Naomusings

My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Feminism”

Nasty Woman, Speak Up!

Nasty woman 16 tshirt

Today, I politely but firmly took on a woman on our neighborhood Nextdoor site. She was repeating the Trump/Fox News argument that because a small number of undocumented immigrants have committed violent crimes, then we need to keep them ALL out. I called her on this irrational argument.

And the whole time I was having this public discussion, a voice in my head kept saying, “Naomi, enough already. People are going to think you’re dogmatic and angry and they’re not going to like you. Why do you always have to be so vocal?”

I am tired of this voice.

I am tired of separating my Facebook friends into Best Friends and Acquaintance lists, and then only posting the political stuff so my Best Friends can see it. I’m tired of feeling hurt when people unfriend me and unfollow me because I express my opinions. Even as I write this post, I am remembering that certain people in my life might read this, and I worry that they will think less of me.

I am tired of this standard I have in my head of the Likeable Woman. The Likeable Woman smiles and helps others, and doesn’t have political signs on her lawn or bumper. She posts pictures of her dogs and kids on Facebook, and only posts opinions on Facebook with disclaimers like, “I rarely post my political opinions on Facebook, but…”

Most of the women in the world I care about and admire most are not anything like this Likeable Woman. Yet I realize that I hold myself to that standard. I tell myself that people would like me more if I would only keep quiet.

These days, though, I have been posting political opinions on Facebook for everyone to see, not just those on my Best Friends list. I am arguing with bigots on Nextdoor. I am blogging again, and taking on controversial topics.

Because these days, there’s too much at stake to be a Likeable Woman. These days, we need more Nasty Women.

Oh, and a few days ago, I submitted this post to a certain secret Facebook page that focuses on issues relating to women and marginalized people in the era of Donald Trump. (You all probably know what awesome Facebook page I’m talking about.) The submission was posted, and so far I’ve gotten about 1,200 supportive comments and 10K likes. So there you go.

Is Pinterest the New Backlash Against Women?

 

Don't have a back-to-school ruler wreath? You must be one of those moms with "other priorities."

Don’t have a back-to-school ruler wreath? You must be one of those moms with “other priorities.”

Ah, Pinterest. It’s the popular social media site where you can “pin” links to whatever it is that interests you. For many people, that means crafts. And for some people out there—primarily moms —Pinterest is the place to pin your ideas for Competitive Mom Crafting.

And what is Competitive Mom Crafting? It’s sending your daughter to Girl Scouts with (organic, gluten-free) cupcakes that are perfectly stylized into ladybugs when it’s your turn for snacks—even though the other moms just send Oreos. It’s creating a back-to-school ruler wreath for your front door, or better yet, making a personalized one as a back-to-school gift for your child’s teacher—even though nobody else gives the teacher a back-to-school gift. It’s spending weeks wrapping your holiday present so that your coordinating bows and wrapping paper are all at perfect right angles—even though the people who give you presents just throw everything into 99-cent gift bags. And it’s about scrapbooking. Scrapbooking everything.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being crafty. Far from it. We all need a creative outlet, and making nifty cupcakes and scrapbooks is creative. Craft projects are a source of fun and relaxation for many people, and a way of spending time with kids. It’s the equivalent of me writing blog entries as a creative outlet.

The problem with craftiness is when it becomes competitive—and especially when this competitiveness is tied up in motherhood. Because for some moms, decking your children’s lives out with fabulous DYI stuff is the way to show that you are a Good Mom. Look how much time you put into making a beautiful life for your family! And those other moms, who don’t scrapbook and send their kids to lunch with ordinary, gluten-laden sandwiches? Well, those moms must just have other priorities, huh?

So these days, moms have a whole new category of ways to feel inadequate. These days, Pinterest and the new world of Competitive Mom Crafting is the new backlash against women, and especially mothers.

Backlash refers to cultural trends that function as a way to reduce the empowerment of women in an era when women have increased power. Things are by no means perfect for women in 2014. However, compared to half a century ago, women have far more power in the working world, in government, under the law, and under the dictates of social norms.

A backlash is a trend that functions to counterbalance women’s power and tells them to “get back!” Susan Faludi coined the term in 1991 in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. The backlash Faludi wrote about largely was the frenzy of media reports at the time about women who were allegedly failing miserably at “having it all.” According to the media, these women were dealing with a fertility crisis, a man-shortage, and a general sense of malaise—all as a result of trying to be successful in a man’s world.

Similarly, in The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women (1992), Naomi Wolf argued that the pressure on women to conform to increasingly unrealistic beauty images also serves as a backlash. While women have always felt pressure to be beautiful, the standards of beauty and thinness have increased exponentially—at the same time that women have gained other kinds of power in society.

The current pressure to be a fabulous crafter is yet another backlash against women’s power. Because now it’s not enough to have a career and a family and a home. Now you have to do it all, and have everything beautified with your fabulous craft projects. If you don’t have the time, or the money, or the talent to make a back-to-school wreath, well, just look at all those moms on Pinterest who do!

And that’s the thing about the backlash. It’s all about upping the ante on the long list of things that women are expected to do well. Years ago, women felt enormous pressure to be excellent homemakers. But the ante was relatively low. Sure, they felt pressure for everything to be so clean that you could eat off the carpet. But they didn’t feel pressure to make an array of fabulous back-to-school decorations and other time-consuming craft projects. Now that women have far less time to keep their houses clean—which we’re still expected to do—we have more pressure to spend our valuable time filling our meticulously clean homes with lovely crafts.

It’s the same with food too. Although I’m grateful that we’re more health-conscious than we were half a century ago, the downside is that the pressure on women to create beautiful, healthy meals has skyrocketed. Back in the 1950s, there was lots of pressure on women to be great cooks. But what it meant to be a “great cook” was a whole lot easier than it is today. It’s not that hard to make a pot roast, and it’s not hard to slap together tasty meals out of the processed ingredients that we scorn today. But now, we’re expected to come home and make meals made with ingredients we’ve so carefully shopped for that are “clean” and “whole” and organic and unprocessed and gluten-free and GMO-free and so on. We don’t send our kids to school with bologna and cheese on Wonder Bread anymore. We send them with elaborate Bento boxes.

We can’t possibly be fabulous at everything. Career, family, beauty, housekeeping, cooking, crafting—who can possibly be the master of all of this? As women gain power in society, this list keeps growing, and it becomes harder to meet the standards of any one of these things. As a result, some women feel insecure about themselves, and other women pit themselves against each other to be the single most fabulous superwoman on the block. Both of those trends take away from the power of women to be confident, successful allies—and therefore, it’s a backlash.

My thanks to Julie from Perfect Whole and the other awesome moms who inspired this post through their discussion on Facebook!

 

 

Jill Duggar and the #YesAllWomen Hashtag: Why Christian Patriarchs Don’t Own Women’s Bodies Either

lily

This week, two seemingly unrelated incidents happened in the world of female sexuality and the media.

On May 23, 2014, a 22-year-old man named Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California. According to his autobiographic manifesto, Rodger’s killing spree was motivated by the fact that women had been rejecting him sexually. It seems that he literally felt entitled to access to the bodies of these women, a belief that was reinforced by the”men’s rights activism” rhetoric he was reading.

In response to Rodger’s killing, women all over the world started tweeting their own experiences under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Their point: Rodger’s killing wasn’t the case of an isolated nut job. Women everywhere encounter men who think that they are entitled to access to women’s bodies. Here are just a few examples of the many, many tweets:

yesallwomen

 

Meanwhile, on 19 Kids and Counting, a small act of rebellion was committed by Jill Duggar, the 22-year-old daughter in this very public right-wing Christian family. You see, at the time of filming, Jill Duggar was courting a young man named Derick Dillard.  (They are now engaged.) In the Duggar family, daughters are not “allowed” any physical contact with their suitors other than a brief side hug.  Frontal hugs are off limits. Couples are “allowed” to hold hands after their engagement, and are “allowed” to kiss for the first time at their wedding ceremony.

And yet, on 19 Kids and Counting, there was a small, but perhaps not entirely insignificant, act of rebellion. Derick returned from a long trip abroad, and Jill was there to greet him at the airport with her entire family. Derick and Jill eagerly approached each other from opposite sides of the security barrier. Jill ran a little too far into the security zone, and the alarm went off.  This turned out to be a unusual moment of spontaneous reality TV gold, because as the buzzers went off, Derick and Jill dove in for an actual frontal contact hug. Her parents were none too happy.

Now, please let me get this straight. There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to abstain from sex, kissing, or anything else before marriage.  The #YesAllWomen tweeters would most certainly agree.  A man is not entitled to any physical contact with a woman that she does not want to share, whether those reasons have to do with her religious beliefs or something else.  A woman’s body belongs to no one but her own self.

But that’s what’s so disturbing about 19 Kids and Counting (and about the Quiverfull movement they belong to and other similar movement) is that the message is not that women own their own bodies and control their own sexualities. The message is that their fathers control their daughters’ sexuality until these daughters are “given away” to their husbands, who then take control.

Think I’m exaggerating? The degree to which the Duggars, and especially Jim Bob, exercise control over their daughters’ dating experiences is comprehensive. Jim Bob must approve all “courtship” partners for his adult daughters. No, we’re not talking about a dad setting limits on who his 15-year-old daughter can date. We’re talking about 22-year-old daughters needing permission. Once a daughter is dating, or even engaged, Duggar girls are never allowed to be alone with their boyfriends. Ever. They always have to have a parent or another sibling along as a “chaperone” to make sure that no physical contact outside of a side hug ever occurs.  These girls are not even allowed to have private phone conversations or texts with their boyfriends. To promote “accountability,” the entire Duggar family has access to the texts exchanged between Jill and Derick.

Now, you might ask, isn’t this a choice that Jill is making actively?  She is indeed an adult, and if she wants to kiss a boy before marriage or send private texts, what’s stopping her from doing so?

This is absolutely correct, technically. However, the cost of a Duggar child going against the teachings of their parents, and against the entire community to which they’ve been exposed, is enormous. The Duggars have gone through great pains to make sure their children have limited exposure to any ideas outside their own — including to the more mainstream Christian lifestyle choices that the majority of American Christians make.  They are all homeschooled.  None of the adult children have left the house to go to college or to get a job, except for the oldest boy, who’s married.  The family only socializes with other families with very similar values. The Internet is censored to about 70 websites for the younger children and for the adult children, which means no access to “subversive” ideas. So yes, Jill Duggar could leave the house and go to college and kiss boys and even wear pants (which the Duggar girls do not), but the Duggars have gone through great pains to make this level of free will enormously painful and unlikely.

And the children — including the adult children — rarely leave the house alone. There’s no, “Mom, I’m going to the mall with Katie.” The Duggars always bring a sibling along to make sure they act in accordance with their parents’ wishes. A few years ago, oldest daughter Jana left alone to speak at a retreat for young Christian women, and her parents made a big deal about how proud they were to send their daughter off alone into the world for the first time.  Jana was 22.

I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with parents teaching their daughters about sexual morality, and that there is nothing wrong with teaching the belief that sex (or even kissing) should be reserved for marriage. Every parent teaches their children about morality, myself included, and we all hope these lessons will stick. And when our children are growing up, we can indeed impose rules about things like dating.  I’ve already had a conversation with my eight-year-old involving a skimpy purple bikini. She was none to happy with me when I refused to buy her the bikini.

But when our daughters grow up, they can wear whatever purple bikinis they want, and they can make their own decisions about sexual morality because they are the owners of their own bodies.  And yet this is exactly what Jim Bob Duggar, and others in the Christian patriarchy movement, are trying to prevent. Just look at the recent popularity of the Purity Ball, a ceremony in which an adolescent girl literally “entrusts her purity” to her father, who is tasked with protecting it until she is married.

Attempting to control women’s bodies and women’s sexuality is wrong — whether we’re talking about a rapist at a frat party or a father who goes through great length to control his adult daughters’ sexual choices. In this way, Jim Bob Duggar isn’t all that different from Elliot Rodger. Eliot believed that he was entitled to make decisions about how women expressed their sexuality. Jim Bob feels the same way about his daughters.

Feminism and Processed Foods (and Breastfeeding): A Conundrum?

Veggies

So these days, in my kitchen, I’m making an effort to use fewer processed foods. I’ve read my Michael Pollan and I’m sold on the concept that we should be eating things that would be recognizable to our great-grandmothers as “food.” Moreover, I’m thoroughly disgusted by the ways that the American food industry has transformed the way we eat by normalizing processed, unhealthy foods that are full of fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and an array of unpronounceable non-food substances.

1950s Housewife in KitchenBut here’s the conundrum. I’m trying to eat more like people in my great-grandmother’s day. But would I trade places with her? Of course not. My options would be so much more limited than they are today. If I were my great-grandmother, I’d probably be a full time homemaker, whether I wanted to be one or not.

Much of my “decision” to be a homemaker would be dictated by social pressures. But some of this would have to do with food. One hundred years ago, food preparation was a whole lot more time consuming than it is today. I’d be baking breads, cutting apart whole chickens (if not slaughtering them), rolling out pie crusts, canning vegetables, and whole lot of other tedious tasks. I probably wouldn’t even have a refrigerator.

These days, many women work because of changing social norms—but also because of changing domestic duties. Thanks to modern conveniences, taking care of a house and cooking no longer has to be a full time job. My husband and I work full time, and at the end of the day, we have time to cook a healthy meal together. (Of course, the “cooking together” part is one luxury my great-grandmother didn’t get—and that many women today still don’t get!)

Read more…

Why I No Longer Love the Bachelor, or, I Give Sean and Catherine Six Months

no rose

Annnnnd we’re done.  I don’t even want to count the hours I’ve spent this year indulging in my guilty pleasure, The Bachelor.  I started this season with a long post explaining Why this Feminist Loves The Bachelor.  It’s great ironic fun, I argued.  It’s a satire of gender roles and whiteness and dating rules.

Now that this season is over, I think I may be ready to take that back.  This show is just plain sadistic.

From a feminist perspective, I don’t think that this show does a great disservice to women and gender roles (although it doesn’t exactly help). While there are certainly “true believers” who watch this show, I firmly feel the main reason The Bachelor has been so successful is because it’s so fun to mock.  If you don’t believe me, just visit the snarky, hilarious weekly Bachelor recaps by Kristen Baldwin at EW.com, and the hundreds of pithy remarks in the comments section.

So I’m not terribly worried that this show is brainwashing Americans into thinking that women need to be sniveling, powerless, male-dependent half-wits.  We know better than that.

What I am worried about is that this show messes with the minds of real contestants for the purpose of persuading them to “fall in love.”  It’s good TV when women are crying hysterically for some guy they met a few weeks ago, and this show is all about good TV.  I recently read a Psychology Today article that discusses the manipulation techniques used on The Bachelor to persuade people that they are actually in love with the stranger for whom they are competing, and it made me feel bad about actually watching this garbage.  Producer Mike Fleiss is an evil genius.

Yes, these people know what they are getting themselves into.  They are young, attractive people looking for adventure and fifteen minutes of fame.  Or so I keep telling myself.  But they also are real people who get badly hurt.  The whole premise of this show is built around rejection, which, if memory serves me correctly from my dating days, is one emotion that really, really sucks.

This week, I watched Sean turn down Lindsay at the “altar,” and she was crushed.  For real crushed.  And then I watched Sean propose to Catherine in what was, in TV terms, a beautiful proposal.  But it made me feel sad, because chances are extremely high that these two seemingly nice people don’t have a chance.  (Only three marriages have resulted in 20-plus seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.) These two people knew each other for a period of weeks before he proposed, and the day before the proposal, Sean was still saying he was equally torn between Catherine and Lindsay.  Does that sound like a solid foundation for a marriage?  Combine that with the fact that these two people apparently have nothing in common, other than being very good looking and “goofy” (or so they claim).  Catherine’s a Seattle vegan with a nose ring.  Sean’s a conservative Christian boy from Texas.  Not that people with those characteristics can’t possibly make it, but the pairing doesn’t scream “perfect match.”

I give it six months.  If that.  She strikes me as a former high school nerd who can’t believe that this “beefcake” (which she called him a zillion times) is actually into her.  Puppy love.  I predict two seriously broken hearts.  Because they do seem like unusually nice and genuine people who someone stumbled into a reality TV nightmare, I actually feel bad for them.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to give up watching this garbage.  But I didn’t get much pleasure out of watching the proposal tonight, and I think the sadistic premise of this show may finally be too much for me.

Should a Feminist Mom Let Her Daughter Play with Monster High Dolls?

I am torn. My seven-year-old, Gwendolyn, is crazy about Monster High dolls and the Monster High website. On the first night of Hanukkah, you should have heard the screech of joy out of her when she received a Draculaura doll.

So what is Monster High? It’s a line of dolls, a cartoon, and related products (books, movies, makeup, clothes, you name it). The dolls are like Barbie dolls that can be dressed up. Only these dolls are monsters—zombies, vampires, and so forth—so they’re sort of a cross between Barbie and fantasy characters.

There’s an awful lot a feminist could say about Monster High (for more, check out this Monster High analysis by the fabulous Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter). The most simple reason these characters are disturbing is that their story line revolves largely around clothing and appearance. While the story does include positive messages about being a good friend and being yourself, they’re ultimately dress-up dolls, just like Barbie. I tell my daughter over and over again that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” but am I contradicting myself when I let her dress up these dolls?

Read more…

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