Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer of... Misogyny?

A day or two ago, @Scalzi tweeted asking his female followers if 2012 has been a particularly sucky year for misogynistic crap, or if he was just noticing it more now. It was an interesting question. Apparently, about 50% of the respondents said it was a particularly bad year, 30% thought he was just noticing it more, and 20% answered "both."

I'm not sure what I think. It has been a kind of crappy summer to be a woman, at least a woman who pays attention to the things I do. I thought that even before Representative Akins spewed his nonsense about female bodies being able to prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate" rape and Romney picked a running mate who wants to make distinctions between "forcible" rape and some mythical other type of rape that doesn't involve force (sorry, I know the DailyKos isn't exactly a neutral news venue, but the statement about forcible rape is in an actual bill Ryan co-sponsored, which is linked in that article). There have been several spasms of sexism in the geek world.  And of course, there was the whole discussion of whether or not women can "have it all" and whether Marissa Mayer should be applauded or skewered. Oh, and let's not forget the uproar over "extended breastfeeding" and more recently, the "Latch on NY" controversy. It seems everyone has an opinion on how I should be living my life, and for the most part they think I could do better. I am still waiting for similar controversies about how my husband lives his life, but none have been forthcoming.

I suppose all of this should make me angry, and it does... sort of. Mostly, it makes me feel tired and sad. I think back to my second year in college, when I had declared as a chemistry major and was therefore hanging out with a lot of men (since they were the majority of my classmates- I think the ratio was about 3:1 male to female). The Anita Hill testimony was all over the news, and I was shocked to discover how many of my classmates were sure she was lying- for some imaginary personal gain, I suppose. And then I just wished the story would go away, so I could stop hearing crass, vaguely (or not so vaguely) sexist jokes about it.

As I continued on in my major, I mostly got along well with my classmates, but I still had frequent reminders that we had different world views. I won a scholarship, and one of my best friends said that he wished he were a girl so he could win scholarships, too. He had a C average. I had an A-, but in his mind, the reason I won the scholarship (which was open to men and women) and he did not was that I was "a girl." Th3 friendship didn't really survive that comment. Later, I won another scholarship, and my then boyfriend said something similar. Amazingly, the relationship survived that remark- he was basically a good guy, and he was willing to listen and learn when I explained how unbelievably insulting that comment was.

I was not a particularly activist type of feminist in college. I was always too busy focusing on my classes to get involved in many extracurricular activities, even worthy ones like the campus rape crisis center, set up after a couple of date rapes made big campus news. I bought the t-shirt they sold for fundraising, though, and wore it. And I do remember leaving a comment on the course evaluation for my second year "Classics of Social and Political Thought" course pointing out that there were actually some books written by women that could have fit into that course (all of the books we read were by men- and white men, too). I think I called out Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex. I also argued forcefully in some class about the portrayal of women in Apocalypse Now. That might have been freshman year. So I wasn't completely meek. I guess I followed the pattern then that I follow now- I am interested, and willing to speak up from time to time, but not willing to let fighting feminist battles get in the way of accomplishing my larger life goals.

I can't really say if I think the crap going on now is worse than the crap that went on then. I notice different things, because I am at a different point in my life. I doubt it was all rainbows and unicorns for mothers in the workforce then, either, but I have only vague recollections of slightly condescending Newsweek articles about career women and the fact that they walked to work in tennis shoes and changed into their high heels at the office (shocking!) and some movie with Diane Keaton in which a career woman is schooled in what really matters in life by suddenly finding herself in charge of a baby.

So, like I say- I mostly feel tired and sad that we haven't made more progress. That is perhaps unfair, because when I look at it more carefully, I think we have made progress. It is just that we have not made as much as I'd like, and the progress that we have made feels fragile, almost as if it could be taken back from us at any time. But perhaps that is to be expected, because so much of this boils down to men trying to control women's reproduction, either directly, by limiting access to abortion or birth control, or indirectly, by limiting access to the means to earn the money and status that would enable women to support themselves and their offspring. As Sarah Hrdy points out in an early chapter of Mother Nature (it really is a very good and wide-ranging book!), men have always wanted to control female reproduction:

"Passionate debates about abortion derive from motivations to control female reproduction that are far older than any particular system of government, older than patriarchy, older even than recorded history. Male fascination with the reproductive affairs of female group members predates our species."

That is a powerful force to overcome, so perhaps instead of feeling tired and sad, I should be happy that we have made any progress at all. But I don't, possibly because reading the rest of Hrdy's book gave me some insight into how large a role culture- i.e., the inventions of our consciousness- plays in how these age old issues are solved, and how differently things like the conflict between work and parenting could be managed if only we could discuss them rationally.

Future scientists?
My husband thinks I should just disengage from the debate, since reading articles and posts on these topics tends to either depress me or make me angry, and he correctly points out that I'm not going to go out and be an activist who tries to fix the problems. But I look at my two daughters, who are bright and inquisitive, and so full of promise, and I can't just let it go. Someday soon, I'm going to have to help them navigate through all of this, and explain the risks and issues that come with being born female in our society. Even if I am not a traditional activist, I can't just ignore the issues. I want it to be better for them.

What do you think? Is 2012 a particularly misogynistic year? Or is it just the same old stuff? Are you an activist? 

Also, as usual, I'll be going to work tomorrow and therefore may not be able to reply to comments until later. I know you all will be nice to each other. I'm not so interested in debating abortion here- it seems there are other places to do that, and I can actually understand why people oppose abortion, so you don't need to explain that to me. I cannot understand why someone would try to say that some rapes aren't forcible or legitimate, and it is that aspect of Akin's and Ryan's statements that bother me most.

23 comments:

  1. A short preliminary comment. It does seem that the inanity, the conversations surrounding women's issues that I perceive to be at base nearly insane for the kind of things being argued (whether birth control, whether rape, whether pregnancies can result) are at a higher and more frequent pitch this year.

    And it's upsetting and disturbing. Having not been around for quite so very long enough to remember other cycles of feminism, I am still not any less appalled that my and other women's reproductive decision-making is actually not our own decision-making but subject to the whims of males in the legislative body who I may not have voted for who either lack basic comprehension of human anatomy, physiology and other relevant medical knowledge or are willing to ignore said knowledge in order to move forward with political agendas.

    Among other things that upset me about this year's public issues.

    We face plenty of headwinds in the public and professional space as it is, I'm not really able to let this go.

    I'm not a political activist but I do what I can to educate all the young women I work with, to teach them confidence, composure and all the skills they'd need to stand up and deal with Standard Issue Obstructionism which can translate roughly well enough when one is faced with specific discriminations based on age or sex.

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    1. I just hope that 20 years from now, you aren't writing a post like this one!

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  2. I think there's been some horrific political developments, particularly in the US. But I'm also reading more of this stuff than I used to, so I think those developments have fueled more conversation in this space...
    I'm like you - I can't see myself being an active activist, but I like to follow the conversation.
    I'm deliberately seeking out less depressing stories - there is good news, too - and places like skepchick are often the place to find it.
    Your stories on 'having it all' are also a positive for me.

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    1. I'm glad my "having it all" posts are positive for you. I really do have a pretty good life! Maybe that is why I have such a hard time with the depressing news stories- it is such a disconnect with what is going on in my own personal life.

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  3. paola1:48 AM

    Definition of rape is making headlines here in the UK too with the Assange case on front pages. Here it is left-wing politicIans, who normally side with feminists, who claim that what Assange is being accused of ' isn't really rape' and therefore should not be handed over to the Swedish authorities to be tried. Feminists, rightly so, are up in arms about this. If they can't get support from the left, who can they get itt from?


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    1. @Paola, men are the left are terrible allies for women, it turns out, when it threatens their own privilege. It's like all the artists, actors, and directors who speak out for Polanski. And feminists who have spoken out against these men (on the internet) or merely suggested that they face a trial (in the case of Assange) have been met with death threats.

      As I said over at Moxie, the part of the Akin business that upsets me the most is the pseudo-scientific bit about not getting pregnant from rape. Here's why - because it seems to me that if you want to a hold a radical pro life agenda that says even women who are raped should be forced to carry the fetus to term, then you should own that position in its entirety, even though it is unpopular with the majority of Americans. What you should *not* do is create what is essential a campaign of propaganda and truly Orwellian disinformation about female physiology and also the realities of rape in our society in order to try to make your ideas palatable. I'm really afraid of the way the right has decided to embrace the erasure of facts and evidence and critical thinking in favor of group think and propaganda. Frankly, i think everyone should be afraid. (OT: Did you all catch that business about the Texas Republican party has decided to include in their party platform that education absolutely should NOT teach *critical thinking* because it encourages kids to you know, think for themselves? It's in there, plain as day, and if you're wondering why that should scare you to your toes - the majority of textbooks are bought by the state of Texas, which means Texas education policy has a HUGE effect on what everybody's children are being taught in this country.)

      Otherwise, I've been a feminist too long to think of any year as particularly misogynistic, although the far right is clearly advancing an anti-women agenda and becoming increasingly successful (see above on tactics).

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    2. @Paola- thanks for reminding me about Assange. I should have included that nonsense in the post, too. He doesn't get much news attention here, though, so I forget about him.

      @Erin- yikes! It used to be that California and New York balanced Texas in the textbook wars. But California is so bankrupt, we probably aren't much help these days.

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    3. I can't explain my train of thought here but recently I've been thinking about the holocaust and the cultural shifts and ways of thinking that led to it. Not trying to be alarmist, but the tendencies are there right now in some of our radical groups. It is downright scary.

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  4. Darling you are"fighting feminist battles" while "accomplishing your larger life goals!" At work, raising the girls, through the blog are all contributions to transforming the world into a better place for women. As I like to tell my students, the world changes 1 person at a time, and not everyone can/needs/will be the person "out front."

    That said I'm fascinated at the role of social media in our perception of "feminist" crises, for lack of a better phrase. I'd write more, but that feels too much like work!

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    1. Thanks for reminding me of that. I believe it for others (see, for instance, my defense of Marissa Mayer) but sometimes feel bad that I don't do more activism myself. It isn't my style, though, and it could be very detrimental to my career.

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  5. I don't think I've been paying attention more --- it really does seem like there is more and more of this out there in the last few months. Practically every week there's some new horrific case of blatant sexism, and I just get overwhelmed by it all.

    I do try to speak up when I feel it's warranted, but definitely don't feel as though I'm an activist. Hell - I rarely write about these things on my blog because I just feel like everyone is so bombarded with this topic from all sides. And, to be honest, I'm just sick and tired of it all that I'm starting to feel like I want to stick my fingers in my ears, squeeze my eyes tight, and hope it goes away.

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    1. I totally understand not wanting to write about these things. I get a little nervous when I touch on topics like abortion here. I haven't really got much interest in moderating a discussion on things like that.

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  6. Yes, I think we're cycling back to a dangerous time for women's reproductive rights. This situation matches the situation from the end of the 19th century in eerie ways. There's men's groups funded by wealthy donors actively organizing to write and pass legislation across the country. And they're succeeding despite the widespread "silent majority" being against the laws. In the 19th century, it was the YMCA, today it's other organizations. There's the same populist movement, the same fury about immigration and white Protestant women not having enough babies and fear that our country's demographics are changing. (Only back then Catholics weren't considered Christian... today they're only worried about Catholics if they aren't lily white.)

    Eventually there was a huge backlash and we got the Pill from that backlash, and then abortion rights. But I'm hopeful we don't have to endure decades of limited freedoms before we get our rights back (and more) this time around.

    Interestingly, the Republican party used to be pro-reproductive control. (Not because they necessarily wanted to give women agency, but because they wanted poor people to stop reproducing so much.) George H.W. Bush was a huge advocate of family planning. http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/george-bush-family-planning-2012-4/ (And before that, there were the forced sterilization scandals.)

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    1. Maybe we'll do better this time because women have the vote? And money? I know that I've found myself more inclined to give to Planned Parenthood since this nonsense started.

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    2. I'm disturbed that so much of this legislation is actually getting passed and has stayed up for any length of time. It is seriously 1860-1890 all over again, with people like Rick Santorum playing the role of Anthony Comstock. I still have hope that there will be lawsuits and our judicial system will take care of these egregious attacks on our reproductive freedom, and will do so in less than 4 decades. But we will see.

      I also keep hoping that Murdoch's empire will crumble or that the Koch brothers will become less influential with their propaganda... sometimes the foot soldiers in populist movements do turn on their wealthy overlords.

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  7. I tend to think "same sexism, different day." Like @feMOMhist said, I think the role of social media in our feminist perceptions is worth exploring.

    p.s. Glad you're calling out Latch on NYC for its misogyny.

    http://husheveryone.blogspot.com/2012/08/in-which-i-drink-latch-on-nyc-haterade.html

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    1. My opinion on the Latch on NYC thing is that they took a laudable public health goal (increasing breastfeeding rates) and an approach that has been done elsewhere with success (removing formula from the recovery room) and screwed it up by being such asses about it. It is like they forgot that there are at least two people in that recovery room. In some ways, the rhetoric from the more extreme lactivists is just as insulting to women as the anti-abortion rhetoric can be, just from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

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  8. No, I don't think its just perception. I think there is really a shift in thinking and its becoming culturally acceptable again to completely undermine women's reproductive rights. Its accompanied by a complete and total disregard (disdain, even?) for facts, science, education, etc... in favor of dogma and propaganda that scares the crap out of me when I think about my children's future. And I have boys.

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    1. I agree, the campaign against facts is scary. And really hard to counter.

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  9. I don't have time to comment intelligently right now, I do agree with NicoleandMaggie on the legislative concerns.

    I also think it's worth noting that there IS a type of "non-forcible" rape, and it's statutory -- rape that is rape (only) because of the age of the victim. And I do think discussing this in the context of Akin (et. al.)'s comments matters, because (and here channeling Hrdy a bit also) it ties into another separate (IMO) yet related (in practical terms) issue: is a juvenile old enough to consent to abortion? Because on some level that's part of what this is about: a girl too young to consent to sex (control her body) is also (again, per others, definitely NOT me) too young to consent to abortion (control her body).

    It's really, really frightening, though as Hrdy makes us realize, hardly new.

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  10. Whether or not there is more sexism going on right now, I think there is definitely more of it in the political arena and in the media. I believe that is so pronounced is because this year is a big election year here in the US, as well as because of how polarized the two main parties have become.

    It feels to me like the Republican parties is pulling out all the stops to try and beat Obama in the presidential election, as well as the democratic party in other elections. We've already been through very polarizing opinions on finances and healthcare. Next on the list looks to be reproduction and other "family" topics.

    As a side note: I'm particularly pissed lately that I find so many anti-abortion and anti-gay groups have names like: Family Research Council and Americn Family Association. As if their views are the only ones a "true" family would have. I want to see a pro-gay marriage, pro-choice group call themselves Family First Group or something like that.

    Another aside, I shared this rape analogy on facebook with the comment: Sounds like this wasn't a "legitimate" mugging. http://hausofkelsie.tumblr.com/image/10118959169

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    1. Oh, I LOVE the idea of a "Family First" group with my sort of family values. That would be awesome.

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