Saturday, July 25, 2009

Module 19

I have thoroughly enjoyed taking this class, and learning more about some of the myriad aspects of feminism, and all their intersectionalities. This class has definitely made me more conscious of various kinds of inequalities, and just how much social infrastructure affects the functioning of society. I find myself applying this feminist critical thought to everyday life all the time! It has sparked good conversations with peers as well.

It may sound naive and idyllic, but I look forward to a "just future" where everyone is treated equally, respectfully, and without discrimination or disparity. This goal may never be fully achieved, but I don't think that means that it is pointless to desire it or work towards it. I liked the way Lisa Jervis put it in the article "The End of Feminism's Third Wave:" "We all want [gender] justice. We may not all agree on exactly what it looks like or how to get it. We should never expect to. Feminism has always thrived on and grown from internal discussions and disagreements. Our many different and opposing perspectives are what push us forward, honing our theories, refining our tactics..."

I would highly recommend that anyone take a Women's Studies class, I think that with the right attitude and approach (i.e., an open mind), the value of taking such a class is inestimable. At the very least it might cause someone to more closely re-examine their personal values and beliefs, and beyond that, it can inspire meaningful discussions or even spur some people to more fully dedicate themselves to social change. I think that many guys in particular stand to gain a lot from taking a Women's Studies class, because of the problem of invisibility of privilege, which we have discussed previously in this class. Taking such a class would challenge commonly held stereotypes of feminism, and enlighten people to its true core tenets. In the "Manifesto for Third Wave Feminism," Tamara Straus noted the "continued importance of feminism in politics, education, and culture." Everything that we have learned and discussed in this course has reinforced the idea of this ongoing importance of feminist thought and activism in society, because as far as we have come, we still have a long way to go.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Module 18

This module addressed reproductive rights and choice, which entails some pretty contentious issues. One of these was addressed in the reading on maternal vs. fetal rights, which posed the difficult question of whose rights should prevail, the mother's or the fetus's, in a pregnancy where one party's health or comfort may be compromised relative to the other's.

One case was that of a pregnant woman "unwilling to cut down on her drinking" at the behest of her doctor, who has "repeatedly advised [the woman] of the risks her drinking poses to the child she has chosen to have." The argument in favor of maternal rights cites an individual's "right to freedom of choice and control over his or her own life" as a reason to avoid forced treatment of pregnant women, saying that "the decisions a woman makes during pregnancy are based on her own circumstances, her own values, her own preferences. Others have no right to impose on her their own judgments about what they think is best for her and her fetus..."

I think the fundamental issue here is choice. In such a case, it is the woman's choice to carry the pregnancy to term - by making this decision, she is implicitly assuming responsibility for not only her own health and body but also her child's, and this carries with it the obligation to take care of that body and respect it. This argument also asserts that to "require pregnant women to undergo surgery or change their lifestyles in order to benefit a fetus is to demand from them something over and above what we demand from the rest of society." As I said before, if a woman chooses to carry out her pregnancy, she is also electing to assume the risks and responsibilities that come along with pregnancy. The "rest of society" isn't quite relevant here, because they either cannot or have not chosen to (or have chosen not to?) become pregnant, which can and does entail lifestyle modification "in order to benefit a fetus."

Another argument is that if society does engage in the forced treatment of pregnant women, what is to stop those in charge from imposing further, more severe violations of and restrictions on pregnant women's lives? For example, "If pregnant women are incarcerated to prevent them from heavy drinking, will we also seize them for drinking coffee or exercising too little, each of which could pose some risk to a fetus according to some doctors." It is a valid concern, but I think a little alarmist in nature.

Another topic I want to address is the use surgery or medication during pregnancy to prevent handicaps, which relates back to the concept of disability discussed in Module 12. The article states that "The discomfort or inconvenience of taking a medication or undergoing a low-risk surgerical procedure is a small price to pay to prevent a child from being born with handicaps." My question is, are these practices and procedures really necessary? Yes, it is nice and well-intentioned and even admirable to try to avoid and prevent these maladies and handicaps, but are they really so bad? They might make life more challenging or more difficult in many respects, but shouldn't we, as a society, embrace all people, of all abilities? By "fixing" these "afflictions," are we eliminating diversity, striving for perfection, trying to create a superlative, or at least ultra-normative human race? How ideal are these goals, really?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Module 17

Violence and the threat of violence exert social control over women because these things can affect the way women live their lives, limiting or changing the actions they take and choices they make. Often, women have to be extra-vigilant in order to avoid harassment or victimization, and sometimes it is all but impossible to avoid harassment, e.g., getting catcalled while walking down the street or being leered at in a bar, the gym, or really any public place. The fact that women must modify their behavior in order to attempt to avoid harassment or violence relates back to the concepts of oppression and privilege discussed in Module 11. As Marilyn Frye noted, "the oppressiveness of the situations in which women live our various and different lives is a macroscopic phenomenon, [...] a network of forces and barriers which are systematically related and conspire to the immobilization, reduction and molding of women and the lives we live..." (emphasis added).

I think the basis of feminist claims that acts of violence against women are actually hate crimes lies in the so-called "crisis of masculinity." The "demasculinizing" effects of the recent global economy and "rising long-term male unemployment," coupled with women's "increasing participation in the public arena and paid work and recognition of women's rights" are changing gender roles and "challenging the traditional division of labor and models of femininity." These challenges threaten some men's sense of their 'masculinity,' and as a result, they seek other ways to re-assert their power and dominance.

Violence against women can also be construed as a hate crime because it is sexist in nature. It relates to men's feelings of entitlement and dominance, and manifests itself in the "rape spectrum" discussed in the lecture.

I think the best steps to take in order to address the problem of violence against women are to continue to focus on including and educating men on the issue, making it visible and relevant; and to introduce, practice, and emphasize gender equality to children, particularly those under the age of three, and to raise them to "honor both the 'masculine' and 'feminine' values that are within themselves and in society."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Module 15

The issue of women's work in the home is an interesting one. While women generally perform the bulk of the housework (about 2/3), it is mostly unrecognized, undervalued and unappreciated. This may be due in part to the nature of the housework women typically perform - as discussed in the lecture, these tasks are often more repetitive and banal, requiring less skill and holding less value or status than the type of housework men usually do, which is more seasonal in nature and may require more skill. As such, "women's work" is arguably less fulfilling than that of men.

An interesting point was that men are said to "help out," or "pitch in" with the housework, as opposed to sharing household duties. This phrasing further reinforces the notion of the private home as a predominantly feminine domain, one where men can choose to partake in as much or as little housework as they please. It seems as though no matter how many gains women make in the public sphere, they are still inextricably tied to the private sphere as well, and to the notion of 'domesticity,' as prescribed by the Cult of True Womanhood.

The section on affirmative action was informative and helpful, especially in emphasizing the fact that it aims to "increase the representation of women and people of color in areas of employment, education and government...," encouraging diversification, but not the hiring of unqualified people for the positions in question. There is a lot of misunderstanding (and contention) surrounding the issue of affirmative action, and this reminded me of a story Dr. Michael Kimmel (I know I've referenced him multiple times before, but I just think he's great!) told during his talk here at JMU. He had appeared on an episode of Oprah entitled, "A Black Woman Stole My Job." Four white men were claiming reverse discrimination, arguing that they had been cheated out of jobs and promotions they were qualified for, and should have had. Kimmel asked the men why they were using the word "my" job, instead of "the" job, inquiring what had given them the idea that the job was theirs in the first place. This also ties back in to the issue of privilege, as it demonstrates the strong sense of entitlement these men had. Because of this sense of entitlement, men (or other people in positions of privilege) feel discriminated against when policies such as affirmative action are actually leveling the the playing field. Entitlement is especially invisible.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Module 14

Reading the Gender Stories was definitely eye-opening to women's experiences of oppression around the world, and the hardships and obstacles they encounter as a result of bias and discrimination. The Issue Briefs were also very informative, as they assessed not only commonly-discussed issues such as displacement, elections, health, trafficking, and violence, but also those that might receive less attention, such as landmines or reconstruction, and how these issues intersect. What struck me most as I was reading the Gender Stories and the Issue Briefs was the running theme of inadequate support and insufficient resources for women affected by these issues. Survivors of rape are left to deal with the consequences on their own, often without access to any sort of counseling, and subject to a great amount of shame in certain communities. This was evident in one story of a woman who tried to terminate her pregnancy (that was a result of rape) by injuring herself, because she was too ashamed to admit she had been raped, and didn't know what else to do. Another woman who had been raped by her father-in-law was treated as a criminal herself, sent to jail after being accused of adultery by the man who assaulted her, and as a result was unable to provide for or otherwise take care of her son. Another woman who had been abused said that she "suffers in some way from [it] every day." Society underestimates and ignores the damage abuse inflicts on its victims, making it less visible (like privilege) and thereby invalidating the experiences of those who suffer it. In consequence, there is not much emphasis placed on the need to make support and resources available and accessible to women who have suffered from abuse.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Module 11

In Marilyn Frye's essay on oppression, she makes the point that "people can and do fail to see the oppression of women [and other groups] because they fail to see [...] the various elements of the situation as systematically related in larger schemes" (emphasis added). This is an important point because I think we tend to take a microscopic view of the metaphorical "birdcage," considering its components, or wires, as separate and unrelated. This perspective can trivialize the obstacles and struggles faced by groups who are oppressed, making it easier to dismiss their failures as a result of individual shortcomings, instead of realizing the interlocking aspect of these barriers, "no one of which would be the least hindrance [on its own], but which, by their relations to each other" prevent, limit, or otherwise constrain the progress, success or equality the members of these groups can attain.

Frye also discusses the double-binds frequently encountered by oppressed people "in which options are reduced to very few and all of them expose one to [a degree of] penalty, censure, or deprivation." She cites the 'slut/whore' vs. 'prude/chaste' double-bind experienced by women in the United States, explaining the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" predicament women face in regard to their sexual activity (or inactivity). Furthermore, she notes that with regard to rape,

If a woman has been heterosexually active, she is subject to the presumption that she liked it (since her activity is presumed to show that she likes sex), and if she has not, she is subject to [the same presumption] since she is supposedly "repressed and frustrated." [...] Both heterosexual activity and nonactivity [sic] are likely to be taken as proof that [one] wanted to be raped [or liked it], and hence, weren't really raped at all.

But this issue of 'unrapeability' does not just apply to women. In our culture, black men are also made unrapeable, arguably more so than women. They are consistently hypersexualized in society's representations of them, and so of course, would never turn down the opportunity for sex (although one could argue, too, that white men are also generally made 'unrapeable,' except maybe in the context of homosexual activity). Andrea Plaid remarks that sensitive nature of the subject of "Black male sexual violence" may be due in part to people's willingness (or lack thereof) to acknowledge the issue:

It seems that the only violation folks, both inside and outside some Black communities, want to give an ear to from and about Black men is how they are "racially violated," how racism denies them their humanity, which is closely tied to their sense of "rightful" manhood [...] and more negatively, their male privileges, like feeling entitled to participated in this society's sexism and misogyny.

It's clearly an intricate and nuanced issue, and definitely one that deserves a good deal of thought and consideration. Two contributors at Racialicious provide more in-depth analyses here, and here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Module 9

In the article by Christie Church, "Feminism Keeps My Marriage Together," Church uses her own story of unexpected encounters with sexism and the patriarchy and the limitations or expectations they impose to illustrate the point that "no matter how many gains feminism makes, it should never cease to be taught, because younger generations will be stunned powerless in the face of unexpected sexism without having any feminist education to help put that sexism into context." My question is of where feminism is being taught - does she mean informally, shared or passed down by feminists through values and ideologies, or is she referring to a formal education setting, such as a college or university? Either way, I agree with her point that it is important to include feminism as a part of education.

I also liked her (and her husband's) approach to marriage: the fact that their decision to get married was a conversation rather than a proposal, and that they got each other high-tops instead of the traditional engagement ring. I'll admit that I had never really considered before that there isn't an equivalent of an engagement ring for men. This article provided a lot of interesting fodder for thought about the institution of marriage as a sexist and misogynistic. Church's observes that "we are all socialized to see marriage as a woman's prize for being appropriately attractive and wily, and how men are offered no part in it except as reluctant, defeated lumps following behind."

Hearing about people's narrow-minded reactions to their nontraditional approach was disappointing, but not altogether unexpected. A similar story is that of Jessica Valenti, founder of, who also encountered unfavorable responses, even from "fellow feminists who felt that getting married was a sop to the patriarchy." Valenti wrote about it for the Guardian, where she details her experiences planning the feminist wedding. It's an interesting read, and gives other examples of how she and her husband incorporated feminism into the wedding.