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Richard Ames

I have no idea if I'm a feminist. I do have two older sisters who I believe should have the same opportunities in life that I have, their sex notwithstanding. Does that mean I'm a feminist? If that's all it takes to be a feminist then I don't think I personally know anyone who at least doesn’t talk the talk. And I mean no one. To find a non-feminist in my area I would probably have to scout the old folks homes for men and women who still think each sex has “a place”.

But here's a thought I had when reading your post. You wrote, "societally-imposed gender norms stifle human individuality leading to very real costs in the lives of women … "

First, I'm suspicious of blanket proscriptions, and so I wonder if those who actually describe themselves as feminists can think of a societally imposed gender norm that instead of stifling actually benefits, the sex imposed with the norm. I suppose another way of asking this is whether it is the fact that the norm is “imposed” that makes it a bad thing, or is it the actual true-life results that come from the imposition that make it bad?

My second observation has no doubt been asked many times before of feminist because it is so very noticeable. That is, why does feminism focuses almost exclusively on norms imposed on women rather than those imposed on either or both sexes? You do it yourself when you comment on norms’ “very real costs in the lives of women”, without so much as a side glance to men, as if they have no such social constraints placed on them. I suppose this is the primary reason I have historically been suspicious of feminism as a political movement. It’s just always seemed that Power has been far more important to the movement that Equality. In fact, the picture in my mind’s eye of the stereotypical feminist is every bit as distasteful and ugly to me as is the image of the stereotypical sexist. And so I will probably continue not to include myself among the roll of self-ascribed feminists, but continue to believe like most people, that men and women should share in life’s opportunities.

Richard Ames

p.s. So there be no misunderstanding, I do not view The Happy Feminist as being a "sterotypical" per my comment above. (Instead, I'm actually rather surprised that HF *features* herself as a feminist at all.)

The Happy Feminist

Terrific comments, Richard, and lots to respond to. But first, two minor points:

1) Just to defend myself on a minor issue -- the statement in my post about the costs of patriarchal norms to women was followed immediately by a paragraph on DJW's post on the costs to men.

2) As for sexism not being an issue in your corner of the world-- don't you live in Pennsylvania??? The home of Senator Rich Santorum of all-mothers-should-stay-at-home fame ?!?!?

As to your larger comments, my view has always been that feminism does not mean one isn't concerned about other issues. You can be a feminist and also care about other problems in the world that aren't necessarily gender related or even issues specific to men. But I think a specific concern about women's welfare, freedom and equality is still warranted. Sure, many of us first world women have made it and sexism isn't really an issue in my life at the moment as far as I can tell. Since I tend to take an historical view, however, I am very conscious that the gains of first world feminism have happened very fast and are virtually unprecedented in human history and in other parts of the world. So I'm concerned about women in societies like Saudi Arabia and I'm wary about our own culture -- I could imagine the clock turning back over the next 100 years and our great granddaughters not having the same opportunities as women today.

Richard Ames

First, I believe Mr. Santorum is not qualified to be a U.S. Senator for reasons not limited to his views. Having said that, many of the views attributed to him by his opponents are not accurate (what a surprise, huh?). He has never, for instance, made the statement that all women should stay at home with their children. That is pure (successfully implemented) myth. What he said is that many children would benefit enormously from the full-time care of a parent, something I can’t see anyone but the most extreme radical arguing against. The statement was convienently twisted into an anti-woman absolute by the Left (what a surprise, huh?).

Second, I cannot think of any serious scenario, except one, where the opportunities women have today could be turned back 100 years from now. Women are now entrenched in the actual policy-making apparatus of society. For the clock to get turned back they will have to be willing accomplices in it. What we might see in the future, interestingly enough, is groups of women wrestling power away from other groups of women, which has already started somewhat. I fully expect women to be significantly fractionalized in the next 100 years as they begin to feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have not shed old imposed norms for freedom, but rather for newly imposed norms. What a surprise for you when your great-granddaughters actually participate in "rolling back the clock" ;)

The Happy Feminist

Well, I've read the excerpts from Santorum's book and he phrases his argument in terms of women staying home, and blames the "radical feminists" for somehow gulling "women" into believing they should be in the workplace. And I have the distinct impression that his stated views affect his policy decisions.

You note that for "the clock to get turned back, [women] will have to be willing accomplices in it." That's one of the very things I'm worried about! Women have historically gone along with limitations on their own freedom and equality throughout the ages -- either due to religion, culture, or alliances with men. Plenty of women opposed the women's suffrage movement. Phyllis Schlafly and the Independent Women's Forum are poster girls for anti-feminism today. The fact that women may support an anti-feminist agenda doesn't seem unlikely nor does women's support of limitations on their own freedom make it okay in my view!

Finally, my identification as a "feminist" isn't contingent upon proving that I face oppression or inequality today or will do so in the future(although I do believe that there are forces at work on our society that limit equality for many women, if not women in my particular situation). To give an analogy, if you were a civil libertarian but lived in a society in which civil liberties were perfectly achieved, you wouldn't stop calling yourself a "civil libertarian." Same with feminism (and clearly the lengthy history of women's oppression and the continuing status of women as second class citizen throughout much of the world warrants a particular emphasis on women's equality.)

We'll have you in a "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt yet!


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