Saturday was International Women's Day, which Sheryl Sandberg on down acknowledged via Google Doodle, but being busy with work and family things, it took me a few days to write this. Bear with me here and please forgive lack of flow. I actually wrote a much longer post that included a bit about how we inhabit three bodies, but I removed it to spare you all the longest read in history. I'll post that later, maybe.
Dear Google Doodle: To celebrate International Woman's Day, I have my period and am swollen up like a balloon. Seriously, the scale says I gained 4.5 lbs between this morning, when I didn't have my period and now, right here now at 8 pm, when I do. But don’t worry. I’m not about to confuse biology with pathology, unlike my old OB/GYN, who bought into the idea that having periods themselves is a pathology and persuaded me to get a Mirena IUD because I didn’t want worse periods with the Paragard IUD, did I? When the Mirena could take them away entirely? Now I bleed every two weeks. Thanks, doc.
One woman I know got harassed online by a creep and another woman friend gets harassed in person on what seems like a weekly basis. A few months ago, I stopped to help a man in a wheelchair who dropped something, and when I gave it to him, he grabbed me and tongued my cheek while making, “mmmmmm” sounds until I was able to disengage myself and stalk away. We often get paid less than our male counterparts for equal to more work. I work far harder and longer hours than L. in an industry that pays on average a great deal more than his field, but I make a lower base salary and only a little more than he does after bonuses. I have reason to suspect that men at my current level at my office make about $10K more than I do. Only men in my office have been promoted to Director. Young women get rabid about their rights to represent themselves online “any way they want,” which is fine and well within one’s rights of self-expression and presentation, but apparently “any way I want” means conforming to standard 20th century male-informed constructs of “appropriate” female sexuality (i.e. pouting and taking selfies in the mirror while wearing little t-shirts and thongs), never once seeing that they're not representing anything but what males classically have held steady in their gazes, and some seek to victimize. How is it fully representative of your freedom as a woman to present yourself unironically as something for men to consume?
I remember in a class in cultural models and cognitive anthropology that I taught at Penn, I had my students construct models of human relationships to get at concepts of kinship, and at some point in the discussion, one young woman said, "I definitely want to get married. Who wouldn't want a man to take care of her?"
Wow, that's one expensive “Mrs.” degree you have there, sweetie… not to mention one hell of a misconception that being “taken care of” instead of entering an equal partnership gets you anything but in one mess of trouble later in life.
We have two female friends caught up in what really seems to be an abusive relationship with one man, but his drunken abusiveness is obscured and confounded by the lifestyle they choose to lead and the heteronormative 1950’s gender roles they choose to inhabit and defend vigorously. Why is it, friends, that when a young woman loudly and publicly defends her right to self-representation, it’s frequently over her right to be treated poorly if she wants, or her right to be reduced to a sexualized caricature, and rarely her right to earn the same wages that men in her position, in her company, earn? Why is it never to be promoted or to be given new intellectual and financial opportunities? Countless women who came before – even their own mothers – fought and worked tirelessly for their daughters’ future right to choose their vocations, avocations, and ultimately, their own financial fate, apart from their husbands’. Who would have thought that *at home, scantily clad, posting pictures of themselves on the Internet, deriving self-satisfaction and personal validation from virtual wolf whistles*, would be one of the things they actively chose?
Except it’s easier and more immediately rewarding to choose to fit yourself to a stereotype than it is to actually try to swim upstream. There’s that, of course. It’s been made much easier by the structure of the Internet to perform female subjugation as an apparent (but never, never actual) demonstration of freedom.
Oh, but I’m sorry. It’s International Woman’s Day, and here I am talking only about North America, where we at least have the ability to choose whether or not to represent ourselves as sex objects, as opposed to other countries where if you think you have a choice, you’re sadly mistaken. You may think you’re choosing to get firewood, but no, you’re actually choosing to be someone’s sex object and site of violent political demonstration. You may think you’re riding a bus with your male friend, but actually you’re just a sex toy to use mercilessly and then discard, torn, like a spent condom.
International Women’s Day indeed. Too little, too light, too shallow. We’ve made so many inroads and then allowed them to be backfilled because feminism as a movement was deeply flawed. Instead of taking the lead on challenging the constructs of race and class, we instead allowed feminism to implode, allowed it to become an outmoded, rather silly notion with which no one wants to identify. We don’t need to reclaim our rights to dress as we please and post photos online, or to be in an abusive relationship, or to get married and let our husbands support us. We need to reclaim feminism. And in so doing, we need to claim humanism – the idea that in essence we men and women are all the same, and that any differences we experience are inculcated by culture and social pre/proscription. We do not need to perform our sexuality online to challenge societal female norms. That fruit hangs far too low. We need to perform our humanity by simply striving to achieve all that is possible within our social reality, and we need to actively support any people, particularly those of marginalized genders, who struggle, and are blocked, from doing the same. But instead we all tread water, either using heteronormative constructs of femininity to keep us largely afloat, or allowing ourselves, like I do, to slip under water occasionally because we're trying to stay afloat while carrying "it all."
Thanks, Google Doodle, for reminding me that we still need our own day and that ultimately it means nothing. I needed that.