Yesterday was my now-deceased grandfather's birthday. If he were still around, he would be 95 years old. His wife, my grandmother, was born just a couple of months before him. Both of them have been dead for several years now, but they both survived into the 1990s and their lives saw many changes.
Consider this: when my grandparents were born, women didn't have the vote. Abortion was illegal. Sex discrimination was acceptable on and off the job, and sexual and domestic abuse weren't uniformly recognized as crimes. Segregation and overt racism were the norm. By the time my grandmother was my mother's age, the world was on the brink of radical change as social movements everywhere erupted into life. By the time she died, my grandmother was every bit a citizen as her husband.
In spite of this, my grandmother was an incredible woman. She was orphaned at the age of 14, and went to work supporting her sister and her cousin thereafter. She raised five daughters, the first people in the family to graduate from high school, who have all gone on to have successful careers and family lives. When she wasn't employed while raising my mother and aunts, she dedicated her time and energy to the local Red Cross chapter. To this day, that chapter holds an annual blood drive in her name.
Sometimes, I think we look at the rights we do and don't have codified and see those as the limits of our capabilities. We don't have the right to vote, so we have no social power. We don't have the right to sit on the train, so we have no humanity. We don't have the right to get married, so we don't have the ability to take care of each other. But we forget that those codified rights aren't our limits. We're amazing, strong, forceful people regardless of what government organization tells us we can and cannot do.
So here's today's question: what do YOU do in spite of your perceived limitations? How are YOU changing the world, one step at a time?
Today's question is a juicy one, if I do say so myself.
It's something I've been thinking about a lot, as I look around myself and realize that most of my dating prospects are men who are a couple years younger than I am. My mother was three years older than my father, and that's never seemed strange to me. And yet, when I meet a man who is three years younger than me, I find myself thinking of him in endearing terms like "cutie," "adorable," and "little boy." It doesn't help that 21- and 22-yr-old men comprise a good portion of my English 150 students.
When I was 22, I dated a man who was five years my senior (or was it six? I don't even remember). So why should I hesitate for even a second with men who are just a year or three younger than I?
And yet I do.
Try as I might to understand this hang up, I just plain don't get it. So I'm opening the question up to all of you:
What do you think of different ages in dating, and are your feelings different if the older party is a man vs. a woman?
Why do you feel/ think the way you do about age differences in couples?
For a variety of reasons, mostly academic, the subjects of hopelessness and despair have been on my mind lately. They're things that most of us feel at one point or another in our lives; they come from depressive disorders, stressful life circumstances, overwhelming loss, and sometimes from watching these things appear in the lives of others. They can be associated with anxiety, anger, and apathy. They can be political and they can be personal.
A couple of days ago I received an email from my father-in-law's friend, a conservative man who informed me, among other things, that "social justice...is destructive to all involved." This man doesn't know me very well- he has no idea what most of my identities are, my politics, or my career. But he knows I'm a self-identified woman. The fact that he would say something so blatantly stupid and offensive to me got me very riled up, as you can imagine, but also left me feeling more than a little drained. If I can't even get someone to acknowledge some of the most basic, generalized benefits of social justice- citizenship for African-Americans and for women of any race and our rights to vote, for example- then what chance do I have of convincing that person even to begin considering the more intricate and important details of real social justice?
So the questions for today: how do we cope with hopelessness, as individuals and as political beings? What do we do to keep ourselves going when all odds seem against us? How do we motivate people for change when they can't acknowledge basic truths? Most basically, how do we keep ourselves from going crazy?
Call it a cop out if you want, but I'm dying to know what questions you have about gender, feminism, equality, humanity, etc. etc. Whether they're questions you want to discuss, or just things you wonder about sometimes.
For instance, I wonder... what it's like to be a man. I've never been one, so I'll never fully understand them.
I'm going to springboard off Erica's question today. As her question pointed out, men are as affected by their hormones, physiology, and socialization as women are. It's not uncommon for people to talk about women as if they're a deviation from men, but that view is simply inaccurate. So, in an effort to combat that misperception, but also to give men the time and space they deserve, my question today is all about men and maleness.
What makes men men?
What is masculinity, and how has it impacted your life, whether you're male or not?
Today's question is going up a bit late, and I apologize. Here it is, though, regardless: bearing in mind that male hormones have as strong an impact on human behaviour as female hormones do (i.e. testosterone induces aggression just as much as progesterone induces dysthymia), and that socialization has an impact on male and female gendered behaviours, what are some of the advantages or disadvantages to having a predominately male or predominately female military?
I have new roommates this semester, and after a couple weeks of us all getting to know each other, one of them finally asked me the question she's been anxious to ask me since she moved in:
What do you mean, when you say you're a feminist?
I began explaining my various answers -
I'm a humanist/ humanitarian who specializes in women.
I care about gender issues and how they impact both men and women.
I want all human beings to be elevated, and I focus on elevating women; not elevating them relative to men, but elevating them as people. Period.
I tend to focus on issues like domestic abuse, rape, and sexual harassment.
I hate pornography, and I want it to stop.
My answers led to a new question:
Why do you call yourself a feminist, instead of using another term, when you know a lot of people will assume you're a baby-hating, man-hating, asexual or lesbian, who wants to hurt men and drag them down to the socioeconomic and political level that women were once at.
Why do I call myself a feminist? Well, I believe in reclaiming this term. It's not the fault of feminists that it developed those connotations - news stations and anti-feminists are only too happy to set up straw women by focusing on the more radical branches of feminism and pretending that that's what we were all like. So why turn my back on those who came before me, by rejecting the name they worked so hard to gain?
And now I want to ask you those questions:
1. What does feminism mean to you? If you are a feminist, what do you mean when you call yourself a feminist?
2. If you call yourself a feminist, why do you choose to hang onto such a loaded term?
3. If you don't call yourself a feminist, why not?
Remember, there are no right and wrong answers. If feminism means something negative to you, for instance, go ahead and explain why.
Self-love has turned into a big thing in hegemonic America, but only to a certain extent. We're extolled to love the skin we're in, indulge in some quality time one-on-one with ourselves, and appreciate the qualities in our physical and mental attributes that make us unique. Of course, many of the corporations etc. telling us this are hoping that we'll only do so after the use of their product: Dove will make us love our skin, portable TVs will give us that alone time, and foods and beverages such as Subway and energy drinks will allow us to fully appreciate and be ourselves. And if we're not going to use these products to attain pure happiness, then we're obviously miserable and rightly so!
It doesn't help, of course, that even the self-help books on self-love require us to spend money to acquire them in the first place- either by purchasing the books or by owning or renting property in a public library's jurisdiction. We still need to consume, apparently, to love ourselves.
Thus there's a certain level of contradiction in what I'm about to do, given that it requires the answerer to have access to the internet, but whatever. Today's questions are about YOU and the things you LOVE about YOU:
What are some of your favourite physical qualities?
What are some of your favourite emotional or personal qualities?
What is one thing you love about yourself in spite of the criticism of others?
What is one thing you would never change about your appearance?
I hope this mini seminar on self-love gives you the free (or at least free minus the cost of the internet) boost in your self-perception that you need for today!
I'm running extraordinarily late on this post - sorry about that.
What I'd like to know for today's question, though, is... what do you want for the world, in terms of gender issues, feminism, etc. ?
I'm asking this because it strikes me that many people care about issues that relate to gender and sex, but often two very dedicated and well-meaning people have very different ideas of what an ideal world would be like. I'm interested in general answers, so "World Peace" will do if that's how you feel, but I'm also interested in hearing more specific descriptions of what you want. Does world peace involve blowing up the people you don't like, for instance?
Today's question is going to be brief, mostly because I have to dash out the door in a moment to get to work. This isn't strictly feminism, although it's certainly related because of the way power dynamics play out on a global scale and when you take into account who can afford to protect themselves (and who cannot).
Simply put, today's questions concern environmental feminism, if I may call it that. The political brou-ha-ha surrounding climate change aside, there's a significant amount of resistance to environmentally-friendly and socially conscious practices that we could be implementing to reduce the amount of crap we're dumping into our planet's ecosystems and our neighbours' backyards. While some of these practices come with high up-front costs that can be a deterrent to businesses and corporations in this economy, there are many others that do not.
So why are we so resistant to taking care of the planet? What is it about dumping waste in landfills and putting most of the health burden on people who can't afford to clean it up or acquire decent medical care? What are some of the reasons people are so damn greedy?
And, since I don't want this post to be entirely negative...what are some ways we can change that? How can we make environmentally responsible choices appealing to a broader group?
For Thursday's question of the day, I want to get at a question that often gets swept under the rug in gender discussions:
What is the difference between men and women?
This question makes a lot of assumptions, many of them politically incorrect. But I'm too tired to make a list of concessions. Know that I'm aware of them, though, and that you can answer this question in whatever way seems most fit. Maybe you don't see a difference at all. Maybe you're angry that I'd even voice this question. Maybe you think men and women are two distinct species with clear-cut differences. Whatever you think, I'd love to hear it.
I've always been somewhat bemused by Freud's androcentric approach to human psychology and sex differences. The entirety of Freud's psychoanalytic theory are too complex and long-winded to include here. Basically, he assumed that a child's first awareness of sexual differences was in the recognition that some people ("fathers") have penises and some people ("mothers") do not. As a result, a male child (presumed to have a penis) becomes afraid that his mother will castrate him, since she's clearly missing something, and a female child (presumed not to have a penis) undergoes extra trauma when she realizes that she will never have this precious organ.
Part of the nonsense of this theory for me is that, even in Freud's day, middle- and upper-class families (the primary focus of his thinking) tended to hide their genitalia. Knowing who has and doesn't have a penis would be pretty challenging in the days of breeches and voluminous skirts. But think of it another way- as Juliet Mitchell did in her text "Psychoanalysis and Feminism"- what are other "obvious" sex differences? There are so many other traits associated with male-ness and female-ness that are more readily generalized to one sex or another than, say, facial hair, and that are easier to identify. What Freud failed to acknowledge was that penises aren't the be-all and end-all of human identification with their sex, and I don't just mean that in terms of inner sexual identity. That's right. I'm talking about breasts.
The first time I remember actively noticing and thinking about sex characteristics, I was pretty young- maybe three or four- and I'd seen both my parents naked when they were on their way to and from the shower at night, after my sister and I were supposed to be in bed. What struck me wasn't the fact that Dad had something Mom didn't; it was the other way around. Juliet Mitchell had it right, at least for me: what I noticed was that my mother had breasts, and my father did not. And when I asked the inevitable question that comes from children in this gender-binary society, about the physical characteristics that seemed to separate the people I knew into one category or the other, it was phrased as, "Mama, why doesn't Daddy have breasts?"
That phrasing has been rather telling for me, as I've never conceptualized my body as the one that lacks anything. Instead of developing Freud's so-called Electra complex, in which I'm supposed to fall in love with my father in the hopes that I can gain some of the social and sexual power that's associated with having a penis, I developed a superiority complex. Sure, men thought they ruled the world, but I was part of the sex and gender group that knew better. I would have breasts. I would have the capacity to MAKE LIFE and then give birth to it. To my knowledge, no amount of penis could empower any male to do THAT.
Even as my understandings of gender and sex have changed to accommodate the variety of ways in which peoples' bodies express gender and sex identities- including the women who identify as cis females but whose bodies don't allow them to make life in the traditional sense- that formulation of the question, that demanding to know why my father was lacking and not why I was, has stuck with me and influenced the way I perceived gender-based social powers.
So here are some questions to consider today:
What do you remember about the first time you noticed sex and/or gender differences?
How has that shaped your understanding of who has or lacks what?
How do you think your early conceptualizations of sex differences has influenced your own sex identity and, maybe, your gender identity?
Erica's question yesterday, and all the responses to it, got me thinking:
What benefits do we all get from our sex/gender?
What problems do we encounter because of it?
Last semester I wrote a whole paper on how my particular gender identity impacted the way my First Year Writing students responded to me. As I researched communication patterns, I encountered many intriguing theories. But beyond the theoretical explanations behind behavior patterns... what are the behavior patterns themselves?
We often think of women as a minority (power-wise), but as Carl reminded us a few months ago, men sometimes get the raw end of the deal too, and we all know that people who don't accept the gender binary as part of their identity encounter a lot of discrimination. But my guess is that each and every one of us experiences both the pros and the cons of being whatever gender and sex we are, wherever we are at the moment.
Take me, for instance. I'm a petite, soft-spoken woman. I'm also white/ caucasion. When I was living in an apartment with three women who did not identify as white, I looked even more petite/ delicate to most people. I learned pretty quickly to think of myself as "a little white girl." I benefited in some ways - people often handled me with kid gloves. But I also encountered many people, male and female alike, who went out of their way to try to change or fix me. Because I gave off an air of fragility, people seemed to think I was broken. Because I was quiet, they seemed to think I was malleable enough to be fixed. When I proved them wrong and showed my true, much tougher and more resilient nature, I discovered how negatively people can respond when we challenge their assumptions. But I also found that people respected me more, once they adjusted to the true version of me.
Another area where I both benefit and suffer is in dating etiquette. Every time I decide to take the initiative and ask someone out, I realize how difficult it is for the men in my predominantly cisgendered, heterosexual culture to almost always feel the weight of asking someone out. It's a terrifying ordeal. And when a man shows interest and asks me out, I enj0y not carrying that weight of responsibility. But most of the time, I wish I were in a culture where women pursuing men was more socially acceptable. Whereas a man can casually ask me out and mean nothing by it, it's hard for me to ask a man out without sending the message that I am incredibly interested in him - it's less common for women to ask men out, so it doesn't seem quite as casual.
Another area of gender identity: I'm pretty. I used to think I wasn't, and I gloried in not being a pretty woman, because I thought men used pretty women and only dated them for their bodies. When I realized I was pretty, I thought maybe I'd be ok, since I'm not beautiful per se. But no, I find that I both benefit and suffer from being pretty. I've been used for my body, but I've also received positive attention because of my appearance. There's also something about being pretty, petite, and soft-spoken that tugs at the heart strings of elderly men and makes elderly male professors want to help you out. And I mean that in the most innocent sense possible. It's a grandfatherly kind of thing. I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I know I've used my prettiness to my advantage, whether consciously or subconsciously.
So, those are my thoughts on how my gender (and other attributes I combine with it) impact me in both positive and negative ways. How about all of you?
A couple of nights ago I was at the youth poetry workshop I'm co-facilitating in Philadelphia, and our week's topic was gender. What defines it, what describes it, what indicates it, what we love and hate about it. Our sessions usually involve ample time for discussions, but this week we had another activity we wanted to get to and so the discussion time was cut short. But the questions we'd raised were ones I wanted to bring here, to see what folks had to say.
Before asking them, though, I want to give a quick rundown of what I mean when I say "gender," because a lot of people have terms confused. To break it down in a simplistic way (and not everyone would agree with this breakdown), "gender" refers to the outward characteristics you use to indicate the pronouns you prefer to use, your personal style, etc. "Gender" is also something that other people read on you, in part because of these characteristics you have. "Sex" refers to your physical characteristics- your chromosomes, your genitalia, your hormones- and is often read to be synonymous with gender. "Sexual orientation" or "sexuality" refers to who you're sexually attracted to and what you do/don't like to do with the people you have intimate relationships with. Again, it's often assumed to follow straight from your sex and gender identities- but again, it's a whole separate thing. Even for people who DO appear to have all these ducks in a row- female body, woman identity, attracted to males- how these ducks appear (curvy? busty? skinny? tomboy? high-fashion femme? yoga master? promiscuous? housewife? serial monogamist?) varies from person to person.
For example, I was born female-bodied and I identify myself as a woman who is sexually and romantically attracted to people of a variety of sexes and genders. I like wearing my hair long, earrings and necklaces, and occasionally makeup, but I also like wearing clothes and shoes that let me be ready for anything- especially physical outdoor activities. As a White woman, part of my gender identity has been formed in reaction to the old stereotype that White women are supposed to be sheltered, protected, dependent, and weak.
So the questions for today focus on your gender identity. They are: -What are some of the characteristics of your personal gender? -What are some of the ways that your gender identity has affected your intimate relationships? -What are some of the ways your gender identity has affected your life choices? -How have you been treated, positively or negatively, as a result of your gender presentation? -How do some of your other identities- your race, your socioeconomic status, your level of ability, for example- affect your gender identity and the way others perceive it?
Today we had a lesson at church about God that shocked me. Recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been pushing for a move back to the basic principles of the Gospel, and today's lesson was a simple, 3-page discussion of God's basic attributes. We discussed what we saw in the world that we took as evidence of God's love, and it was a beautiful discussion. Then, we read a plain and simple sentence that left me bewildered:
The lesson manual said that God loves us with "fatherly care" and "a paternal regard." The woman leading the lesson pointed out that even those of us who lacked strong relationships with fathers had a Heavenly Father, but for once that was no comfort to me. Why? Well, I had no idea what "fatherly care" and "paternal regard" meant. Frankly, only one male person has ever told me he loved me, and when he then broke my heart and told me he'd never really loved me a month later... well, you can imagine how little water it held. No male, related or otherwise, has said those words to me before or since. It's still amazing to me that men love anyone at all. Don't get me wrong - I know they do, it just amazes me still.
I used to struggle with the concept of God's love for me, simply because it was hard to believe that a man could love anyone. (And I do belong to a faith where we believe that God is a man). When I finally recognized the male potential to love, I was proud of the progress I'd made. Now I could believe that God loved me, despite his sex/gender. But I always separated his love for me from his sex/gender, rather than connecting the two. So today, when I saw his love referred to as a fatherly thing... well, it confused me. It was like someone had told me "God loves you like a King loves his subjects" or "like a fish loves a bird" and expected me to be happy about it.
I wanted to ask for an explanation, but I knew I'd reveal my family background if I did. And while I'm not ashamed that my father abused me, I rather dislike vulnerability. So instead I frowned at the lesson manual for almost the entire lesson, growing more confused with each word the class members spoke. Finally, when I couldn't take it anymore, I decided to bare my confusion rather than put up a pretense of toughness. I raised my hand and said, "I have no idea what these terms mean. With my family background, I simply can't understand what a fatherly care and paternal regard even are. Does anyone have any ideas?"
The girl who was teaching the lesson told me she didn't have an answer either but opened up the discussion to the class. And it was amazing. They shared stories about their fathers that flummoxed me. Nothing radical, like their fathers sacrificing everything for them. Just the little things that probably seemed mundane to them until I came along and said I had no frame of reference for that term. Little things about their fathers wanting them to be happy and wanting to spend time with them, and listening and talking to them.
And suddenly I realized that my father's behavior hadn't just brought something bad into my life. It had also removed something beautiful, something good. I'm still reeling from that discovery, though I feel like it's something I've known for years, at least deep down. Parenthood is important, whatever form it may take.
According to some highly credible hyperbole (aka someone somewhere once said this to Erica), out of every million people who visit a blog, only a thousand return, and only one person writes a comment. This general principle has proven true with Not Another Wave, where our readers vastly outnumber those who actively participate in the discussion. Our recent hiatuses from the bloggernet notwithstanding, we Mods are anxious to get more people involved in important discussions about gender, equality, etc. etc. In the past we've tried pleading, persuading, and guilt-tripping friends into contributing, but in light of how limited our success has been, we've decided to take a different approach.
First of all, we're trying to understand why so few of our readers comment or contribute, especially since we allow anonymous commenting. One friend who is currently working on his PHD IN LITERATURE! (Ben, I'm talking about you) claimed he wasn't a "strong enough writer" to contribute (ridiculous, I know), and non-PhD-candidates have expressed similar concerns too. If people are feeling intimidated by our current contributors and guest writers, we can certainly understand. Few people have Lux's sense of humor, Carl's confidence, Erica's expertise, or Emily's arrogance. But here's something to keep in mind: the real reason all of us have contributed is because we care about the issues we're writing about. These things matter to us, and we write about them in order to get our ideas out there.
But as fun as it is to read debates between Emily and Erica, childhood friends who grew up less than a mile apart in a tiny New England town simply don't provide the kind of diverse insights we're looking for. So, here's the deal: if you don't have the time, expertise, drive, etc. to contribute a full entry, or the nerve to comment on a post by one of the contributors (Erica can be scary, as Emily is very willing to testify... behind closed doors), or if you hesitate to contribute for any reason whatsoever, here's a new opportunity:
For the rest of January, we will be featuring a Question of the Day series. We'll ask an open-ended question each day and will welcome any and all thoughts, opinions, rants, etc. that you feel like sharing. Your responses can come in any size. If you want to write one word, kudos. If you want to write a novel, more power to ya. If you think we're asking a dumb question and that we should discuss something more important, go ahead and tell us that too. Just get your voice and opinion out there, in whatever way you possibly can.
And on that note, here is the question of the Day for January Tenth:
As this day happens to be the birthday of one contributor's mother (we won't say whose, in the interest of maintaining internet safety), we're welcoming thoughts on motherhood.
Some Questions you might comment on: How do you feel about your mother? How have she and her female ancestors impacted you? If you're a woman, how do you feel about the prospect of becoming (or not becoming) a mother some day?
This entry doesn't quite reach the level of a "this week in the news" post, but I hope you'll feel a little frustrated too as you read over the snippets.
First up, a friend brought my attention to the controversy over a Senegalese statue. I probably don't have to point out how much larger the man is than the woman, or how sexualized she is, or the way she hangs limply from his muscular body. According to the article, many Senegalese are irate over the statue, and not just because of the enormous expense. No, far from seeing the nakedness of the woman statue as liberating, they resent what they perceive as an inaccurate and demeaning representation of women from their culture.
As a creative writing MFA student, I sympathize with artistic vision, even when it runs counter to a dominant cultural current. But I also recognize the power of art to influence in both positive and negative ways. Besides, by setting specific parameters on what the statue will symbolize (the spirit of African liberation), the President of Senegal fudges the line between art and propaganda. Not all propaganda is bad, mind you, but he's sending a peculiar message about the spirit of the African people. Women are part of Africa, just as much as men, so why does the man take center stage, while the woman dangles like a prop, in skimpy clothing that objectifies her in the eyes of the very women she's meant to represent?
On another note, today I received an email from BYU's graduate student association. The email outlined upcoming events, one of which is a forum of female faculty. What is the forum about? Well, according to the email, they will "discuss how to balance professional life with family and religion." I know this is an important subject, and I'm glad that a forum exists where these topics will be discussed. And to be fair, the email also says they'll discuss the value of higher education. But I don't think the issue of balancing family and professional life is a woman's issue - I think these are issues that impact both men and women, and they should be discussed by panels of men and women alike. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to support the idea of men and women having different roles in marriage without A) becoming overly prescriptive about it or B) pretending that women are the only people who think about how to prioritize family life. In a faith like mine, where marriage and family are essential obligations for everyone, men have just as high an obligation to family as women do and would benefit just as much from hearing members of their own sex discuss these questions.
What else is bugging Emily at the moment? Glad you asked. Ads for diet pills, gym memberships, and diet programs are running rampant in the New Years frenzy. My advice to anyone who doesn't need to lose weight for medical reasons: take a deep breath, and then say 'no' to the fads. Let's just focus on developing healthy lifestyles, and then, if our body mass becomes a medical problem anyway, then we can look into other options. Just look at the Cathy comic - she's been dieting for years, and it hasn't made her happy or healthy. Let's not pull a Cathy.
And the final issue to irritate me over the last few days: The New York Times gave Mark Sanford's pending divorce the benefit of an entire paragraph. Really? We need to learn more about that?
That's enough frustration for the moment. Check back soon for some more scintillating discussions/ vents. A guest contributor is working on a piece about the controversial "Save The Boobs" breast cancer prevention ads, and Erica and I will be announcing the themes of upcoming months.