Thursday, January 19, 2012

Women's Studies

Women's Studies: noun. A program of studies concentrating on the role of women in history, learning and culture.

From Merriam Webster
Women's Studies: the multidisciplinary study of the social status and societal contributions of women and the relationship between and gender.
First known use: 1972.

So, I majored in Women's Studies for my undergrad degree. I can't count the number of times I've told people what I majored in and was met with a blank stare or a "What is that?"

I usually reply with the fact that it was an awesome interdisciplinary degree at my school where I could take classes all across the spectrum from French to sociology to religion. But with this definition I'm leaving out the most important part of women's studies, a mention of I don't know... WOMEN!

I'm pretty sure that I do this to minimize the fact that I spent two years studying women and "women things" because I don't want to seem weird. Because, even after becoming a self proclaimed feminist, its still awkward for me to explain why I love my degree. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ashamed of anything, I just have a hard time truly explaining why I do the things I do. Especially when it comes up at the beginning of a conversation with someone I don't usually know that well.

So my goal for this year, is to come up with a better definition for women's studies. And a better reason for why I enjoyed studying it so much. Because if I can't talk about it and why I love it, then how can I expect anyone else to learn about it?

It's a work in progress. But I'll let you know how it goes.

Have you had a similar problem or situation? What about when you say something feminist and people give you strange looks?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's a girl

It's a Girl: the three deadliest words in the world

"It’s a girl, a film being released this year, documents the practice of killing unwanted baby girls in South Asia. The trailer’s most chilling scene is one with an Indian woman who, unable to contain her laughter, confesses to having killed eight infant daughters.

Dr Saleem ur Rehman, director of health services for the Kashmiri Valley, has conceded that a healthy male to female infant ratio in Kashmir in 2001 led him and his team to become complacent. Since 2001, the ratio has dropped from 94.1 to 85.9 girls per 100 boys.

Activists attribute a culture of valuing children by their economic potential to South Asia’s patriarchal social model in which men are the sole breadwinners. Sons both carry the family name and work from a young age. Daughter, on the other hand, impose the burden of a dowry before leaving the home upon marriage. Strict moral codes, onerous cultural expectations and demanding domestic responsibilities are all forces that further subjugate women."

This is a very interesting article. Definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to get involved!

I just finished reading Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism (she's also the force behind the website feministing). At the end of the book she has a chapter titled "Get to It" talking about how you can become educated and involved in the feminist movement.

I think this is a great idea for anyone wondering... what now?

Perhaps the most important first (or second depending on how you decided you were a feminist) step is get informed. Read books and blogs, watch videos on youtube, check out major news websites to see how they do and do not report on women's issues. (Check out my previous post on my feminist reading list if you're wondering where to start.)

- Get educated! Find out what your school district teaches by way of Sex Ed. If its abstinence only (and it probably is) engage your friends and peers in discussions about safe sex practices. Hand out reliable sex info so that people can truly be informed. Planned Parenthood is a great resource to check out!

- Take control of your sexuality. But be smart about it! Learn how to protect yourself and go to the Gyno! JUST GO. I know its not the best hour of your life ever... but seriously, go. (Not sure if you can pay, afraid of your parents finding out. Check out the closest Planned Parenthood to you.)

- My favorite recommendation from Valenti, "Have orgasms. By any means necessary."

Reproductive Rights

- Volunteer at your local clinic! (Google can tell you where that is). Help them in any way you can! Whether as an escort, intern, or just help them raise money!

- From Valenti, "Find out about your local pharmacies' policy on giving women their birth control and emergency contraception prescriptions. if they're trying to keep women from their legal right to birth control, throw a shit fit. alert the media, write letters; if its a chain pharmacy, make sure the pharmacist is adhering to the company standard."
I love this idea. This is a great grassroots, local way to understand reproductive rights.

- Vote! Check out the webiste Women's voices. Women vote. Spread the word. Perhaps campaign for your favorite candidate!

- Check out the White House Project and find out ways to get involved with politics.

- Run for office!

And in general, read, watch, become an informed citizen of this world. TALK! Talk about whats important to you and your life. Don't let people silence you! If you don't want to talk then write! Write a letter, a blog, or in your journal.

Most of these suggestions are from Full Frontal Feminism with some added commentary by me. Thanks to Jessica Valenti for writing such an awesome book!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Enlightened Sexism

I first read Enlightened Sexism for my Voices of Oppression class last spring (as I've mentioned before). This is an easy read, although it is bit long at almost 400 pages. But Douglas' discussion of sexism and the feminist movement through the media, entertainment industry and just general everyday life makes it so interesting.

From the book, one definition of enlightened sexism,
"Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on girls only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomforts men or pushes feminist goals one more centimeter forward). While enlightened sexism seems to support women's equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism."

In my opinion this idea seems to be at the very base of feminism, at least as I currently see it. The media and society tells girls to be sexy and alluring but then tells that they should NOT have sex until their married. Women can do what they want, become doctors, lawyers or even the president! (Well, maybe she could become the president. The jury is apparently still out on whether Americans would actually elect a female president). But don't push too far, don't try to actually pursue feminist goals while enjoying the fact that you are allowed to vote, attend universities, and actually be elected to public office.

Also, regardless of how successful women are in their career it is expected that she will not be able to continue full time in her chosen profession if she decides to also become a mother. There is no way a woman could work a 70 hour work week after she's had a child. WHO WILL STAY WITH THE CHILD?? They (usually white, male employers) cry in despair.

They hardly ever ask this question of men that are employed in the same job.

Another of the central tenets of enlightened sexism is a woman's "choice" to be sensual, a sex object.

"Because women are now "equal" and the battle is over and won, we are now free to embrace things we used to see as sexist... Now that women have the same sexual freedom as men, they actually refer to be sex objects because its liberating."

Women are just taking control of the sexuality, right? They finally have the ability to claim their right to sexuality and sexual behaviors. It's their choice!
Choice, I find, is so important in feminism. We talk about a woman's choice in regards to birth control and abortion. But in this case, how can a woman truly "choose" to become a sex object when all of the media and society is telling a girl that is how she must act. Then its not really a choice so much as an obligation if a girl/woman wants to fit into society, her school, her peer group, etc.

A pretty amazing statistic from the book,
"A 2009 poll revealed that 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women 'are convinced that here are no longer any barriers to women's advancement in the workplace."

Pretty shocking stuff, huh? What about the absolute, hard fact that women make only 77 cents to a man's dollar for the same job? Thats not a barrier??

Also very important to this idea of no barriers in the workplace lets look at the top jobs for women in 1999:
"In order, secretaries, retail and personal sales workers (including cashiers), managers and administrators, elementary school teachers and registered nurses."
Now, 8 years later the top jobs for women in 2007 were, in order:
"Secretaries, registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers and retail salespersons."
Wow... Look how much has changed!! Now let's examine how many women are portrayed as doctors, lawyers, CEO's and even the President of the United States on TV and in movies. Tons!

Watching TV and movies you would think, well women have definitely made it! In the book Douglas mentions the no-nonsense Dr. Bailey from Grey's Anatomy, all of the attorneys and A.D.A's on Law and Order and Dr. Cuddy (House's boss). If TV is portraying this many women in high powered jobs, surely it must be true right?!

Not so much. But it does lull the public into believing that women have indeed "made it" and are making tons of money in the top jobs around the US.

See, there's no work for feminism to do anymore! Or so they (the media, society, the government to some degree) would have you believe.

I guess my take away from this book was question everything! Pop culture, the media, TV, movies, its all great entertainment. But what are you really watching/reading? How are women portrayed? And is it an accurate portrayal? Don't be a mindless media consuming zombie. Think about what you're seeing and question it. Talk about it with others. Think for yourself!

My Feminist Reading List

I actually read this for my voices of oppression class but I really enjoyed it. Its sort of a trip through pop culture through the lens of sexism and feminism. I reread it over winter break and found it just as exciting the second time around. I love her idea of Enlightened Sexism. I touched on it a bit in my post about Female Chuavinist Pigs and I'm planning on an entire post dedicated to Enlightened Sexism eventually.

Okay I actually picked up this book at Barnes and Noble because I wanted to read her essay about going undercover at a Playboy club. But I did actually enjoy the rest of this book as well! She offers a great look at the Women's Rights movement from the ground up. She also includes some writing about her trips with political candidates (not as applicable or as interesting to me personally).

I loved this book. Ina May Gaskin is an incredibly well known midwife who works on "The Farm" in Tennesee. Reading this book made me want to go there to have all of my babies. This book is part guide to childbirth (as the name implies) covering all kinds of FAQ's about childbirth in general and home birth in particular. There are also a good number of personal birth stories that Ina May attended including some at "The Farm".

I know that this technically isn't "Feminist" per se... but I am very interested in the idea of Feminist Childbirth and this qualifies in my opinion.
Recommended for: women planning home births, anyone interested in childbirth/homebirth, midwives, future midwives, anyone interested in the natural birth movement
(I'm pretty sure I got some weird looks reading this book on the airplane home from spring break since i look about 12 and was obviously not pregnant)

This is the memoir of a California Midwife. She chronicles the many births she's witnessed and assisted in her time. She has quite a few unique stories and provides great information on what its like to be a midwife in the United States.
Recommended for: midwives, midwives to be, nursing students, anyone interested in chidbirth/homebirths

This is the memory from the midwife Cara Muhlhahn who is featured in the documentary film The Business of Being Born that I watched in my Women's Health Issues class (its a really great film by the way!). She talks about her years as a labor and delivery nurse and her years as a home birth midwife in New York City.
Recommended for: midwives, midwives to be, anyone interested in childbirth/homebirths, nursing students

I borrowed this book from the library to read over winter break. I LOVED it. I've seen this book many times and never picked it up for some reason. I really enjoyed this book about the rise of raunch culture and how women are buying into it and claiming that by dressing provocatively they can be sexy and also feminists. This was a really thought provoking book. See my post here about this book.

A collection of essays by self proclaimed feminists and when they had their "click" moment. A great read on the way that individuals come to identify as feminists.

This is another sort of trip through time. She chronicles the Women's Rights movement from 1960 to 2009. She offers a broad overview of the movement at the time and then personal interviews with different individuals about their lives.
This is a great primer for anyone who's not sure where to start in regards to Feminism and the Women's Rights Movement.

I actually picked up Three Cups of Tea at Target one day intrigued by the synopsis on the back about a guy that builds schools for girls in Pakistan. This is the story of Greg Mortenson's travels through Pakistan and Afghanistan and his promise to build schools for girls in remote areas.

There has been some backlash about parts of the book(s) being fabricated or exaggerated recently... I'm not sure what to say about this other than regardless of these accusations the books are still DEFINITELY worth reading. I suppose we must take everything with a grain of salt these days. But the overall message of Mortenson building schools where no one else will, is very important.

This is a great book about how important women and girls are especially in developing and developed countries! The author (and New York Times journalist) visits many different organizations overseas helping women and girls in various ways. From aid groups that help girls who have escaped sexual slavery in brothels to women who had fistulas from rape or early pregnancy and their search for a surgeon to help them.

I read this book for my Gender and Religion class and I absolutely loved it. Margaret Atwood is a genius (in my humble opinion). This dystopia about women's roles and what happens if women become valued only for their fertility. I'm having a hard time accurately summing up this one so I'll copy and paste the description from Goodreads,
"Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now..."

I also read this book for my gender and religion class and while its probably not a strictly feminist work it does provide an alternate (fictionalized) look at a very well known story in the Bible. The story of Jacob, his wives and his daughter Dina is retold from Dina's point of view and shows us what might have actually happened to the women and girls barely mentioned in the Bible.
This is worth a read for anyone that loves historical fiction or alternate takes on Biblical stories.

Female Chauvinist Pigs

I previously posted this on my other blog but I'm reposting here because it fits much better.

I picked up Female Chauvinist Pigs at the library shortly after I got out of school for winter break. This is one of those books I've seen multiple times at the library/the bookstore/amazon etc. I've just never picked it up for some reason. Man am I glad I finally did. I devoured this book in two days and had to find my little sharpie page flags so that I could remember specific parts I loved (normally I just highlight them... but it was a library book).

Apparently some secret part of me misses writing papers about books that I read (for my undergrad women's studies degree) so I've decided just to write a blog post about some of my favorite parts of this book, and observations related to them.

Feminism as a whole loves to use "choice". Women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies, whether for reproductive uses or in the way they dress. I wrote an entire 10 page paper about the right to choose natural childbirth methods and if women can really "choose" when society is set up to tell them how to think. I think this can similarly be seen in Female Chauvinist Pigs.

But what of choice? In the first chapter Levy describes following the Girls Gone Wild crew around and how women were just throwing themselves at them, flashing the cameras with wild abandon. Of course the fact that these women had most likely consumed copious amounts of alcohol provides one possible reason. These woman are enlightened, they are owning their bodies and have the right to show off how sexy they look and feel. Right? So what's wrong with Girls Gone Wild? If it truly includes consenting adults (although I realize there have been cases of underage girls appearing), whats the problem with it? I guess maybe the better question is why do these girls want to flash the camera, get naked and make out with other girls?

Because society has told them that this is sexy, beautiful, alluring? That a woman's only value is her sexuality? I guess my point isn't that I think what these women are doing is wrong, in fact I fully support their choice to do what they want with their bodies... I'm more interested in the why. Why they think that flashing camera crews and making out with women is fun/good/exciting what have you. Is it our society? I'm inclined to think so.

I loved this quote from Erica Jong. She said,
"Let's not kid ourselves that this is liberation. The women who buy the idea that flaunting your breasts in sequins is power - I mean, I'm all for that stuff - but let's not get so into the tits and ass that we don't notice how far we haven't come. Let's not confuse that with real power. I don't like to see women fooled."

This new brand of "feminism" or enlightened sexism (as I've been reading about in the book Englightened Sexism), tells woman that feminism isn't necessary. All of the battles have been won, so go out, wear short skirts and flash your boobs for Girls Gone Wild. After all, we've earned it! The problem that I see with this is that we're not past feminism, feminism is still very necessary and when it is implied that it isn't necessary... there is a big problem.

One chapter that particularly interested me was the one describing teenaged and pre-teen girls and their response to sex. I thought it was interesting how she describes talk of "rainbow parties" where many girls give oral sex to guys, receiving nothing in return. I'm pretty sure there was just a recent revival of these "rainbow parties" in the news recently with parents organizations clutching their metaphorical pearls exclaiming, "Not the children!" I thought it was amusing that these rainbow parties, or the rumors of such parties were not a new phenomenon considering Levy wrote this book in 2005. The media seems to just recycle stories every few years.

There was also a lot of good information from interviews with pre-teen and teenage girls about why they have sex. So many girls seemed to have no idea why other than that it was "what all girls did". They weren't doing it because it was fun or perhaps enjoyable for them, but because everyone else was and there was a lot of peer pressure to be like everyone else.

This seems to be another conundrum.. we tell girls every day through the media that they have to be sexy and "hot", they need to buy this makeup or this brand to be desirable. But then through abstinence only education we tell them that they MUST NOT HAVE SEX. They should save that for marriage. There's no discussion about hormones or legitimate reasons to want to have sex... JUST DON'T DO IT. And we wonder why this type of sex ed isn't effective?

I specifically remember the sex ed I had in 8th grade. They split the boys and girls up and discussed STDs, showing horrifying pictures of them (it just doesn't get any easier to look at those). They was a sort of strange analogy about girls being like ovens, they take a while to heat up and boys being like a flame, they're hot instantly. (I'm paraphrasing but it was very similar to this.) I still have no idea what they were trying to get across with that analogy... considering the overall message I got was "Don't have sex". There was no talk about condoms for protection against STDs or pregnancy nor any discussion about the Pill.

And yet... the number of girls I knew that were having sex in high school was pretty high. Did someone else teach them about condoms and the Pill? I can only hope so. (Although some of them obviously didn't given the fact that a handful of them got pregnant and had babies in high school).

So what happens when women are the ones perpetuating this idea of "raunch" culture stated in the book? Is it worse than when men perpetuate it? In my opinion, sort of. But it comes back to the overall need for education (regardless of one's gender).

When I decided to get my undergrad degree in Women's Studies I basically had to explain what feminism was to one of my friends. (The definition I gave her was something along the lines of believing in equal rights for women, equal pay, etc. I can't say I'm very proud of it. It wasn't very complete or well rounded). She also happened to be several years older than me. I shouldn't have to explain feminism to her should I??

The answer seems to be yes. And to everyone else out there who seems to have forgotten the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's or never cared what it was about to begin with.

Sometimes I'm truly frightened by the world we live in. But then I read awesome thought provoking books and I think maybe I have the strength to struggle against the tide.


Hello all!

I decided to start this blog because I wanted a place to collect all my thoughts about feminist related things. The content will probably be pretty diverse and perhaps not what you would generally think of as “feminist” but things that I am looking at or see in a feminist light.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Women’s Studies and ever since I’ve been out of school I have the urge to write long paper-esque reviews of books or just about things I’ve been thinking about. I guess that’s what happens when the majority of your classes are seriously paper driven. So, in lieu of writing papers… because that would be sort of pointless since I’m not in class right now, I’m going to write blog posts! Honestly I’ll try not to be pretentious… because I don’t think that’s how I really am.

I don’t think that just because I have a Women’s Studies degree I know everything there is to know about women or feminism or whatever. I definitely do not. The vast expanse of my ignorance is probably shocking. I took a lot of great classes that I loved but there is just no way you can study a movement that’s been around for 100 years in 4 semesters.

So, a little bit about myself:

Age: 21.

Current Occupation: Student (going back to school for nursing)

The moment feminism clicked for me: I really wish I could remember this. I took a Philosophy of Feminism class before I went to Florida State and I’d like to think it was during this class. I wanted to major in French but I couldn’t because of some stupid requirements so my advisor told me to pick another major. I went back and forth between criminology and women’s studies for a while reading about both before finally deciding to do women’s studies. I got to school and started taking my classes and loved every one of them!

Favorite classes I took: I loved my Women’s Health Issues class that I took with a nursing instructor. This is actually the class that made me think about becoming a midwife, pairing my love of feminism and love of medicine.

I also liked my Contemporary Muslim Women class and my Voices of Oppression class I took my final semester.

Favorite topics to read about/research/think about: Feminism (duh!), sexism, pop culture, women in the media, feminist childbirth and parenting, reproductive rights, and so many more.

Future occupation: Currently I’m taking pre-reqs to get an accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing so I can be a nurse for a while. Right now my areas of interest are Labor and Delivery and Emergency Medicine. I would also like to eventually return to school and get a Master’s so I can become a Certified Nurse-Midwife. I would really like to be in a practice with other Midwives and provide home births.

Well there’s a bit of the basics. Have you got any more questions for me? I’d love to answer them.

Coming up I’m working on a starter list of my favorite feminist minded books!