Post-Feminism

What is post-feminism and are we experiencing it? One of my favorite blogs, Finally, A Feminist 101 Blog, discusses post-feminism thoroughly in its FAQs. The article on Post-Feminism, by tekanji, explains in part:

“According to Wikipedia post-feminism began in the early 1980’s, though the origins, according to Hawkensworth, seem to be from as early as the 1970’s, when journalists and academics began proclaiming that feminism is dead. The basic idea behind the movement is that feminism has achieved its goals and now it is time to distance ourselves from the movement…

No matter what form it may take, however, it is clear that the movement arose out of a backlash against feminism. This backlash is often ascribed to the specialization and splintering of feminism, which is seen by many post-feminists as one of the root causes for feminism’s decline. Regardless of which frame is put on it, though, this backlash carries one primary notion: post-feminism’s rise signals a world ‘in which feminism has been transcended, occluded, overcome’ (Hawkensworth).”

I suppose whether or not we’re in a post-feminist world depends on who you ask. Second Wave feminists like me, while acknowledging that the tenor of feminism has changed, are hardly likely to pronounce feminism is dead. This is partly because of the way Second Wavers saw the problems of women in our patriarchal society. Some people think that feminism has served its purpose because so many advancements fought for by Second Wave feminists have been achieved.

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Women Writers Get No Respect

Why don’t women writers get as much respect as men writers? A recent Salon.com article (“Why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel?”) discusses this phenomenon in a review of Elaine Showalter’s A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. Showalter has some interesting speculations about what makes women writers less celebrated than men writers.

One is that it is assumed that women mainly write about topics that aren’t as interesting as the topics men write about. (Home and family versus war and travel, for instance.) Another is that women writers are simply not as accomplished. And one of her more interesting explanations was that women writers have trouble finding time to perfect their craft because they are primarily responsible for the domestic scene. (One reason why there were more celebrated English women writers during the 1800s may have been because English women were more likely to have household help than American women were.)

Women writers have no trouble hitting the bestseller lists (think J.K.Rowling and Stephanie Meyer), but they are much less likely to be mentioned in the most prestigious literary reviews, let alone receive prestigious awards for their writing.

I thought it was interesting that the same disparity appears in the blogosphere. The Huffington Post, for instance, has female bylines only 23% of the time. And of the posts that are written by women, a fifth of them are by Ariana Huffington. (For more detail, see this article on the FAIR–Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting–web site from November/December 2008.) So, it’s not just men who discriminate against women writers. Oh, the party line is that the best are picked regardless of gender, but is this really true? Are there really so few women writers that can measure up to editorial standards?

Catherine Orenstein, the founder of the Op-Ed Project (which aims to encourage and teach women to voice their opinions in op-ed venues) says that women need to be part of the public debate. “Women are actually the majority of bloggers if you look at all subject matter, but if you look at top blogs that are picked up and guiding policy, they’re in the minority.”

So it’s not merely that there aren’t enough women writers. There are a couple factors at work: 1) women’s opinion pieces are rejected, either because they’re women or because they’re not considered to be experts (after all, how can a woman be as much of an expert as a man in the same field?); and 2) women’s opinions are not solicited as often as men’s are. Because of these conditions, two things need to happen: 1) Women need to work on their credentials and their writing, to make both as strong as they can be; and 2) they need to start being pushy about getting their opinions out there. Print and online media need to be held accountable for their lack of diversity in the opinions they print.

How does this apply to women who write novels, poetry, essays, etc.? They, too, need to perfect their craft, but they also need to be assertive, even aggressive, about promoting themselves. They need to get rid of any feelings of not being as good as a man.

And they need to get someone to help with the housework.

How the Big Boys Do It

The author of Taking On The Big Boys: Or Why Feminism Is Good For Families, Business, and the Nation, Ellen Bravo, delineates six ways that “the Big Boys” (the mysterious “they” who run things) diminish feminism’s messages and take away her power. They:

Minimize–What problem? (Things are fine the way they are.)
Trivialize–That’s a problem? (Women have it made.)
Patronize–You don’t understand the problem (how things work).
Demonize–You’re the problem. (You’re just a bunch of ugly women who can’t get men.)
Catastrophize–
Your solution will cause greater problems. (You’re going to hurt someone else if you get want you want.)
Compartmentalize–You’re the only one who sees this as a problem. (Other groups have more urgent problems.)

It’s not just the heads of government or business who use these tactics. We’ve all heard them in our own homes. We’ve probably used the same tactics ourselves (like with our children). And you can bet that whoever uses these words is not really listening. They can’t afford to, because they’ve already made up their minds that they don’t want to change the way they do things.

People resist change. Even those who think that they embrace change have routines they’ve become used to, habits, if you will, and they get angry when someone tries to mess with them. And one of the things they really don’t want to change is the way they think.

People are also lazy. It takes real effort and a certain amount of humility to see another person’s point of view, let alone to concede that they may have a point. It’s easy to stay stuck in your rut. It’s much harder to let someone else tell you that you need to get out of it or even how to get out of it.

And what about those of us who are doing the talking? How do we handle the tactics of the Big Boys? Strangely enough, we need to listen, too. We need to hear what they’re really saying in order to shape our own arguments. We need to educate ourselves about the other person’s position in order to solidify our own.

Can I Call Myself a Feminist?

Ellen Bravo writes in her book, Taking On the Big Boys: Or Why Feminism Is Good For Families, Business, and the Nation, about a student of hers who wrote in a paper: “I don’t think I can call myself a feminist, because I haven’t been an activist.” Bravo demurs:”…taking action… encompasses an enormous range of behaviors, both individual and collective.” Thus, sticking up for yourself in a discussion, not putting up with demeaning behavior from a boyfriend and encouraging your daughter to take physics, are all feminist acts. Besides, we all have to start somewhere, and the first step is always to take on the feminist mantle.

It’s like my calling myself a writer. I used to think I wasn’t a real writer, because I hadn’t been published. But once I realized that I was a writer, because I wrote, no matter what the outside world could see, I got up the confidence to send out some submissions, and they were published. So now am I a “realer” writer? No, I was a writer to begin with: the act of writing made me a writer. But I had to start with realizing that I indeed was a writer before I was ready to take on the outside world.

That’s why consciousness-raising groups were so revolutionary in the Women’s Liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s. That process is still necessary; it’s just not called by the same name. Most, if not all, women come to feminism by having their consciousness raised about the inequities in the system when it comes to being female. I didn’t come to feminism in a consciousness-raising group per se. I was taking a class on the Women’s Liberation movement, and it suddenly dawned on me that feminism made sense. I would venture to say that a lot of young women–and some men, too–come to feminism when they take Women’s Studies courses.

But you don’t have to have taken Women’s Studies courses to call yourself a feminist. What you do need to do is examine feminism and measure your own values and beliefs against it. If you find that you agree that women are discriminated against in any area of life–just because they are women–then you are a feminist. If you believe that women have the right to call their own shots, then you are a feminist. If you are searching for a relationship in which there is equality, then you are a feminist. You may not be ready to take to the streets in protest of anything that smacks of gender discrimination, but you are still a feminist.

You don’t have to join an organization, any more than you have to join the ACLU to signify that you are for civil liberties. You don’t have to read Ms. magazine to prove that you’re a feminist. You may not even want to call yourself a feminist. A lot of women and men are feminists in their outlook and behavior, but they wouldn’t put that label on themselves. In cases like that, I think they should be “outed.” They should be called on the carpet for not identifying with feminism, when they obviously have feminist principles.

After all, if a person says, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died to save me from my sins,” then that person is a Christian and shouldn’t be afraid to call herself one. Some people would argue that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t act like one. There is something to that, but I would argue that you’re not going to act like one until you know in your heart that you are one. It’s the same with being a feminist. Start with the beliefs and the actions will follow. I guarantee it.

Protecting Anti-Abortionists’ Rights

I don’t know any women who are happy about having to have an abortion. They would have much preferred to not have been pregnant in the first place. But if some people had their way, they wouldn’t have a choice about that either. There is a movement to ban most, if not all, forms of birth control on the same grounds as a ban on abortion: they stop the implantation of a fertilized egg, even though, in the case of birth control pills, that is not a medically proven fact.

In an article on Prevention.com, the growing threat to women’s reproductive rights is clearly outlined. It is not just individuals or fringe groups which are calling for a ban on birth control. The threat reaches as high as President Bush:

“In his first budget to Congress, President Bush stripped out a provision that required insurance companies participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to cover contraceptives. He has also withheld funding for international family planning; signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which critics say could result in making even second-trimester abortions illegal; and signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which gives a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus separate legal status if harmed during a violent crime.

“Bush also appointed three antiabortion doctors to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee: W. David Hager, MD, Susan Crockett, MD, and Stanford. When their committee and the FDA’s Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee met jointly last December, the group voted 23 to 4 in favor of giving over-the-counter status to emergency contraceptives. Dissenters included Hager, Crockett, and Stanford. In May, the FDA decided not to grant the drug OTC status.”

Not only that, but Bush now has a Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal circulating around Capitol Hill that would require medical practices and hospitals that receive federal aid to certify that they will not fire or refuse to hire doctors who refuse to offer abortion services and certain types of birth control.

The draft rule is known as a “conscience clause” because it would allow nurses and doctors who have ethical or moral objections to abortion or birth control to refuse to prescribe or provide those services to patients. The rule proposes to cut off money to any grant recipient or hospital that refuses to hire doctors and nurses who object to abortion.

In the original draft proposal, HHS’ position was that abortion be defined as any [italics mine] drug or procedure “that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

The official version of the proposal, in which the language about abortion and birth control has been removed, was released on August 21, 2008. Now the proposal requires that “the Department and recipients of Department funds (including State and local governments) refrain from discriminating against institutional and individual health care entities for their participation or refusal to participate in certain medical procedures or services, including certain health services, or research activities funded in whole or in part by the federal government.”

But proponents of women’s reproductive rights argue that the language is vague enough to allow room for discrimination against specific medical procedures and services such as abortion and the dissemination of birth control. If health care workers can refuse to perform or provide such services, the patient is effectively cut off from her right to receive reproductive health care. And a woman’s reproductive rights are compromised, if not nullified.

The crazy thing is, health care providers are already protected from having to perform procedures (abortion) if they conflict with their religious beliefs. So why this new proposal? It appears that the only reason for it is to expand the types of procedures and services which can be denied by a “conscience-ridden” provider as well as expand the kinds of workers who are to be given that protection. Even someone who cleans the utensils will have the right to refuse to do his or her job if the procedure being performed is against his or her religious beliefs.

This may not seem like a big deal in areas where there are plenty of health care alternatives. But what about when health care providers are limited? Or when the patient needs immediate attention? And what comes next? Will all health services be prohibited from denying employment to someone whose religious beliefs would be a problem in the performance of their duties? Will states follow suit and restrict any activities that are funded by state funds? Will pharmacists become reluctant to dispense birth control just like so many doctors are now afraid to perform abortions?

What about the rights of those who want and need these services? Why do anti-abortionists’ rights supercede theirs?


 

Mother Discrimination and the Importance of Children

Technically, a woman can’t be denied employment or be fired because she’s a woman. But it’s okay to discriminate against a woman in the workplace because she’s married or has children. Men’s higher salaries are often justified because they have families to support. So why don’t single mothers also get paid more? Because it is assumed that it is her fault that there isn’t a man in the picture taking care of her. She doesn’t deserve a break because she screwed up. It doesn’t matter if she was abused or deserted. She’s seen as a liability not an asset.

Supposedly when men have wives or children they are more responsible, not less. But women are seen as unreliable and less committed. They use more sick and family leave, they hate to stay late to finish work or attend meetings, they don’t like to take work home with them, they’re not as willing to relocate. And that’s not even taking into consideration the women who never make it into the workplace–or only work part-time–because they’re the ones who are primarily responsible for child care.

People who want to deny the existence of mother discrimination are always pulling the house husband out of the hat, as if there are that many of them. But because a man usually makes more money than his wife, it makes more sense for her to be the one who stays home with the children. (If anyone does.) House husbands are few and far between. Then there are those who say that mothers chose to have children, therefore they have to accept what goes with the territory. Why do they have to accept it? Men don’t have to.

And so we come around the circle again. Why can’t we just agree that any family that has children in it, whether headed by a man or a woman, deserves all the support it can get: flexible work hours, the right to refuse extra (uncompensated) work, quality and affordable child care, health insurance coverage for the children? Those who don’t have children complain about this proposal, because they figure they shouldn’t have to pay for those who do. But what they don’t realize is, if they don’t make allowances now for families with children, they’re not as likely to have healthy, well-adjusted, productive people to run our country and our institutions and to support and take care of them.

When we’re relatively young, all we can see is what we’re doing, as if we’re responsible for everything. We think that we run the world. Our parents are too old and children are too young. We’re the ones upon which everything hinges. Well, guess what? Sooner or later we’re going to be the ones who need taken care of, in one way or another. Those former children are going to be our doctors and health care providers, our politicians and legislators, our policemen and firemen and on and on. If too few of them become competent, caring, and responsible, our lives are going to be hell.

Most of us take the time to plan for our retirements, but short-sightedly we don’t plan for our future. Children are investments. They will mature when we are old. We need them and we need them to be in as good a shape as possible. So why do so many of us balk at doing what it takes to make sure that they are? Let’s make sure that all parents have the support they need to raise their children to be healthy, mentally and physically. It shouldn’t matter if the parent is male or female: it’s the well-being of the children that is the ultimate goal.