Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thoughts on Post-Feminism: Just How Far *Have* We Come, Baby?

I've always considered myself a feminist.  But that label has been controversial, even among my friends.  Some of them see feminism as a movement of the last century, something we ought to be "over" by now.

Like many other women, I was deeply troubled by the comments Rush Limbaugh made about Sandra Fluke and, by extension, about all women.  I'm not usually bothered by Rush Limbaugh, because I know who his audience is, and I don't care what they think.  But these sexist comments went too far for me this time; they're the tip of the much larger and scarier iceberg that I've been worried about for a while.  First, there's the fight over women's bodies.  The refusal to provide women coverage for contraception in insurance (which is also used to treat a variety of other conditions including endometriosis, amenorrhea, and acne, thanks, Rush).  The Right To Know Act, legislation currently tabled in Pennsylvania which would require women to have ultrasounds (most likely trans-vaginal ones) prior to abortions, whether they want them or not.  The political quagmire of the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle, which temporarily (until Komen came to its senses) cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, and the lack of assurance about the future of grants to that organization.  Then there's the persistent sexism I'm seeing, and that I experienced myself.  Women getting demoted or having responsibilities removed during maternity leave.  Women being excluded from conversations about the future of their organizations.  Women still earning less than men, doing the same jobs, and mothers earning less than non-mothers, even controlling for other variables like education and time away from the workforce.  It's as if the feminist movement accomplished a veneer of acceptance, but underneath the shiny exterior, things haven't changed at all.

Part of me wonders if we became too complacent.  Did we decide that feminism had accomplished what it set out to accomplish?  Have we stopped trying to make change?  If so, why?  Have we gone backwards?  If so, how did it happen?  And what role, if any, have women played in that regression?  Or were the accomplishments of feminism really a sham?

It so happens that I like to bake.  And that a good portion of the time, you will find me in the kitchen.  This is one of three things I sent to our church's coffee hour this past Sunday, even though we weren't going to be there ourselves; I did it because I like feeding people, and sometimes cake is spiritual food, too.  But I'm not barefoot, I'm not pregnant, and I'm not afraid to use my pen, my keyboard, or my frying pan.

No matter what happened to the movement, I am still a feminist.

How about you?

Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake

1/3 c. chopped raisins (or nuts)
1/3 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 T. ground cinnamon
Cooking spray
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 T. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, stir together the first 4 ingredients to make streusel. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; sprinkle 1/3 cup of the streusel mixture into pan. Set the remainder of the streusel aside.

Combine regular sugar and vegetable oil in a large bowl, and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir well. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

Measure 2 cups of batter; set aside. Pour remaining batter into prepared pan; sprinkle remaining streusel over batter. Pour reserved 2 cups batter over streusel. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Let cool completely on wire rack.
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  1. I think you are so right. It's a slippery and scary slope all of the things you mentioned above. I think I've always sort of taken it for granted that the rights and laws I have come to know would only move forward toward being better, more inclusive. Instead, I fear quite the opposite is happening and it's very frightening. I think maybe this is the wakeup call I needed to get involved in some way.

    Thank you so much for your support BTW. You are such a good friend and always make me feel so good about myself and my decisions. I can't tell you how much I needed that this week.

    1. I can't seem to find your comment button. Sorry to be replying to an earlier comment.

      I just never understood how educated women would argue that feminism was "over" or "unnecessary." I think that part of it came from growing up in the South, but when I watch my friends without kids merrily carrying on as if activism was a waste of time I am baffled. A good friend spent a good hour lauding her new workplace as being so woman-friendly. And it is better than many, but she has not a single day of maternity leave. Not one day. I'm pretty sure she's going to be reconsidering her praise when they fire her for having a baby, but for now she thinks everything is fine. Same for my friends who are pro-choice but not only not willing to lobby for it/donate but not even really willing to talk to their peers about it "because it's too touchy." Here's to hoping none of them ever have to make arrangements for dealing with an ectopic pregnancy or a non-viable fetus. When we started fertility treatments down South our doctor sat us down and basically said it's not enough to me that you are pro-choice, I want to know that you have cash in your bank account to hope on a flight out of here if this gets too high risk because you won't be able to get a termination quickly enough to save your life down here.

      Yup, I'm puzzled too as to how feminism is a done deal.

    2. ManyManyMoons: it's hard to know where to start, isn't it? Easy to feel powerless, watching this happen. I think the first step is voting, but I think that there's much more work that needs to be done.

      @Rachel: Great examples. It's hard to believe that we live in an era in which a health care professional has to say something like that! Wow.

    3. Holy crap Rachel! I'm stunned that you were in that situation. I have never felt that this was a done deal but lately I think we may be sliding backwards at a terrifying pace.

      This is an important post (and just in time for International Women's Day, which feels particularly depressing to me this year).
      I have no doubts about the fact that women have some work to do (because we can't expect that men will do it for us) but I am feeling a bit lost as to where we are supposed to be focusing right now. It seems that the vast majority of the battles in the "culture wars" are ultimately about control of women's bodies (and this reaches far beyond the US). How incredibly disheartening is this then for those of us within the ALI community who have been struggling with the fact that biology itself has left us with limited control to begin with.

      And then there are the problems of compatibility between pregnancy/motherhood and the traditional work demands.


    4. Thanks for weighing in, slowmamma. And well put: the decisions being made now have the potential to deal a particularly powerful blow to the ALI community. Why are women's bodies so threatening? Not that this is anything new, really ... anyone who has studied literature and culture in college or grad school knows that there's a long and depressing history of attempts to control the female body ...

      And so much of this, in the end, affects men, too ...

  2. J, so beautifully put. I realize so much of this is hypotheticals but I feel you, I hear you. I get that sense of both urgency and complacency all at once. I will say this, and it's not meant to be a criticism, just an observation - when we phrase it like "have WE become complacent" it's almost like victim-blaming. Not that you actively set out to do that, far from it; I think it's a cultural default for women to blame themselves.

    I'd like to bring this to the discussion & hypotheticals to turn the tables a little: what the hell happened in the last 6-8 months that suddenly made women a threat? Why the rise of political misogyny? What's THEIR bigger agenda? And why do they need to out-buffoon themselves with each new piece of restrictive legislation or offensive discourse?

    1. Awesome questions, Keiko. I'm not sure what happened ... only that there's suddenly a big election coming up. Maybe some of them have forgotten that women vote? (And as divided as we are over abortion, I think most of us are on the same page about access to contraceptives...)

      You're right, too, about the tendency for us to wonder what we did wrong, where we fell short. But that's also how I've been taught to problem-solve ... not to blame the other party, but to see what I can do to change the situation, take responsibility where I can.

      Only I'm not sure what I can do, besides vote and write to my politicians. And not subject myself to an environment in which that kind of misogyny is permitted, or even supported, tacitly or overtly. I'd love to see other ideas about "what to do now."

  3. Also. And I am also bewildered by where we find ourselves today. I think it's been a slow slide to all these things (well, some stuff like equal pay for equal work didn't require any sliding...we didn't ever make it there). But the ultrasound legislation and the Fluke debacle really got under my skin, as well. It's scary stuff. And it's scary to think that our sons and daughters may grow up in a world in which women have even fewer rights than our generation did.

    1. Oh, Adele ... I hope not.

      Indeed, part of the reason I quit my job was because I decided that if my daughter is to have any sense of self-respect, I needed to have some, first. We talk with my son, too, about rights ... even now, at age five ... I hope that he grows up with a sense of social justice, and what it means to treat others -- ALL others, even people with whom he disagrees -- with respect.

  4. You're so smart, Justine. Honestly, that's what I think while reading every single one of your posts: "She's so smart." I would love to meet you in person someday.

    I am a feminist. I'm outraged and horrified by what I see happening south of the border, but because I'm not American, I almost feel as though I shouldn't comment...like maybe I don't have the "right" to engage in the conversation because I live somewhere else. But I know that this is ridiculous; we are all interconnected. What happens in one country has an effect on all of the countries around it. I honestly feel overwhelmed by what I've seen happening to women (especially with the transvaginal ultrasound...that is SCARY). It's like the prequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

    1. *flattered* Well, *I* think *you're* so smart. And amazingly creative. And I hope I get to meet you some day, too!

      You absolutely have the right to engage in discussion ... and it's useful to have an "outsider" offer perspective!

      But you're also right about the effect that political and ideological changes have beyond the borders of a single nation, especially our "neighbors." And with multinational corporations, the internet, and patterns of migration, geopolitical borders are, in many ways, a thing of the past ... I wonder how these questions are playing themselves out elsewhere?

    2. OMG that is EXACTLY what I have been thinking. I wrote my comment below before reading yours. I think it is an American problem right now, though. We are so entrenched in our capitalistic economy, more so I think than any other country in the world, that when our economy gets 'sick' everything goes to hell. While the world's economy is affected, I don't see other countries going off the rails like we seem to be doing.

  5. Love this post, you ask a lot of great questions that we as women should all be considering. I also have been upset by the recent onslaught against women's rights in this country. I read an article a couple weeks ago about the sleeping giant that has recently been awakened in the younger generation regarding feminism in this country. It brought up good points as you have about how we've all been too complacent in the past and now are realizing we need to shout and fight to ensure our rights aren't taken for granted or worse taken away.
    Thanks for bringing up another great dialogue on an extremely important topic. And oh that cake looks delicious!!!

  6. I blame it on the Great Recession. Right before the Great Depression our society was starting to make big strides regarding race relations and gender equality...then everyone ran out of money and the shit hit the fan. I think the same is happening now. When men start to lose their jobs, money, and status they start to take it out on women and minorities. I don't think feminists, gay activists, the NAACP or ANY organization has gotten less vocal and more complacent, I just think that the fringe is getting panicked and is shouting the sane voices down. I see the writing on the wall, and it isn't pretty. It feels like there are a lot of wacka doodles fighting for power over our country, and what it means to be an American. Like I want to take all the money out of the bank and run to Canada kind of crazy.

    1. Interesting thought ... and that does make sense ... when people feel powerless, they tend to exercise what little power they *do* have, brandishing it. Maybe that's what's happened here ... though I suspect that Canada isn't the answer, either (just ask Stephanie, above)!

  7. These are great questions.

    I, too, am still a feminist, and sadly, I imagine I will be a feminist for the rest of my life. The work that feminism has to do sometimes seems large and impossible to complete. Hopefully, my son and daughter will also be feminists, though it will be their choice to make when they become adults (until then, I will do everything I can to create a feminist and socially just household!). I think the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood mess helped remind feminists and feminist-friendly people that there are still some pretty big fights out there. Many of my leftist/feminist friends are scoffing at the Rush Limbaugh thing, as though he's a fringe character, but I lived for many years in a small midwestern town in a very red state and know all too well that there are many people who are not scoffing. There are, sadly, many people in the US who either agree with him or who are willing to go along with ultrasound bill and other repressive measures. I think we all just need to continue to be vocal and clear about what is acceptable. I'd be happy to go back to the earlier feminist days of mass protests and consciousness raising, to be honest, because it almost seems like such things might be necessary in these scary days.

    I'm with Chickenpig...sometimes I really do want to run away to somewhere else, though I think women's issues are global issues. It might not be better somewhere else (except maybe Canada?...). And in fact, for many women around the world, things are much worse than in the US.

  8. Hells yeah, I openly identify as a feminist. One of my goals of parenting, from the very start, has been to instill in my son the value and sense of duty to gender equality. And, well, fairness in general. It's not just up to the ladies to amp their advocacy efforts, you know?

    As a recent transplant to the midwest, I smiled at Rachael's reference to the midwest. This morning I took the long way home from an appointment, down a length of road I've never taken before, and I came across an open field studded with hundreds of waist-high wooden, white crosses. At first I assumed that this was some kind of war memorial, perhaps honoring fallen soldiers, and then I saw a giant sign boldy stating PRAY TO END ABORTION. I gasped. I'd never seen something so theatrical and so large advocating against reproductive options. It just...floored me. With all that's been in the media and with the ongoing restrictive legislative efforts, I just feel like the deck has been solidly stacked against my values. And, because it's topical, I will share that my new hometown is the birthplace and hometown of...wait for it...Rush Limbaugh. I'm not shitting you. UGH.

    Funny story, perhaps related somewhat to complacency: My 8yo niece recently did a project on Susan B. Anthony, and my sister called and told me that my niece was flabbergasted to learn that women were ever treated so differently. My sister asked, "How far do I go into this with her?" Because, yeah, sure, we can vote. But the inequality still exists, and sometimes it's just less overt but still as insidious.

    Sorry to make this comment so long, but I feel I need to add that I feel like my feminist credentials were challenged when I chose to stay home. I read several feminist parenting blogs, and they all offer up their work status as evidence of the strength of their feminist ethic. This always rubs me the wrong way. It's smells a strongly of second wave, to me.

    1. Wow. Amazing.

      Women are pretty divided about abortion, and thought it so happens I'm pro-choice, I try to respect the fact that there is another perspective on this issue. But contraceptives are not just about birth control; that's what pisses me off so much. There is so little understanding about women's health issues, and such little willingness to learn.

      I think an eight year old has the right to know about inequality. I think that the more we protect our children, the more they either become victims of an unequal system, or perpetuate it -- knowingly or unknowingly. We talked about modern-day slavery with our son, when he learned about some very basic civil war history ... we didn't tell him everything, but we did explain that there are still some people who take advantage of others in a way that is simply not permissible.

      And I know what you mean about feminism and parenting. That deserves a post of its own ... that one CAN be a feminist and stay home ... that feminism isn't about what we've chosen, but that we have the right to choose.

  9. How could I forget to comment on this! I read it and thought, oh, when I get home I have a million things to say! I wrote about this not long ago (or maybe it was long ago, I can't remember, about how I feel like feminism took us a certain ways and then just left us there, struggling. We have gained a lot but not given anything up and that has left us haggard and overwhelmed.

    Watching the attack on woman has been so, baffling and depressing. I just don't live in a place where I see those views and values voiced. And I guess that makes me feel (or at least hope) that the insanity I hear on TV and the radio is just that, insanity, and nothing that I'd ever have to actually confront face to face. It's almost too much for me to comprehend that there are people in this country, my country, that feel that way about women, that believe we can't make responsible choices about our own bodies, that we need to be told what to do. Don't they have wives and daughters? Do they really think so little of them? It's just more than I can fathom.

    Seeing what is going on I feel so much fear, for myself, for my little girl. I hope we can combat this new wave of political violence against women, otherwise I truly fear for our futures.

  10. I don't know if I'm a feminist. I just want the chance to be equal and use any and every opportunity to prove that, just ask our chainsaw, lol.

  11. You are amazing and I love how you are a brilliant writer and speak what you believe in!

  12. I love this post. I am a feminist and have wondered a lot of the same things you have so beautifully written about here. It's one of those things that I have a hard time believing that we still need to be talking about but alas, here we are.


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