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.
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.