Friday, July 28, 2006

"Then they came for me - And there was no one left to object."

For years young women (at least, women younger than me) have hesitated to identify themselves as feminists. They have hesitated to be seen as bitchy, as lesbian, as ugly, fat women who couldn't get a man. They have feared that the likes of Rush Limbaugh would call them Feminazis and so they say that, although they think women should get equal pay, they aren't feminists.

They believe that everything has changed since their mothers and grandmothers banded together and fought the good fight. Even while their own lives should be proving to them that it hasn't, they have relaxed because the fight is, thank goodness, over. Well, perhaps they need to read Women Losing Ground by Martha Burk.

The fight is not only not over, it is well on its way to being lost. South Dakota has passed a law outlawing all abortions and when Oglala chief Celia Fire Thunder declared that she would open a clinic on the reservation which the state would have no jurisdiction over, the religious right put pressure on the tribe, which then fired her and has now outlawed abortion on the reservation. Women are still earning less than men. The press still comments on what a female politician wears and how she does her hair. Limbaugh and others of his peer group still subject women they disagree with to the argument from intimidation. The girls' section of the toy store is still overwhelmingly full of dolls who primp and consume and devoid of the interesting toys that boys get to play with. Boys on playgrounds still snap the straps of training bras. Female world leaders are still expected to wear shoes that hurt their feet. The number of women in power, both politically and economically, is shrinking rather than growing. The media concentrates on convincing us that we need to leave the workplace and go home and raise our kids (despite the fact that some of us are single parents and can't).

And what are we doing about it? Why, we're becoming more and more obsessed with being perfect. With being thin and young enough. With getting the sink clean enough. With pleasing the men and children in our lives. With being good girls.

Last year a 63 year old woman I was working with at the time told me that she hated herself because she is so fat. Hated herself! And, she added, that if she ever lost weight she still wouldn't be able to like herself, because she is old! To me, both fat and old, that was a tragedy. What chance is there that a 63 year old woman is going to finally get either thin or young? Which means, for her, what chance is there that she will ever be able to like herself? And, what can she accomplish in the world if all of her energy is expended on hating herself? Is she going to fight for fairer wages when she is busy counting calories and calling laugh lines wrinkles?

What, do you suppose, would happen if we took all that attention that we now spend on hating ourselves and avoiding mirrors and wearing vertical stripes and counting calories and reviewing everything we've eaten so far this week to see if we can "afford" two cashews and breaking out in rebellion and then hating ourselves for eating all of the cashews -- what would happen if we took that pathological self-involved energy and turned it outward? If we stopped weighing ourselves and started weighing the politicians and corporate CEOs and far right demagogues who profit from our unhappiness? If, instead of knowing how many calories in an olive, we knew how much the men in our field were earning? If, instead of worrying about whether the men in the office thought we were pretty enough, we worried about whether they were undercutting our careers? If, instead of voting for people who belonged to our political party, we voted for people who supported our issues?

What would happen if we demanded that our representatives at every level of government voted in our favor? What would have happened if every woman who might one day need an abortion or who had a daughter or sister or friend who might one day need one had contacted her Senator and demanded that he vote against confirming Roberts and Alito? What would happen if every woman with a child or sibling or friend or neighbor in the military contacted her representatives and insisted that they demand that this war be ended as soon as possible?

For all of you who saw A Bug's Life, remember that there were more ants than grasshoppers, and once the ants figured it out, the grasshoppers were no longer able to bully them. It's the same here. There are more women and men who support women than there are people who oppress women. If we band together with all of the other people who are also being oppressed, we are the ants. We have the strength. But, if we allow them to drive those wedges between us and to distract us with body hatred, our daughters are going to wonder how we could have been so close and let it slip away.


Ally Bean said...

I think it is difficult to know if poor body image is a result of external forces, or is an innate desire of someone to be unhappy. In my experience, poor body image seems to affect feminists as often as it does passive pansies. I know anorexics and plastic surgery junkies at either end of the spectrum.

Now, as for how to translate that kind of attention to detail and focus of energy into something that helps all of society, I have no idea. That is the answer that we need, but seem to have no desire to find.

Zan said...

I so want to be you when I grow up :)

Seriously, I don't understand women who don't claim the feminist label. I have always, since I realized what it meant, have been proud to tell people, yes, I am a feminist. And yes, I've been called a feminazi. I just tell those people they're lucky I left my Uzi at home, then, aren't they?

I'm honestly not sure how to change this. It needs to be changed, doubtlessly. But how do we counter all the crap that's been dumped on the name Feminism over the last decade or so? Is it really going to take the actual loss of freedoms, something that effects the majority of American women on a day to day basis, before they wake up? I'm not sure even that will help, because it's so easy to just decide "Well, that doesn't affect me." But it does, because to the people in charge, we're all only women. There's nothing special or unique or praiseworthy about any of us, we're all the same and we'll all be treated the same. Unless we're "lucky" enough to belong to one of the men in power. Then we'll be pampered pets, but we won't be human beings. It just makes me sick.

J said...

Oh, this stuff bugs the crap out of me. That people are reluctant to stand up and be counted as for their own breaks my heart. Some don't like labels, which I can understand, but sometimes, we NEED to be counted, and to show the powers that be that we won't let them trick us into wasting our lives on so many little unimportant things. Eating disorders, OCD, competition with the pretty woman next door, all of that is bullshit. Don't we have distraction enough with just getting the homework done and the bills paid? Why add to it with bullshit?

naomi dagen bloom said...

FEMINIST HERE! always say it, almost always get grief--both sexes, sorry to say.

ally bean, pls. note, it is not dificult to know source of stupid notions on body image. it's the culture via media. ask any old lady you know how come she thinks that _____ (fill in the blank).

we need to claim the feminist label along with the Elderblogger label. great post for opening day of BlogHer conference in California. thanks so much for making my day. love the image too.

Stina said...

here here. at our healthy relationships retreat we did a segment with the girls on gender stereotypes/norms things like that and a "good girl" box where we talked about the things women are still expected to be and do and how women are some of the biggest culprits in keeping other women in that box. i was pretty proud of it. :)

p.s. great blog

Cherry said...

American roles of the sexes have changed. They started changing long ago, but "the view" and acceptance of our role in society is far behind what is happening now.

There was a time when all I wanted in the world was to have a Donna Reed/June Cleaver life. To live, clean, bare children, bake cakes, and pack picnic lunches for my husband. Note... for my husband, not for me. That was the expected life for a woman. Her role was to be the care giver, to be selfless, and to be perfect.

Today, I have no kids, I have no husband, and I own real estate on my own (yes the boyfriend helps with the bills). I am no 50's housewife. Do I call myself a Feminist? No, but I also don't tend to stand up for issues, and I have this need to be liked so I tend not to do anything to ruffle feathers (see...still think I shouldn't have a voice).

My mother was my role model of what a woman is supposed to be. She took the abuse from my father, she worked through the morning, afternoon and evening. I was raised by the television so it is no wonder why I continue to have an internal struggle with the values that I feel I should have.

Cherry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
annie said...

Excellent post. Thank you for saying it all so well.

Gina said...

Oddly enough, I find that because I have chosen to stay at home, people think I am not a feminist.

I know the whole "choice" (as in the whole point of advancement for women's rights was so that women could choose what they wanted to do) issue has been debated to death and declared false, but isn't being true to yourself and your own wants a positive thing?

As for the weight/looks issue the sad thing is that it all boils down to capitalizing on people's frailties in order to convince them to purchase something they think will make them better. There's that damn Wall Street again!

lorettambeaver said...

Yes, I am a feminist and yes, I believe if a woman wants to be a stay at home, mom and homemaker, and it is her choice and she can do it. If she stands up for equal pay, for same work, and equal choices given, she is a feminist too. More and more people are beginning to realize it is not what is on the outside of us that is important, but the heart of us, with a spirit of sharing and willingness to stand up and champion for right. love the article. Lori

Mary Lou said...

I have always been a woman in a man's world. I drove a truck, and I ran a forklift, I worked in a warehouse, And I became a General Manager in a business that had the GOOD OLD BOYS CLUB firmly entrenched! I am old and I am fat. DO I like being Fat? not really, but I gave up trying to be something I just could not be. ANd now I am ME!!! dont like me? tough twinkies! there are bimbos out there that you might like. but they are not as smart as I am. :)

I can hammer a nail, and saw a board, and fix a car, and paint a room. and I assembled a crib on my knees, 10 months pregnant! gotta do what ya gotta do!

I have raised both of my children almost alone, as I was A NAvy wife, and he was always gone. And now my daughter is as tough as nails and a real girly girl all at the same time. Good for her. My SOn repects me, and I encourage every young woman to follow their own bliss, and not try to fit into a mold.

refreshing post Granny! Thank You!

lalunas said...

I think if women supported one another there would be a better chance of a more rapid change. I know the image thing is impossible to change. I always hear women gossiping about so and so how she looks what she wears, who does she think she is and the list goes on and on. Because social pressure creates jealousy, jealousy is the culprit, illiminate that and equality may occur. Your comments are excellent.

Maya's Granny said...

I was just reading Chandra Clarke and she said: " France, meanwhile, comes in at 62nd in world happiness, which just goes to show that while French women may not get fat, they're not exactly thrilled about being thin either."

Nicole said...

Great post. I'm honored to be in your blogroll.

Gail said...

I'm new to your blog, but have read it from top to bottom! I love it, have bookmarked it, and returned for more "helpings."

This particular posting I'm going to share with a group that is meeting tonight. This is our first meeting. We are called "Ladies of Liberty" and we include both sexes. Our community is concerned about the political climate in the country and have decided to have two meetings a month regarding political issues.

We will be inviting political speakers in future meetings.

Our purpose is to become informed about the political issues facing us today. We want to be prepared come November when we can make a comment with our votes.

Thank you for your strength. It shines a bright light that we all should emulate.


Anonymous said...

An absolutely wonderful post. You began with my favorite passage and went on to discuss more beautifully than I have heard in a long while an issue near and dear to my own heart. I wish young women today could embrace their wonderful bodies just as they are and claim their power.

I love your blog and visit it every day for the wonderful family stories, memories and wisdoms. I wish you could adopt me! :)