Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Next Wave: Feminism in the 21st Century, Part IV (March Wrap-Up)

As Women's History Month draws to a close, here are some questions and facts it would do us all good to spend some time seriously considering:

Whether I am a woman or a man, how do I treat women? How do I treat them in reality, and how do I treat them in my mind?

Whether I am a woman or a man, do I use gender-specific language that is meant to marginalize women and their contribution to society? Do I feel the need to add the qualifiers "woman" or "female" to occupations such as doctor, executive, engineer, professional athlete? Do I use words like "slut" and "whore" to describe women, regardless of whether or not they are promiscuous or accept money in exchange for sex?

Whether I am a woman or a man, do I immediately question the credibility and sexual histories of female rape victims in the news? Do I allow myself to be swept up into "blaming the victim" unconsciously? Have I ever made a comment such as, "Well, what was she wearing?" "What was she doing out that late by herself?" or "Why should I take her word for it?"

Whether I am a woman or a man, do I feel the need to add into conversations about sex offender registration the following factoid: "You know, some of those "sex offenders" aren't even criminals--some of them are just like 19-year old guys who slept with their 17-year old girlfriends." Do I understand that this not only detracts from the seriousness of the issue, but also denigrates the victims of rape, female and male, adult and child?

Whether I am a woman or a man, do I assume that if one parent in a couple is going to stay at home with a child that that parent will automatically be the mother, and not the father? Do I understand that this idea has been taught to me, and is not innate to human rationality? Am I able to think about parenting outside these terms? Am I aware that this stereotype is not only harmful to mothers, but to fathers as well?

If I am a woman, do I consider my menstrual cycle something to be ashamed of and "discreet" about? Do I always feel the need to dab on makeup before leaving the house, for fear of not looking my "best" for other people? Do I wear clothing that is uncomfortable in order to look "hot" or "sexy" for other people? Do I restrict food consumption when I am eating in public, out of fear of looking "unladylike" or like a pig?

If I am a woman, do I constantly judge other women based on looks, weight, age, marital status, motherhood or lack thereof, and level of sexual activity? Do I like knowing that other women are judging me according to these criteria? Do I really want to be part of a system that accepts and promotes this kind of destructive behavior within the female community?

If I am a man, have I ever used aggressive, violent language to describe my sexual experiences and feelings toward women? Do I use negative gender-specific language regularly when referring to women, regardless of whether my feelings about them are positive, negative, or indifferent?

If I am a man, do I ever cite a woman’s alleged "PMS" as the culprit when she is displeased with something I have said or done? Do I find it amusing to do so? Do I understand that this attitude is damaging to women and that actual physical and emotional symptoms related to menstruation are a healthy and natural part of human life?

If I am a man, have I ever referred to an evening at home taking care of my own children as "babysitting" rather than just parenting? Do I realize the problem with that kind of thinking?

If I am a man, do I find myself assuming that my female significant other will do the majority or all of the housework, regardless of whether or not both of us work outside the home or who works more hours?

In order to make any sense of the world we live in, we must learn to relate to one another openly and honestly. We need to stop the cycle of hate and discrimination and sexism and violence and assumption and start working together for a better tomorrow.

We need to be conscious of where we fall within the spectrum of our social order–some women and men are more or less sexist than others, some are more or less violent than others, some are more or less indoctrinated than others–but we are all part of this society, and we all have a duty to protect it, and nurture it, and make it the best it can be for all of us.

In closing, here are some quick facts to help you figure out where you fall within the spectrum and how you honestly feel about these issues:

There are 14 women currently serving in the United States Senate. There are 86 men currently serving. Female Senators make up 14% of the Senate.

The United States population is almost evenly divided between the sexes–but one sex is vastly under-represented in the Senate.

There are 67 women currently serving in the United States House of Representatives. There are 368 men currently serving in the House. Female Representatives make up 15.4% of the House.

60% of women in relationships work outside the home. Women make up almost half of our nation’s workforce.

But women make up only 2.7% of the highest earning bracket.

57% of college students in the United States are women.

One in five women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Every 2-5 minutes, a woman is raped somewhere in the United States. 90% of rape victims are women. Of the 10% who are male, 70% are raped by men.

Almost one in three American women will be physically and/or sexually abused by a significant other in her lifetime. On average, three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends every single day in this country.

Women are taxpayers, students, workers, mothers, lovers. We are being taxed without equal representation in our government, we are being penalized for over-achieving in our studies ("affirmative action" for men in college admissions is the new hot thing), we are still being paid less than our male counterparts for the same work and it takes a higher level of education for a woman to earn a decent living wage, we are still denied affordable childcare in most places, denied paid maternity leave (and paternity leave for that matter), and denied respect from society for the work many of us do inside the home. We are constantly objectified and denigrated by men, regardless of our personal actions, looks, or proclivities. We are taught from birth to loathe ourselves and our bodies, to hide those things which make us women, to constantly defer to men when making decisions...

There are so many rungs on that ladder left to climb. As National Women’s History Month comes to an end, let us continue on in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill in the battle for a better tomorrow for our daughters and our mothers and our sisters and our lovers.