Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Recently, on Facebook, I saw two posts on different pages that expressed a typical feminist view of women, which I find woefully naive.

Namely, both pages put forth the idea that increased female involvement in two different types of situations would have brought about a totally different and better outcome.

The first page put forth the notion that had there been more female police officers in Ferguson, Missouri during the demonstrations following the shooting of Michael Brown, the situation would have turned out much differently.

The second page posted a quote from Coretta Scott King, which expressed the idea that if just 10 percent more women voted, there would be an end to budget cuts to programs benefiting women and children.


While I sympathize with the benign intentions of those who assert these ideas, such ideas are naive and don’t take human nature (which isn’t sex-specific) into account.

Such notions stem from the strain of feminism known as gender essentialist or “difference feminism”, best represented by the work of feminist Carol Gilligan.

In short, gender essentialist feminism agrees with conservatives that gender roles are innate, but part ways with them in asserting that stereotyped “femininity” is not inferior to stereotyped “masculinity” and is, in some ways, superior and that women should celebrate and value such differences. It also asserts that women, simply for the fact of being female, have something special and different to offer in public life than men do.

But women are not special snowflakes with superior capacity for caring, morals, or ethics. That’s a terribly heavy burden place on an entire group of people who are, at base, just as fallibly human as men are.

We are no more all alike than men are. We run the gamut of personality, character, and political opinions and are just as likely to vote against our own interests, be racist, and have a mix of character flaws and virtues, just like men do. Character and the lack thereof are not sex-linked traits.

I think the feminist Carol Tavris had a much better handle on the matter when she stated that “women are not the better sex, the inferior sex, or the opposite sex” in her 1992 book, “The Mismeasure of Woman”.

In other words, women are just as fallibly human as men are and there is very little you can reliably predict about how any individual woman will act, believe, feel, or say based on just her sex alone.  Like men, we are not generic representatives of our sex.


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Recently, I’ve been reading news stories about a woman who was prevented from boarding an American Airlines flight because the airline objected to what she was wearing.  Judging from the headlines alone, one would be led to believe that the airline had objected to the woman’s T-shirt simply because a pro-choice sentiment was printed on it.  Searching on Yahoo for articles about this incident, I found several headlines that conveyed this idea:

Woman Kicked Off Plane For Wearing Pro-Choice T-Shirt 

Women Kicked Off Airplane For Pro-Choice Shirt

American Airlines Rejects Female Passenger Because Political Pro-Choice T-Shirt Is ‘Inappropriate’

Woman in a Pro-Choice T-Shirt Not Allowed to Board Her Flight

And so on.

Naturally, such an incident would generate widespread ire among pro-choice advocates and those advocating free speech in general.  Indeed, the sharing of articles about this incident has gone viral on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and has no doubt inspired many blog posts.

But when I clicked on such articles that included a photo of the t-shirt in question, I immediately saw that the headlines had been misleading:

Seeing the T-shirt makes it rather obvious that the problem American Airlines had with the shirt had little or nothing to do with the sentiment expressed, and everything to do with the F-bomb in the middle of it.  Indeed, after seeing the word “fuck”, they probably didn’t bother to read the rest of it, as that one word was enough to make it offensive according to their guidelines.

Thus, the headlines are misleading because she was not denied entry to the plane because she is pro-choice, but, rather, how she chose to express that opinion.

It still could be argued that this is a free speech issue, but I’m guessing that a headline reading, “Women Kicked Off Plane for Wearing F-Bomb T-Shirt” wouldn’t have generated anything near the amount of ire and publicity that using “Pro-Choice” in place of “F-Bomb” did.  After all, too many people would be able to understand the airlines’ position then, as many people traveling with children would have no doubt been offended by seeing the F-Bomb on someone’s clothing,  It’s reasonable that the airline would choose to avoid such a problem.

I think it’s wrong to mislead people as to what the actual issue is.  If people want to protest that she has a right to wear a shirt printed with expletives on a plane and in other public places,  that would have been fine.  But let’s give readers the real story, so they know just what they’re arguing about, fully informed.  As a pro-choice liberal, I resent being manipulated and I especially don’t want to give anti-choice conservatives any ammunition to use against us.

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Rush Limbaugh’s recent example of foot-in-mouth disease, where he referred to Sandra Fluke as a “slut”, is a classic example of the Madonna/Whore complex.   This is probably one of the most schizophrenic types of sexism, in my view, because men who display this attitude are ultimately screwing themselves.

It would be safe to say that nearly all heterosexual men enjoy having frequent sex with women.  Yet, through religion and other means, they have stigmatized women who are as eager as they and who approach sexual matters in the same fashion as most men do.

For thousands of years, women have been divided into two categories.  There were the “good” women who restrained themselves sexually and who were celibate when single.  These are the type of women such men seek to marry and whom they bestow what they consider to be respect.  The problem with this has traditionally been that many such women who have played by the rules and squashed their sexual desires have often, in years past, remained inhibited even after marriage.  Quite a few women found it difficult to “flip the switch” once they had that magical marriage license in hand. Many saw sex mainly as a duty; something that’s necessary to have children and to keep their husbands appeased.   Though much less prevalent now than in centuries past, it still exists often enough to  be worth commenting on.  This phenomenon is the source of the trite, sexist quotation, “Women give sex to get love; men give love to get sex”.

Then there were the “bad” women; basically the ones who have approached sex like men do and enjoy it for its own sake and those who openly viewed it as a commodity. These are the women who have engaged in non-marital sex, whether or not there is a possibility of a future marriage with their partners. For a sizable minority of men who bought  into the Madonna/Whore complex in centuries past, this even included married women who initiated sex with their husbands instead of  following his lead and seemed to enjoy it “too much”.  Most “bad” women were typically the prostitutes and mistresses and married women who had affairs.  But even women who had been raped or those who had been seduced by  their suitors who then declined to marry them, were considered “ruined” and no longer marriageable.

The original reasons for restricting the sexual expression of women are correlated with religion, but probably were for mostly practical reasons relating to ancient humans settling down into farming communities and the introduction of the ideas of private property and inheritance.

That is, ancient men wanted to make sure that the children they passed their property down to were actually theirs.  Because there was no reliable method for determining paternity in the ancient world, the only way to do this was to restrict the sexuality of women.  This is why women have traditionally been punished for having sex with any man but her legal husband and men have been mostly winked at for straying from their marriage vows.

Naturally, such a system had drawbacks for men, too.   With wives culturally required to regard sex as a duty and with no reliable birth control, horny men who wanted more sex, more lusty sex, and/or who wanted to limit their family size, for whatever reason, had to find other outlets.  Add to this, that many men had the idea that it was wrong to subject their wives, the ones they respected, to passionate sex.   Single men who wished to avoid “ruining” a “respectable” woman also had to find an alternative as well.

Thus, they turned to prostitutes and mistresses.

And this is where the schizophrenia comes in.  These were the women who provided a service for men, who provided a release from the corner they’d painted themselves into when they’d imposed rules to restrain the sexuality of women.  One would think that they would have been grateful to such women for providing a ready sexual outlet.

But, instead, they have reviled and scorned these women; women who gave them what they wanted, even knowing that the alternative would mean much less sex for them.  On the flip side, they “respected” the “good” women, but that didn’t stop them from dallying with the “bad” ones.  It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

One would also think that the fact that the original reason for restricting the sexuality of women no longer exists, now that we have effective birth control and can reliably determine paternity, would have extinguished the Madonna/Whore complex.  Granted, it has lessened to a great degree since the 2oth century.   And it would seem that men with any sense at all would fervently support the wide availability of cheap birth control, not wanting to ever return to the days where every sexual encounter with a woman was playing baby Russian Roulette.

But Limbaugh and others of his ilk, have proven that the Madonna/Whore complex still has a lot of life in it yet, despite its utter lack of logic and sense for both sexes.

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The French government has recently announced that women will no longer be required to indicate their marital status on official documents by identifying themselves as Madame or Mademoiselle.  Prime Minister Francois Fillion ordered that Mademoiselle, used to denote a single woman, was no longer to be used and that all women, regardless of marital status, would henceforth be known as “Madame”.  This ruling came after French feminists had campaigned for years for its removal.

It was also announced that the term “maiden name” would be replaced with “family name” on all official document forms.

As I said in a recent post about courtesy titles, I prefer the re-purposing of existing forms of address to solve the issue of  having a title for women that indicates sex alone without also indicating marital status to the creation of a new title for that purpose.  I won’t rehash that argument again here, except to say that the creation of Ms is to courtesy title equity what civil unions are to the cause of same sex marriage.

I’m glad that the French chose to follow the German example of re-purposing existing titles, rather than the awkward English speaking solution of making up a brand new title.  The Germans did what the French are now doing forty years ago and it’s worked out well for them. It’s too bad we can’t go back and do it this way, too.

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Now that  we’re well ensconced in the 21st century, it’s astounded and disheartened me that not only are the right wingers continuing their campaign to chip away at abortion rights, as they’ve been doing since 1973; they are now targeting birth control as well.

The Virginia legislature has passed a bill that would compel women seeking abortions to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound.  In my opinion, the purpose of this unnecessary penetration is simply to induce shame and humiliation, in the hopes of discouraging women from getting an abortion at all.

Similarly, fetal “personhood” bills have been introduced in a few states that would give a fertilized egg full human rights, which would have the result of making some forms of birth control illegal.

To get an idea of the mindset behind these campaigns, billionaire Santorum backer Foster Friess said in defense of Santorum’s opposition to birth control, “This contraception thing, my gosh it’s so inexpensive. Back in my day they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives, the gals (sic)  put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Seriously?  Someone is making comments like that in 2012?

Perhaps the most chilling thing was last week’s House hearings about insurance coverage of birth control, at which no women were able to testify; who are the only people who would be affected by such a law.

And in the most recent example of anti-woman batshittery,  Indiana Republican Rep. Bob Morris has attacked the Girl Scouts.  Yes, the Girl Scouts, a hundred year old girls’ organization long respected by nearly all Americans, regardless of their political beliefs.  Voting against a resolution that would honor the organization on its 100th anniversary. Morris said the Girl Scouts were a “tactical arm” of Planned Parenthood, and are “bent on promoting communism, lesbianism and subverting “traditional American family values.”   Shades of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson much?

So far as abortion and birth control are concerned, one would think that someone who deplores abortion would support birth control because the proper use of birth control drastically reduces the number of abortions, as women who use it don’t get pregnant in the first place.

The birth control pill is also used to regulate a variety of women’s health issues, some of which can be debilitating if left untreated — it’s not just to prevent pregnancy.  Planned Parenthood also offers preventive measures against STDs as well as treatment, with only 3% of its budget going to abortion services.

But opposition to abortion and birth control isn’t really about saving babies.  Rather the unstated goal is to remove a woman’s control over her own fertility.  Much of the discrimination against women has generally been based on the fact that, until the 2oth century, women were at the mercy of their reproductive systems for much of their adult lives, which gave men an excuse to discriminate against them in activities that took them away from their roles as mothers.

After World War II and especially after the 1965 Supreme Court ruling that removed bans on contraception and the 1973 ruling that made safe abortion legal, the skids were kicked out from under most of the reasons for sex discrimination.  Those on the right wing quickly understood that the key to the independence of women and the freedom for women to deal with men and society on their own terms rested on the ability to control their fertility, hence the push to remove this control.

What some of them don’t realize though, is that there’s a downside to this for men, too.  I can’t imagine that many men are keen to return to the days when any sexual encounter with a woman could result in a baby.  And this isn’t just the men in bars seeking one night stands.  It’s the married fathers who can’t afford to support another child, and the ones who, along with their wives, have decided that they just don’t want more — or any at all.

In a faltering economy on a planet groaning with overpopulation, to restrict or deny women access to contraception or abortion isn’t just sexist, it’s shameful and irresponsible.

Similarly, Bob Morris’ condemnation of the Girl Scouts indicates that  he hates them because they teach girls to think for themselves and that they can grow up to be whatever they choose to work to be, instead of indoctrinating them into being future Stepford Wives. It’s also interesting that he’s not accusing the Boy Scouts of turning boys gay, but that’s the old double standard at work again.

At this point, I’d not be surprised if they tried to have a woman’s right to vote rescinded next.  To those who think this is totally farfetched, I will leave you with a quote from Ann Coulter:

If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I’m guessing she’s thinking they’d make an exception for her or that she doesn’t consider herself a woman.

In any instance the bar for batshittery seems to getting lower all the time.

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Up until the late 1960s, all English speaking women used courtesy titles that indicated their marital status: Miss or Mrs, while all men, regardless of marital status, used Mr.  Feminists of this time  pointed out the inequality of such a system where a man’s title simply denoted his sex, while women’s titles denoted her relationship to a man or lack thereof, along with her sex.  To correct this lopsided situation, the title “Ms” was invented to correspond to Mr in that it would refer only to a woman’s sex, regardless of marital status.  I’m guessing the idea was that Ms would eventually replace Mrs and Miss, with these older titles gradually fading away through disuse.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out quite like that.  Ms caught on fairly quickly with younger single women and those of a liberal bent, but many married women of more conservative leanings much preferred the traditional title of Mrs.  Similarly, many older women who had never married clung to Miss.  In the entertainment arena, there had been a long tradition of calling all female celebrities Miss, a practice that is still quite common.

Now, more than forty years after the introduction of Ms,  Mrs and Miss are still going strong, though Ms is now firmly established, despite courtesy titles being used less often in daily life nowadays.  Though usage varies in different countries, regions, classes, ages, and social groups, the way it’s generally panned out is that Ms has largely replaced Miss for adult single women and is used by most divorced women.  Though Ms enjoys some usage among married women, Mrs is still widely used.

So, instead of having one title for all women, as was originally intended, we now have three.  And this brings the inevitable hassle of not knowing which one to use with a woman unless we ask her preference.  For men, it’s business as usual: one title for all men, with no hassles at all.

So, it’s still a lopsided system, despite the efforts of well-meaning people.

Along the same time that Ms was invented, German speaking countries came up with their own solution to this dilemma.  Instead of inventing a new title to add to the two already existing ones, they decided to re-purpose the ones they already had: Frau and Fraulein.   As in English, these titles originally distinguished between married and single women.  Around 1970 or so, it was decided that women’s titles would be based on age, rather than marital status, so all adult women would henceforth be referred to as Frau, while Fraulein would be only for girls.  It’s worked beautifully since that time.

I think English speaking countries would have done better if we’d followed the German pattern.  Re-purposing the existing titles to refer to age rather than marital status would have immediately created an equitable parallel to men, where Mr is for all adult men and the older, less-used title of Master was meant for boys.  There would be no hassle in trying to figure out which title a woman preferred, and it would likely have created less resistance among those of a more conservative bent, considering they were old established titles.

There is even a precedent in English for basing women’s titles on age, rather than strictly by marital status.  Up until the late 18th century, early 19th century, it was not at all uncommon to call women past a certain age Mistress, which is the word that the title Mrs is an abbreviation of. (That’s where that R comes from!).  At that time, Mistress was simply the female version of Mister, without any of the salacious connotations that it has today.

But I’m guessing it’s rather too late to switch to the common sense German system now.  It’s been more than forty years, so I suppose we’re stuck with the awkward, unwieldy, still-lopsided system of three titles for women and still just one for men.

Pity, really.


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