Sunday, January 31, 2010

Assumptions Regarding Educational Interests

During my pursuit of an education minor at Rhodes I have experienced an intersection between Frye’s Oppression and Bartky’s Psychological Oppression. Apparently, when I decided to pursue an education minor, my education chair advisor and professors automatically assumed that I would be leaning towards becoming a professor. While I do not rule this option out, it was definitely not my first option, as I would prefer to teach middle school if I chose teaching as a profession. However this assumption represents some of the aspects of oppression that Frye and Bartky note. First would be stereotyping, as it is uncommon for males to pursue teaching in the elementary and middle school levels (though this is currently changing), as the assumption is that it is a “woman’s job,” because some would (unrightfully) assume that a woman role to take care of children. It seems that my professors had the same stereotype in mind, as they did not fathom I would prefer teacher children of a younger age than college or high school. While this hardly as oppressive as the kinds of psychological oppression that women experience everyday, it is an interesting oddity, and reinforces Frye’s notions of oppression. She asserts that women are oppressed as women by men, and it is possible that my choice is seen as radical because men’s collective wills have forced the job of school teacher (unless it is a coach, I assume, which again, is another stereotype). That is why this is really not a strict form of oppression; because other men have regulated this notion of teaching that make this such an oddity.

Current literature in the education and ethical field do not aid the stereotypes, as one of the books that I have encountered multiple times throughout my college career might be guilty of such reinforcement: Nel Noddings’ Caring. I tend to agree with her notions of ethical relationships as mirroring a mother’s relationship to her child, although it does not weaken the stereotype that women should only teacher smaller children due to their caring nature. Her insistence on using the feminine as the caring and the cared-for as the masculine (which has nothing to do with gender, I know) only reassert why men would probably keep holding to the notion that women should continue to only elementary aged children and not pursue a doctorate to be a professor.

Once again, this is hardly oppressive, just an observation I have witnessed. It is in no way the equivalent of the inhumane psychological oppression that women have to face everyday

Viva la Revolucion! Down with the Master’s House!

So Thursday we got around to discussing Audre Lourde’s The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” It begs some interesting questions, especially in terms of how to effectively do feminist scholarship. Lourde makes the point that, “It is particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians.” Unfortunately I’ve noticed that in the fight for any kind of equal rights, a given group will unite under one cause that doesn’t say much about the diversity of the unit as a collection of individuals. For the Civil Rights Movement it was, of course, racial equality. For the feminist movement it was gender rights but each of these groups always seem to have left of a marginal group, who would still remain oppressed while sacrificing their needs to the good of the movement. Real revolution, as Lourde states, comes when women can recognize one another’s differences and use their nurturing power to genuinely come together for complete change. It begs the question whether, to some degree, the strides of feminist theory have been busy work. Has it been like making a long list of things to do and marking some things off but leaving the larger issues for later. It makes one feel accomplished but you still have a lot to do.

An important facet of oppression in that it doesn’t affect one area of life it is intersectional. However intersectionality recognizes that, although all black people may be affected by the race issue, women have a different narrative than men and homosexuals from heterosexuals. I agree with Lourde when she says that, “It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.” Structures don’t change very much once they’re in place, but people change and they become more knowledgeable. Autonomy is something that has become an important part of American being ( I’ll limit it to American, until I’ve had the opportunity to further observe our international brethren and sistren), and thus folks are always trying to separate themselves. Even in organizations we all want our own niche, if you will, but it does such a great job of keeping us apart that it masks deeper issues that would come out if we interacted. There’s a lot of inter-verbs in life guys: interact, international, interdependent, intersectional, interfaith. This, I feel, is the structure of the master’s house. Divide and conquer which Lourde talks about in terms of feminist theory, “The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”

Well there you have it folks. I think this statement has such broader implications to other issues but the point is we have to get around the campfire and get to know one another so that we can tear down the master’s house with our tools. Peace, Love and Unity. Viva la revoluci√≥n!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Either/Or

This is a really good article about gender, it raises alot of perplexing and interesting questions. It is about the South African runner, Caster Semenya, and "multi-gendered" people. Its long but worth the read. Enjoy
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/30/091130fa_fact_levy

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is a woman who Accepts Her Life in The Birdcage Sexist

I understand the concept of the birdcage, and how there are many small acts that constitute the birdcage that oppresses women. However, what if a woman enters the birdcage of her own free-will? What if a woman feels that she should be a housewife and cook, clean, etc. Would this woman be a sexist for preferring this kind of treatment. If she thinks that men should open the door women does that make her as bad as the men that commit the act or possibly worse. I feel like the answer to this question would be yes according to Frye. She would be perpetuating a system of oppression toward women. She would be just as responsible as the men in the system.

This idea makes me think back to the argument we had in class that a black person is not a racist if they say something racist against white people. What if a person said something racist about their own race, is this person racist, or is this person exempt. Same thing what if a woman thinks that there are certain tasks men should do, and certain tasks women should do. Is she a sexist?

This thought takes me to my next point. Like I said earlier Frye would say that this woman is possibly a sexist by entering the birdcage of her own freewill. However would Frye say that this woman should not be allowed to make these decisions because they harm the rest of the women. It seems to me that women have at least in small part a choice. They don’t have to be in the birdcage, they can refuse to enter building when a man is opening the door for them, they can pay for their half of the meal, etc. etc. I know there are exceptions like women’s wages in comparison to men’s however not all of it is out of their control. Would Frye say that this person is making an immoral choice by entering the birdcage, and should not make those decisions, can the feminism restrict the choices that women have? I’m trying to argue that Feminism makes it seem like being a homemaker is an occupation a woman should be ashamed to have. That a woman should not make those choices, even if it is something that they really want to do. It seems to me that the philosophy is more trying to gear women toward being like men, rather than having the opportunity to be whatever they want.

Are softball players lesbians? I shouldn't care, but I do.

Last semester, the athletics department brought in an inspirational speaker to drill us about the worthwhile aspects of physical competition and the negative aspects of athletic stereotyping. The speaker, a charismatic former basketball player, put us through an activity in stereotyping. When she spoke a statement, we were to stand up if we agreed. Most of the stereotypes were simple: ‘Athletes are cliquish,’ ‘Non-athletes don’t understand the stress of being an athlete,’ and ‘Sorority girls are dumb.’ Then she got to riskier ones, especially knowing the conservative nature of Rhodes students: ‘I’m uncertain around Arabs at the airport’ and ‘gay men scare me’. The atmosphere was tense, but a scattering of students stood for each statement. Then she got to the kicker, the only one that united all of the athletes in agreement, “Most softball players are lesbians.”

Everyone in the room stood up and turned around to grin at us in the back. We rolled our eyes and shot our friends the bird, not really surprised at all by the question or their reaction. We probably should have been. Because even while none of those other athletes meant harm to us as a softball team or harm to lesbians for their life choice, the flippancy of their reaction and the embarrassment of our team as a whole was a sign that we acknowledge the stereotype and allow it to continue. Through our passivity, we signal to our fellow athletes that it is okay to group us as a 'butch' team. Through passivity, we participate in our own oppression.

In her essay on oppression, Marilyn Frye discusses the double standards and stereotypes that signify the oppression of women in this country. Women who wear certain clothes are either easy or frigid, women who act a certain way want to be raped, and women who are sexually active and others who aren’t both remain at fault for not being the other. In a society that expects so much of us from a myriad of subtle angles, it really is no wonder that everyone assumes softball players are lesbians and without wondering why. There is no other way to quantify the existence of so many double standards than to reify certain stereotypes into everyday life. As a team, we reify the stereotype by being embarrassed by it. By being insensitive to the ramifications such a stereotype means to others, we continue the process in its most hurtful phase, one where we acknowledge that it would be a bad thing to be mislabeled as lesbians, and not just because it stops us from getting dates.

What I wonder, when reading articles by Lorde, Frye, and McIntosh, is how gender oppression got to be such an ingrained, normative aspect of life. Is our embarrassment as a team at being confused for lesbians some vestige of the endless embarrassment other women passed down for generations? Do we as women sabotage our own chances at breaking the metaphorical cage? That we allow such stereotypes to exist, without fighting them for what they are rather than what they say about us, seems like an obvious point to criticize. But as McIntosh points out in her “White Privilege and Male Privilege,” sexism is not always obvious, especially to those who perpetrate it.

Ignorance or Education

Naturally, I have been noticing lately the sex of the people for whom I open doors. On my way to the second class session with Molly, she opened the first door to Buckman, while I opened the second. I also opened the third, as I had simply hopped up the stairs more quickly. My initial response to the door-opening question was similar to probably most other males in the class, that I open doors for everyone. I would roundly deny Prof. Johnson’s claim that I would be more likely to hold a door open for a student or faculty member than a groundskeeper or cleaning person. This is not a testament to some zealous door-opening campaign, but more evidence of an ingrained practice I deem “nice.” Sometimes doors actually are more difficult to open, such as those to Frazier-Jelke or the front doors to Palmer. I have watched women struggle with these doors. However, I recognize that these examples are outliers to the general rule of door-opening constituting a bar to the metaphorical birdcage.

Just as my environmental ethics class is causing me to pause at the possibility of ordering a meat dish, this class has already caused pause in my daily activities, such as door-opening. The list of bars is extensive, and I have been disgusted for some time at how women are conceived in the minds of most men. I can trace this line of thinking primarily to a break consciously made with the ideals of my father, the conservative, sexist, racist, draconian ex-husband of my mother, generally a pig of a man. He’s one of those vulgar “I’m God’s gift to women” sorts of men who talks with his mouth full, constantly. The point is that we can generally predict never finding him in a feminist philosophy class. Personally, I took this class on practical grounds, to complete my major in philosophy and to counteract the sour taste of feminism that popular culture transmits to young people, portraying them as bitches, snobby and boisterous. It seems obvious to me that notice must be given to the conditions of oppression, but it seems to be a fairly liberal group who takes feminist considerations to heart. But what are we to do about those who do not consider them valid or who actively ignore them?

I’m concerned with the outrage in Audre Lorde’s presentation to the Second Sex Conference in New York, 1979. Near the close of her paper she states that the call for women to “stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs” is the primary tool which oppressing males use to “keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns,” (51). She likewise condemns the call for black women to educate white women about their differences as “a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought,” (51). While I would probably have shared her dismay over the small number of black or lesbian commentators at the conference, her final statements unsettled me. Is it the task of the few males who take feminist considerations seriously to sort of proselytize fellow males? Such a suggestion seems to be the only alternative, though ultimately ineffective. Perhaps Lorde’s frustration is double as her paper is doing exactly what she considers a “diversion of energies,” educating the white feminist scholars at the conference on the importance of difference as it relates to creative capacity. The more diverse voices in a room, the broader array of experience explored, the more knowledgeable one becomes on an issue. Thus, her apology for recognition of difference represents to me a reworking of the lesson of perspectivism.

Prostitute or "gold digger"?

As I was reading my fellow classmates’ blog posts, I couldn't help but come back to Leah and Lindsay’s topical discussion of the “gold-digger”.  I am fascinated with this role, because, as we know, it can be played by both males and females.  Additionally, I find this character particularly interesting since one may compare him or her to the prostitute or giglo (a male prostitute), down the street.  That is, the female prostitute is engaging in a non-intimate sexual activity out of her need or desire for monetary payment.  This is not to suggest that she did not whole-heartedly enjoy the sexual act, but it nonetheless highlights her ultimate goal: money.  Similarly, the attractive twenty-five year old female who marries the rich 55 year old male is motivated out of desire for security, luxuries and/or perhaps the fuzzy feelings of being showered with love and adoration, despite whether she whole-heartedly enjoys playing wifey.  She is valued, just as the prostitute is valued; but at what cost? 

Marilyn Frye might suggest that both the prostitute and female “gold digger” are in politically, socially and economically compromising positions, due to the systemic conditions that influence her situated self as a female.  Let’s assume that a sufficient percentage of Americans treat the prostitute’s employment as sexually oppressive, seeing as she is forced to sell her body in order to feed her self and possibly others.  How might this female differ from the female who essentially sells her body into a law-binding contract with a person she is not genuinely in love with, and might have never married otherwise? 

Some might suggest that the prostitute is gaining self-defined power by manipulating the male’s libido to get what she wants.  Yet, according to Frye, the act of a male opening a door for a female is inherently sexist due to the long history of sexist structures and cultural norms.  That said, I would like to suggest the idea that being in power is fundamentally different than being empowered.  Accordingly, although both the prostitute and the female “gold digger” might feel empowered by their abilities to exploit or manipulate their respective male counterparts, Frye might argue that both are only fueling the system that which subordinates the female.  Like allowing the male to prop open the door for you, the prostitute and female “gold digger” are allowing the system to operate smoothly.  They do not think of themselves as contributing to the systemic forces that oppress them as females.  Perhaps this comments on the capitalistic nature of humans, since the Industrial Revolution.  If one assumes the intellectual position of Frye, should he or she actively advocate against the female “gold digger” and prostitute’s choices?  Should we actively force men to cease opening doors for females?  

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lilith and Equality

After thinking about the readings recently, I realized a stirring dark cloud that had been gathering some momentum in the back of my mind. It has been interesting to test my own personal mettle against the ideas offered here, especially the reading for tomorrow: oppression as systematic, race and gender both issues that need resolving, the notion of exchange, of denigrating a group. of capitalism and its effects, and so on. And all the while, the writers we read wanted a rewiring of society if not of currently-existing people themselves. Equality, equal plate, and non-subjugation. Which, to be quite honest, I agree with. It has been interesting, of course, realizing how some ideas I held or didn’t hold were the result of offhand comments made by men I trust. The story of Lilith and her relation to Adam seemed to call all this to question for me and complicate the desire we have for equality.

Lilith has a rich history, but one of the ones that is most forthcoming is one that explains the two biblical stories in the bible. As many of you Lifers and Searchers know, there are two purported creation myths in the Bible in Genesis. The first says that God created man, man and woman both in his image he created them. In the second, it says that God does not think it is good for man to be alone and makes a woman from Adam’s rib, the story we typically hear. It is a symbol of woman’s obedience and subservience to man…or so it has been translated.

But the original woman that was made with Adam rebelled. Lilith claims that since she and Adam were created in the same way they were equal and she refuses to submit to him. From the very beginning of the creation of the first society (more than one person) there was a quarrel of superiority. Adam insists she is beneath him, and Lilith insists that they are equal. And the only way this is resolved is her leaving him and God creating another woman. This old story seems to speak to the problem of coexistence as human beings. I started wondering if this class-separation and lens of inequality had influenced me in subtle and not so subtle ways in my life.

I consider myself very racially, genderly and sexually progressive. Partly growing up in a society that very specifically did everything it could to remind me that I was not equal to my white counterparts, even in instances of demoting me to rank 4th in my class, not rank 1, even though my gpa (a 4.67 on a 4.0 scale) was greatly over the nearest white male (4.5.) Nonetheless, they found ways outside of the system and within to limit me. But that’s another story for another time.

I attended Indian Springs School for 2 years, a private high school that Ms. Winfrey paid for me to attend. There I met a teacher, Diane Martin, now Shephard, who was quite literally one of the most brilliant professors I’d ever had. I also met Dr. LaCasse, a nuclear physicist who was also one of the most brilliant professors I had. After a year, I came to the conclusion that Dr. LaCasse was a genius. Ms. Martin was brilliant.

And I realized, after a while, that this was the case, and I wondered at the separation. Surely it was because of the doctorate, or because of how much I valued the maths and sciences over something, say, English or Philosophy (two subjects I would end up double majoring in ironically enough.) But then I met another English professor, who eventually I considered a genius as well.

So what accounted for the difference? I honestly believed they were intellectual equals, and they both impressed me with not only their sheer knowledge but also their willingness to help others. And then it dawned on me: in passing years before, I had heard from a man I respected the offhand comment of “Ah, women are too emotional to be geniuses.” I didn’t know if he was quoting someone or if he came up with it on his own, but I remember disagreeing with it. I remember, for a moment, entertaining it and considering it silly. I’m pretty sure I dismissed it then and there. And yet somehow, with me not realizing it, it continued to pervade my thoughts. Women were too emotional to be geniuses.

This seemed to me to come out of a separation as Rubyn talked about last week. For some reason I was creating a separation between myself and the female that is in no way natural and ultimately seems a bit stilly. It was a way of making judgments that would allow me ultimately to say “I am capable of genius…and am ultimately capable of being beyond her.” Do I believe this? Of course not. And yet somehow, in the back of my mind, a part of me, maybe in this system or maybe indoctrinated with male privilege, felt the need to continue to see women through the lens of the “lesser.” An odd situation to say the least.

All of this led me to the growing storm that had been in my mind. I have no idea how many men shared that sentiment, whether intentionally or not, but it’s clear to me that more men DID share it. And if they did…is equality really possible? Is it really possible for men and women to exist in a society? I’m not talking about any idea about the way we set up culture or body parts. I mean quite literally, as humans, do we need a group to subjugate and consider lesser than us? Animals cannot fill this void…a domesticated horse has no knowledge of its domestication, not in the sense that humans do. Doing so becomes a true matter of course or privilege. But we need to separate a group of humans inside of our group of humans, to make a clear and present distinction.

I know this is a myth, a folk tale and everything else, but it seems very pertinent to the discussion to me. It does not have to be a separation of man and woman, or white and other, or black and other, or straight and other, or tall and other, or anything else, but on some level it seems our history says something very clear: Humans cannot exist as equal. They will always, always try to find a way of separating themselves.

What do you guys think? Is lasting equality of the sexes and beyond possible?

Floyd
Lilith Information taken from here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilith

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frye's "Oppression"

According to Frye in her article “Oppression”, the most basic claim of feminism is that women are oppressed. Oppression, she describes, denotes a lack of options. A person is oppressed when he or she is confined by barriers constructed by a structure. However, she claims that the definition of oppression has been extended so much that it has lost its meaning and significance. She claims that we can and must compare degrees of human suffering. In doing so, she denies that men, under the system of patriarchy, are oppressed and suffer as a result of the system. A man as a man is not oppressed because of him maleness. He is oppressed because of other traits. While on first read I wholeheartedly agreed with this view, with a more thoughtful read, I had mixed feelings about this view.

On the one hand, how can you consider maleness without considering how maleness intersects with other areas of a person’s life? As many feminists have declared, a person is not simply a person, but the site of multiple intersections. Is it truly possible to consider one of those traits in isolation without considering the others? During second wave feminism, one of the major critiques that non-white feminists had was that the category of “woman” is not universal. You cannot define “woman” using only a white woman as the model. Similarly, Frye risks defining “man” as a universal category. She appears to define “man” by using a white man as the model. It is certainly different to be a white man than a black or Asian man. As a result, I found it very difficult to agree with Frye that a man cannot be oppressed for being a man as there is no way to test this view unless you base of all your claims on a white man.

On the other hand, I believe that it is not possible for me to separate my womanhood from my race or class. All clearly define who I am. However, society is definitely able to separate characteristics of my personhood. Some members are only able to see my race. Others are only able to see my gender. In light of this, I am able to accept Frye’s view of oppression. Members of society are definitely able to separate characteristics of personhood for everyone. A poor man is not oppressed because of his maleness, but rather because of his poverty. While it is very important to consider intersectionality when evaluating oppression, I agree that maleness as a category does not contribute to oppression.

The Appeal of Oppression

In class on Thursday we discussed Marilyn Frye’s essay entitled “Oppression” in which she explores the nature of oppression of women. Her main analogy is the bird living within the many bars that form her cage. Each of the bars on its own may not constitute oppression, but together they form the structure of a cage and the bird is unable to fly freely. In her essay she uses the example of door opening to represent one of the bars of the cage. Men will hold the door for women because they are weak and fragile and need someone to do it for them. We contested that although this may be part of the door holding phenomenon, most of us in class agreed that is has become a common practice of polite behavior and for the most part did not represent a sexist act. However, this discussion made me think about all of the other bars on the cage and how the nature of oppression can be perpetuated by the “appeal” of the cage.

If we continue this caged bird comparison, it is easy to point out that the bird does not have to feed herself, create a home for herself, clean her cage, or be aware of predators that want to eat a bird. The bird is not self sufficient in any way and relies entirely on someone else to make sure she has everything one seemingly needs in life. This is an exaggerated example, in some cases, but I think that it highlights the fact that life in the cage can be easier and more appealing than a life free from the cage and the oppression it represents. Since I have come to college and moved away from home I have become increasingly aware of the appeal this “cage” can hold for many women. I am twenty-two years old and have only recently begun to be treated as a woman rather than a teenager or child, and this new treatment has absolutely opened my eyes to the way in which the cage structure is maintained by both men and by women. It is the ease and comfort that the cage represents that I believe makes it remain appealing to certain women.

If a woman enters into her metaphorical cage, she knows that there will almost always be food on the table, a home to live in, and someone to “take care” of her needs. I think this example can be illuminated by the concept of a gold-digger, and popular shows like Joe Millionaire. There exists a certain status that comes with being a trophy wife and not having to work in life. We all can think of cases, either among celebrities or people we know, where that woman would not be with that man if there wasn’t a very large bank account involved. There is no doubt that the life in the cage can have its appeal, and does for many women. Despite its appeal, it remains an oppressed life within a cage and women must remember this when seeking to cast off their oppression. Life outside of the cage can be much harder, and this has to be a trade we are willing to make if equality is what we really desire.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A “Macroscopic View” of Arranged Marriages in India

The concept of marriage plays a significant role in traditional Indian culture. While I was growing up, my great grandmothers would tell me about how they had arranged marriages. About three generations ago and before, parents would force marriages on to their children. My great grandmothers did not see my great grandfathers until their wedding days; there was no option of refusing the marriage either. At first glance, arranged marriages give a false sense of equality among women and men.

Through considering Marilyn Frye’s analogy of a bird cage, the arranged marriage system in India needs to be examined through a “macroscopic view of the whole cage.” Before the man and woman actually meet, the woman is judged based on her looks and physical appearance from a photograph but not based on her educational experience, while the man is judged on his educational and professional expertise and wealth before considering his physical looks. The undertone that the woman’s education or profession is not important is the start of a traditional arranged marriage. The first step in an arranged marriage is for the man and his family to come to the woman’s house- the woman does not get to go to the man's house though. Then the woman is expected to serve the man and his family tea or lunch. After both sides agree to the marriage, the woman has to ask the man’s parents for blessings; however, the man is never asked to do this in return to the woman’s parents. Dowry is also a significant part of arranged marriages in a traditional Indian setting. The woman’s parents give dowry to the man’s family as a way of paying the man and his family to marry the woman. In addition, the entire cost of the marriage is bared by the woman’s family. Lastly, the woman understands that after the marriage she will have to give up her education or work and begin taking care of the house while the man continues to work and earn.

On the offset, arranged marriages seem equal to both men and women. However, after looking at the steps before the actual marriage takes place, the oppression of women has already started. These steps are the many tiny wires that form “the bird cage” or arranged marriage which unable the women in traditional Indian culture to break away from such oppression.

Over the years, such types of arranged marriages have become less frequent but the expectations and dowry for the women are still a prominent part of marriage in traditional Indian families. To this day, the inferiority of women still exists in Indian culture.

What is Feminism?

A simple, yet concrete definition of feminism by Bel Hooks provided a starting place in answering this when I asked myself the same question. Feminism “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (Hooks 1). It is not a movement that claims that men are the enemy, she asserts. Sexism, sexist thinking, and those that perpetuate it are the problem, not men as a whole. Feminism is in the business of waging a war against sexism to promote gender justice for all.

Recently, Lindsay asked me when I realized I was a feminist. Is feminism born, are there moments that create within us sparks that inflame us to be champions of justice? Perhaps, but my feminism was nurtured slowly by my parents. A woman of incredible strength, intelligence, and love-- this is often how I describe my mother to those who have not met her. Sparing you details shameful and painful, I realized that the relationship my mother shared with my father and the community was distorted, disgustingly wrong. She often opened my bedroom door long before daylight, wishing me a wonderful day and reminding me of things I needed for school that day. “Don’t forget your French horn, that book laying on the hearth, and remember that your sister will be picking you up from school today at 4:00. I love you.” She would return home late in the evening, having been working 14 hours alongside my father. He would watch television, smoke cigarettes which my mother hated (in the home she had decorated, helped pay for with her labor, cleaned, and maintained for so many years), and eat a dinner that either my mother or I had prepared for him-- some meal he liked, regardless of what anyone else in the house had preference for. She would continue her day when she returned home, cleaning the bathroom, doing laundry, feeding the dog or cattle, and weeding the vegetable garden. Yet she, the woman who I admired and loved more than anyone on earth, the same woman who worked harder than my father every day they were married-- this woman was not permitted to spend money on things she enjoyed or wanted. My mother was, in fact, permitted to do very little. As I grew older, hate and anger built in me toward everything my father represented: generations of male dominance over other human beings in something that society stupidly saw as being acceptable. In fact, my view on marriage when I was younger was that women were, in fact, legalized slaves to their husbands (perhaps it still is?). I could have been shorter here, but when we love someone who has been oppressed, spiritually, physically, and mentally beaten, words write themselves from our passion.

Can I be a feminist if I have a penis? This is a question I struggled greatly with at Rhodes. I wildly embraced feminist ideals while simultaneously feeling angry, diminished by the belief that feminists do not want my voice or action because I am male. I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty as a human being to embrace ideals that support humanity and community. Feminism is for everyone, not just women. It is not merely an academic study, but a duty to humanity that we raise consciousness so that we may discontinue our use of bars and begin realizing that difference in each of us is useful, powerful and natural.

What am I doing now? Many of my behaviors and thoughts before college were certainly chauvinistic, sexist, and clearly wrong. Even in my more-conscious state, I wield the bars of sexism swiftly and elegantly, usually without realizing I have done so. As my understanding of the mechanical, almost industrial (and certainly barbaric) mechanisms of sexism and oppression increase, I am more able to think before acting and speaking, making conscious choices of how to treat others. Feminist courses sometimes unnerve me because I am afraid of offending others because my frame of reference is clearly skewed as a male, but becoming more finely honed through conversation and interaction with my peers, and reading feminist theology (particularly useful because oppression and sexism have grown strong in many faith traditions and “good” theology can be intensely liberating for those individuals) and philosophy. What am I doing? I am standing beside you, as equals. I will no longer open doors for anyone unless they are in need of assistance, for door opening and all activities are equal opportunity activities. Each bar that I can stop myself from using, let me do it as I recognize and name them. Teach me when I step out of line, for I will make mistakes. This is our duty to each other as powerful, educated men and women: to stand together in our war against sexism and oppression, side by side.

Complacency: Enemy of Equality?

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the sex/gender system in the context of Marxist philosophy. Marx believed that in capitalist societies there exist two social classes, one dominant over the other; from a feminist perspective, men are the dominant class and women are the subordinate, oppressed, drones of capitalism. The world is still waiting to see Marx’s proletariat class rise up and revolt against the oppressive bourgeoisie; likewise, women have yet to stage a full-scale revolt against our oppressors. This is due to one aspect of Marxian philosophy we did not mention in class: Marx believed that religion (namely, Christianity) was a social construct created by the dominant class and that the beliefs and teachings of Christianity were intended (and worked) to keep the proletariat complacent in their subordinate positions. Religion kept the workers from revolting, because it helped them to find satisfaction in their lives as they were instead of seeking to overturn the system; they were blinded by their own oppression.

Patriarchy, historically, has functioned in the way same. Women have always been oppressed, but not until this past century or so did we begin to fight it. This is due to the fact that patriarchy, parallel to religion in Marx’s capitalism, has created social institutions that have enabled us (women) to feel more complacent in our situation. Some of the very structures that have been put in place to oppress us seem harmless and even beneficial. The problem is that instead of refusing these small indulgences that make our situation appear more bearable and give us the illusion of having some degree of power, we accept them, thus making us complicit in our own oppression.

The indulgences that I am referring to are what we know as “chivalry”—gestures and acts that men do for women under the guise of honor and respect that, when we accept them, reinforce our image as “the weaker sex.” Now, there are those women among us who make an active effort to prevent men from doing these things on the pretense of total equality of the sexes; but, for every Molly Bombardi who insists on opening her own doors, there are dozens of other women who are more than willing to accept acts of chivalry.

This is not to say that accepting chivalry makes a woman weak, or even disqualifies one as a feminist. I myself am not immune to it; I have, on many occasions throughout my life, allowed men to open doors for me, buy me a drink, pay for dinner, etc. Why? Because I like when they do it, and I think a vast majority of women agree—some may even feel as though it gives them the upper hand. Indeed, there are some benefits to be gained.

To illustrate my point, I turn to the world of pop culture and a television show called “30 Rock.” For those of you who have never seen it, I will try to set up the situation as briefly and clearly as possible. The show is written by Tina Fey who also stars as the main character Liz Lemon, who represents a strong, successful, independent woman. In one episode Liz finds herself in conflict with Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan), the eccentric star of the SNL-like variety show for which Liz is the head writer. Tracy and Liz get into an argument because he receives preferential treatment as a celebrity, and she as a woman. Both agree that they want to be treated like everyone else; thus, Liz begins to be treated like “one of the boys” by the other men on the show. This results in humorous situations from which Liz (as a woman) had previously been excluded, such as Liz’s first trip to a strip joint and her first experience with the male staff’s flatulence (yes, I mean that they stopped holding back farts in her presence). She realizes that she wants no part of these things, and she and Tracy agree to return to the natural order of things in which both gets preferential treatment. (The episode is titled, by the way, “The Natural Order.”)

[You can watch a two minute clip here http://www.hulu.com/watch/70864/30-rock-role-reversal or the full twenty-minute episode here http://www.watchfreeonline.net/watch/30-rock-season-3-episode-20-the-natural-order. Sorry, I don't know how to create a link, so you have to cut and paste.]

The point I am trying to make is this: even the strongest of women can appreciate the “special” treatment afforded her by men due to traditional beliefs and standards fabricated and perpetuated by our patriarchal society. Marx famously wrote, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Our chains are the chains of chivalry, and losing them brings us one step closer to egalitarianism between the sexes. Yet true equality and freedom comes with a price. As women we must acknowledge that we are treated unequally and that we are as guilty as allowing oppression to persist as are the men we blame for creating it. Ladies, are we ready to give up the small privileges we experience when men give us preferential treatment in order to live in a society free from oppression?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reverse Sexism and Reverse Racism

In our reading, Marilyn Frye, states that women as a whole are oppressed as woman, but men as a whole cannot be oppressed as men. (49) If a man treats a woman as weak because she is a woman, then he is sexist, but if a woman were to treat a man as inferior or to hate a man simply because he is a man that is not sexist.
To say this opens up another can of worms. It says that some people have the right to hate others while it is not okay for another group to hate. If women cannot be sexist against men, then one might as well say that black people cannot be racist against whites. Looking at it from both sides, I can see why some people would think this. In history, women and African Americans have been oppressed by men and whites, so it makes sense why women and African Americans would hate their oppressors. Though i can understand why some people might believe that, I cannot agree with it. Women and African Americans are not the only groups to have been oppressed. If racism is when a white person hates an African American person and so called reverse racism is when an African American hates a white person, where do the other cultures that have also been oppressed come in? Is it not racism if a Hispanic person hates an Asian person simply because that person is Asian? And if sexism is only the discrimination of women by men, and reverse sexism would be the discrimination of men by women, then where do hermaphrodites fit in. Can they be forced into a category of man or woman?
Sexism is not just men discriminating against women because they see women as the weaker sex. By definition, sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex. It does not say that women cannnot be sexist towards men. Likewise racism is not just whites hating African Americans because they are African Americans. By definition, racism is prejudice or discrimination based on race.
Personally, I do not believe in reverse sexism or reverse racism. This is because I do not believe there is a difference in sexism and reverse sexism or racism and reverse racism. If you discriminate against someone because of their sex then you are a sexist. If you discriminate against someone because of their race then you are a racist. Bottom line is discriminating against someone based on their sex, culture, race, or religious background is wrong no matter which way it goes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ideas on Marriage and Divorce

In her essay, Gayle Rubin defines marriage as a transaction of gifts (women) from one man to another. In this transaction, women do not hold a place of power as it is the men who become linked since they are partners in the exchange and the women are simply a "conduit of a relationship rather than a partner to it" (21). Rubin then goes on to claim that because marriage is seen as the exchange of women, "women are in no position to realize the benefits of their own circulation" (21). Thus, the institution of marriage as an economic structure should hold that men have certain "rights" to women that women do not have to themselves. Men make a profit from the institution of marriage, while women cannot profit in the same way because they are the objects of the exchange and not partners in it.

In class today we talked about how marriage can be seen as an economic structure. Rubin says that "marriage transactions -- the gifts and material which circulate in the ceremonies marking a marriage -- are a rich source of data for determining exactly who has which rights rights in whom. It is not difficult to deduce from such transactions that in most cases women's rights are considerably more residual than those of men" (22). Dowries and the tradition of the bride's family paying for the wedding (a modern take on a dowry) prove that women are not the subjects of the marriage, but are in fact objects being exchanged between the father of the bride and the groom. We also discussed how divorce proves that marriage is an economic transaction.

However, I feel that divorce in itself breaks down the idea of marriage as an exchange of women. "The exchange of women is a profound perception of a system in which women do not have full rights to themselves" (22). But during a divorce, it is (usually) the woman herself who is making a physical profit from the marriage, and taking on full rights to herself. If a marriage ends in divorce, not only is the woman a subject in the deal, rather than an object, but she is also gaining material from the man to whom she was given without having to return that material to the man that gave her away. In short, any compensation that a woman gains in a divorce belongs to her and not to her family. How does this fit into the idea of marriage as an exchange of women in which women are simply the objects of a transaction?

Males and Females in the Sex/Gender System

In her essay on the political economy of sex, Gayle Rubin makes a significant point when she writes of the Oedipal complex as “a machine which fashions the appropriate forms of sexual individual”(29). Such phrasing suggests that both sexes, male and female, are transformed from their natural state into something that they are not by the sex/gender system. Whether or not the Oedipal complex as Rubin outlines it is a reality, the process of “genderization” through society which it describes seems to me to be fact. Both sexes have artificial restrictions imposed on them by this impersonal and mechanical process.

Indeed, the universally restrictive nature of the gender construct can be found in all instances of societal division. Any time humans organize themselves into distinctions of “us” and “them”, whether it be racial, socio-economic, or gender based, such classification imposes restrictions on every resulting group, including the supposedly superior one. The history of racial segregation in the United States is a clear example of this principle. Although African Americans certainly suffered the most under segregation, white Americans, many of who believed that they were somehow benefitted by segregation, undoubtedly suffered as well. Whites were also restricted under this system, which on a most basic level prevented them from forming happy and meaningful relationships with an enormous number of their fellow Americans. Ironically, segregation, which was created by whites, actually put significant and unnatural restrictions on their daily lives.

The sex/gender system, although not as explicit as racial segregation in its restrictions, establishes implicit boundaries for behavior which are similarly unnatural. Furthermore, these boundaries adversely restrict both males and females. The gender construct certainly is more restrictive of females, but males are afflicted by it as well and it is important to recognize this as our class gets underway. I don’t know much about feminist theory, but I do know that there have been times in my life, as in every male’s life, when I have felt restricted by the behavior that is expected of me as a man.

I’m not arguing that feminist scholarship take pity on the plight of males under the gender construct, but simply that feminists should recognize that males may also have a vested interest in transcending the gender stereotypes. Studying the oppression of females without considering its negative effects on males is like studying segregation without recognizing the harm it brought to society as a whole – it is simply an incomplete understanding of the issue.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome to Class!

Welcome to the blog-home for Dr. Johnson's Feminist Philosophy/Feminist Theory class at Rhodes College. Some of you will be taking this class as a Philosophy course (PHIL 365) and others of you will be enrolled in the Gender and Secuality Studies "capstone" course (GSST 400), but we will all be meeting at the same time and place, and doing the same work. In an effort to maintain an uninterrupted conversation about our subject matter, as well as to save a few trees, all of the students in this course will complete a large portion of their writing assignments via this blog.

Blog-writing differs in significant ways than the "normal" writing you might be assigned to do in a regular course. For one thing, your writing here will be public, which means that your fellow classmates will be able to read your remarks and comment on the merits and demerits of your ideas. Additionally, the abbreviated format of blog-writing will require you to distill your thoughts into concise and pointed prose. Learning how to condense complex concepts into a limited number of crystal-clear sentences is a difficult, but eminently valuable, skill that we will all aim to develop in this course. Finally, it is important to remember that blogs are in many ways simply a written form of conversation. As such, all of the rules of regular conversation apply to the written conversations that will take place here, including most importantly the necessity for mutual respect and consideration among interlocutors. (I refer you to A Blogger's Code of Ethics and Weblog Ethics, both of which offer valuable insights on how to monitor your participation in blog conversations.)

I encourage all of the students in this course to actively participate in this blog above and beyond their "required" participation. Take advantage of the opportunity to comment on your classmates' ideas or to reflect on themes and discussions that happen in class. Together, we will take philosophy into the 21st century!