Feminist dialogue isn't always egalitarian
- Published: 15 March 2010
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There is a valid feminist argument for equal pay for equal work, yet in the same breath, there is a desire for certain classes of women to get special consideration or special protections. Liana Clark has issues with this logic.
I don't know whether or not this is normal, but it seems as if the older I get, the more I struggle with understanding or relating to those of my own sex. Sure, I've written about it before. A few times. This is not news. Yet old age and menopause seem to be causing me to lose the dispassionate whatever attitude I've had about my differences with many (dare I say most) women throughout my life.
Yes, I consider myself to be a feminist or womanist, yet both those terms often take on different connotations or meanings than the rather simplistic definition I use.
Feminism has been defined as everything from women being allowed to make choices to women hating anything that has a penis (or should I say 'womyn'). However, in my definition, I simply reject the sociological construct of gender, as in gender roles. I believe in parity, in egalitarianism, and no special protections based on sociological gender roles.
This is what I find so problematic about so much of the feminist dialogue today. There is a valid argument for equal pay for equal work, yet in the same breath, there is a desire for certain classes of women to get special consideration or special protections. The most oft mentioned of the special class women is the mother.
Mothers, it is felt, by dint of their being mothers, should get special protections. If they are poor, they should have programs that give them housing, healthcare, childcare, job training, etc. If middle to upper SES, then job protection, flexible work arrangements, or validation for being their child(ren)'s primary full-time caregiver (and yes, I realize the last one isn't really a protection, but I think you get my drift).
Still I must ask, how egalitarian and truly feminist is that reasoning? Are we equal in some cases but not equal in others? This is what troubles me. And if the answer is that the benefits listed above are not so much for the mother per se, but are actually for the child(ren), then shouldn't the protections be sought for parents and not for mothers? If we consider ourselves equal, then why bring gender into the equation at all?
Now I don't put this out there to rag on mothers, parents, feminists or anyone in particular. I offer this as an example of how my brain works a bit differently in this regard.
To me egalitarianism means that we don't split things along gender lines. We're all just people with different genitalia and physical attributes, but the who of who we are isn't and shouldn't be limited by our sociological gender roles.
Yet approaching life this way as a woman is a difficult enterprise when our society remains entrenched in these male/female boxes.
Luckily I work in a place that has a large number of non-traditional women (I hate even typing "non-traditional" since it implies that acceptance of sociological gender roles is indeed the norm…I know that it is, but I hate having to recognize that when it goes so against my grain).
These are women who have hyphenated their children's names to reflect both theirs and their husbands, women who work while their husbands are primary caregivers at home and women who with their partners embody the model of equally shared homecare and parenting.
They speak up in meetings and can tell you to STFU without any uterine guilt if necessary. It's about strength, confidence, and the ability to be direct. Yet they also possess the "feminine" traits of warmth, nurturance, and giving.
Last week I watched one, who I will call Bridget, stand onstage in front of 1,000 people delivering a message of challenge to one of our competitors. This woman, who is only a few years younger than me, and a mother of four, the youngest a year old, is going through chemotherapy for breast cancer but still pushes through every day rocking one sharp headscarf after another.
I've seen her on the bad days, the days when she looks like she is two steps away from having it all crashing down. I support her without supporting her, because I know that look…and I know the strength that makes her gut through another day.
It doesn't tolerate what feels like pity or help through weakness. Instead, I walk with her and listen to what she is willing to share. And she talks herself a notch stronger.
Work, cancer, motherhood … yet there she stood in the bright lights throwing down the gauntlet to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. The power, the confidence, the resolve … we should all enjoy these qualities in abundance. Yet Bridget, I'm afraid, is more the exception than the rule in my experience of ‘womynkind’.
Instead, more commonly seen is the woman looking for permission to claim her own power. As a perfect example, I have a posting from one of my photography boards from a woman looking for help standing up to her clients who hadn’t paid her for photos she was commissioned to take, yet who still expect their pictures. The message ended:
Since I know this girl, how do I tell her in a firm, but not mean way that she needs to pay me for my service before she can even view her pictures? I just need someone to pump me up so I can tell her how it's going to be, but need advice on how to do it without seeming like a cold rude snob.
Now I read this and immediately thought better of saying anything. I've found that my direct, clear, non-traditional advice seems more often than not, to really throw people off.
I'm not one for the "Oh that's a tough one" pat on the back or the ever-present ((((hugs!)))). All I could think to myself is, “You need help asking for the money you earned taking those pictures? What's wrong with this picture?”
Unfortunately, this illustrates the difficulty in being the type of egalitarian feminist/womanist that I am. As a woman, I'm supposed to be sympathetic and understanding about this type of thing, but my brain really wants me to say, “No one needs to give you permission to stand up for yourself, no matter what genitalia you wear!”
And the struggle continues.
Liana Clark is an adolescent medicine physician, egalitarian feminist/womanist, free thinker, veteran of the infertility wars and geriatric mom to the best (and most photogenic) kidlet ever. She blogs here.