Lysistrata's Daughter

equality. that's all.

Month: January, 2013

The Coathanger Conundrum

*This post is inspired by NARAL’s Blog for Choice Day 2013

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court Case that established a woman’s right to choose. As far as I’m concerned, we as a country should have spent those forty years making great strides in the field of women’s reproductive rights, but lately, it feels like we’re moving backwards.

Vanity Fair published an article chronicling the life of Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe, the title character in the case. She evolved from a pro-choice activist to an Evangelical pro-life advocate, a surprising journey for a woman who was so heavily involved in the defining fight for women’s reproductive rights. But a line in the article that stood out to me, stated that Norma McCorvey ultimately looked after herself first and foremost, and made her activism decisions based on what would benefit her most.

Isn’t that the way the lawmakers in this country have treated reproductive rights?

At the very least, isn’t that the way many powerful men treat a female’s reproductive rights?

Abortion doesn’t fit into their religious agenda, or, more importantly, the religious agendas of their constituents. Notice the go-to for sexual education in this country is still abstinence. Never mind the fact that access to condoms and birth control would drastically decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, as well as STDs.

Why are we as a country so afraid of teaching our children, of giving them vital information that allows them to make conscious and informed decisions?

And why do we always blame the woman? It takes two to tango. A woman does not just “get pregnant.” It takes sperm to fertilize an egg. Whether or not the male wants to take responsibility for his actions, it needs to be universally accepted that it is a joint responsibility, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy, whether the woman keeps the baby, or decides to get an abortion.

The choice to abort a baby is—at least in my experience with friends and family—a daunting and difficult decision. It is not an “automatic default decision” or the “easy way out.” The procedure takes a toll on a woman, her body, her relationships, and her mind.

But the activism surrounding the pro-life movement continues to grow. Picketers outside of clinics, Susan G. Komen foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood, Richard Murdoch’s comment during election season about babies conceived through rape being “intended by God.” Todd Akin. Etc.

I’m not sure that the pro-life movement has realized that women seeking abortions are trying to be responsible. Many of them are in difficult situations, be it an abusive relationship, a desperate monetary situation, drug addiction, or other extenuating circumstances.

Before Roe v. Wade, abortions still occurred. However, without the option of a safe and legal procedure, undergoing a backdoor abortion very often ended in mutilation or even death. But to some women, abortion was/ is the only option. And even if the federal government rules in favor of the pro-life camp, the process will not end.

Which would be ironic, because for a group who declares themselves “pro-life”, they don’t seem to give the life of the mother the same value and consideration they place on an unborn fetus.

I haven’t had an abortion. But the fact that I have the right to choose—that the world believes I have enough sense and understanding of my own personal situation, and my own body to make a thoughtful and educated decision—is what makes me feel like I am taken seriously as a woman. All the legislation that conservatives want to introduce to restrict abortions: ultrasounds, counseling, etc., makes it look as if women run blindly to abortion clinics without understanding the actual procedure. And perhaps there are women who do. But the vast majority understands the consequences and the reality of abortion. These proposed laws are not opening our eyes; they are making us feel as if those people in power do not trust our decision-making skills.

That’s what I find offensive.

The Stigma of Feminism

My 11th grade AP Language and Composition teacher once had my class read an article about how the feminist movement affected the development of boys in more recent generations. I wish I could remember the source, but essentially, it said that because the feminist movement was working so hard to redefine gender roles, they were taking a man’s intrinsic alpha nature and (figuratively) beating it out of young boys. Boys were becoming more sensitive and more prone to be emotional. They were more open with their feelings and thoughts, and the idea of men, like they had been classified (and stereotyped!) before—strong protective, able to provide for a family as the decision maker and head of the household—would cease to exist.

Except he said this like it was a bad thing. This man was the best teacher I had throughout all of high school; he did wonders for my writing and my ability to think critically. I credit him with many of my academic successes, but that day in class, he was the first person to (inadvertently) make me feel like being a feminist was a bad thing.

He was not the last.

The first time I truly realized the stigma of the word “feminist” was a few years ago. I was having a conversation about women’s rights with my mother, and I started to qualify my position by saying “I’m not a feminist, but…” My mother stopped me immediately and said,“Do you believe in equality?” I said “Yes, but I don’t believe in the crazy conventions that everyone talks about.” She shook her head. “Those conventions to not define a movement. If you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist.” I was horrified with myself. Years of listening to scoffs at the word, at the women who led the movement, at the ultimate goal of feminism had led me to believe that admitting I was a feminist was something to be ashamed of.

When I first discussed this blog with my father, the first thing he said after I said feminist was “Femi-Nazi.” My father is an educated and free-thinking man, and if Rush Limbaugh’s phrase was the first thing that came to his mind, I imagine the words and ideas other people have associated with the word “feminism” are even worse.

The man I am currently seeing, upon hearing about my idea for the blog, said ,“Yeah, but you’re not really a feminist though. They’re crazy. That’s not who you are.”

So let me state right here, right now: Although I may shave my legs, although I have never burned a bra, I am a feminist. Because to me, the declaration means nothing more than I want equal respect, equal pay, and equal recognition for the endeavors of women. I want nothing that I accomplish in life to be additionally extraordinary just because I achieved it as a woman.

It is supremely frustrating to not be taken seriously because I am a woman. It is also supremely frustrating to feel like most of the men I’ve made acquaintance with do not take the issue of feminism seriously.

I have no agenda to establish women as the superior sex, to declare that men are pigs, or to deprecate anyone. All I want is equality, to not have to work extra hard to succeed because a series of random chances caused me to be born as a woman instead of a man. Gender should not be seen as a sense of entitlement.

As a woman in a progressive first world country, I count my lucky stars that I have the freedom of speech, access to technology and information, and education to have these thoughts and feelings, and to publish them in a way that others can access them. I know that I am incredibly lucky. But I do not take these things for granted. I didn’t do anything to deserve being born in the country I did, had no control over my gender. But because I have these things, I want to use them for good. For change. For hope, at least, that someday feminism will receive the respect it deserves.

With every movement there are factions that split off and generate a more radical approach to the issue. But feminism should not be defined by stereotypes and generalizations. That’s what got us here in the first place.

Asking for It: an Addendum

In addendum to my previous post, I offer this British advertisement, one of my favorite pieces of anti-rape propaganda.

Clothes Make the Man, but Where Does That Leave Women?

Last year, around Valentine’s Day 2012, a female at BYU received a note from a male student while studying in the library. At first, she thought it was a note from a potential admirer. Instead, the page contained a brief reprimand, the gist being that she was dressed too provocatively, and that she should think about the “negative effects” her outfit could have on men. The girl in question later posted a picture to twitter and revealed that she was wearing a knee length dress with black tights and a cardigan. Hardly any skin was exposed other than her hands, neck, and face.

My cousin, in his early thirties and married, brought the story to Facebook, and to my attention. Of course, I immediately assumed he was speaking out in surprise over how ridiculous the actions of the anonymous male student were. Why should does an individual have a responsibility to take into consideration the possible effects the clothes he/she wears might have on another human being?

But alas, we all know what happens when you assume. I found that while my cousin thought the particular situation a bit silly, he ultimately believed that women do need to realize that the clothing they wear can have a negative effect on men, and therefore, should take care when getting dressed every day, lest they look like the are “asking for it.”

Here, an excerpt from his thoughts on the subject:

“My point was that even though people have the choice to dress however they want, they should choose—for their own sake, to dress in a way that doesn’t draw negative attention, etc. to themselves. How one dresses reflects, fairy or unfairly, on their character as a person. Having said that, people shouldn’t be judged by how they dress. But the broader issue is there are many, many men who lust after females dressed “provocatively”—that’s their (the men’s) responsibility. But there’s also responsibility on the part of girls to not invite that. (And parents to explain to their kids the various choices they have and the consequences of those choices.) Yes, I feel that way. Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No. Obviously that invitation should never be taken. At the same time, I think most women don’t even remotely begin to understand how the male brain works when it comes to sex. I’m not making any excuses—For people who are concerned about these issues, it takes effort on both sides…”

I suppose that maybe, having had a year to cool off, I am less prone to ripping my hair out whenever I revisit this conversation. And yet, there are still pieces of it I find unacceptable. “Dressing like that is an invitation. Is that an uneducated or sexist viewpoint? No.” YES. Yes it is. If I see a man wearing crocs and kakhi pants, is that an invitation for me to seize the nearest boulder and throw it at his face to punish him for his poor fashion sense? Is sexual harassment a suitable RSVP to the “invitation” of the skirt I wear on New Year’s Eve, or the pair of heels I wear to my company Holiday party?

Obviously, my cousin doesn’t do his research. Otherwise he’d know that most rape victims were dressed in baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts when they were attacked, such clothing that could hardly be described as “flashy” or “asking for it.” Rape is a despicable action, and it is often a senseless act carried out as a power play. As I woman I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that any woman would ever ask for her body, mind, and safety to be violated like that. Instead, I guess the asking is implied by being a part of the “inferior sex.”

Just because I choose to wear dresses and like to look nice does not mean I am accepting responsibility for the way someone else chooses to behave because they are not mature enough to realize I am also a human being and deserve the same kind of respect as every other person on the planet.

Bad fashion choices, short skirts, a babushka, it doesn’t matter to me. The point is freedom of expression. Don’t take mine away, I’ll let you leave with crocs untarnished.

Oh, and my cousin? I replied, a bit heavier handed, hopped up on anger and self-righteousness (I was wearing a skirt above the knee that day), but still persuasive and professionally. The thread stayed up on Facebook just long enough for him to read my response, and then suddenly, the entire conversation was gone. My aunt later sent me a message congratulating me on putting him in his place. Funny how that works.

And when we all got together for Thanksgiving later that year, he didn’t say a thing about my skirt.