Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feminisms: More Thoughts on the Uterati, and Toyoko Bean Salad with Chili Lime Dressing

The other day, the NYTimes published a piece about the legacy, or its lack, of Gloria Steinem.   Steinem emerged as a figurehead for feminism in 1970, during the debate surrounding the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and is often still the one people call for a sound byte when there's a "women's issue" on the table.

I've been thinking about the question the article poses, about leadership for the feminist movement, and about what people have been calling the War on Women.  While I'm not sure it's coordinated enough to be called a war, I do know that in recent years, I have felt more like being female is a liability.  It's been evident in my health care (where I've had to fight to be treated with dignity), in my workplace (where male leaders continue to tacitly condone sexist behavior, especially the sort that HR can't sanction), even at the grocery store (have you noticed that products for women almost always cost more than the equivalent products for men?  Someone else besides me noticed, too).  And I've found myself, especially after this past year, asking, who is speaking for us now?  (Though I know Mel is speaking for me at the White House, and that's comforting.)

The reality is that we may not ever have another Gloria Steinem.  And perhaps, as Steinem herself thinks, the movement never should have had a first one.  What we do have (and have had for a long time, of course -- I had plenty of courses on feminist theory) are feminisms: the lived experiences of the diaspora.  We are telling our stories in more ways than ever before.  More women have access to the megaphone.  Certainly, there are a lot of great blogs and blog aggregates out there: Jezebel, Feministe, Slate’s Double X, BlogHer are among what I consider to be the "big" ones, and then there's a host of others -- the ALI blogging community is a perfect example of this phenomenon, and I came across one the other day which sports the fabulous name "Team Uterati."  (Among her recent posts is a gut-wrenching story about a woman in Texas who had just discovered that her baby had severe irreversible health defects, and who was forced to have three ultrasounds in a single day and endure a tortuous description of her son-in-utero before she could have an abortion, partly because of a morass of laws and guidelines that didn't get passed at the same time.)

The Times calls it "a matrix of voices, an antic and hyperlinked conversation in which no one figure dominates."

So has social media erased the need for feminist leaders?  Is populism the new social activism?

With all of this chatter, I confess I'm left with nagging doubts.  Does this broad approach to feminism cause diffusion of its message?  Is telling our stories enough?  And, asks Pat Mitchell of the HuffPo, "In a globalized, media-saturated world, are we as aware of the range of experiences, conversations, and considerations?"

There's this, a group launched on Facebook that plans to coordinate marches across the country on April 28th.  And that sounds promising.  But I don't feel like marches in 2012 have the same effect as marches did in 1970.  I feel like what matters is capital: where women spend their money.  And maybe how women can get past the feminisms to send a unified message that things need to change.

I'm publishing this recipe today because it was given to me by my husband's aunt, who married into a very feminism-oriented family (and who is a pretty vocal feminist herself).  It's a potluck-y sort of thing; it's also the sort of salad in which you can taste all the vegetables while you're appreciating the flavor of the whole.  And it's got a surprising kick that you might not notice at first bite.  Sort of like those of us of the double X persuasion.

Toyoko Bean Salad 
with Chili Lime Dressing

2 c. green beans, chopped
1 (19 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (19 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 c. corn kernels (frozen is fine)
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 c. fresh coriander or 1/4 c. parsley, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 t. lime rind, grated
2 t. lime juice
2 t. chili powder
1 t. sugar
1/4 t. salt

In saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until tender crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain and chill in cold water; drain and set aside.

Drain and rinse chickpeas and black beans thoroughly; place in a large bowl. Add orange pepper, corn and onions; set aside. (If using frozen corn, make sure you do this enough in advance for it to defrost, or run it under some hot water for a few minutes.)

CHILI LIME DRESSING: Combine the ingredients; pour over the beans and toss to coat (Dressing can be made ahead: cover and chill for up to 24 hours, but don't add it to the beans until you're ready to serve it). Adjust seasoning to personal preference.
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  1. I saw that article on G. Steinem as well and the whole thing has been on my mind since. I feel like we face some complex issues, mostly related, as usual, to our incredibly central role in baby making and raising. I agree that it doesn't make sense to have one specific voice representing so many people with so many different ideas. But that could probably be said for almost any movement and yet charismatic leaders are often critical to the causes they represent (Camila Vallejo, for example).

    Perhaps you could hijack Blogher this year to start a little revolution? It's one thing to be here still sorting out how to integrate the need to raise our children and still insure that we are full participants in other spheres but to still need to fight to insure access to the technologies that provide us with control over our own reproduction? WTF?

    1. Hm, perhaps you should help me plan the pre-revolution. ;)

      I don't think I want another charismatic leader, even as a figurehead. What I do want is some way we can channel our energies productively, together, even if we have different ideas. Maybe that already exists and I just don't know about it?

  2. Feminism farts in the general direction of traditional hierarchy, as I was educated and understood it. To try to put a singular figurehead at the top of feminism as its point person is reductive and goes against what feminism embraces--collective leadership and empowering women to open their mouths and use their own voices. I love Gloria, I hold her in high esteem, and I appreciate what her generation of feminists accomplished for future generations of women. Her feminism--second wave feminism--is not my feminism, though. Feminism has changed so much since her time (putting it woefully simply) and that is why there will never be another Gloria for the feminist movement. You know that bumper sticker that says, "God is too big to fit into one religion?" That's sort of how I feel about feminism. It's too big and too varied to be lead or represented by one person.

    Your picture of your salad has me longing for some fresh, crunchy, straight-from-the-garden green beans! Hurry summer! :)

    1. You're right, of course. Thanks for the reminder.

      And yet, I worry about both the women who STILL don't get to speak ... and about whether those of us who DO get to speak have a false sense of being heard. Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting into the wind. It's been especially frustrating to watch life go on at my old workplace, with continued harrassment bullying, and belittling of women. But even HR does nothing, despite complaints from others. It stuns me.

      I think that's really what is driving my fury ... knowing that is happening, at the same time I'm watching the legislation get passed in state after state that seems to be limiting the rights of women. It makes me wonder if I have anywhere to turn to complain about the injustice.

  3. I like your bottom line acknowledgement. Economics. That is where ERA failed and we continue to fail at the rate of about .71 to the dollar. Especially important when linking with the perennial motherhood argument. What to do? I have no idea. But having a baby in the house, and thinking about this issue on a daily basis, I see the problem from a much more biological point of view than ever before. Feminism did so much to remove us from biological determinism ... but there the uterus remains ... and until we acknowledge that without societal decision-making that compensates for the lack of the male womb we will continue to battle the same problems. We will not be able to change the inequities born of biology, however we define them.

  4. Great post, I feel I've been on edge and very defensive recently due to all the anti-female rights talk in politics. I'm going to check on info on if there is a walk in our area. While I agree with you regarding the impact it may have now it's also a great way to show my son how important women's rights are and feel I'm contributing in some way.

    1. I'm thinking about attending one for the same reasons ... and to see who else is out there, with whom I can connect!

  5. I saw Gloria Steinum speak last yr at F&M college. I am not a fan. I am the opposite of her actually!!! I am
    pro life and pro family.
    This recipe is one of my favorites! except I use cilantro instead. Yum!

    1. I meant cilantro, actually ... good catch!

      And: I think your reaction to Steinem is the reason that feminismS, plural, is a GOOD thing. We need to make sure we all have a chance to speak. But ... that's just it for me ... I worry about the instances in which women are being silenced, legislatively or otherwise.

  6. I agree with you that it doesn't necessarily feel like a war against women but maybe it's more a war against something else and women are amongst the casualties? I think the problem with leaders is that leaders are (1) human and (2) have their own opinions and can't always embody other people's opinions. Plus, if the movement is only as strong as its leader, there is a problem -- it needs to be stronger than its leader, it needs to be bigger than it's leader. The leader needs to direct something larger than itself. Movements don't work when they're under one leader, smaller than that leader.

    I love Gloria Steinem's work and love the way she has motivated other women. I think that is her legacy.

    1. Steinem's legacy is definitely evident in the way other women have taken up their own causes, and I think you're right, that the movement *has* to be larger than the individual, otherwise it dies with the individual. It's interesting to me, though, that the article said even those who seemed to have been poised for leadership (e.g. Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi), have retreated, noting that they are writers, not political organizers. It was a telling statement about what they see as the power and limitations of writing.

  7. This recipe looks delicious. And it's dairy and egg free, too. Not a lot for me to say regarding the topic of debate here, mostly because I am in a sleep-deprivation fog, but I like reading all the intelligent responses everybody else has. :)

  8. Huh. This topic has been on my mind a lot. When I was coming of age (and maybe it was a product of where I grew up), safe sex and date rape were mostly the topics du jour ( AIDS was taking a terrible toll at the time) and other than my very conservative church for the time/place (even there, abstinence wasn't preached) none of the issues being discussed were even on the table. It's amazing and scary to realize that people are actually saying birth control should not being allowed, that women should wait for marriage (not men, though) and no abortion should be legal, ever. This is dark ages stuff. No one really talks about date rape anymore, but they are talking about short skirts "inviting" problems. No more "Take back the night" events, either.

    There was a scene in Mad Men (last season?) where a young woman told Don Draper that people might not buy things anymore, if they didn't like the industrial-military ruling class complex (his face turned white: his very existence is predicated on telling people what to buy). Is that what eventually happened in the 60s? I don't know.

    But I like the idea of using our economic might. It's as good idea as any I've yet heard.

    1. I'm not sure what form it would take, but certainly we owe it to ourselves to be informed about companies' positions on the issues we care about as women ... and not just as women from one political persuasion or another, either.

  9. What an interesting and thought provoking post. I read a book about Gloria Steinem and wrote a report about it/her in high school (almost 20 years ago now) and found her very inspiring. I agree that as with any other cause in life it is hard to organize when everyone who cares is not on the same page in regards to all the issues.

    When I was coming of age in my teens I always imagined I would be more like my parents were as young adults, marching and protesting against and for things I was passionate about. In there golden years as retirees I am proud to say they are still actively doing this.

    However, for many reasons outside of advocating for infertility rights and trying to help those who have also experienced pregnancy and neonatal loss (which I know is important and worthwhile), I haven't worked for change, peace and social justice nearly as much as believe I could have or feel I *should* have at this stage of my life. I know there is still time, but it is interesting and frustrating for me to contemplate.


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