Friday, April 14, 2006

What on earth is wrong with being a feminist?

For years now, like the murmur of tiny little voices, I have heard references to young women recoiling in horror if the "f" word was mentioned. "Oh no, I'm not a "feminist" or anything like that" has apparently long been a popular refrain with the younger set. I'll be honest here. I don't have the highest opinion of many of my fellow creatures, and young, college-age girls whose opinions or trends are reported in the newspapers, unfortunately, don't strike me as being ... well ... anything to care about in the least. (Although Britney and Paris really are fascinating life models. Honest.) But I have read the reports. And I have wondered. What on earth is wrong with being a feminist? I came to the silicon valley around 1980. And because I did that, I got a glimpse, a whiff, of what life had been like for the sisters (yes, sisters) who entered the workforce before me. You know what? Those women went through hell to pave the way for the rest of us. And being a feminist MIGHT conceivably be considered as a really good way of giving them the nod, of thanking them. Here's an article about young women in Saudi Arabia who are just starting to think of women's rights. Women's rights. Doesn't it sound almost archaic now? And apparently the only people to mention feminism nowadays are the right-wing harridans looking for something to be against. (I heard Dr. Laura berating them the other day.) Um... the right wing's message is what? Feminists hate men? Give me a break. I haven't met a feminist in about 28 years who claims to hate men. Who claims to hate men? Girls in their twenties, that's who usually claim to hate men, for heaven's sake. I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about what feminism has done for us all. In 1980, I was doing technical illustration in my first job out of college. In those days, the workers in the technical areas came straight out of the military. I remember deciding to "hang out" with the guys in my department one day. That was fine with them. They let me come along - to the strip joint down the street, where they ate sandwiches, watched the strippers, and some of them got their checks cashed at the bar. Not comfortable. I remember an early job interview in the eighties. The guy looked at me (dressed in full business suit, pumps, probably even with one of those nasty little bows at my neck), and said "have you ever fixed your car?" Um, no. Didn't get that job. It was fine to have things like pinups on the walls of some offices (this depended on the company, of course - the silicon valley was much more rollicking back then). And I happen to know that the stripper thing wasn't an isolated incident at all. It was fairly routine for managers to take engineers out to strip joints and so forth. Guy's club. "Huuuyuuuh" (insert some guy noise) It wasn't that women were hated. It wasn't that women were disliked. Heck, everybody likes certain body parts, right? It was that women's roles were: schoolgirl, hot babe, slut, mommy, principal, grandma, wizened old (probably sex-starved) unmarried woman, and so forth. Professional women were mostly secretaries. And they were good at getting coffee. There were some other women, but being a woman was practically a blue-collar occupation in the olden days. And the women who broke through those barriers were really tough. I laud them. Nowadays, and I want you all to really listen to this: Nowadays, you can be a professional woman without putting on a suit of armor, and you can be more yourself than some puffed up "professional woman." Sure, you have to be professional, but you are allowed to own more feminine attributes - they're not seen as harbingers of emotional breakdown. Because some of the women who are now still larger than life and in their sixties worked for years, often wearing the *worst* clothes, to establish "female cred," the workforce finally "got it." Ohhhhhhh. Huh. I guess that it *doesn't* matter if you have boobs. You *can* use your brain for more than typing, huh? Do any of the young, feminism-rescinders out there realize that you could, in the "olden" days, have a MA from MIT in computer design and if you ever DID get a job, you would be expected to just type for your department? Forever? Until you met and married some nice man and stayed home to ... turn into an alcoholic or something? Several years ago, I bought a copy of "Free to Be You and Me" for my kid. "It's classic," I thought. I listened to it and it blew me away. So much of it was about how it was "OK if a mommy wants to be a lineman." Over and over again. Telling kids that it was OK if women worked in jobs that were traditional guy jobs. I found myself thinking "Big Duh. It's not rocket science that a woman can be a policeman." But it WAS back then, folks. It was back then. It's still tough on the younger women coming in, but as I drive down the street I see young women policemen, young women Cal-Trans workers, young women in construction gear. Is that cool or what? Do any of the "oooh, ick" non-feminists realize that years ago they just flat-out weren't allowed to have certain types of jobs? And, of course, that as a woman, you were paid a pittance. Money and power. Money and power. I'm out of time. Gosh. No time to mention that culturally in the fifties and sixties, it was pretty acceptable to walk away from your "downer" wife and kids without paying child support (at least in the eyes of the law.) I believe that it was in the seventies that the child support laws were established, which helped many of us who grew up during that time. And how about the fact that because of feminism, men are much more involved now in raising their children. You see, in the rigid role-bound culture of the fifties, Dad's role was "with the guys." In the 2000's, it's OK for Dad's role to be with his family, and as a family face what needs to be done financially. Stridency is a natural stage when a group of people are fighting for a new social status. And yes, feminists were strident. Guess what, our "sisters" were also strident when they demanded the vote! (Thank you for that.) Anybody who wants to do something differently in a society is strident. Get over it. Adrienne Rich ,example poem, once referred to feminism, or "women's liberation" as she preferred to call it, as "potentially the ultimate democratizing force": "It is fundamentally anti-hierarchical, and that involves justice on so many levels because of the way women interpenetrate everywhere. And the places we don’t interpenetrate--the higher levels of power--are bent on retaining power, retaining hierarchy, and the exclusion of many kinds of peoples." Too bad that the right-wing nasties have been able to put their evil-smelling spray on terms like "civil liberties" and "feminism," isn't it?

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