Monday, April 09, 2007

What is Sarah doing 101: Part 1-Feminism

This is Part 1 of what should have been introductory posts. See the reasoning behind it here.

I'm separating the feminist stuff into two posts: This general one and one on violence against women and sexual violence in particular.

Bitch, PhD has a great thread (as she says, be sure to read the comments) on Misogyny in real life filled with individual stories of exactly what the title implies. It covers everything from sexualized comments and dismissive reactions to rape (there are some disturbing and possibly triggering stories in there), to threats to job advancement and invasive critiques on women's behaviour.

“The Male Privilege Checklist” also covers a lot of what I think is important in contemporary North American feminism, particularly the ubiquitous and therefore altogether too easily dismissed stuff.

Women still fight for equal pay. The vast majority of households in poverty in Canada are headed by women, because they can’t afford adequate child care, because their attempts to advance their careers are put on hold by the time it takes to raise children, and because of the aforementioned actual, everyday occurrence of not receiving equal pay for equal work. Though it’s illegal in Ontario to even ask someone in a job interview about his or her present parenting arrangements or future plans, the idea that it’s not desirable to hire a woman who may end up taking maternity leave, or who has small children for whom she is probably the primary caregiver, is often brought in by backdoor means.

Expanding a bit based on personal experience and anecdotes, as a woman, I have to think constantly about what my clothing says about me sexually. Men, of course, can and do focus on how the way they dress reflects upon their status or their desirability, but don’t have to evaluate whether they look like they’re looking to be looked at. What I wear is never just about what I wear, but who I’m wearing it for. Despite being an intelligent, funny, generous woman, I am regularly reduced to a body by comments that ignore what I am saying and focus entirely on the way I look from the neck down. I complimented a male acquaintance on his appearance recently, because he had been sick and it was very nice to see him looking healthy and vibrant again, and his immediate reaction was to turn the conversation to talking about my body. I politely said “thank you” to his basic compliment, and his response was actually “No--thank you”, complete with a leer at my breasts, as though my physical appearance were actually some kind of gift to him, or in any way connected to his enjoyment at all.

The power to attract men sexually is being mistaken for actual political voice and political power. As I said, many more articulate people than I write about this stuff, so here's a link on the subject from The Happy Feminist.

Am I an anti-sex prude? Hell no. Do I recognize that sexual appeal is often linked to appearance, and even sometimes want a sexual partner to think of me as appealing? Damn straight I do. But there is a big difference between physical objectification, being reduced to a set of body parts, and being a human being with a body, just as there is vast ground between recognizing that certain clothing choices may call attention to my body and wearing them for the sole purpose of getting that attention or communicating any kind of message to any and everyone else around me.

I will probably get into this a lot more when I start to cover my opinions and beliefs as a Christian feminist, but reproductive rights are also a huge feminist issue, and for good reason. The idea that there is or should be government regulation or consent required from anyone other than the woman in question over something happening inside a woman's body goes completely against personal autonomy in a way that can only apply to women. I recognize that the issues are complicated (and again, will deal with that when I post on Christian issues), but it is not okay to legislate a requirement for a woman to go through nine months and more of changes to her body and changes to her lifestyle (no drinking or smoking, eating properly, committing to regular doctor's appointments, possibly enduring bedrest), followed by childbirth, which can be painful without drugs, risky in both cases, may involve major surgery, and may have lasting implications for her life and reproductive health. That's all assuming that this woman is okay with the option of adoption and we don't even have to consider the career, lifestyle, health and financial impact that becoming a mother would have on her life.

The fact is that men don't have to deal with the physical consequences of pregnancy and childbirth, and it's much easier for a father to shirk his parental responsibility, forcing the mother to either go through time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining legal processes or to find a way to support their child on her own. I've heard men who are pro-choice express that they favour the choice of both parties involved, but the reality is that it has to become a women's rights issue, because while ideally, a couple will discuss their options and come to some sort of agreement on what to do about an unplanned pregnancy, in the case of a disagreement, one opinion has to trump the other, and that always has to be the woman's, for all the reasons in the above paragraph.

Women who do give up their children, either by relinquishing custody, somehow managing to become "deadbeat moms", or giving them up for adoption, are subject to comments about how it's just not "natural" for a woman not to want to care for her children. People express shock, tsk-tsk disappointment, and assume something has gone terribly wrong in her head. Men are reprimanded and generally frowned upon for the same behaviour, but the level of vitriol is drastically different, and the sense that they're "going against nature" is completely absent.

I can think of several other concepts to bring up in this regard, but this constitutes a lot of the groundwork, and I have other angles on Sarah 101 that remain to be covered.

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