April 10, 2008

It's Not All About Bra Burning and Man Hating

In class the other day we were talking about 5 conditions that surround female repression. Because it's an Anthropology course, our prof was talking about female repression in other cultures. As she explained the 5 conditions, though, I was struck by the fact that every single one of them is a problem in our culture as well... and that worries me. Being female n'all.

Do you feel repressed? I don't most of the time, as long as I don't think about it too much. I prefer to stick my head under my wing, utter an "ah-wahwahwahwah," and go to sleep in my big comfy nest... just like Big Bird on Sesame St. But here's the thing: I've been taking classes in feminist psychology and in gender studies so it's been think about it or fail. And thinking about it has opened my eyes a bit. Things are not as good for women in our society as they should be.

My conclusion? To quote Monty Python: "Come see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

"Oh, King, eh? Very nice. And how d'you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society."

Well said Dennis! Exactly.
Honestly... there's a Monty Python quote for everything.

Anyway. Where was I? Right. The 5 conditions that surround female repression.

1. Exploitation. Much of the work that women do is marginalized and unpaid. The work women do at home, supporting our families and raising our children, is not considered "real" work by society. It's not as bad as it used to be. Women today have more choices, we're no longer expected to be working in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. And men are stepping up to the plate more and more to help out around the house.

That being said, women still do the majority of the work at home. Many women work a double day - a full time "real" job outside the home and then full time childrearing/housework in the evenings. According to a Ohio State University Fact sheet, Families Meeting the Challenge:

The participation of women in the paid labor force has increased steadily in recent years. While women take on additional responsibilities away from home, their household duties often remain the same. According to a research report by Walker and Woods in "Time use: A measure of household production of family goods and services," women in the labor force average 76 hours in total weekly work, which includes 33 hours dedicated to household tasks. The time requirements of household and paid work are complicated and often conflicting. The term "double day" has been used to describe the dual work responsibilities that many women have.

Although the amount of domestic work performed by men has increased, women still carry the primary burden of household chores. In The Gender Factory: The Apportionment of Work in American Households, author Sarah Berk indicated that husbands' contributions to domestic work are typically small, and the total time estimates of husbands' household work hours range from 10 to 15 hours a week."

Of course, women's work is exploited in the "real" work world too. I know you've heard about the wage gap. When women do decide to work outside the home, they only earn a percentage of what men, working in the same job at the same level, earn. According to The Wage Gap: A History of Pay Inequity and the Equal Pay Act by Borgna Brunner, "In 2005, for example, women under 25 working full-time earned 93.2% of men's salaries compared to those 25 and older, who earned 79.4% of what men made."

2. Powerlessness - In my Women and Mental Health class we talked about how women are socialized in our society. According to Dictionary.com, socialization is a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position (I would add "in his or her culture" to the end).

Have you read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher? She is a clinical psychologist who has worked with adolescent girls for over twenty years. Pipher tells how our society's socialization process for women crushes the identity of girls during adolescence. I wanted to quote from the book, but it's packed away for the move, so here's a description I found at ReadingGroupGuides.com:
Despite the advances of feminism, escalating levels of sexism and violence--from undervalued intelligence to sexual harassment in elementary school--cause girls to stifle their creative spirit and natural impulses, which, ultimately, destroys their self-esteem. Yet girls often blame themselves or their families for this "problem with no name" instead of looking at the world around them.
Here's a video that features Mary Pipher talking about one aspect of the book - the messages that teenage girls receive from the media:

I also like the Dove ad, Onslaught, which I think sums things up nicely:

3. Cultural Imperialism. Cultural Imperialism, according to my class notes, is when stereotypes are drawn from an elite class in society and then are used as the standard against which all women are measured.

I would argue that, in our society, the elite class against which all women are measured is: our celebrities. Why else the fascination with how quickly Posh and J-Lo fit back into their skinny jeans after popping out their kids? (Or did they have them surgically removed?) What kind of stroller does Violet Affleck have? Don't you want one too? What's stylish little Maddox Jolie-Pitt wearing? Are your kids as well decked-out? Do you "keep house" as well as Martha Stewart? Anyway... you know what I mean, right? It's a lot for the rest of us to live up to. It's hard to look away, though, isn't it? I mean, they're all so shiny.

4. Marginalization. I've already talked about how women's work is marginalized. Women's issues are also marginalized in our culture. An example: The history of psychology. According to the classes I've taken, most of the tests that psychologists did in the past - the tests that make up the bulk of the ideas on which they base their understanding of human behaviour - were done on men. It was assumed that what was true for men would also be true for women. So, according to my Women and Mental Health class, this has led to a kind of pathologicalization of the behaviour of women. So that, in psychology, normal behaviour is male behaviour. Females don't behave like males, therefore females are not normal. See what I mean? They're working to remedy this, but to my mind, they're not working fast enough.

5. Threat of violence and/or real violence. According to a 2006 Stats Canada study, "Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world. It affects women’s social and economic equality, physical and mental health, well-being and economic security." Women are far more likely to be victims of violence than men. We live in fear a lot of the time. How do you feel at night walking alone, say across a dark parking lot to get to your car? Do you feel safe? Do men in the same situation feel as vulnerable?

I don't think that the repression of women in our society is the fault of men. I don't think it's some kind of evil master plan to keep us down. I think it stems from complacency, a kind of "things are better for women than they used to be and we can all relax now" attitude. I think we need to question our underlying assumptions about what it means to be a woman in our society. Keep thinking, keep standing up for equality between the genders (and for everyone - it's not just women - socioeconomic differences, sexual orientation, ethnic background - these are all factors that contribute to the repression of certain groups in our society), keep speaking up. An avalanche of tiny changes in how we think will do more to remedy this than one big change in government policy ever could.

I am a feminist. But it's not all about bra burning and man hating. It's more about pulling my head out from under my wing, climbing down from my big comfy nest, and taking a good look around.

Edit: This post is a
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Sass E-mum said...

The Dove advert is very powerful and very disturbing.

I'm not scared of the word feminist either. I agree it's very easy to roll along with the status quo though and not challenge complacency.

It's hard enough trying to resist the pink conspiracy at home - without also having to challenge the male elite at work. Also they are more likely to cry about it than Ellie does at home.

smtwngrl said...

Awesome and informative post! Because of all this, I'm not exactly looking forward to the possibility of having to raise girls. And I feel like a conspiracy theorist whenever I suspect that decisions in my workplace aren't motivated by the quality of my work but rather my gender.

Amanda said...

Wow. Good job, Reluctant. I think that is something we all need to take a good look at.

scrappysue said...

your course sounds entirely fascinating and you are extremely eloquent! raising 4 daughters in the 1990s and double 0's has been englightening to say the least. my daughters are insulted by a man who would hold a door for them. my father is so old fashioned, I'M insulted that no-one does it anymore. my husband admitted he doesn't hold doors anymore because women don't expect it. as much as i love how far we've come, i'm sad that chivalry is dead...

SaraLynn said...

This is an incredible post.
As a stay at home mom, I encounter skeptics about the "work" I do.
And it does get me down a bit to think others feel I am less valuable as a person than another mom who is working.

I like being home and I am fortunate to have the choice to stay home. But I don't think all women should be stay at home moms. I think it's possible to do it all and retain balance.

And yes I feel unequal to men at times. For instance, when we were looking for a new house, the realtor wouldn't talk to me about the financial side of things. He insisted on speaking to the man of the house. This "gentleman" was old enough to be my grandfather. (he was also fired)

Sorry for the long comment!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?