Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Angry Feminist Rant. Probably Slightly Incoherent.

Questions people often ask feminists online:

Why would you choose to align yourself with a group with such negative connotations?

If you really believe in equality, shouldn't you call yourself an equalist or a humanist, not a feminist?

You know what?  As novel as my understanding of feminism may seem to some people, I didn't blindly come up with it and pull it from whole cloth.  Nope.  I'm a creative person, but I'm not THAT creative.  Instead, I looked around at the prevailing use and definition of the word feminism in feminist circles.  Because really, who are you going to believe-- haters or people who have never bothered to read up on the topic, or people that are immersed in the topic, and have an understanding of the topic, and are part of the community?  It's like when non-Christians try to tell me I'm not Christian because I don't go to church every Sunday, or believe every tenant of whatever Christian denomination they're most familiar with.

And like Christianity-- or any religion, or any political movement, or any other thing someone can self-identify as, there's a lot of wiggle room inside one broad definition.  There are some crazy feminists out there!  I don't know any feminist who denies that!  But there are crazies in Every. Single. Movement.  Modern feminism-- the feminism of women in my age group, the feminism of third wavers, the feminism that is what most people on the internets are talking about when they talk about feminism-- it bears very little relation to radical feminism or the feminism of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon.  Sure, there are still radical feminists out there!  And there are enough of them that if all you want to find are radfem blogs, you could probably do that!  But that is not what the MAJORITY of the modern feminist movement is.  It's incredibly stupid to disavow an entire movement because of radicals who share the label.  You don't throw the movement away-- you get active IN it, and do something!  Granted, most of what I do is just blogging and talking to friends and leaving comments on the blogs of people who drastically disagree with me, but I want to do more, and I want to hold on to feminism, because I believe in it.  I believe that women are every bit as valuable and capable and worth respect as men are.  I believe that who you are should matter more than the genitalia you bear.

As to the name?  Well, the movement is about equality, yes, but with a focus on women, and on advancing women to be equal with men-- as well as on changing some things that do go beyond pure equality.  The equality feminism wants isn't to make men's situations worse to match women, but to make women's better to match men.  But it's true-- while equality is the core, much modern feminism goes beyond that, and looks to ways to better life all around.  Extending paternity and maternity leave, for example, are feminist goals-- yet this goal isn't just pushing for equality, but to expand the status quo into a better situation for both genders.

I think it's kind of awesome, actually, that feminism wants to make things better for everyone, and I have no shame in belonging to a group that prioritizes women.  Every group must have some kind of focus, or nothing will get accomplished.  Feminism is ultimately, fundamentally about women's rights.  By the definition of feminism, things that fight for women's rights are feminist, even if they also fight for other things!  And you know what?  Something having equality at it's core doesn't preclude it from saying "Hey!  Situation X is bad ALL AROUND, let's fix it!" or "Situation Y affects women only, but let's fix it!". (What, you might be wondering could possibly affect only women*?  How about breastfeeding.  Or menstruation.  Or policies surrounding childbirth.  Parenting sure as hell is a men's issue as well as a women's issue, but the choice between a diva cup or tampon or pad and dealing with it when you get one break every X number of hours but have a very heavy flow is an issue most men don't face.

Feminism is still needed.  We've come a long, long way from when my mother first started teaching and was required to wear skirts, and a longer way from when my grandmother was a girl.  Married women and women with children are allowed to hold down jobs.  The wage gap has gotten a lot smaller and isn't as simple as a company literally setting different pay scales for men and women.  It's illegal for a man to rape his wife.  But really.  We've still got a long, long, long way to go.  And I think feminism is necessary to get us there.

Quite simply-- I'm proud that I'm a feminist.

(ok, this is being very cis-centric, and I realize these issues may also affect transmen, but please stay with me.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sex Offenders in Church

Apparently there's been some discussion on whether or not sex offenders should be allowed free access to churches, rating an article in Time, and even discussion in court cases-- but I heard about it in an article at Jezebel.

My reaction to this is basically to wonder how there is even a question here.  Yes, I'm very much against sexual assault, and don't think someone who assaults someone else should just be able to go back to their life as if nothing happened-- but not all sex offenses are actually harmful (public urination, statutory rape committed by a teen to hir close-in-age significant other), and I believe in a deterrence and rehabilitation model of justice, rather than a retributive one.

As both a Christian and a feminist, the double bias is going to show.  But I believe that churches should not only be for those upright citizens who are paragons of virtue.  You shouldn't have to be as "good" of a person as the minister to take part in worship, and you certainly don't have to be blameless to ask God to "lead you not into temptation".   Granted, a large part of church is the community, and adults do have a lot of interaction with children in a church setting-- but unless that adult is a youth group leader or Sunday school teacher, chances are they don't have much one-on-one time with kids.

Note, I also do not think that sex offenders should be ministers (exception-- teenage mutually consenting statutory rape and teenage/college public urination type activities, as long as, you know, that sort of disregard for public spaces didn't stay with them as an adult.).  Ministers should be devoted to living a Godly life in a way that really can't be expected of ordinary people-- that's why it's a calling, instead of just a profession.  That's why they're ministers, instead of parishioners.

But, a regular member of the congregation?  Someone who comes to church to worship in community and who tries to better hirself?  Well, I totally and completely think that sex offenders ought to be allowed to do that, if they're out of jail and living in general society.  And I think that disallowing them, even out of concern for children, is rather unChristian.  Jesus wouldn't shun someone for the crimes ze's committed, and leading people out of lives of sin is supposed to be one of the main functions of churches.

Ugh.  This ties into my problem in general with many modern churches-- the expectation that everyone coming is there to celebrate their own comparatively sinful lives, rather than to unite as sinners who are trying to be good to others and help lift others up.  Part of being Christian is extending love and help to the unloveable, after all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale: The Fragility of Equality

This is a guest post by JD, my fiance.  He graduated law school in May, and like me, is currently looking for work.  He has previously written a published legal article, and is a part author of a chapter of one of the authoritative texts on federal civil procedure. .  He is one of the most insightful and wonderful people I know.

I picked up a new novel last night with the idea of reading for an hour or so before bed. At around 4am, I finally put down The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood after absorbing its startling epilogue. Atwood spins her dystopian fiction as a disjointed narrative that approaches stream of consciousness, a style that seems to mirror the mind of the novel’s protagonist. Attempting to summarize the plot would not do the book justice, but suffice to say I couldn’t put it down and it gripped me with an odd emotion I don’t normally get when reading: fear.

Fear isn’t actually a response I encounter often when reading dystopian literature. Classics such as 1984 I took in as warnings, with the knowledge that their goal was to teach us to be on our guard, to teach us that being aware of the possibility of such a future was a step in combating it. But 1984 didn’t leave me with a feeling of immediacy, a feeling that such a future could easily come to pass. Though it dealt with sex somewhat, and was partly about the freedom to love, 1984 did not have as its focus a theocratic dystopia based around the subjugation of women. Such a world is the focus of The Handmaids Tale.

Why does that particular structure frighten me more than the dystopia imagined by other authors? Why should I be any more disturbed by that than by Orwell’s emotionally repressed world? The answer is that it hits too close to home. At one point in the novel, the protagonist asks her “Commander”—one of the male leaders of the new theocracy—the all important question: why? His answer is multi-faceted, but mainly is concerned with giving men something to live for again. The rise of feminism and the status of women as equals removed men from their role as protectors, usurped their former place in the world. Rather than combat that emptiness with a new goal, they sought to return to the former status quo. There is no adaptation here, but rather true conservatism on the part of the men; a refusal to adapt to changes in the world and in society. Part of the “Commander’s” defense is that they were merely returning to the way it always had been, that feminism was the anomaly and merely a blink in the course of history.

Those words fill me with fear because in a way they are true. The equality of women is a recent accomplishment, and in a non-legal sense there are still many battles to be fought. The 19th amendment, granting women’s suffrage in the U.S., was not ratified until 1920—less than 100 years ago. What women have fought so hard for is truly a recent attainment, and parallels the civil rights movement in that regard. The Handmaid’s Tale is frightening because it contemplates a step back and an unraveling of all that has been achieved and that has helped make women more than brood mares and domestic slaves.

Even more frightening is that there are those out there who still argue that women belong in a situation like that portrayed in The Handmaids Tale: they are lesser, they exist only for breeding, they shouldn’t be educated. The source of those views is irrelevant, they could be biblically justified, as those in The Handmaid’s Tale were, or they could be the result of individual hatred and stem from individuals who went through bad divorces or have grown to hate all women because of some unfortunate personal experience. Regardless of their origin, people who would embrace the world of The Handmaid’s Tale exist.  They exist, and they must be fought. The battle is not over, and The Handmaid’s Tale shows us a world that might be if those who still believe that women should not have the same rights as men succeed.  In that way it is more than a parable and is to some extent, a call to arms. We cannot take for granted the equality of the sexes; we must remember the struggle it took to get here, and we must continue that struggle against everyone who would try to take that equality away. Regardless of who uttered these words originally, they remain true: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.