Comments of the Week: Viva La Feminism!

feminist majority T

In response to last week’s Wise Guy discussion, wherein the fellas basically said men aren’t feminists and feminism is dead, a few uppity women* had some serious straight-settling to do:

Tiffany: Wow. I’m shocked at the general consensus that the work of feminism is somehow “done.” We’ve come a long way for sure, but we’re not there yet. There’s still a wage gap, reproductive rights continue to be under assault, there’s sexist treatment of female political candidates in the media, just to name a couple of issues. But mostly, I see a general misunderstanding of what “feminism” means, which I think has a lot do do with the success of the right in making it a dirty word.

Sioux: Believe me, plenty of women “want” high paying jobs. Many women do not get to the place to apply for those jobs for a multitude of reasons. For instance, many people would not think twice about promoting a man with a newborn or with several children to a high-stress or time-consuming job, but women are assumed to have additional child-rearing commitments. As a woman of child-bearing age, I have actually been asked in interviews whether or not I plan to get pregnant or have children in the coming years. In an informal interview of, oh, every dude I know, none have been asked this. Do I think this factors into hiring decisions? Hopefully not.

But feminism isn’t just about biology. At energy conferences I am usually one of a few women attending. It’s not because people with uteruses are BANNED FROM ENERGY! But, there is definitely a boy’s club–it’s real, palpable, and probably off-putting to a lot of women. These are all very corporate/business world-specific, but those hiring and promotion decisions add up over a lifetime and leave fewer women at the top of the hiring pool.

We’re groomed, by both men and women, from a very young age to exhibit gendered tendencies. While I am not particularly “girly” and participate in traditionally masculine activities like fishing and rock climbing, I do not have an effortless masculine vernacular to assist me on corporate golf outings.

Unfortunately, gender inequality persists, especially in the US. I think that men, too, should have the opportunity for things like paternity leave. Men should be able to work in care-oriented fields like nursing or be able to stay home with kids without being forced to defend their masculinity all the time. I don’t think that men should bear the majority of combat warfare. These are ALL feminist issues.

Clandestine: Agreed with everything Sioux says. The problem is that there are structural obstacles to women attaining, or even being in a position to try to attain, the same positions as men at high levels.  The boys’ club still exists, and it is an asset to men rising in the ranks.  That there is no, or a limited, girls’ club at the same level means that women lack the privilege of currently well-situated mentors who had a similar experience as they progressed in their careers.  Sometimes men take women under their wings, or vice versa.  But when there are fewer people like you, it is harder to integrate into a group.  It just is.

And why do women end up being (or being supposed to be) “less valuable” to business?  Fathers [at least in theory] are just as able as mothers to take time off to raise children, and yet the prevailing assumption is always that women will bring in less because they’ll have babies and quit.  The problem is that there are more structural impediments to men staying home than there are to women staying home.  Like it or not, and I don’t, the current structure still rewards male breadwinners and female SAHMs.  In an economy where two-parent households are the norm, that’s not equitable. [From a later post: Given cultural expectations and many family leave policies, women are usually left holding the buck.]

This is another case where more generous (read: reasonable) parental and family leave acts would benefit both men and women: fathers who want to stay home with their kids would be more able to, and mothers who want to pursue careers would be able to.  And the more this happens, the more the cultural signals that create inequity die down.

The usual round of disclaimers: Not that there’s anything wrong with women choosing to stay home, but there is something wrong with women being coerced to stay home.  And I recognize that my comment is couched in heteronormative language, but I don’t feel well-positioned to know, much less discuss, the issues that face gay/lesbian couples.

Tiffany: Feminism has long been painted as strictly a white, straight, middle-class  women’s movement, which it is not. I’m of the opinion that you can’t be a feminist without also being antiracist and antihomophobic. Feminism IS about equality for all. Systems of oppression intersect, and the movements to fight against them necessarily overlap.

Sioux: I think this article does a good job of pointing out structural bias towards men, in the context of stand-up comedy.

I’d also agree that feminism has become a dirty word that people associate with man-hating militants. That’s not true. Most men, including the Wise Guys, probably hold beliefs that are actually quite feminist. Feminism means equality. That’s it. It’s not scary. It doesn’t demand “special treatment”. It (or, we) demand fair treatment. I agree with Tiffany’s points about feminists also being anti-racist and anti-homophobic.

The most important call for feminism today, in my opinion, is the legislative attack on women’s health and family planning. This demands outright feminist action, whereas the pay scale, etc., are more subtle.

Sioux: Here are the results of my 5-minute Google session on the wage gap:

I do not think that statistics give the best picture as to why feminism is still relevant. Here are some examples of women’s issues under attack in our state and federal legislatures:

These are the issues that point to the continued need for women’s health advocacy, which is a feminist pursuit.

Robin: What so many men and women don’t realize about feminism – especially feminism in 2011 – is that it’s about men’s rights as much as women. Men should be able to be stay-at-home dads, for example, without facing questions about their “manliness”, and feminism isn’t just about women, but about equality and freedom for BOTH sexes.

And props to Johnny who asked the question, “Who earns more, females in high-paying jobs or their male counterparts?” and researched the answer: “Sixteen women heading companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index averaged earnings of $14.2 million in their latest fiscal years, 43 percent more than the male average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News from proxy filings.”

*At least we assume they’re women. Maybe that’s just us being sexist.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for the props. The article you linked through that quote continues,

    ““These are the strongest, fittest and toughest who survive,” according to Wellington, who said she was offered half the salary of male peers for her first job at a mental health facility in 1968. “They’ve had to negotiate all the way up the ladder.” ”

    … which is also part of what I was saying. Up till now it’s been called a “boys club,” a misnomer which makes it sound like you get issued a snifter of brandy and a hot secretary on your first day.

    In reality up till now it’s been a boy’s battlefield, not club. Historically men have fought each other in the dirtiest possible ways, from personal skullduggery to international warfare, for economic gain.

    The women in hotshot jobs wear makeup like warpaint and stilettos like stirrups. They willingly charge into a dirty, unfair free-for-all where every adavantage is exploited by everyone.

    My point all along was that the battlefield is no longer gender-segregated, but corporate America IS still a battlefield. Play fair? Not happening. Never has.

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