Friday, May 7, 2010

Costumed Pageantry in the Birdcage

Given the recent prevalence of the birdcage metaphor and our discussion of the autonomous pop-star-feminist, here is the worst possible combination that I have found.

At a certain point in the song, emphasizing (ad nauseum) her unbridled nature, Cyrus sings that her condition is not the result of faking this "strong woman" status but rather that it is in her DNA. It is indeed fascinating what passes for music these days, what is immediately absorbed into the populace as "art," and the degree of suggestibility many of us embody. No doubt Cyrus has been taking notes on the "strange" trend in pop music, to be flashy and oddly sexual, "singing" repetitively over synth tracks in strange costumes. Embracing the "rock star" persona lauded by Lady GaGa in interviews would seem to be the road to popularity. While some find it disgusting, especially in male musicians, perhaps this version of "autonomy" must come at the expense of meaningful music.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How Far We've Come

In light of reflection on my experiences in this class and what I have taken away from it, I thought it would be interesting to compare the concepts, theories, and ideas that we have discussed this semester to past conventional notions in sex and gender studies. To do this I skimmed through a few chapters from an introductory sociology textbook that my father used in college in 1979. I thought it would be interesting to see how far the feminist movement has come in the past thirty years, to see what we have accomplished. My findings, while not surprising, were slightly disheartening. See for yourself:

Negative Aspects of Womanhood:

“The situation of American women today is ambiguous, and that ambiguity is reflected in the law: for example, legislation that removes barriers to women’s equality exists side by side with other laws or court decisions that seek to protect women as though they were still the ‘weaker sex’” (154).

This is still true today, and the issue is far from being resolved. We can see evidence of this in the ongoing debate about abortion and a woman’s right to choose. See Leah’s blog post “Oh Noklahoma” for an example.

“A capacity for sympathy, caring, love, and compassion . . . is central to the female role in America. Women are associated with nurturant and life-preserving activities, such as bearing children and taking care of the helpless and the ailing. Stroking—building up another person’s ego by downplaying one’s own talents—is one of woman’s chief functions” (154).

The book maintains this stance despite its extensive coverage of the differences between sex and gender and the nature/nurture debate. Today’s version of the “caregiver” versus “justice” models (and the association of women with the former and men with the latter) is simply a recapitulation of these same ideas. That our current literature leaves out the “stroking” aspect testifies to some degree of progress, in that it seems that we now accept that women do not have to minimize their own positive qualities so as to reinforce the man’s conception of himself as dominant.

“Benefits” of the Female Role:

“Although increasingly large numbers of women are entering the work force all the time, many women are not obliged to work thirty-five or forty hours a week to provide for others. Furthermore, they have the legal right to claim support from their husbands . . . Of course, women do work, but employment, though perhaps an economic necessity, is not yet a moral duty for most women” (156).

This statement could be contested on the grounds that it appears to only consider the experiences of middle to upper class women; however, so could many of the selections we’ve read this semester. With that said, this implies that, as women, we do not have to feel morally obligated to get a job to support the family. Yet, two further assumptions can be made: men are morally obligated to work outside the home, and women are morally obligated to do the opposite, that is, perform domestic duties. This reinforces women’s vulnerability in marriage; in a way it encourages that vulnerability. Unfortunately, I do not see a significant change in this attitude in the past three decades either.

“The sphere of intimacy and close human contact is more accessible to women; the expression of nurturance, warmth, and sympathy, which is to some extent denied men in our society, can be its own reward” (156).

Here we are plagued by an understanding of the caregiver role as inherently feminine and thus fulfilling to women. The risk we run by making a statement like this is the implication that care giving should be its own reward, and should be delegated to women because it is rewarding to us. Theorists today I think would argue against this, saying that society as a whole needs to be involved in care giving.

Projections for the Future:

“The traditional roles of wife/homemaker/mother and husband/breadwinner/father are no longer givens. Although more and more people today accept that women have a right to pursue a career, we have not, as a society, resolved the question of who is going to take care of the children . . . So to a large extent today, the absence of clear models forces couples to define their roles as husband and wife on their own” (133).

“Although women are entering the work force in larger numbers, they are still over-represented in low-paying jobs, and they still aren’t earning equal pay for equal work . . . in 1976 [women] earned only 60 percent [of a man’s income]” (159).

These two statements, to me, are somewhat depressing. The first, written over thirty years ago, could just as well appear in an article on family roles today. The “absence of clear models” is even more apparent today as we see even more incarnations of the family becoming accepted and normalized, yet still we cling to the idealized model of the two parent-three child nuclear family. The sooner our society lets go of the need to have a clear “model” of what the family should be, the more open the road to progress will become. The second statement shows that, in over thirty years of fighting for equal pay/equal work, we have only gained about 10 cents on the dollar compared to men’s salaries. While this does show progress, it is denigrating that we still hover around that 2/3 mark.

“The traditional stereotypes of women as mothers and wives first, and of men as worker-breadwinners, persist. For many women, this means they must graft new responsibilities onto the old, becoming not more equal, only more tired” (168).

The entrance of women into the workforce, at a rate of compensation inferior to that of men, and the unrelenting expectations of women to fulfill domestic duties are issues that are just as problematic now as they were three decades ago. This shows stagnation in the fight for full equality. Why are we still fighting the same battles that our mothers’ generation supposedly won? Have women become more equal to men? Or have our small “victories,” which for many women have resulted in an endless string of household duties compounded instead of alleviated by career aspirations, caused us to lose sight of our ultimate goals of self-definition, autonomy, and freedom from the oppression of patriarchy?

Source: Light, Jr., Donald, and Suzanne Keller. 1979. Sociology, 2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Care Ethics is Egoism In a Bow Tie

I know this is a throw back but i felt Like blogging about Care Ethics Again.

Care Ethics might try to sound all noble, and it may try to argue that it is a devotion to other people, however in reality it is merely Egoism dressed up in nice clothes. Egoism is a belief that ones actions are morally good if they work in one ’s self interest. While it is true that care ethics argues that we should do our best to help our loved ones, egoism can make the same claim. An egoist is allowed to help others for their own self interest. Also because care ethics focuses on one’s own family and friends; it seems to be a little bit more like egoism. An egoist will help others out of their own interest and possibly love for the people they know. Care ethics permits people to ignore the needs of strangers. Care ethics tells people to help their loved ones, it tells people they should help those that they really already want to help while allowing them to ignore the needs of strangers. This is mere egoism, egoism would tell people to help those they have interest in, and that the needs of strangers are not necessarily important.

People have a notion that egoism is an ethic of backstabbing loneliness, however it is possible for an egoist to care about others. As long as your care is rooted in your own interest, you can care about them. Think about it, you help those you love because you are interested in them, and you want to keep them with you. Egoists argue that there is no collective mind, that we shouldn’t try to help people as if they are one group and one mind. It argues that we should look toward our own interest because the only way we can feel happiness is through ourselves. So if we help others we should only help those we have interest in because of your interest in them. We can feel pleasure by helping our loved ones because they will reciprocate and give us pleasure. Would anyone in a care ethic system continue helping and loving someone who never reciprocates the care and treats them like dirt, probably not. Care ethics, or at least Nodding’s version, also makes arguments about helping others as if they were a group being bad, that we need a personal relationship with them first. This seems more like egoism because it tries to hope the system you set up has reciprocation of care. This is mere egoism.

The only real way people can even make a good claim to not be working in their own self interest is when looking at people who help others despite their desires because of their sense of duty. Universal ideas of justice are the only possible way to escape an egoist ethic; unless you are a Freudian in which case there is no way to escape. By helping those you did not know about, you are able to escape accusation of selfishness, because helping a stranger usually won’t help you. People who argue for care ethics are merely arguing for a system of selfishness.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Model Behavior

Nancy Fraser’s After the Family Wage: Gender Equity and the Welfare State to be very thought provoking. It raised some interesting questions for me as I considered how unfairly women in the work place are treated. As a woman I know firsthand that I have to work twice as hard just to compete with my male counterparts. I never understood why. I’ve always been under the impression that I was just as capable as any man and never quite understood the logic of penalizing a person because of their sex.

I thought Fraser’s piece was really interesting because it not only offered options on how to elevate that financial earning ability of women but also presents the areas in which they would be successful and those where they would lack. The breadwinner model, in my opinion, would be the closest to a feasible solution to the disparity in men’s and women’s wages. I think it would be harder to totally undermine the system, as patriarchal as it may be, and reconstruct it so that women’s unpaid labor is now paid and given more dignity. Granted, I do think that work in the home and care responsibilities are highly under appreciated, I don’t quite think that I would personally want to be paid for cleaning a house that I reside in or taking care of the family that I chose to create. I think it’s all in principle to me. The same goes for taking care of a sick family member. I’m just thinking of having to take care of a parent; my mother didn’t get paid for taking care of me for 18 years, so why would I feel the necessity for compensation for taking on caring for her should she need it?

It seems that it would just be easier to raise wages for women so that they are equal to men and then base one’s salary on the work that they put forth. Both of the models that Fraser presents are very idealistic, as she admits, but also flawed. Neither of the models fully speaks to the woman’s condition in terms of work. It also leaves out those of minority groups. The target of the breadwinner and care models is middle class white women. Now it is far more common for women across many different categorizations to seek employment that is equal to their male counterparts. The social and economic locations of women very to such a degree that something needs to be done to cater to them more generally. I think by starting with what seems to be most pragmatic we can begin reforming the way women’s labor is conceived while not totally trying to deconstruct and reconstruct the system at once.

Where do we go from here?

I feel enlightened. Do you? I am sure that this class has opened the minds of many of the people who have been present throughout this semester. From discussions about health care to discussions about gay marriage, we have all probably heard viewpoints that differed from our own. We have all been forced to reevaluate or defend some point of view that we have held. We have been forced to think long and hard about issues that plague our society… issues that no one has really asked us to think about before.

We have discussed so many things theoretically in this class. Perhaps, this is the biggest problem and most significant complaint that I have had with this class. I am the type of person who hears something and wonders what I can do to change the status quo. While this class has forced me to think critically about gender and sexuality in our society, it has not told me what I can do personally to challenge these notions that are so prevalent in our society. I have often been left wondering: How do I go from the theoretical to the practical? How do I transform my thoughts into action? Do I go back to the status quo? Do I choose to continually accept the way things are? Where do I go from here?

Perhaps that is one of the greatest downfalls for our generation. We wait for other people to tell us what we should do. We wait for classes to tell us what our next steps should be. The class has done what it was supposed to do: it enlightened me. It is up to me to use this knowledge for the benefit of future generations. It is up to me to be unsatisfied with the way things are. It is up to me to decide that I can no longer dismiss the notions that I have been taught. This class has provided me with the ammunition to back up my claims. It is up to me to do the rest.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The "Other" Problem

The word “other” has come up in many of the essays we have read this semester. I first began to have an issue with the use of this word in my German 242 class, the Holocaust in text, image, and memory. Here the word “other was used to describe the Jewish people. The Jews were seen as everything the “norm” was not or did not want to be. For example, if the norm was to be sharing, the Jewish person was portrayed as selfish. Since hearing this, the word other used to describe people who are not what is deemed the norm has a very negative connotation to me. In the male dominated world, men are the strong, rational, hardworking men who provide for himself or his family. Women on the other hand, are weak, emotionally unstable, and should stay at home and take care of the husband and children, basically the things men see as being below themselves. I believe this is what the feminist movement as well as any movement that attempts to overcome oppression is trying to do, they are trying to eliminate the concept of “other.” The goal is to acknowledge that people are different, but try to unite on some common ground. However, I do not believe that the feminist movement will ever be truly successful until it corrects the “other” problem within the female order. Most feminist do not think in terms of the poor or of women of different ethnicities. This is where conflict within the oppressed group starts.

The feminist movement will forever be in a push/pull dynamic as long as there is an ongoing push/pull within the group. “Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between and individual and her oppression…community does not mean a shedding of differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” (Lorde 50) Ignoring the problem never makes it go away. For middle class, upper class, and rich white women to pretending that everything is on equal playing ground and that all women are fighting against the same inequalities is a stone waiting to drop in a glass house. It’s the same thinking the male oppressors have when trying to deny that there is anything wrong with the way things are as of now. “The failure of academic feminist 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.” (Lorde 50) I believe recognizing the differences between women and finding strength where the oppressor finds weakness is the way to begin to eliminate the “other” problem.

Autonomy and Vulnerability in the movie “This Christmas”

Reading the title alone, you would think that the movie “This Christmas” was simply about the ups and downs of a Christmas holiday. Well…it is, but after reading Marilyn Friedman’s’ “Autonomy, Social Disruptions, and Women,” and Susan Orkin’s “Vulnerability by Marriage,” I began noticing things that I hadn’t before. The movie is about a black family who comes together for the holidays. Needless to say, there is a lot of tension and drama that takes place over the period of three days. Two issues stood out to me the most when looking back at the movie. First was the dynamics of the family as a whole, and second was the relationship the oldest sister had with her husband.
In Marilyn Friedman’s essay, she points out that autonomy in men is something that is encouraged and praised for the most part. In women, autonomy can disrupt relationships and cause more harm than good. In the movie, the matriarch of the group, Madear, is separated from the father of her six children, Senior, and is living with her present beau, Joe, in her family home. It is known early in the movie that the patriarch of the family has been gone for nearly 18 years. He left his wife and children to pursue his true passion, music. Throughout the movie no one really seems angry or bitter that the father has left. I’m not sure if everything is okay because Joe stepped in and was a father and provider to the crew or if they just accepted their father’s autonomous need. Either way I feel that this coincides with Friedman’s accretion of autonomy being okay for men.
The eldest daughter, Lisa, is married with two children. It is obvious very quickly that Lisa is not a strong figure in her household. Lisa did not go to college and because of this feels insecure when it comes to her husband who is the bread winner. Because her husband works and provides for her and the children, Lisa lets him treat her however he chooses. During on of the dinners, Lisa’s husband constantly asks her to do pointless mundane tasks and Lisa keeps defending him. Her husband asks her to reheat his food even though it has just been served and is still worm. One of Lisa’s sisters complains, but Lisa says that it’s okay because “he likes his food really hot.” Then she proceeds to cut up his food for him. Later on you realize that Lisa’s husband is cheating on her, but Lisa already knows and ignores it. She is scared of starting over again after having two children and being married for so long, so she is willing to stay in the marriage even though she isn’t happy. Susan Orkin’s essay says that one of the ways women can be made vulnerable in their marriage is because the husband is usually the bread winner and the women would have nothing to fall back on if they left the marriage. Lisa is an example of this. However, in the end we also see the positive side of Friedman’s autonomy in women when Lisa decides that she needs to sever the tie between her and her husband and move on with her children.
If you have never seen this movie, I would recommend it. You may see more things involved in this movie than I did.