Mar 11, 2007

March 8 is what day?

I have heard and read of women who were treated to romantic dinners, bouquets, candy on March 8, and that made me angry.

Perhaps I have no business being angry, or perhaps I am becoming an active feminist in my "old" age, but it bothers me that people seem to be turning the International Women's Day into another Valentine's Day, i.e. husbands volunteering in the kitchen and bringing gifts. In Norway, this day has always had political overtones.

I said "active feminist". I have always been a feminist in that I, as a woman and a single, working woman at that, don't want to experience being held back, abused, denied or patronized because of my gender. I know it happens and has happened. There are feminists in my family; in California, my grandma was a member of a working women's organization that fought to allow women the right to work overtime, because managerial positions often require overtime. Until they got the law changed, women couldn't hold managerial positions.

Though I wasn't there, though I wasn't actively involved, and have never been politically active, I know that there are many things I can take for granted now - like being taught math in school with the assumption I would understand it and not needing a husband to co-sign the mortgage on my apartment - thanks to the efforts of women before and the continued efforts of today's feminists.

In today's Norway I see a kind of backsliding or erosion. It is subtle, it may be of no concern, and I may be imagining it, but here is my summary:

"Feminist" has become a dirty word, and many 20-somethings don't see the need for it, and get offended if you use it about them. At the same time, they seem to see their future as guaranteed if only their breasts are big enough and their waists tiny enough. Today's young women seem to be fighting for the right to look like bimbos. This may suggest that that means that other rights have been achieved so this is what's left to fight for - or is it?

It's fair to demand that you shouldn't be judged by your looks. Unfortunately, we still are. Being over-the-top beautiful (and over-the-top boobwise) is all the rage. But what about what's underneath the Dolly Parton appearance? Do we have Dolly's brains and talent - and the respect she gets? Long nails, big boobs and high heels shouldn't decide whether or not a woman has intelligence, talents or personality - just like skin color shouldn't matter - but it still does. But are we allowed to show our smarts? Not as much as we'd like. Recently I read a newspaper article about how men are allowed to use humor to attract the opposite sex, and women are only supposed to respond with amusement. If the woman shows humor and wit herself, she doesn't win a guy. Humor is related to intelligence. The gals are not yet allowed to be nor expected to be (!) as smart and as funny as the guys. Are we resorting to emphasizing uniquely female and feminine attributes out of strength or resignation?

The above brings me to the sexualization of women that has been increasing and affecting younger age groups. Girls age 9 wearing tops emblazened "Porn star" does not sit right with many including me, nor does offering bra-like underwear or thongs to pre-pubescent children. Both childhood and womanhood seem to be under pressure to conform to some idealized teen. Not good for any of the age groups mentioned in that last sentence. I also doubt men want this in their women (or daughters), but who's protesting? The media doesn't protest; it seems to thrive on sexualization and allows ads in that vein. Ordinary women and girls are competing with airbrushed and Photoshopped ideals.

Speaking of the media: The female leader of Norway's "Landsorganisasjon" (LO), the biggest trade union umbrella organization in the country, was found to have bullied a female co-worker. I don't agree with strong-arm tactics from any boss, but I do agree with the sentiment expressed by a female journalist at the language the newspapers chose in writing about the case: All the stereotyped female negatives were used. An woman isn't angry; she's PMS-ing. A woman justifiably upset with an injustice isn't indignant; she's hysterical. A woman isn't being focused on the job; she's being cold and unfeeling. A woman who stands her ground and doesn't vacillate on decisions isn't firm; she's a bitch. Do women not have the right to be tough or angry or to focus on the job without being given sexist labels or without having our thoughts and feelings defined as hormonal? Are the only emotions a woman may have at work the warm fuzzy ones?

I've been reading some Norwegian blogs written by women in their late 20's/early 30's. One of Norway's largest dailies, Aftenposten, has run a series of articles about women, none of which have met with the bloggers' approval. The one that really got the blogosphere seeing red (stockings and all) was an article that clumsily stated that it is up to women to avoid rape. (I say clumsily, because changing one little word would have changed the premise of the whole article, but it went to press as is, so...) The article seized on last summer's rape spree in Oslo, where women on their way home or to and from parties were attacked by strangers (most of non-Norwegian descent). The advice given in the article to women is to travel in groups, take a taxi, or just stay home.

I understand my fellow blogging feminists' anger at this "advice". It's laying the burden of responsibility for the man's actions on the woman. It's also limiting her freedom to move around in her own neighborhood, her own city, like all the other adults can. Why don't they tell men to stay home? That would also solve the problem.

But the truth is that the advice is both utterly useless and misses the boat. Some of us live such that we have no one to walk home with. Some of us live in buildings where the taxi cannot bring you right to your door, either due to blocked street access or because you live on the 7th floor, and some of us cannot afford a taxi or see no point in one when our home is only 6 blocks away. In a recent rape incident, a woman was attacked while unlocking her own front door.

Rape and violence against women in general in Norway is increasing. One thing the rash of rapes in Oslo last summer did not address is the fact that most rapes are still committed by someone the woman already knows or in a situation she has little reason to be weary of (like sharing a cab). Even Amnesty International has gotten wind of this. Our Minister of Justice hasn't.

There is another thing happening here: The silence of the police. I lived in Glendale, CA, during the Hillside Strangler killings. (At the time I had no idea I lived only half a mile away from one of the murderers and two of their victims.) I was taking an evening class at Glendale High School, a 10-minute walk away for me, and for a while, we were all driven home afterwards. None of us girls were allowed to walk home alone, but carpooled with classmates or the teacher. But these were temporary measures - just until the police caught the guy (guys, as it turned out). We were all assured that at some point, the world would go back to normal, and no extra precautions would be needed for us females. I have heard nothing like that from Oslo. The "advice" given to avoid rape is not worded as a specific warning because of current circumstances; it's worded as if this is just the way the world is so just get used to it and maybe go out less. People in Oslo are getting pretty mad at their chief of police.

Female jury members in Norwegian rape cases tend to blame the woman. Yes, you read that right: the female jury members. But all jury members tend to find a man's drunkenness as a mitigating circumstance, while a woman's is a compounding one, and her clothes and behavior are also viewed critically. There is no sexual equality in the courtroom and the women themselves support the sexism. I wonder if they even see what they're doing. It is things like this that make me wonder about today's feminism and the attitudes women have about themselves now.

March 8 commemorates the battle of one group of adults to be given equal rights that another group of adults already has, so that both groups have equal power and equal worth in our society. It happens to be women fighting, because our society was and is a patriarchal one.

I do not feel equal if I have to bear the burden when some man wants to act out violence against a member of my gender.

I do not feel equal if I have to watch how I do my hair or show my cleavage in order to get respect (whether I look like Barbie or Ugly Betty).

I do not feel equal if my wages are not as high as a man's with the exact same qualifications as mine and the exact same job as mine.

I do not feel equal whenever somebody assumes I have secretarial duties in our department even though they know I have the exact same job as my two male co-workers (we're all graphic designers and our boss does his own paperwork).

I do not feel equal even when the assumption above is made by other women.

I do not feel equal if a man congratulates me on this day and ignores me the other 364.

The question arises every year: Do we still need feminism, focus on women's rights, March 8? The answer is yes. We haven't arrived yet. We're not done yet.

6 comments:

Paula said...

Wow, what a fabulous post! I haven't heard of peeps turning 3/8 into another Valentine's day here, and I hope it doesn't happen. Kinda defeats the purpose. I'm your age and haven't experienced much sexism, but I know the generation before mine did. My SIL was discouraged from pre-med and hustled into being an English major cuz she was "just going to get married anyway." Uh, she didn't. I've tried to make my daughters understand that feminism is NOT a bad thing, and I think they get it. They don't dress like hookers either, IMO.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Thanks, Paula!

I'm curious: Have you let your daughters read this? Do they have any thoughts? I know that as a teen I didn't see any issues (and one reason is that the world is nicer to good-looking people). I find that with age I do. Perhaps it is an attempt to ensure that the coming generations of women don't lose what we've gained - or just new awareness on my part.

Paula said...

They haven't read it (yet). One thing I try to instill in them is the importance of having a career where they can support themselves. I think that even without blatant sexism, there's still this underlying social assumption that OF COURSE a boy must think about that, but a girl ... well, she can relax, "find herself," etc. No no no no!!! My parents did that to me, and I fooled around for years until it was really too late. I mean, I'm not going to law school now with the achies and dizzies.

I agree it's really important not to lose what we've gained.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Having grown up with a divorced mother and a grandma who worked continuously since high school - partly because she was widowed early - I never assumed that I could count on a man to take care of me always. That's not a very adult or self-empowering way of thinking, anyway. Every young person, male or female, should know how to cook and clean, hold a job, and handle their own finances. They should live alone for a bit, so that they have no one else covering for any lapses they have. That way they know what it takes to have a home.

Our generation had the luxury of being able to get jobs and work our way up without a college degree; unfortunately, that doesn't apply any more. There is one thing I wish I'd known back when college was still an option: It's OK to pick a major and change it or never use it; the point is to go to college.

Webmiztris said...

I don't know. I think guys do like women with a good sense of humor (of her own). And the ones that don't aren't worth thinking about anyway. :)

Keera Ann Fox said...

Men like my wit, but I'm not married, so I don't know if that proves or disproves the theory.