Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category
For any of you teaching units on ad analysis (and actually reading this), you should definitely check out Shakesville‘s series on misogynist advertising, aptly dubbed “Assvertising.” They post ads and do what your students should be doing, at least on a micro level (and there are more than fifty entries).
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be Pro-Life. Like a lot of conservative rhetoric, the position means something other than the words used to describe it. Pro-Life, in practice, is decidedly Anti-Choice. But it’s not enough to say that. We need to understand why—beyond taking away a woman’s right to choose whether or not she’ll carry a pregnancy to term—Pro-Life is such an issue right now.
The issue is certainly in the news, for two major reasons. The first involves a Bush administration proposal intended to protect health-care workers from treating patients or dispensing drugs that do not support their religious beliefs. This is a relatively small group of individuals who fear legal action. One component of the proposal changes the definition of abortion to include any kind of birth control (condoms, however, are not included). The basic birth control pill, thus, would come under the umbrella term “abortion,” and doctors could refuse to prescribe it, or pharmacists could refuse to fill the prescription.
The second reason that the Pro-Life position is in the news is the election, and the way the conservative religious right has a stranglehold on the Republican Party. To be Republican is to be Pro-Life. Instead of focusing on domestic issues like the management of the economy and national security, many people choose party allegiance based on the moral issue of abortion. I have, in the past, ridiculed individuals who vote based on a single-issue position like abortion. However, I’ve recently discovered that I cannot ridicule such people, because I could never, ever, vote for an Anti-Choice politician.
I fully support an individual’s choice to never have an abortion. If a person believes that there is no situation in which an abortion would be the best choice, not if a woman was raped, if a woman was a victim of incest, or if carrying a child to term would risk a woman’s life, then fine. That is an individual’s personal belief. If someone refused to support a family member or friend who chose to have an abortion, that is the individual’s right to personal belief. I don’t agree with this position, but I believe in the right to subscribe to these beliefs.
However, this is not the Pro-Life position. The Pro-Life position isn’t about personal opposition to abortion. Pro-Lifers seek to end abortions. But not through better sex education, better access to contraception, or changing cultural values about sexuality and pregnancy. They want to make abortion illegal. They want to take away rights and choices.
Personally, I would be happy if the number of abortions went down. An abortion is a difficult experience—physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s not something I want to see a lot of women have to go through. But there will never be an end to abortions—they happen every day, all over the world. Before abortion was a safe and legal procedure, women were permanently disfigured and even killed by unsafe, illegal abortions. If made illegal, we would see a return of these dangerous procedures.
Pro-Choice is about protecting women. It’s about keeping the procedure safe and regulated. It’s about protecting a woman’s domain over her own body. It’s about keeping the State out of our uteruses.
But the Pro-Life position is even more complicated when you consider the class dynamics of our society. Imagine if a woman who lives a middle-class or better lifestyle were sexually assaulted and became pregnant as a result. She can’t go to a clinic and have an abortion, but there’s a good chance she might personally know a doctor. Maybe she has a family member who is a doctor, or even the friend of a friend. If even a semi-wealthy and well-connected woman wanted to terminate her pregnancy in a society where the procedure is illegal, she might have the resources to still obtain a safe abortion. She might even have to leave the country to have a medical abortion, but she’d be able to afford this expense. She might put the plane ticket on a credit card, but she has a credit card. And if the situation were even more dire, if her health was at risk, then her personal wealth just saved her life.
Imagine if a woman without financial means is in the same situation. It’s doubtful that anyone in her peer group is a licensed medical professional. She couldn’t afford to leave the country for a safe abortion, and even if she could, she might work a job in which she doesn’t have vacation time, or can’t take the time off, or doesn’t have anyone to watch her children. What if this woman knew her own life was at risk if she carried a pregnancy to term? What then?
Pro-Life isn’t just about state control over a woman’s body, or about legislating moral beliefs. It’s also about oppressing women without wealth and means. It is class warfare, disguised as a belief in the sanctity of life.
The sanctity of life is an interesting concept, and a term that’s bandied about quite a bit in the abortion debate. It means that “life” is something that is worthy of religious veneration. “Sanctity” isn’t hard to understand, but “Life” is a bit more difficult to define. Whose life? What kind of life? When does it begin? When does it end? There are no simple answers to these questions, but in the spirit of “sanctity,” I’d like to offer what Pro-Life should mean.
A person who calls herself Pro-Life believes that all life is worthy of respect and protection. She is a fierce opponent of the death penalty, as she believes it is not the duty of humankind to decide what persons—no matter how heinous their crimes—deserve to live or die. She is a strong supporter of universal health care, as she believes all children and adults have the right to live up to their potential, and that medical problems shouldn’t be an obstacle to that. She believes that there is no “life” without “quality of life,” so she is also a strong supporter of workers’ rights, especially the right to unionize. Unions are a necessary protection against rogue individuals and corporations who put profits ahead of their employees’ health and safety. She also strongly opposes industrial agriculture, notorious for gross, inhumane treatment of animals and mistreatment of employees—often illegal immigrants without the protection of law—in the name of large profits. She supports the government’s full funding of public education, including sex education programs and a wide availability of contraception, as she knows that an unwanted life will not have quality of life. She opposes abortion, and hopes that no woman will have to have the procedure, yet she knows that there will always be abortions. She seeks to keep them safe, legal, and rare.
If this were really the Pro-Life position, I could consider voting for a candidate with these personal beliefs. As long as the position means Anti-Choice, Anti-Woman, stronger government control over my personal health and safety, and the privilege of the wealthy and well-connected over the rest of society, I can never support any candidate who declares himself or herself to be Pro-Life. This candidate does not share my definition of life, or my values, or my belief about the role of government.
MUCH has been made of the timing of Hillary Clinton’s speech before the Democratic National Convention tonight, coming as it does on the 88th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Convention organizers are taking advantage of this coincidence of the calendar — the 19th Amendment was certified on Aug. 26, 1920 — to pay homage to the women’s vote in particular and women’s progress in general. By such tributes, they are slathering some sweet icing on a bitter cake. But many of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are unlikely to be partaking. They regard their candidate’s cameo as a consolation prize. And they are not consoled.
“I see this nation differently than I did 10 months ago,” reads a typical posting on a Web site devoted to Clintonista discontent. “That this travesty was committed by the Democratic Party has forever changed my approach to politics.” In scores of Internet forums and the conclaves of protest groups, those sentiments are echoed, as Clinton supporters speak over and over of feeling heartbroken and disillusioned, of being cheated and betrayed.
In one poll, 40 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s constituency expressed dissatisfaction; in another, more than a quarter favored the clear insanity of voicing their feminist protest by voting for John McCain. “This is not the usual reaction to an election loss,” said Diane Mantouvalos, the founder of JustSayNoDeal.com, a clearinghouse for the pro-Clinton organizations. “I know that is the way it is being spun, but it’s not prototypical. Anyone who doesn’t take time to analyze it will do so at their own peril.”
The despondency of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters — or their “vitriolic” and “rabid” wrath, as the punditry prefers to put it — has been the subject of perplexed and often irritable news media speculation. Why don’t these dead-enders get over it already and exit stage right?
Shouldn’t they be celebrating, not protesting? After all, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made unprecedented strides. She garnered 18 million-plus votes, and proved by her solid showing that a woman could indeed be a viable candidate for the nation’s highest office. She didn’t get the gold, but in this case isn’t a silver a significant triumph?
Many Clinton supporters say no, and to understand their gloom, one has to take into account the legacy of American women’s political struggle, in which long yearned for transformational change always gives way before a chorus of “not now” and “wait your turn,” and in which every victory turns out to be partial or pyrrhic. Indeed, the greatest example of this is the victory being celebrated tonight: the passage of women’s suffrage. The 1920 benchmark commemorated as women’s hour of glory was experienced in its era as something more complex, and darker.
Suffrage was, like Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, not merely a cause in itself, but a symbolic rallying point, a color guard for a regiment of other ideas. But while the color guard was ushered into the palace of American law, its retinue was turned away.
In the years after the ratification of suffrage, the anticipated women’s voting bloc failed to emerge, progressive legislation championed by the women’s movement was largely thwarted, female politicians made only minor inroads into elected office, and women’s advocacy groups found themselves at loggerheads. “It was clear,” said the 1920s sociologist and reformer Sophonisba Breckinridge, “that the winter of discontent in politics had come for women.”
That discontent was apparent in a multitude of letters, speeches and articles. “The American woman’s movement, and her interest in great moral and social questions, is splintered into a hundred fragments under as many warring leaders,” despaired Frances Kellor, a women’s advocate.
“The feminist movement is dying of partial victory and inanition,” lamented Lillian Symes, a feminist journalist.
“Where for years there had been purpose consecrated to an immortal principle,” observed the suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, her compatriots felt now only “a vacancy.”
Even Florence Kelley, the tenacious progressive reformer, concluded, “Keeping the light on is probably the best contribution that we can make where there is now Stygian darkness.”
The grail of female franchise yielded little meaningful progress in the years to follow. Two-thirds of the few women who served in Congress in the 1920s were filling the shoes of their dead husbands, and most of them failed to win re-election. The one woman to ascend to the United States Senate had a notably brief career: in 1922, Rebecca Felton, 87, was appointed to warm the seat for a newly elected male senator until he could be sworn in. Her term lasted a day.
Within the political establishment, women could exact little change, and the parties gave scant support to female politicians. In 1920, Emily Newell Blair, the Democratic vice chairwoman, noted that the roster of women serving on national party committees looked like a “Who’s Who” of American women; by 1929, they’d been shown the door and replaced with the compliant. The suffragist Anne Martin bitterly remarked that women in politics were “exactly where men political leaders wanted them: bound, gagged, divided and delivered to the Republican and Democratic Parties.”
Male politicians offered a few sops to feminists: a “maternity and infancy” bill to educate expectant mothers, a law permitting women who married foreigners to remain American citizens, and financing for the first federal prison for women. But by the mid ’20s, Congress had quit feigning interest, and women’s concerns received a cold shoulder. In 1929, the maternity education bill was killed.
Meanwhile, male cultural guardians were giving vent to what Symes termed “the new masculinism” — diatribes against the “effeminization” that had supposedly been unleashed on the American arts. The news media proclaimed feminism a dead letter and showcased young women who preferred gin parties to political caucuses.
During the presidential race of 1924, newspapers ran headlines like “Woman Suffrage Declared a Failure.” “Ex-feminists” proclaimed their boredom with “feminist pother” and their enthusiasm for cosmetics, shopping and matrimony. The daughters of the suffrage generation were so beyond the “zealotry” of their elders, Harper’s declared in its 1927 article “Feminist — New Style,” that they could only pity those ranting women who were “still throwing hand grenades” and making an issue of “little things.”
Those “little things” included employment equity, as a steady increase in the proportion of women in the labor force ground to a halt and stagnated throughout the ’20s. Women barely improved their representation in male professions; the number of female doctors actually declined.
“The feminist crash of the ’20s came as a painful shock, so painful that it took history several decades to face up to it,” the literary critic Elaine Showalter wrote in 1978. Facing it now is like peering into a painful mirror. For all the talk of Hillary Clinton’s “breakthrough” candidacy and other recent successes for women, progress on important fronts has stalled.
Today, the United States ranks 22nd among the 30 developed nations in its proportion of female federal lawmakers. The proportion of female state legislators has been stuck in the low 20 percent range for 15 years; women’s share of state elective executive offices has fallen consistently since 2000, and is now under 25 percent. The American political pipeline is 86 percent male.
Women’s real annual earnings have fallen for the last four years. Progress in narrowing the wage gap between men and women has slowed considerably since 1990, yet last year the Supreme Court established onerous restrictions on women’s ability to sue for pay discrimination. The salaries of women in managerial positions are on average lower today than in 1983.
Women’s numbers are stalled or falling in fields ranging from executive management to journalism, from computer science to the directing of major motion pictures. The 20 top occupations of women last year were the same as half a century ago: secretary, nurse, grade school teacher, sales clerk, maid, hairdresser, cook and so on. And just as Congress cut funds in 1929 for maternity education, it recently slashed child support enforcement by 20 percent, a decision expected to leave billions of dollars owed to mothers and their children uncollected.
Again, male politicians and pundits indulge in outbursts of “new masculinist” misogyny (witness Mrs. Clinton’s campaign coverage). Again, the news media showcase young women’s “feminist — new style” pseudo-liberation — the flapper is now a girl-gone-wild. Again, many daughters of a feminist generation seem pleased to proclaim themselves so “beyond gender” that they don’t need a female president.
As it turns out, they won’t have one. But they will still have all the abiding inequalities that Hillary Clinton, especially in defeat, symbolized. Without a coalescing cause to focus their forces, how will women fight a foe that remains insidious, amorphous, relentless and pervasive?
“I am sorry for you young women who have to carry on the work in the next 10 years, for suffrage was a symbol, and you have lost your symbol,” the suffragist Anna Howard Shaw said in 1920. “There is nothing for women to rally around.” As they rally around their candidate tonight, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters will have to decide if they are mollified — or even more aggrieved — by the history she evokes.