Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Final Essay #2 What is Feminism?

Feminism can be defined many different things to many different people. Its been called a man hating doctrine, the ideas of lesbians, and many other things. While taking the Introduction to Women’s Studies course, students were introduced to the many different definitions of feminism. This makes it difficult to come up with one single definition. However, through examining readings and class discussions, it is possible to develop a broad, overarching theme for feminism.
The first wave of feminists fought to ensure the voting rights of women. In the beginning, they did not consider race as an issue; the women that were the faces of the movement were middle-class, white women. In the movie Iron Jawed Angels, there is a scene where the women are discussing their march on the day that the president of the United States arrives. During their conversation a black woman enters and asks when they want her women to meet them for the march. She is told that they are to march in the very back, away from the white women. Today, this seems to defy the very things that feminists stand for, however, back then the white women only wanted to be equal to their white male counterparts.
The book, The F Word, gives a good overview of the second wave of feminism. This took place in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when women wanted more equality in the workforce, more access to sex education and birth control, and in general, to be more independent from their husbands. While there was still a lingering sentiment that felt that black women should work with black men on civil rights instead of feminist rights, this movement was more accepting of having black women involved and even embraced them. This way of embracing and broadening the mission of the feminist movement have made it easier for the third wave generation to bring about more change. The third wave is sometimes considered part of the second wave in that it is still pushing for equality in the workplace and reproductive rights. It also has a focus on sexual harassment and the rights of single mothers.
At the beginning of the semester, the first chapter in the book Feminism is for Everybody was assigned as well as discussing the class’s thoughts on what is said. The author gives her definition of feminism in the very first line: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation, and oppression (Bellhooks, 1).” She goes on to discuss the many different reasons that women are exploited: age, race, religion, etc. For this generation to see the end of sexual discrimination would be an amazing feat. Feminism is trying to promote sexual equality, but many wonder what that means exactly. The class decided that while this is a good beginning, it is not what they wanted to use as the complete definition.
One of the biggest issues discussed was that of reproductive rights. Many people brought their religious beliefs into the discussion, which while it is their right to believe the way they do, most felt that those beliefs should not forced upon others. It was a very good debate about whether women should be able to what they wish with their bodies (as long as it is within the range of what is legal). Bellhooks included a chapter about the argument of abortion and birth control that discusses the platforms for and against the idea. The said debate has made safe abortions expensive and hard for women of meager status to obtain. This has put the safety of women in jeopardy. Is feminism for abortions or just for the right for a woman to choose for herself and her body? It seems that a feminist can be for or against abortion as long as they appreciate that others have a different opinion on the matter.
For those who choose to have children, Opting Out by Lisa Belkin discusses the decisions of women who went to college but decided to have children instead of or before starting a career. It goes along with the third wave of feminism in that the women want the choice, however, they want to be treated like men who have children who are not penalized for becoming parents. They want to be able to have the job and the family. Unfortunately it is difficult for employers to hire women who they know will be missing work to take care of sick children and the like. This is something today’s feminists are up in arms about. They feel it is a type of oppression of women in the workplace and are working to have mothers treated better than they are. Another topic that is similar is that of gender roles. Feminists do not accept being placed into traditional gender roles. They want to be able to be themselves.
Today feminism covers many different areas. After looking at these different ideas, a good definition of what feminism would be this: feminism is the movement to ensure the racial and sexual equality of men and women every aspect of life. A person should be given the right to education his/her self in sex and birth control, as well as in a chosen trade. For each person to have equal rights in the workplace and in their public and private lives.
These ideals are ones that this author tries to ensure for herself and others. She has grown up in a household where each member of the family takes on every chore and helps each other as much as possible. She has never dated boys/men that try to keep her restrained to the ancient female roles. She will continue to push for and possibly become a lobbyist for the equal rights of all.

Works Cited
F Word (chapter 2) by Kristin Rowe
Feminism is for Everybody (chapters 1 and 5) by Bell hooks
Opt Out by Lisa Belkin
Movie: Iron Jawed Angels

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Final Essay #1 Inequality in the Workplace and Public Eye.

Over the semester we have read several articles and book chapters related to the equality of men and women in the workplace and the world in general. It has been strongly emphasized that even in the world of third-wave feminism, women are not equal to men. Readings specifically related to the equality issue that I have found informing and interesting are Taking Sides, Opt Out, Fresh Lipstick, He’s a stud, She’s a slut, and the Beauty Myth. Taking Sides focuses on the arguments about the differences between men and women, while the others focus more on specific issues.
Taking Sides has two sides to it—hence the name—one side says that yes, men and women are different but these differences are not enough to make a difference; that these differences are strengths for each gender. The other side says that there are multiple psychological, emotional, and physical differences between the sexes. It argues that these differences are important enough to allow for men and women to be treated differently and given unequal duties in work and school. Over the years men have tried to find ways to keep women subservient, this article emphasized that men will find any way they can to do so even in the present time of supposed equality.
Equality in the workplace is still a big deal in America, specifically the equality of working parents. Opting Out is primarily about women who have gone to college to get a good education but have decided to have children instead of going into the workplace. While some of the women give reasoning along the lines of just wanting children in that time of their lives, others say that by having their children before they go into the workforce makes it easier to get a good job and be promoted. Women who haven’t had children are considered risky hires to some employers because if they have children they will most likely take maternity leave and have to take off for their children. They are not promoted as quickly when they have children and are sometimes “let go.” However, men are not penalized when they become fathers. This is blatant discrimination in the workplace; however, it is not considered as such by the law.
Going back to the first wave of feminism, women who were to be seen in public were supposed to dress a certain way. In Fresh Lipstick, it starts out by talking about how the women of the first wave would dress in “navy suits” or in “Jacky Kennedy-style.” It also talks of how the women were embarrassed by the way Betty Friedman, their first president, dressed. It was not considered “professional.” It goes on to talk about how women were concerned about looking “feminine” in everything they did. This concern was not so for men over the years. The only men who were ever required to look professional were those who worked at banks, in politics, or something of that status. These women were looked down upon if they did not dress in what was considered appropriate. They were not allowed to hold jobs, but still had to dress as though they did. It seems that the men just wanted their women to make them look good, like they had the “trophy wife.” A man could dress down, but women could not. This is still somewhat prevalent today. While women are now allowed to wear slacks and pantsuits, men can still dress down more in the workplace. Women must “look the part” to get the part while men are given the part more easily. Having inequality become so visible is a frightening concept for women striving to climb the career ladder.
Not only are men and women held to different standards in the way they dress, they are in their actions as well. In He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, the author examines the different ways the sexes are judged according to nearly identical actions. The two that stood out were over sex and leadership. In regards to sex, men can have premarital sex with multiple partners and it is considered a good thing. If it were known that a woman was doing the same thing, she would be called a slut or whore. Men can use sex to further themselves in some part of society, but that would lower a woman in the same circles. It is similar with leadership. A man who is in charge and strict is called the boss. A woman who does the same things to get the same results is called a bitch; however, if she does not push to get things done, she is not promoted to the top positions. It is a lose-lose situation. When women conduct themselves like their male peers, they are judged harshly. Unfortunately, to get to the top, women must sometimes deal with these judgments and act as if they are not affected.
The article The Beauty Myth seems fit to follow this with its study of how men and women are seen by the media today. The media’s portrayal of a near impossible body type for both men and women. This what is considered the ideal look and what is beautiful. Women are more harshly judged against this model then men. Employers hire those they think will best represent the company and that can end up being decided upon by how the person looks. It is considered bad PR to have someone who is not a representation of the what a company is trying to sell, so the better you look the more professional you look, which reflects better on the company. Unfortunately, what the media portrays is not the norm. Women are judged inferior to airbrushed, molded models and are treated as second class if they do not fit that mold. This is the most detrimental type of inequality to the female sex: the inequality of image. Making women fit a mold instead of admiring the individuality of each is demeaning.
The inequality between men and women in the workplace and public life has changed over the years. These articles discuss how it has changed, and how it affects today’s women. While the inequality may not be as noticeable to those who have not been introduced to the many types, it is just as widespread as it was before. This makes me wonder if men and women will ever be treated equally in the public eye. Will we always have to conform to the mold to be successful? This has caused me to strive to be treated as an equal in all that I do. I will hold my employers responsible and make sure I am not looked over just because I am a woman. We must all do this to help bring about change.

Works cited:
Fresh Lipstick by Linda Scott
He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut by Jessica Valenti
“Opt Out” by Lisa Belkin
“Taking Sides” by Kingsley Browne
The Beauty Myth “How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women” By Naomi Wolf