Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Women Unbound Reading Challenge

I'm signing on to the Women Unbound reading challenge.

It began November 1st and runs through the end of November 2010.

Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ The definition according to Merriam-Webster
the multidisciplinary study of the social status and societal contributions of women and the relationship between power and gender.
There are three levels of involvement to choose from:

  • Philogynist: read at least two books, including at least one nonfiction one.
  • Bluestocking: read at least five books, including at least two nonfiction ones.
  • Suffragette: read at least eight books, including at least three nonfiction ones.
Click on the graphic to go to the challenge's home site to read more. Participants are also encouraged to share their potential reading list via a blog post, email or comments over at the home site.

I'm going to commit to Suffragette level and I'll put together my potential reading list in a post later this week. I was intending to include it here but I got carried away answering the questions in the Start of Challenge Meme.

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

The right to choose my own path in all spheres. The right to autonomy. The right to be in relationship with family, friends and society and with any powers-that-be including Higher Powers one-on-one without designated intermediaries male or otherwise--whether a chaperon, father, husband, or priest.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes, though I came late to the consciousness. 1992 to be exact. In my mid thirties. At the time I broke free of the 19th century patriarchal, fundamentalist Christian sect I was raised in and dared to start thinking for myself.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?


Our own complacency and self-sabotage.

Complacency in the assumption that the progress we've made is secure and can't be taken away from us in ours or our daughter's lifetimes. Just witness the cases of rape against American women working as contractors in Iraq and the way they were treated by their employers (American corporations with Pentagon contracts) after. Well, before as well, actually, because at the time of hire they had signed employment contracts that required them to take any disputes arising with the company into arbitration (controlled by the company by the way) and accept whatever was decided by the arbitration, forfeiting their right to a court trial. What is the corporation's most feared employee dispute? Sexual harassment, of course. Does this look like an end-run around the judicial decisions of the last decades that established sexual harassment as a type of harm work environments should be free of? How many other corporations have put similar clauses in their employee contracts?

I could give more examples of the gains feminism has won for women being whittled away by quiet legal clauses, by local and state propositions on ballots, by school board decisions and so on but this isn't the place. Just read those articles linked above and start following this story and others like it and ask yourself whether we can claim to have arrived at a resting place in our struggle. The saddest part of it is that so often it is women who are actively involved in the attempts to hold their sisters back from being their best selves. For ask yourselves where were the women (in management, boardroom, human resources and the legal firms hired to write and enforce them) when these contracts were first envisioned and then implemented.

Which brings me to self sabotage. Whether it is the women who benefited the most from the gains in rights and respect women have earned or won in the last decades, working their way up the various ladders and busting through the various glass ceilings or the women who grew up in the last two decades taking it all for granted or the women who remain by choice (or not) in the mindset that sees those very gains as a threat to society or theirs or their daughter's souls, it is women themselves who have it in their hands to either build on those gains or watch as a whittled down version is snatched from their daughter's or grand daughters hands.

When I hear of a career woman who is condescending towards a by choice stay at home mom I think OK have you forgotten so soon what that self-satisfied, patronizing, arrogance emanating from the 'males-in-charge' felt like when it was aimed at you? Wasn't the thing our sister's fought for autonomy? The freedom to choose our own path? How does it serve you or your daughters to devalue one of the most womanly roles of all? And one of THE most valuable to our society. By doing so you have not won ground you have ceded it.

You have been co-opted by the mind-set that sees 'what-ever-women-do' as less valuable, less esteem-able, less worthy. If you're not careful you will find yourselves working for the legal firms that write the contracts for corporations, inserting the clauses that take away your sister's workplace safety and as the lawyers that stand before the judges and juries arguing that a contract is a contract, so sorry your honor but she could have chosen not to sign it and after the events in question she could have chosen to move on to a different job more suited to her temperament. After all a job is a job and you do what you have to to keep it, right?

When I hear stay at home mothers challenging the 'good mother' status of mothers who by choice or necessity work outside the home, I wonder what choices they would make if suddenly they did not have the 'good husband' with the very good pay check for are they not aware that the middle class lifestyle for a family of three to five requires the equivalent of at least two minimum wage paychecks plus at least one good benefits package that includes comprehensive health care for the family? Are they aware that jobs like that are on the endangered species list in America along with the middle class life style? When was the last time they wrote their congress person to ask them to vote in favor of raising the minimum wage or extending welfare benefits for single parents? Or to lobby for child-care benefits for low-income working mothers and after school programs in the schools and community centers? Or to demand health care reform on the order of Medicare for all?

And when I see trailers for movies like Mean Girls, and witness first hand or hear stories about the exquisitely nasty ways that girls and women use their power over others on the playground, the Junior High School lunchroom, the High School Prom, Myspace, gossip columns and pundit pontificating, blog comments, social cliques from mommy clubs to the DAR, on the job, on church committees, in boardrooms and at dinner tables...I nearly despair for us. For what was it all for--the marching for the vote, the right to own property (including bank accounts) in our own name, the right to education of equal quality (including higher education), the right to enter professions along side our brothers, the right to challenge the abuse of power over us at home, at school, at work--what have we gained if we then choose to turn our power against each other?

This self-sabotage stems in part it seems to me from the tendency of the feminist movement and women in professions, in their eagerness to pull themselves even with men in our culture, to have devalued the feminine along the way. So instead of bringing into their work environments the feminine traits of nurture, empathy, relationship and community tending, co-operation, and win-win conflict resolution, they absorb the prevailing corporate mind-set that sees one-up-manship, win-at-all-costs and if-you-win-I-lose as the baseline rules of the game they play and turn on each other mistaking the tenet of fair and equal treatment to include the concept of 'fair game'. And their sisters who remain doubtful of the validity of their cause see what looks like proof that feminism is bad for the culture, bad for the family and bad for females.

And thus we have a house divided against itself. And that house will fall if women inside and out of the movement don't reclaim the feminine strengths of nurture, empathy, relationship and community tending, co-operation, and win-win conflict resolution, and bring them to bear at home, at work, and at school to re-envision and co-create a society that values all people (including women and children) above profit and power.

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