This article is almost too perfect for our class discussion to be true. This morbidly funny social commentary story is set up in which some deformed “freak” was born without testes or a penis. Throughout it’s lifetime, the freak has suffered harassment from total strangers on the street, passed up employment opportunities, and been stared at and objectified. “What’s so deformed about not having a penis?” you might ask. Well, apparently it’s being the fact that unfortunately, this assigns you the title of ‘woman.’ Though we know that being a woman clearly does not make you a “freak,” I thought that this article’s sarcasm was an interesting, humorous way to shed light on social issues that still concern women today and are reinforced by the theory that men are innately better, more powerful, and more desirable than women. However, is this type of commentary is too extreme to get real attention or has it truly opened up people’s eyes to the way that society subconsciously views women?
In the essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women,” bell hooks confronts the problem of disjunction within feminist movements. She discusses how mainstream feminism has alienated women of color because of a perception that aspects of their culture are counter to feminist causes–for instance, that black women’s refusal to self-victimize excluded them from feminism. Different groups face different oppressions; yet, hooks points out, mainstream feminism struggles to realize that feminism looks different for different groups.
Last week, Politico Magazine published an article subtitled “How Michelle Obama became a feminist’s nightmare.” The author charged the First Lady with anti-feminist offenses including “gardening,” “tending to wounded soldiers” and “reading to children.” Michelle Obama, the author argued, should be a politically involved activist, not a “mom-in-chief.” She has an obligation to the women of America; she should represent all that feminism has achieved.
But to what extent is one woman obligated to act on behalf of a nation? Is Michelle Obama single-handedly responsible for defying all norms? The demand for a woman to embody a specified role, without room for choice in what she can accept or reject, is constricting and regressive. As bell hooks argues in “Sisterhood,” feminism must account for the complexity of individual experiences. Michelle Obama’s feminism may not be Hillary Clinton’s feminism, but their experiences are equally valid.
With that in mind, are we responsible for making choices with an eye towards what will most benefit women as a population? Or are we free to pick and choose which paths to follow? How much must we consider our individual choices in the context of society?
hooks, bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.
Cottle, Michelle. “Leaning Out.” Politico Magazine, November 21, 2013. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/leaning-out-michelle-obama-100244.html?ml=m_a3_1
Women are equipped with the biological equipment necessary for child birth, but because of that it is often expected that women will automatically take up the dominant role in nurturing and parenting. But what if women were to forgo such expectations and head back to work right away? What if the father or a nanny were to take the lead role in parenting instead? The question of what exactly women are responsible for is a major issue since the societal reaction to abandoning stereotypical maternal responsibilities is often outward shock and disapproval. But just because there is an expected maternal role does not mean there should be an inherent responsibility. Although the mother should be responsible for the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, the entire load of responsibility for child rearing should not fall solely to a woman just because she has a uterus. The reason why we don’t see more women abandoning expected responsibilities is because “social norms play a large part in why so few marriages are truly equal….it is rare that you choose something you have never seen” (Belkin 5). Women should not be automatically responsible for bringing up the children, but society often guilts them into it. This is why, for instance, there are numerous blogs popping up dedicated solely to working moms such as http://www.workingmomsagainstguilt.com/ and http://liberatingworkingmoms.com/.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” NY Times. 15 June 2008. Web. 01 Dec 2013.
Only one in seven engineers is female. (Huhman) GoldieBlox, a toy company that seeks to alleviate this gender imbalance, recently debuted a commercial for engineering toys targeted towards girls. In the advertisement, three girls are bored watching pink princesses on TV, a traditionally feminine image. They grab tool kits, hard hats, and goggles, building a complex machine that eventually turns off the television. In the background, a different version of the song “Girls” by The Beastie Boys plays. “Girls, that’s all we really need is girls/To bring us up to speed it’s girls/Our opportunity is girls/Don’t underestimate girls.” While encouraging girls to take part in traditionally masculine activities, the advertisement also avoids demonizing femininity. Some of the machine and toys advertised are bright colored and pink, but still seen as fun.
Part of the reason there is a large gender gap in “masculine” fields is because girls are not encouraged to pursue them. “[Parents’] treatment of girls and boys is often different and produces gender differences.” (Martin 475) Since “it is widely accepted… that parents, schools, and the media shape gendered behavior to some degree,” (Martin 467) advertisements like this are important in encouraging women to enter technical fields, rather than discouraging them from a field they may love.
Huhman, Heather R. “STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 June 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Martin, Karin A. “William Wants A Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender & Society 19.4 (2005): 456-79. Print.
In the video linked above, Jennifer Lawrence speaks out against society’s impossible beauty standards in answer to a question from a young girl about how to deal with the pressures from peers and the media to achieve perfection. I found her answer not only refreshing but inspiring. If society shared her views, more women would love their bodies. Women face the nearly impossibly task of feeling confident in about their own bodies while ignoring the harmful (and wrong) messages society sends about what is healthy or beautiful. A new attitude toward appearance – when “fat” and “skinny” are no longer relevant terms, when every woman’s body shape is accepted for its inherent beauty, and when women are no longer compared to and pitted against one another – is the ideal that society as a whole must strive for. Because as Lawrence says of how it is now, “that shouldn’t be the real world.” Amen, Jennifer!
What is oppression? In the words of Bette S. Tallen, quoted in “Reading the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” “the reality of oppression is replaced with the metaphor of addiction.” Often, the ways in which women are oppressed are insidious, made manifest in seemingly innocent ways that do not occur to consumers buying fashion magazines, weight-loss products, and beauty products. In “Reading the Body Beautiful,” Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber reveals the ways in which women are made to feel physically inadequate, which create a “fixable” problem that many women obsess over and that covers up deeper issues of inequality, poverty, education, racism, and sexism. Women’s issues are pushed to the side, secondary to the daunting task given to women by society of achieving the “ideal” feminine look. While women have gained considerable influence over the past few decades, the fact that their appearances are still scrutinized and criticized is discouraging. As Hesse-Biber says, current culture focuses the reason for women’s problems away from social forces and onto women themselves. This is a way of oppressing women, by creating bogus problems for our culture to focus on so that the injustices being perpetrated against women are not realized and so that action is not taken against maintaining a patriarchal society.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.” The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.