Ladyrebecca's Musings and Ramblings

The Increasingly Political Thoughts of Rebecca (Becky) Walker

My, oh my, how times have changed December 22, 2009

Ignorance...it's so much easier.

Prior to opening Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, I had a fairly narrow view of feminism and the many different issues the broad umbrella of “feminism” entails. All the info I had on feminism came from Hollywood, shock jocks, overheard conversations, and 20 years worth of indoctrination into the conservative Christian tradition. Though I had largely rejected my religious upbringing and had begun to question many of the opinions which I’d thought were fact, many remained, simply because they were unexamined. The readings from Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions have caused me to examine my views of feminism, the role of women in society, the patriarchy, activism, and cosmetic surgery. Two readings in particular have proven catalytic in broadening my mind; Feminist Politcs, written by bell hooks, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude, by Amy Bloom.

In Feminist Politics, hooks provided me with a definition of feminism I couldn’t not support (ironically, it was also the first definition I’d heard, despite having a strong, albeit ignorant, opinion about feminism): “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (2000, p. 40). Hooks went on to address why this is not a commonly understood and accepted definition of feminism and I had my eyes opened again. I was not a big believer in the “patriarchy”— the idea of a group of men in expensive suits, sitting around a cigar-smoke-filled room, conspiring to keep women oppressed seemed preposterous. With a simple phrase, “[Most people’s] misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media” (p. 40), I realized that it didn’t take a conspiracy of peers to oppress a group of people.

The term “radical feminist” was a cause for concern to me before hooks explained the difference between “reformist feminism” and “radical feminism.” Reformists want, primarily, “equality with men in the workforce” while the “original radical foundations of contemporary feminism…called for reform as well as overall restructuring of society so that our nation would be fundamentally anti-sexist” (2000, p. 41). Reforming our current, sexist society is not enough. Gaining equality in one area (such as equal-pay-for-equal-work), is not enough to end (or at least push back) all the ‘ism’s that oppress millions every day.

The second reading that cataclysmically altered my point of view was written by Amy Bloom. In Hermaphrodites with Attitude, Bloom writes that infants born with “ambiguous genitalia” are more common than those born with cystic fibrosis, about two thousand times a year in the United States alone. (2002, p. 244)

I myself am not a hermaphrodite, nor do I know anyone who is (that I am aware of). Prior to this reading, I had done no research about the subject whatsoever. And yet, I had an opinion about hermaphrodites and people I considered “gender confused.” My thought was naively, “Whatever genitals are most prominent, that’s what you are. Just be that.” Very few hermaphrodites are true 50/50 splits so this seemed an easy judgment to make.

This opinion was challenged upon my reading about the “corrective” procedures, which, “if necessary” involve “some enlargement of the vaginal cavity by metal dilators, inserted by the parents daily for six months….Monthly dilation of the seven-or eight-year old continues into adolescence to prevent the narrowing or closure of the vaginal cavity” (p. 244). Further challenges arose when reading about the mentality of those performing such procedures. Bloom quotes a doctor as writing, “After stillbirth, genital anomaly is the most serious problem with a baby, as it threatens the whole fabric of personality and life of the person.” One must wonder how much more a baby’s personality will be shaped by having non-consensual genital surgery and by the postoperative “dilation” in order to make her vagina “normal” than by having a “genital anomaly.” Bloom quotes Dr. Richard Hurwitz, in the instructional video “Surgical Reconstruction of Ambiguous Genitalia in Female Children” as saying, “The finding of ambiguous genitalia in the newborn is a medical and social emergency.” There is a common understanding among doctors and surgeons that a boy can not have a fulfilling life with a small penis and a girl can not have a fulfilling life with a large clitoris and therefore, “corrective” surgery must be performed as soon as possible. These same doctors believe that parents are incapable of truly loving a child whose genitals do not conform to the “normal” standard of genital conformation. The American College of Surgeons training video on how to treat female genital abnormality makes clear that they believe it highly important to appear normal while making no mention of functionality or feeling. (Bloom, 2002, p. 248)

My ignorant opinion that one should just “be what they are” was challenged and ultimately destroyed upon reading about Klinefelter’s syndrome, AIS, PAIS, and CAH, all of which result in fairly “normal” looking genitals but with various hormonal or chromosomal abnormalities which result in varying degrees of natural variations, such as a man developing small breasts but not the typically “male” traits such as a hairy chest, deep voice, and heavier musculature.

This essay also reaffirmed to me the dangers of homophobia. Dr. Philip Gruppuso (quoted in Bloom, 2002), speaking on the treatment of infant hermaphrodites said:

“…in the history of treating these kids, there is an element of homophobia…If you look back at the standard texts of the fifties and sixties, the underlying concern was that people who were ‘really’ male but looked female would want to have sex with males, and the same for females who appeared male. Homosexual sex was the underlying fear.” (p. 247)

While understanding that homophobia was dangerous and damaging to adults, I had not realized the extent to which the irrational fear of consenting adults having relations with other consenting adults of the same sex was causing harm upon the most innocent and defenseless people in our midst.

I know that I have many more ignorant and judgment views remaining to be examined, but due to the writings of bell and Bloom, there are at least some which are no longer mucking around in my brain.

References

Bloom, A. (2002) Hermaphrodites with attitude. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions. (2009). (pp. 244-249). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

hooks, b. (2000). Feminist politics: Where we stand. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions. (2009). (pp. 40-42). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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How Feminism Has Effected Me…so far. December 19, 2009

Rebecca Watson - Third Wave feminist

I love talking politics and government but I hate being ill-informed and ignorant (largely because I spent the first two decades of my life ignorant and opinionated before having a change of heart). My desire to not be ignorant is what led me to major in Political Science. I wanted to be able to speak with surety about the things that were going on in the political theaters of the U.S. and around the world. But my quest for knowledge was just that…a quest for nothing more than knowledge. I just wanted to be able to talk about politics. I didn’t want to do politics. One of the reasons for this was that I didn’t recognize a need for change. I, as a white female, was adequately represented by my elected leaders and feminism was done. I believed in, as what Deborah Seigel called, “the trendy notion that we are living in a ‘post-feminist’ era” (The Movement That Has No Name, 2007, p. 34). Seigel’s essay and Patricia Hill Collins’s Toward a New Vision were instrumental in changing that misconception.

In my studies of politics, I’ve learned that representation is key to achieving a group’s goals. Upon reading The Movement That Has No Name, I realized that feminism was not done and there was still much work to be done before the goals of feminism (equality for all and an end to sexism) could be said to be realized. Siegel writes, “Polls proclaimed that 22 million unmarried women did not vote in the 2000 presidential election” (p. 33). Seigel writes that

Sarah Margaret Fuller - First Wave feminist

younger women are highly involved volunteers, grassroots organizers, and activists. These women are not voting, not because they don’t care, but because they “disillusioned” (p. 36). This disillusionment exists because in a world where the cost of running for office is in the millions of dollars–$3 million for a seat in the House and over $21 million for a Senatorial seat (projected costs for 2010), and over $300 million spent on President Obama’s campaign (as reported by Thomas E. Patterson in American Democracy, 2008)–women only own “1 percent of the world’s assets” (Siegel, p. 35). Is it any wonder, then, that women only make up about 16.4% of American Congressmen? Only “20 percent of full professors” are women as are only “17 percent of partners in law firms…Only 10 Fortune 500 CEOs are women” (p. 34).

“The low turnout among young female voters during the 2004 election doesn’t mean that all women under 35 are apathetic but rather, perhaps, that many are turned off and disillusioned by politicians who fail to take on their issues” (Siegel, p. 36), for without the resources that men have, getting one of their own in a position of power has proven extremely difficult.

As I finished reading Siegel’s work, I began thinking of ways to organize my peers, give them a movement they can stand behind and can support them. Siegel believes a principle cause of women thinking their “personal” problem is not political is the lack of just such a movement to support them (2007). I was left with the question, “How does one go about doing such a thing?”

Catherine MacKinnon - Second Wave feminist

Patricia Hill Collins’s Toward a New Vision gave me some of the answers I was looking for. She writes, “[C]hange starts with self, and relationships that we have with those around us must always be the primary site for social change (1993, p. 76). It is easy for me to forget how central personal relationships are. Before I met my good friend Alex, I gave little thought to the unique struggles of the partially disabled. Until my atheist husband joined the Air Force, I had given no thought to how oppressively Christian the military can be. Until I begin to share what I have learned and experienced, many around me may remain ignorant of the issues facing women today.

Collins also urges us away from “additive analyses of oppression,” (p. 76) as such is based on either/or thinking. Collins points out some of the “dichotomous” thinking with, “Black/white, man/woman, thought/feeling…” (p. 77). I add to that list other dichotomies that plague, not just the study of oppression, but the study of politics and government as well: good/evil, right/wrong, Left/Right, pro-life/pro-choice, pro-gun-rights/pro-gun-control, against war/patriotic. The list of divisions goes on and one. Dichotomies such as these tear people apart and create divides where none needs to be because dichotomous thinking means that only one side can be right and that side is 100% right. Therefore the other side (any side that isn’t right) is 100% wrong. The pro-life side does not see the pro-choice side as supporting choice. They see them as anti-life. The pro-choice side does not see

Becky Walker - feminist

the pro-life side as pro-life; they see them as anti-choice and pro-oppression. The pro-gun control does not see the pro-gun-rights side as pro-Constitution or pro-self-defense. They see them as pro-murder and mayhem. The pro-gun-rights side does not see the pro-gun-control side as pro-safety and anti-violent-crime. They see them as anti-Constitution and anti-family. Each side vilifies the other while elevating themselves to sainthood. Such thinking will ultimately destroy much more than it builds.

While my passion remains government and politics, feminism has “lit a fire” under me, so to say. Previously, my goal had simply been to understand politics, to be able to intelligently discuss government systems without embarrassing myself, and perhaps, to write the odd free-lance article. Now, armed with the knowledge that, 1. my voice, as a woman, is less heard than men’s voices; 2. There is great need for a cohesive feminist movement that young women can stand behind and be supported by; 3. Such an organizations will come about through personal relationships; 4. My fight to end dichotomous thinking in my own life is a good start but I must also spread it through those I’m in relationship with, I think perhaps I can and should do more with my education than just “have an education.” I must constantly challenge myself to remember these points and fight for the change I wish to see least I fall again into the ranks of the ill-informed, ignorant, and ultimately, powerless.

References

Collins, P. H. (1993). Toward a new vision. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions.(2009). (pp. 76-84). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Patterson, T. E. (2009). The American democracy. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Siegel, D. (2007). The movement that had no name. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions. (2009). (pp. 31-39). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

 

Inspired by a new friend February 6, 2009

Filed under: Anecdotal,Political,Religious — Addicted to Yarn @ 3:55 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I have made some new friends here in Germany (I hope I can be so forward as to call them friends…I’ve only just met most of them) and one inspired me today. She is an artist and blogs here at wordpress. Last month she took part in a challenge. A 31 day, art journal challenge and posted her results on her blog. I was very impressed with her work and felt inspired to make something that expressed how I was feeling. So I made this…

The feeling of the day is...Bleh

The feeling of the day is...Bleh

The back reads, “A little art journaling to go with a “Bleh” day. Israel’s feeling poorly, Jael’s crazy, I got an “eh” hair cut. Restless and bored feeling. A “Bleh” day. So I made a pretty!”

And that about sums it up. This was done in my sketch pad, 5.5 X 8.5 inches, with a black Uniball, mirco point pen. I love those pens. I think I might have used this one up though. Oops. Sorry Israel. (They are his favorite pens too and I have only recently started using them and so they still feel like they are “his,” you know?)

Anyway, it was fun to do and I used some techniques Sheri taught the kids in Art Class on Thursday. We did something called “Zen Tangles” (correct me if I got the name wrong) and that was the inspiration for the design of “Bleh.”

Other than that, life’s going. I’m in the middle of an internet argument which is always pointless and heartburn causing. My aunt posted a “letter” on Facebook. It’s written as though the Republicans/conservatives were writing a divorce letter to the Democrats/liberals and were deciding how to divide the country. The Right gets the guns, military, NRA, cops, etc. The Left can “keep your precious homeless, hippies, homeboys, and illegal aliens.”

The Right keeps their gas guzzling SUV’s and full size sedans and the Left gets Micheal Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah (if they can find a bio-diesel vehicle large enough to fit them into).

There was a lot more but these were the two things I chose to comment on. First off, my aunt is a Christian and knows her Bible. So I simply suggested that the “libs” take the verses from the Old Testament that commanded the government take care of the poor and the alien. I explained that bio-diesel would run in any normal diesel engine so a normal semi ought to be large enough to fit their fat butts into…since the left has such a corner on fatties. (That last line might have been a little harsh but come one. Everyone’s got fat people on their side. Are skinny people the only one’s allowed to have an opinion? I mean, what if they other side notices that your spokesperson is fat? OH NO!)

So then some guy is like, “bio-diesel sucks. Truckers hate it. What’s wrong with good old oil? Illigal aliens are rapists and murders and job stealers. They don’t pay taxes but we have to pay for their medical bills etc, etc.”

Oh, and my aunt said, “Lighten up, Becky. It’s just a joke.” Yeah, I’ll bet the homeless would laugh their asses off if you read it to them.

I responded (which I probably shouldn’t have but dang it, the guy was an idiot) and said that oil has become a dirty word because it’s a non-renewable resource and when it’s gone, it’s gone so if there are alternatives, let’s use them. We need oil for other petroleum based things like fertilizer. We CANNOT produce our current level of food without petro-chemical fertilizers. I also suggested he check his sources before saying illegals are rapists and murders and informed him that many of them pay taxes but are unable to recieve any benefit from them.

And then I said, “I don’t think this letter was funny. I think it was rude and mean-spirited…The Church should be taking care of the poor but she’s not. When God gave his nation his law he included in the civil law rules for caring for the poor. If you are going to pick and choose which parts of the Bible you are going to follow, choose love, not hate.” Or something very similar to that at least.

So I don’t know. I probably just started a flame war on my Aunt’s page. I wish I felt bad but I don’t. She posted something mean and ill-thought out and I simply pointed out the flaws in it. Of course, no one will change. We humans, we are opposed to change. Changing is the hardest thing any of us ever do.*sigh*

Maybe that’s why I change hobbies so much. That way it never hurts!

Anyway, Life goes on.