gansje: (Gansje)
[personal profile] gansje

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.

Date: 2014-03-11 06:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Whoa, Nellie.

Well, I agree with every single point except one.

The point I disagree with is that men and women are all the same. I think we are actually different, and that it's not a difference that results entirely from cultural sculpting. BUT, those differences are also trivial. There are more shared characteristics -and not just between men and women, but between people and other earthlings.

The topic that you bring up about how women choose to present themselves...I sometimes get students who are exotic dancers. They say they are/feel empowered by their job. I get it, and I'm glad we live in a country where we can do what we want. But though dancers feel personally empowered, they really are just reiterating & fueling worn-out cultural stereotypes that ultimately damage us. Meaning, it's hard to be taken seriously as a working woman when men see women as armatures that support tits and ass. Sometimes personal freedom undermines the freedom and the safety of the group. Or maybe we need to trust that men know the difference between a stripper and a scientist...I bet they do. :)

Now that I wrote this, I feel: ARGH! I really am conflicted about this stuff. Because I also enjoy displays of female sexuality.

I did see the little Google Doodle. It was dull, which I guess is a synonym for empty.

Date: 2014-03-11 09:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
First of all, gansje, thank you for this sane and well-written, reflective piece that merits large exposure.

I sometimes get students who are exotic dancers. They say they are/feel empowered by their job. I get it, and I'm glad we live in a country where we can do what we want. But though dancers feel personally empowered, they really are just reiterating & fueling worn-out cultural stereotypes that ultimately damage us. Meaning, it's hard to be taken seriously as a working woman when men see women as armatures that support tits and ass.

This has always bothered me as well. When I have a student tell me she is a "sex worker" and announce that this is done by choice, free will, finds it empowering (and money making)...I just shake my head. Is my reaction and indication of my age? Despite a student's defense that there is no difference between working as a say, professor's research assistant, vs an exotic dancer, ("It's a job") I cannot agree with the student.

Date: 2014-03-11 07:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You know, I'm conflicted too; I also really enjoy my own femininity and do think we all need encouragement to enjoy our own sexuality in a more public way, one that embraces the LGBTQ and kink communities as well as cis-gender, straight communities. I almost wrote that into this post, but I wanted to keep it short/tight/readable, and that admission kind of took me off into another aspect of the problem.

I really love my bright red lipstick, sling-back heels and body-con clothing (as does L, which makes me love them all the more) and I'm happy that women can revel in their beauty in a way men can't revel in theirs. I like being a sexual creature, and I'm not quite sure how to resolve the conflict; after all, isn't the way I like to dress (and the fact I love to dress up at all) my own generation's way of doing the same thing younger women do online regarding self-presentation? I guess the main distinction is that I don't think any of us seek to define and represent ourselves solely in the realm of the sexual.

Date: 2014-03-11 07:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank YOU!

Date: 2014-03-11 04:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was wondering what you'd think about this post!

Date: 2014-03-11 06:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The only thing I ever object to is the bizarre implicit suggestion that somehow conditions are better somewhere else in the world where they most certainly are not, or at some point in the past when they most certainly were not. Also, I have been looking for an excuse to punch someone in a wheelchair for a while now for my own reasons unrelated to this post. So, if you can find that guy...

What is that concept that has to do with lowered expectations?

Date: 2014-03-11 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm definitely not implying in any way (or at least I didn't intend to imply) that somehow conditions are better somewhere else in the world. They absolutely are not. Do you mind highlighting or copying in the part of my post that implies that? I want to fix it.

Date: 2014-03-11 06:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Okay... this is one of those things...

You wrote post. I read it. I replied, "Thank YOU." You said, "I was wondering what you would think," which implied to me that you might have been expecting a negative response, but I gave a positive response. In that context, I replied with what I would have objected to, had it been present in your essay. Namely, sometimes people write these sorts of things and say, "If only I was in France, where everything is perfect, based on the fact that I went on vacation there when I was 19 for two weeks." Or worse, they write about how magical and wonderful it must be to wear a hijab or head scarf or body bag in some Islamic country and be free from being sexualized in public. The freedom from sexualization that only comes with the nationwide admission that all men are rapists and women are property than need to be hidden away from public life.

But you hinted at none of this. So I was pointing out what I would have objected to had it been present, but it was not.

Date: 2014-03-11 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
WHEW! I thought I miscommunicated! Now I see I misinterpreted -- in reading your response, I see what you meant to say!

Date: 2014-03-11 07:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am not always clear in my communication. This I have discovered by going back to read things I wrote years ago and having no idea what I originally meant. The good news is that as I get older, it doesn't take years, just months or sometimes even just a few hours!

Date: 2014-03-11 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]




May I reblog this? May I put this on Tumblr? Everybody in the world needs to see this.

Date: 2014-03-11 04:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sure! Mind if I clean it up a bit first?

Date: 2014-03-11 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sure, if you wanna! Totally fine if you're not okay with me sharing, it, too. Just let me know.

Date: 2014-03-11 07:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No, I'm fine sharing! I think the responses will be rather polarized, and there will be much finger pointing about "slut-shaming," unfortunately, because that concept gets applied much too broadly. I think it's lost its original very important point and has become more its own form of McCarthyism.

Date: 2014-03-11 05:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
i'd also like to post this on the book of faces, if it's not there already.

Date: 2014-03-11 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It isn't yet! Let me clean it up a little tonight? I want to change some words -- "never," for example, to "rarely," in order to nod toward women who do stand up, very bravely, for our rights to financial equity rather than for their ability to post my boob pix on the Internet.

BTW, the woman who gets harassed on a near-daily basis? I was thinking about you!

Date: 2014-03-11 09:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
awesome. yeah, just let me know! i really like this. eloquently said.

(i thought you might have been but didn't want to assume. :p)

Date: 2015-09-16 08:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi there *pokes*
Just wanted to say I added you now (from the friending meme), if you still want to be friends, feel free to add me back ;)


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