something they really like while they do so. Most of the teens who are having babies are not thinking that way. Or if they are, it’s because having the baby forces them to. But if they were excited about their futures, if they saw themselves really going somewhere, would they be as willing to risk it all by getting pregnant?

When A Feminist Marries, Part 2: What’s In A Name?

One of the comments that Jessica Valenti got about her feminist wedding (see my previous post, “[intlink id=”when-a-feminist-marries” type=”post”]When A Feminist Marries[/intlink]”) is that “tying together weddings with feminist values is probably a herculean task to pull off.” I couldn’t agree more. Another wrote that “if anyone can get married in an awesome, non-lame, non-patriarchal hardcore way, it’d be you.” I agree with that also.

Thank you, Jessica, for being willing to reveal your personal life as a way to help the rest of us work out the meaning of feminism in our lives.

When you announce your impending wedding, one of the first questions you will be asked is: What are you going to do about your name?

This comes up even among women who are not feminists, which goes to show you how much influence feminism has had on our society. Valenti is leaning toward hyphenation, she says. What are the other options?

  • Keeping your own name.
  • Taking your husband’s name socially but keeping your own name professionally.
  • Having your husband take your name.
  • Switching last names.
  • Making up an entirely new name for both of you.
  • Replacing your middle name with your maiden name while taking his name as your last name.
  • Taking his name and giving your maiden name to your children as their first or middle names.
  • Adding his last name at the end of your name without a hyphen. (For example, you would be known as Susan Ann Smith Jones.)

Continue reading “When A Feminist Marries, Part 2: What’s In A Name?”

A New Legacy For Men

Grace Paley contributed a short essay to Sisterhood is Forever (2003) entitled “Why Peace Is (More Than Ever) A Feminist Issue.” In it she charges that the legacy of men is war. Many would dispute that by saying that women are just as capable of starting and fighting a war as men are. But history doesn’t bear that out. Whether it’s just the way men are or the fact that they are the ones who call the shots (literally) in this society, the evidence supports Paley’s belief that women (specifically feminists) are the hope of the future, peace-wise.

Feminists are torn between two camps (as are traditionalists): biological determination or socialization (nature vs. nurture). Are women and men essentially equal in every respect except for the molds in which society makes them? Or are there basic biological differences that create male and female behaviors, regardless of socialization?

I know there are plenty of feminists out there who deliberately kept dolls from their daughters and guns from their sons and found that it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference: their girls still gravitated toward nurturing behaviors and their boys still engaged in warfare of various kinds.

And yet there were usually discernible differences. Their children’s behaviors tended to be more androgynous than what society views as gender-appropriate. Their daughters were more assertive and their boys more reflective–but they never completely switched roles. Which tends to make the case for both biological and socialized influences.

Feminist ideology says that even though it might be natural for women to be more passive and men to be more aggressive, the ideal is to mix it up so that each sex’s less-productive tendencies are tempered by positive behaviors and attitudes from the other sex. It is a misperception that feminists want to become like men; what they want is to have the same advantages that men have in this society. But they also recognize that women have advantages of their own. What is rarely said is that they want men to have access to those as well.

Feminists want to make it possible for men to say: “You know what, I don’t want to fight.” Or to stay home with the children. Or to be day care providers. Or fashion designers without being called “gay.” Or to be gay without it being negative. Just as they want women to be able to fight for what they think is right without being labeled masculine (or lesbian). To be allowed to lead, to make decisions, to inspire others.

What feminists are not saying is that women need to start acting like men and vice versa. Feminists want polarization of the sexes to disappear. To see women and men cooperate with one another. To teach our children to become both independent and interdependent. To seek a balance between female and male attributes. To remove the stain of war as a legacy. Is that too much to ask?

If I Were a Boy

Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy” is an interesting exercise in role reversal (as is her video–click on the link). It’s clearly a love song with a feminist twist. The singer is warning her lover that he may not get away with acting “like a boy” if he takes it too far. She implies that if a man had a clue about what it’s like to be a woman–and how to love a woman–then he’d be a better man.

Is this man-bashing? I don’t think so. If anything, it’s a cautionary tale. “Listen to her…Don’t take her for granted…or all that you have will be destroyed.” If the song touches a nerve–or a heart–it could be because it’s a common female lament. Maybe with Beyonce singing this, men will pay attention to the lyrics (and not just to how Beyonce looks in a police officer’s uniform).

Feminism: Good or Evil?

I hope that we all know how far ultra-conservatives can go in their denouncements of feminists and how ridiculous their claims are. Feminists are not necessarily lesbian, they don’t advocate a man-less society, they don’t encourage women to leave their husbands or neglect their children and they do not, as a rule, practice witchcraft.

But has feminism done anything negative to the fabric of society or to women themselves? Here are some of the criticisms I’ve heard over the years and my personal response to them:

1. Feminism is exclusionary. It excludes all women who do not toe the party line (and men altogether.)

It may feel this way from the perspective of those who do not consider themselves feminists. But feminism is for all women, whether or not they agree with the feminist ideology. As for men, feminists believe that what is good for women is also good for men.

2. Feminism has marginalized women of color. It is basically a white, mid- to upper-class movement. Minorities need not apply for positions of influence and leadership.

This objection has had some validity in the past. The reality was that white women had the means and influence to get the movement going. That does not excuse them for not seeking to join forces with women of color, but it is a fact of life that people tend to come together with people like themselves to work toward achieving their unique goals. Feminist ideology, however, demands unity and any feminist worth her (or his) salt is completely open to working with all women.

3. Feminism rejects tradition. It asserts that anything traditional is tainted by the patriarchal system in which we live.

It is true that feminists are critical of patriarchy and feel that it is a system that needs a severe overhaul. That does not mean a rejection of traditional values, but a reworking of ways to express them.

4. Feminism goes against biology. It ignores the natural differences between the sexes and seeks conformity to a model that is gender neutral.

This was more true during the ’60s and ’70s than it is today. Today’s feminist acknowledges the role of biology but contends that much of what seems to be biological differences are actually the result of socialization. The feminist goal is to free both men and women to be who they want to be, regardless of social expectations.

4. Feminism is anti-male. It promotes a world run by women to benefit women. Anything masculine is ridiculed and reviled.

Feminism may seem this way, especially to men, because it challenges the status quo and makes them feel threatened. No one likes change, let alone being forced to change, so there are often bad feelings between men and feminists. Man-hating, however, is not a feminist tenet.

5. Feminism is divisive. Not only does it drive wedges between men and women it also creates hostility between women who are married and unmarried, working and non-working, lesbian and straight, and mothers and childless.

Again, people tend to side with their own and to see everything through that group’s lenses. This is as true of feminists as it is of anyone. But the truth is, one of feminism’s main goals is to build bridges among all women, regardless of marital, parental or working status.

6. Feminism is anti-female. Traditionally female, that is. Women are not supposed to beautify themselves or act “like women” in any way for fear that they may be buying into the idea that they are sex objects and servants, i.e, male-oriented.

Not wanting to be seen as a sex object or manservant does not mean that feminists are anti-female. On the contrary, feminists believe that women don’t need to remake themselves to someone else’s specifications to be valued for who they are. Younger feminists are more likely to claim their right to be as “girly” as they want to be, as long as they are doing it for themselves and not because men won’t accept them otherwise.

7. Feminism is anti-life. It is pro-abortion. Enough said.

While this seems to be a clear-cut issue, it really isn’t. Feminists believe that all women should have decision-making power over their own bodies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are for abortion. Most feminists would be happy to decrease the number of abortions, as long as women aren’t forced to go through with unwanted pregnancies.

8. Feminism is anarchistic. It seeks to tear apart the very fabric of society. It is against all forms of authority, which it insists are male-dominated.

Feminism seeks wholeness for all people, but knows that change is often necessary to bring that into being. Change can seem like anarchy at times. And while feminists do not throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to authority, it does urge women to question the restrictions that are put upon them by others.

9. Feminism is anti-religious. Not only is it against religious values, it is also not sanctioned by any of the major religions.

Whether a woman can be religious and a feminist has been argued for ages. There are definitely clashes between religious and feminist values. But they are not insurmountable. Feminist ideology does not rule out being religious; it only seeks to sort out the parts of religion that are damaging to a woman’s well-being as well as to her relationship with God. And while religions may not come out and sanction feminism per se, most do uphold a person’s right to seek equality and human dignity.

10. Feminism is unnecessary.

This is an old, old argument. People have always insisted that women have it good, that they like things the way they are, that there is no need for emancipation. Tell that to the women who were “kept” by their husbands, who couldn’t own property or enter into contracts, who weren’t even allowed to vote until 144 years after the establishment of this country. Okay, you’re thinking, that was almost a hundred years ago; what do women have to bitch about now? Well, answering that question is the point of this blog–so keep coming back!