Monday, November 26, 2012

Say it, sister.

Bit of intellectualism here today. Okay, a lot. This is a long entry, but it’s important.

Sooo, an article showed up on Fox News' website today. It was written by a woman named named Suzanne Venker.

And I have a few problems with the article.

But a word of introduction. The thing is, both my husband and I are feminists. (Yes, my HUSBAND and I.) More people are than realize it, I think, but that's because feminism, in this day and age, has many branches. There's a whole spectrum, from men-hating, angry feminists to those who would simply like the genders to be seen more equally. People hear the word "feminism" and just think of one end of the spectrum. But I love men. I think men and women are both valuable. I was raised by strong men and strong women, and continue to be surrounded by them.

To help you see where I'm coming from, Jacob and I's particular tenet of feminism includes these basic ideas:
1. We don't believe in abusing men in order to reclaim the feminine spirit, because we're against the entire idea of abusing anyone, especially on the basis of gender.
2. Women and men may be fundamentally different in a few ways, but they are still equally valuable to society.
3. The "fundamental differences" between men and women are fewer than we'd like to think, and the majority of them are dictated by society and are pretty arbitrary. (Hairy legs doesn't make me "less feminine.")
4. Women are still being objectified in society, to the ultimate harm of society, and it needs to stop.
5. This is getting super-intellectual, but a great deal of sexism is inherent in the bipolar pairings of "male" and "not-male." Society's views are problematic because they often fail to see women as women. They instead just see them as "the thing that's not men."
6. We don't have any problems with what men and women ARE. We have problems with what society says women and men SHOULD BE. 

The rest of my thoughts on the subject will be apparent as I respond to this article. I've included it here in its entirety, with my responses interspersed in blue type. (NOTE: I'm not the only one who has problems with this article. Another strong response can be found here.)

THE WAR ON MEN

The battle of the sexes is alive and well. According to Pew Research Center, the share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 – from 28 percent to 37 percent. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.

Believe it or not, modern women want to get married. Trouble is, men don’t.

The so-called death of good men (read: marriageable men) has been a hot subject in the media as of late. Much of the coverage has been in response to the fact that for the first time in history, women have become the majority of the U.S. workforce. And yet the national average shows that women still earn only 77% of what men earn doing the same jobs. Women earn less than men across all racial and ethnic groups. Women are still more likely to work stereotypically "feminine jobs" like nursing, teaching, secretary work and housekeeping. They’re also getting most of the college degrees. The problem? This new phenomenon has changed the dance between men and women. So...should women NOT be educated?

As the author of three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture, I’ve spent thirteen years examining social agendas as they pertain to sex, parenting, and gender roles. During this time, I’ve spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. And in doing so, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.

Women aren’t women anymore. Okay, hang on. Has the rate of hermaphrodite babies increased? 'Cause I might not shave my legs or wear makeup, but if I go to a doctor, she/he will still take a look at me and check the box labeled "female." This is getting into that whole society-defining-gender thing. These men who don't want to get married because "women aren't women anymore" might need to reexamine their definitions of womanhood.

Also, if women aren't women anymore, when were they women? What age of feminine definitions would you like to see society return to?

To say gender relations have changed dramatically is an understatement. Ever since the sexual revolution, there has been a profound overhaul in the way men and women interact. Men haven’t changed much – they had no revolution that demanded it – but women have changed dramatically.

In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy. Okay, before I say this, I should note that I know a lot of really great men. In fact, most of them aren't rapists (as far as I know), if not all of them. BUT, let's not forget that somewhere between 1 out of 4 or 5 COLLEGE-AGED women report surviving rape or attempted rape. Since their fourteenth birthday. My freshmen year in college, I sat with a group of 11 or 12 girls talking about this, and I asked if any of them had ever been sexually assaulted. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM RAISED THEIR HANDS. And none of them were assaulted by other women. I recognize the danger of saying "men are the enemy." I don't think it's just men that are the problem...I think it's society in general--what society tells men they should be. But it's still a huge problem. Most men don't realize that the goal of not being assaulted is a part of the average urban woman's DAILY routine. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal Oh, you mean that pedestal that MEN created for THEMSELVES throughout history? (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) Okay, if we're gonna start talking about pedestals, we better really talk about who built them, who put men and women on them, and what they're made of. I'm fine with pedestals when every pedestal is the same height and when they're all made of things like "human beings all have inherent value" and were built by everyone. I know it's tempting to point fingers and accuse feminists of pushing men of their pedestals and destroying women's pedestals and stuff. But if the pedestals that this author is talking about had anything to do with economic laws, employment laws, divorce laws, or the objectification of women, those pedestals were outdated and disenfranchising. and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs. So...what's not rightfully mine, as a woman? The right to own a home? The right to sue if a man at work only offers me a promotion if I show him my boobs? The right to hold a job? The right to vote? The right to be granted a divorce if my husband hits me? Pretty sure those are all things that ARE rightfully mine.

Now the men have nowhere to go. But up.

It is precisely this dynamic – women good/men bad – that has destroyed the relationship between the sexes. I'm gonna get a little pretentious-sounding for a moment, but forgive me. Helene Cixous and Jacque Derrida talked a lot about binary pairings in their works. Throughout the world's history, and in many places throughout the world today, the pairing was/is "men good/women bad." Feminism movements within the last 50 - 70 years have sought to challenge this idea. And yes, some of them have been a little radical. I think either pairing is harmful. But written into this statement is an inherent flaw. The author is claiming that the dynamic of women good/men bad has destroyed the relationship between the sexes. But...would restoring things to the men good/women bad dynamic RESTORE the relationship between the sexes? Yet somehow, men are still to blame when love goes awry. Heck, men have been to blame since feminists first took to the streets in the 1970s. I don't have a specific comeback, but I am just going to point out that this is a hasty generalization.

But what if the death of good men, and ongoing battle of the sexes, is – hold on to your seats – women’s fault? Lemme tell a little story. I'm a student teacher at a high school. At the beginning of the year, I was sitting in on a class and didn't have a chair. One of the young men in the class came and brought me one and someone said, "Thank you, what a gentleman! There aren't enough of those around." A young man quipped, "Maybe the reason so few boys aspire to be gentlemen is because so few girls aspire to be ladylike." Everyone laughed, but then I replied, "But a TRUE gentleman is a gentleman whether a girl is ladylike or not." This story encapsulates so much that I have to say about this claim: "The death of good men is women's fault." I should not be responsible for a man's behavior. I should not have to EARN respect. Good men should be good men because it's the RIGHT THING TO DO, because they want to be good, because it will make the world a better place. I refuse to accept that MY behavior as a woman, good or bad, justifies a man's behavior. And I feel this goes both ways. If a boy doesn't hold a door open for me, I should still treat him politely. (Note: However, if a man attempts to rape me, I think I have every right to defend myself. Just as if a woman attempts to rape a man, he has a right to defend himself.)

You’ll never hear that in the media. All the articles and books (and television programs, for that matter) put women front and center, while men and children sit in the back seat. Do they? Do they really? Let me introduce you to something called the "Bechdel Test." The Bechdel Test was popularized in 1985 by a cartoonist named Alison Bechdel. Here's the test: A film/article/book/tv episode must have: Two women characters with names. Those women must talk to each other. And they must talk to each other about SOMETHING OTHER THAN A MAN. You'd be surprised how many films FAIL this test. At least the ones you've heard of. Some feminists argue that the conversation that's not about a man has to last a full minute or longer, but by those standards, almost NO movies pass. Some movies from 2012 that HAVE passed include: All I Want is Everything, Foreign Letters, Jack and Diane...notably, blockbusters like "The Avengers," while fun movies, totally fail. That doesn't really sound like "putting women front and center" to me. Unless you mean "front and center" in such a way that objectifies women. Then I'll agree that they're "front and center" in the media. But after decades of browbeating the American male, men are tired. This is just poor grammar. Maybe I'm getting nitpicky, but the subject in this sentence is incredibly unclear. Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. So are a lot of women. Tired of being told that they are fundamentally ill-equipped for leadership. That their value is based on their appearance. That they are the weaker vessel, better suited to decoration than use. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.

Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.

WHAT?!!!?! This whole paragraph is problematic. Okay, first of all—how are men justified, how is ANYONE justified in being pissed off at “the rise of women”? Shouldn't that be CELEBRATED?! Second of all...geez, I don't even know where to go from here. Okay, second of all, the "rise of women" means the world has a more diverse group of people making the decisions, and with all those perspectives, better decisions can be made. No one should feel undermined. Furthermore, there's this idea. What if a woman doesn't get married? Because of whatever reason--lack of opportunity, whatever. As a Mormon woman college student, I felt this conundrum. Do I go to college, knowing my degree will be wasted as I get married to someone who will bring home the bacon? But if I don't get married, I want to be able to provide for myself. But if I get a degree, will men see me as undermining their ability to be the supporter of a family? Luckily, I managed to find and marry a man whose willing to take things as they come--supporting a family will be a responsibility that we share in whatever way works best for us. And that doesn't make him any less of a man.

And regarding that DNA claim, SHOW ME THE EXACT GENE. Show me where that gene is. Show me the gene that is in charge of the desire to provide for and protect their families. THEN, show me the scientific, genetically-based proof that women DON'T have this gene, and then show me the scientific, genetically-based proof that men are inherently BETTER at this than women, and THEN show me why that means women SHOULDN'T be educated or in the workforce.

It’s all so unfortunate – for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever. Wait. I think that's the sexual revolution. Related to feminism, but not the same thing.

It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life. The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek. I can accept that women and men will have better, more balanced lives with one another. That’s part of the reason I’m a feminist. But I will not accept that women need men to pick up the slack at the office in order to be happy. I do not accept that “linear career goals” are inherently in men’s natures. I do not accept that asking to join the workforce (especially if a woman is unmarried) dismisses anything about the nature of manhood.

So if men today are slackers, and if they’re retreating from marriage en masse, women should look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played to bring about this transformation.

Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

Again, who’s defining this nature? How accurately do these feminine and masculine natures reflect the reality of men and women? This last paragraph rings so false to me. Inherent in it is this implication that if I’m more feminine, I’ll find a husband. As in, if I wear make up more often, if I don’t get an education, if I express no interest in the workforce. But this definition of “feminine” is NOT ME. And ain’t I a woman? If I did these things to snare a husband, I would be doing so under false pretenses. I don’t want to lower my standards in my definitions of a marriageable man in order to find someone to marry. Good men are out there. The marriageable men are those with whom you can be yourself. Not those who will want you more if you wear heels. They can still LIKE it when you wear heels, but it shouldn't be a condition of attraction. 

If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork. And they might be crap husbands since they needed women to fulfill an arbitrary, societally-based definition of gender to feel good about themselves.

*  *  *  *  *

I know I said a lot. And some of it was snarky. But one more word. I feel that this article is disrespectful to and/or ignorant of women's issues throughout the rest of the world. This article seems to be focusing it's attack on a particular branch of "man-hating feminists," but feminism is bigger than that. Before you start pointing fingers at the general world of "feminism," let it continue its work in countries where women can be jailed for reporting rape, where women suffer genital mutilation (or "female circumcision"), where women have no voice and no face. Millions of women throughout the world are still victims of societies that do not place value on them. And I, for one, am proud to align myself with the feminists who are seeking to right these wrongs.

11 comments:

Beckah said...

Thank you so much for that insightful response. It helped articulate some of the feelings I've been having about this message. The other thing that really bugs me is that this article is written in a world where homosexuality does not exist. As a gay woman, I take personal offense to the idea that I need a man for my life to be balanced, or that two men can't love and support one another. I've read a lot of gay and lesbian history and for a while people thought all gay people, whether butch or fem, tried to find their opposite in order to "fit in" socially. But there are many many examples of two "butch" or two "fems" living happily together. I do know that there are women (lesbians or feminists, and they don't have to be both) who think life is better without men completely, and go form communities of entirely women. While I prefer the company of women emotionally and romantically, some of my best friends are men (Steven, Blaine) and I enjoy being around good men. And I believe, that while gender roles are, as you suggested, mostly arbitrary and socially constructed, children should have role models of the same gender. But I liked what you pointed out. Nobody makes me be a good person or a bad, so any role model should be kind and generous first, then the same gender second if possible. You and I were lucky to have many roles models of both genders growing up, and so we learned to treat everyone with love and respect, which is really what's most important. So thank you for your insight. I love you so much!

Carrie Lynn said...

I started to read this earlier when Bekah posted it but I couldn't get through it and take it seriously. I'm so TIRED of women being blamed FOR EVERYTHING. Oh, women are can't find someone to marry? Well, that's their fault and they should be more "womanly" and "let" the man be more "manly."
A thought that is a branch off of all of this ridiculousness: How many books do you find written FOR MEN to improve their marriage, dating lives, and family relationships? How many books of that nature are written FOR WOMEN? A helluva lot more, that's how many. What I want to tell this author is: Let's stop blaming ourselves and each other and look for men who are going to catch the hell up. Let's ignore their pouting about the loss of what THEY would define as "feminine" and find the keepers who are just as interested in watching us succeed as we are them.
And one more thing- the ONLY place "in the media" where I see and hear men (as well as women) being told to get it together is in the church. Which is why it is true.

Kjerstin said...

This is brilliant and I love how articulate you are when bringing to light these things that SHOULD be obvious but rarely are. Mostly I just want to copy+paste lines from this and go, "I AGREE!" but that would be fairly tedious for you to read... It suffices me to say that I love your perspective here and am now going to share this everywhere.

Jules said...

When I first heard of this article I just couldn't believe it was legit - it had to be trolls. Who honestly believes this? Alas . . .

I think her big flaw here is confusing "nature" and "DNA" with what is basically tradition. And tradition is a weak argument, from something as serious as slavery ("But we've ALWAYS had slaves on muh plantation!") to something as household as electricity ("But I LIKE lighting candles!") Change comes, people bitch about it, it still comes. And usually for the better.

Also, on a side note, I hate that "feminist" is a dirty word. That, before discussing gender equality, we as women feel the need to clear away the stereotype of a man-hating, bra-burning "femi-nazi" before we can state our opinion. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a class discussion on gender and a girl raises her hand to make a comment, prefacing it with "Well, I'm not a feminist, but . . ." and then makes a totally legit argument supporting feminism. I honestly think it's some awful conspiracy to make women (and men) ashamed to be feminists. Do you support women's rights? Do you support women's equality? Guess what, you're a feminist. Don't let the media's negative (and purposely inaccurate) portrayal of a feminist make you embarrassed to say so.

Melanie said...

Liz! I love and agree with just about everything you said! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Camilla said...

That's interesting that this article was on Fox News- it sounds so much more like something that would be in some small-town Mormon community newspaper. Hmmm. I like to think that you're a feminist no matter where you are on the spectrum too, just like you said, so long as you value each gender as much as the other. Feminism=believing women should be able to define themselves. I also agree that it's hard to find a happy paradigm to follow with centuries of female oppression behind us- how can we not demand some payback for all the crap our sisters had to put up with in the past? I'm no femi-nazi, but I certainly get ticked off even thinking about the objectification of women that is still so strong in the media. The media sucks, that's all there is to it.

On the brighter side, at least where I live in AZ, women in the church that I associate with don't seem to let gender issues bother them. Several times I've brought up feminist ideas while visiting teaching, saying things like "the world says ___, but I think ___," and the women I'm talking to are like, "um duh," like they don't even have to think about how to value themselves it just comes naturally. They are focused on their FAMILIES, not themselves, and so are their spouses, and the natural result is that they each choose tasks that they know they will do best for their family. They don't have to sit and say "now I'd better do this task because it wouldn't be fair or equal if you did it." I like that and I strive to be that way to. (Hope some of that made sense.)

Great response! It's women like you (and hopefully me) who can help women in general push past the past to a brighter future!

Camilla said...

*too

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