I am woman, hear me…rant

March 17, 2009 at 8:34 am (Feminism, Politics) (, , , )

I saw the other day that President Obama has apparently created a White House Concil for Women and Girls.  This particular event doesn’t seem to have generated all that much media attention, although I did see it in a couple of different blogs.  And, because I’m sometimes a glutton for punishment, I ended up reading some of those blogs’ comments.

How sad is it that I was so unsurprised by the comments who basically said, “Women and girls, huh?  What about men and boys?”  I wasn’t just not surprised – I was expecting that sort of comment.  What does it say about the state of gender equality in this country, I wonder?

I am, unabashedly, a feminist.  It would be difficult to be anything else, growing up in the type of family that I did.  I’m pretty sure I was the only person in my elementary school who was picked up by her dad on a regular basis.  It was normal to have both parents work (many kids went home with friends or babysitters), but it was decidedly unusual to have just my mom working full time.  Anyone can imagine the types of values held by people who decided that was the best arrangement, and never appeared to feel any resentment about it.

So it never ceases to annoy me how quickly some of my concerns, as a feminist, are dismissed.  Sometimes even by women who, by their behavior and circumstances, ought to agree with me.  The fact of the matter is, women are underrepresented in high ranking and high paying jobs, they are paid less on average than men, and they still bear the primary burden of childcare.  Sure, more women go to college than men right now – but doesn’t that make all of those other things all the more shocking?  If colleges are 60% female, and the workforce has a slight majority of women, why are women earning less than men?  Shouldn’t they be earning more?

And if you argue that it’s because women leave the workforce to have children – why is that something that is deemed their lot in life?  Why is the only answer to a biological reality to either choose career, choose children, or kill yourself trying (and often failing) to have both?

I really just don’t understand why this has to be an either/or situation.  The fact is, men have been doing pretty well in western society for, oh, the past few millenia.  A few decades of trying to bring women up to the same level is seriously not going to kill them.  The only people who will have their situation permanently worsened are those people who are overly privileged anyway – I have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

This also ties into a very interesting article that I read in the Atlantic the other day.  It was about the fact that scientific studies have actually not shown that breastfeeding children is overwhelmingly better than bottle feeding them.  There are, perhaps, some slight benefits to nursing in terms of the baby’s health.  But there are also many negatives for women who have trouble nursing, who work, or who just plain don’t want to.  While it’s true that breastfeeding also costs nothing more than time – how much is your time worth to you?

The most interesting point is that when the mother is responsible for all of the feeding of the baby, she naturally falls into the role of primary caregiver.  I think it’s a rather intriguing argument that feeding a baby formula makes it easier for fathers to participate more fully in childcare.

I guess the only conclusion I can really draw from all of this is that I hope the White House Council manages to make a difference.  No matter what your stance on feminism, it’s kind of whiny to respond to that news with, “but what about meeeee?”  Certainly there are social ills that affect men more than women, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore the societal norms that are weighted so heavily against women.

But, most importantly, women are people, and they are part of families.  Helping women is helping families, and everyone belongs to one of those.

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12 Comments

  1. jonolan said,

    You’re apparently not happy with the normative female role. Therefor you feel that society is weighted against you. But societal norms aren’t weighted against women at all, only against those who choose to defy the “assigned” gender roles. Those norms are equally onerous to either gender who steps outside of their normative gender role.

    Ask your father about how he was treated by society when he chose to be a “house husband.” You just may hear some things that are similar at a fundamental level to your own complaints.

  2. Mary said,

    Isn’t that…feminism? How could my dad possibly have stepped out of his normative role, as you call it, unless my mom first had the option to step out of hers?

    That is actually my entire point. Until we give women a way to balance career and family, men will certainly never be able to. And whatever discomfort my dad faced because he stayed home with the kids, I can guarantee my mom faced as much or more because she didn’t.

  3. ubuntucat said,

    The pressure to be confined to gender roles affects both men and women, but society definitely favors traditional male roles more than traditional female roles. Why is the Super Bowl or the World Series (male sports) considered a national event that even women are supposed to be into or at least tolerate? But traditionally feminine pursuits (field hockey, figure skating, ballet) men don’t even have to bother with? Look at the discrepancy in pay between traditionally male jobs (political offices, CEOs of corporations) and traditionally female jobs (social worker, teacher).

    The structure of our society is certainly constraining on both genders, but males in a sick, twisted way benefit from that constraint more than females do.

  4. Mary said,

    I would be intrigued to see any kind of study on whether traditionally “feminine” jobs are paid less because of the type of work they do, or because they are traditionally occupied mostly by women. I really doubt that the answer to that is clear cut. Teachers, for instance, are paid very little because there’s not a lot of money for education going around. But perhaps there’s less money for teachers (as opposed to, say, administrators) because of the whole gender thing. It’s probably far too complex to make it just about sexism.

    I do also think that many men realize things are not particularly fair, and are more than happy to try to equalize things. All the men I know are used to strong women, and would honestly be more weirded out by a woman who wasn’t a feminist than one who was.

  5. jonolan said,

    Mary,

    I was merely commenting on your gynocentric view of the normative gender role issue.

    As for who got treated worse for breaking them, your mother or your father – that’s probably too subjective to be answered by any of us.

    One thing I have seen though is that men – two that I know of personally – who “acted like women” (quoted to denote stereotyping) and tried to shift their work / life balance more towards their family were looked down upon and eventually laid off (not committed enough), whereas the women who did the same thing weren’t. In these cases the men fared worse than the women in the same situation.

  6. Mary said,

    Yes, I do have a gender-specific view of the whole issue. One of my biggest points is that there isn’t anything wrong with that, and that I think it’s necessary. People have been looking at the world from the point of view of men for thousands of years – there is nothing wrong from taking a break from that for a little while and looking at the world from the point of view of women.

    The fact is, the world is not equal, either in terms of opportunity or outcome. Until it is, or comes closer, it makes no sense to tell the people with more struggles in front of them that the people with the better deal matter, too.

  7. ubuntucat said,

    Of course, in a patriarchy, men will be treated worse for transcending gender roles, because it’s considered beneath them to act like women. “You throw like a girl” is supposed to be an insult. “You throw like a guy” isn’t.

  8. Kristan said,

    LOL: “No matter what your stance on feminism, it’s kind of whiny to respond to that news with, “but what about meeeee?””

    I agree with your last two sentences (in the post) in particular, Mary.

  9. Kristan said,

    PS: Not really related, but have I told you about this site?

    http://www.bloghouston.net/

  10. Elizabeth said,

    Regarding the breastfeeding article….A benefit of breastfeeding that was not mentioned is that for a working mother, it is a uniquely special way to connect to her baby after being gone all day. Alluded to indirectly is the fact that a woman’s body can adjust to breastfeeding on a part-time basis. So it is possible to breastfeed for a long period of time and still just do it in the mornings and evenings. There will always be accidents (exploding milk ducts at work) but that is why women wear shawls. It seems like a ‘best of both worlds’ solution and one that worked well for me.

    Regarding reversal of roles for working and parenting….I would simply say that not everyone is equally suited to their ‘assigned’ role, or more correctly, some people, regardless of gender, make better child-raisers than others. And some are better equipped to earn a salary. In the perfect world, jobs would be chosen by skill and not gender. But in the perfect world, companies would also recognize the importance of families, pay living wages and provide adequate time off for their employees regardless of gender.

  11. Mary said,

    Kristan: No, but I will check it out.

    Elizabeth: Wouldn’t it be just as easy to connect with your baby after being gone all day by feeding him/her from a bottle?

    Either way, I just thought that article was sort of an interesting side note. I haven’t seen many with that particular viewpoint, and I think it is worth realizing that breast feeding exclusively does come with its own set of problems if the mom works outside of the home.

    Regardless, your last sentence is what I was really trying to get at in this post. The only reason I think it’s fair to address things like equitable pay, leave, and other issues that working adults face from the viewpoint of women is because at the moment, women tend to have a harder time mixing work and family than men do. And when men have a hard time mixing the two, it’s because of the expectation that they are not in any way involved in childcare. I think that the first step towards gender-neutral policies that are good for families in general is to recognize that women are still the de facto child raisers, and that it’s wrong to assume that all women are able or willing to do that.

  12. jonolan said,

    “I think that the first step towards gender-neutral policies that are good for families in general is to recognize that women are still the de facto child raisers, and that it’s wrong to assume that all women are able or willing to do that.”

    Add, “And not all men aren’t able or willing to take their place in that regard” and I can – for what very little it’s worth – agree with you, both from an ethical and pragmatic point of view.

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