Saturday, March 25, 2006

Because... (revised)

Recently our university was the site of a series of classroom interruptions in which female students came, uninvited, into classes and read the following statement:

Because woman’s work is never done
and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or
repetitious and we’re the first to get fired
and what we look like is more important
than what we do and if we get raped it’s
our fault and if we get beaten we must have
provoked it and if we raise our voices we’re
nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we’re
nymphos and if we don’t were frigid and if
we love women it’s because we can’t get a
‘real’ man and if we ask our doctor too many
questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy and
if we expect childcare we’re selfish and if we
stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and
‘unfeminine’ and if we don’t we’re typical
weak females and if we want to get married
we’re out to trap a man and if we don’t we’re
unnatural and because we still can’t get an
adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk
on the moon and if we can’t cope or don’t
want a pregnancy we’re made to feel
guilty about abortion and ... for lots and lots
of other reasons we are part of the
women’s liberation movement.

This manifesto has been around for many years and it always annoys me. Not because I am anti-feminist; just the opposite. I am pro-feminist, but statements like this, simple-minded as they are, do a grave injustice to those who really want to ameliorate the place of women in the western world.

I was going to look at this line by line, but I can only take so much at once, so let's look at just a few particularly interesting passages.

“Because woman’s work is never done,
and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or

Well, I suspect that most people, men and women, feel that their work is never done, is underpaid, boring and so on. Unpaid work in the house is an interesting issue, but hardly a woman's issue; studies show that men actually do as much housework as women although it is not always the same tasks (men tend to mow the lawn, shovel snow, maintain the home and so on). That women are underpaid is a serious issue but one that is far more complex than this document allows. For instance, some studies have shown that the difference in pay between men and women is largely a function of education. That is, women who are as well educated as their male counterparts get paid just as well. Aha, but then why are women not as well educated. Good question. Social prejudice? Legitimate choices on the part of women who pursue childbearing instead of education? Or is the latter another kind of systematic discrimination? These are serious questions and they are done no service by the kind of absurd over-simplification of the manifesto quoted above.

“we’re the first to get fired and what
we look like is more important
than what we do”

That men were sometimes kept on in times of financial trouble on the ground that they had families to support may have been true at one time, but such action would hardly hold up in court today. That women are principally judged by their looks may be true in a few fields of endeavour (acting, modelling), I can see no indication that it is widely the case.

“and if we get raped it’s our fault
and if we get beaten we must have
provoked it”

Sadly, it is true that there are those who may try to discount some cases of rape on the absurd grounds that the woman somehow "provoked" it -- and such dismissals are rightly criticized. But the blanket statement that implies that all rapes are blamed on the woman is a needlessly inflammatory overstatement. If this were true, rape would not even be a crime. Of course, many rape cases turn on the difficult question of consent, and to be sure, many guiltless women have had to endure humiliating questions for the sake of guilty men. But what is the alternative, the presumption of guilt in rape cases? Here again, the simplistic treatment of complex isssues is unworthy of scholars.

“and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches
and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos”

I have never heard anyone define “nagging” as speaking with a raised voice. I have never heard anyone define “nympho” as a woman who enjoys sex.

“if we expect childcare we’re selfish”

Apparently the women who were reading this statement last week entirely missed the last election campaign, where every major party was promoting increased funding for childcare as a key part of their platform! Now, as to whether the public should pay for childcare is an issue for another day.

“and because we still can’t get an adequate safe
contraceptive but men can walk on the moon”

Safe contraception? When was this thing written? Probably around the time of the first moon landing. Women have come a long way since then, largely through the work of brave women who fought for them.

Those women deserve better than this.


Iain Dughlais said...

I have a problem with this as well. Largely because I'm behind the new-feminist movement 100% and this type of thing seems counter-productive to the movement. Not only are some of these statements outdated, but when these types of statements are made they propagate negative stereotypes by implying the opposite of their purported meaning. Thus provoking a negative reaction by many individuals, men AND women, of varying race and creed.

Now maybe I'm just reading too much into it but does anyone ever consider their word choice or carry their arguments out fully before they speak? If you say a WOMAN's work is is underpaid you are also implying that a MAN's work is never underpaid. This type of criticism can be applied to nearly the entire document I think.

In the words of Dennis Leary, "Can we get just a little bit of credit for the progress we've made? Common! Just a little!?"

This will sound un-academic of me, but this manifesto reeks of weak arguments. You have to assume that the stereotypes portrayed about men and women in this text are ALWAYS TRUE to agree with what it is saying. And it takes the pride out of arguing for injustice to women by tearing open healing wounds, reiterating all the same images that are trying to disappear: that a woman is less valuable, an emotional wreck, the weaker sex, etc. etc. I've never been convinced of anything by someone arguing for it by making negative statements; in fact that turns my head away not towards.

I was at my uncles 60th birthday last night and there were party-favor-like notes all over the wall, talking about "old farts" and ageing jokes. That's how hearing that or reading that document feels to me at certain points, like it's some type of wierd cliche-joke that people read at events.

My hope is that new-feminism will make more positive statements about the imbalance of power in our culture rather than just railing against said injustice.

On a personal note however, I know for a lot of the performers who read this manifesto at CBU in classrooms, a lot of self-discovery and courage was found. That's to be encouraged in everyone, and is in and of itself encourageing.

pettigogy said...

Yes, ID, in case it was not clear, I make no comment on any of the particular individuals involved or their motivations.

But even that which is said with the best of intentions must be held up to critical scrutiny.

K said...

One thing I have noted, and that this, shall we say declaration stinks of, is the SU's never ending battle to create as much controversy as possible.

I first noted this tendancy last year. I friend and fellow student of mine, a female and an entrepenuer, was attempting to create and sell a student calender. The idea of the calender was that it would feature dozens of students from each Maritime University posing each month. Each university's representatives would determine what they wore and how they posed in order to reflect their school. The calender was multi-ethnich and multi-sexual, by this I mean there was no selection process and all students of all preferances and colours were invited to pose.

The illustrious students union, who should be remaining a nuetral party in all student affairs advocating for the student teamed up with the sexual diversity society to phone in the media and stage a sit-in protest.

Without knowing at all what the entrepenuer had planned, and accusing some invisable man of running the calander through her as a spokeswoman they refused to allow photos to be taken claiming the event was sexist.

I do miss UCCB/CBU but I will say this, a large percedntage of it's student leadership is drowning in idiocy. I imagine this declaration was probably planned with nostalgia in mind, and a critical logistic thinker likely never came in contact with the piece the protesters were reading, nor the activists themselves.

There comes a time, and perhaps this is closed minded of me, but if it is so be it I am closed minded in that case, when a formerly oppressed group has to put down the picket signs and actually attempt to work for the equality they are fighting for. Fighting and jeering and reading poetry uninvited is not working. If I, a man, were to get a job at a large firm I would start at the ground level and work up and so to should a woman. I have worked as a receptionist. I have worked mopping floors. I am currently raising a child. I have felt underpaid, underprivilaged. I have been sexually assaulted by a woman.

I guess that means I should stage a protest too.

Jessi said...

Well said K!