By Sheana Ochoa
Recently, I picked up a book on the subject of biography. I’ve been writing a biography on Stella Adler, the first lady of modern day acting, for over a decade and was reminded how men have by and large been the writer’s of history (history). As far back as Xenophon writing about Socrates, men write about the lives of great men, although more recently women have also begun writing about the lives of great men. With too few exceptions, if a woman is the subject of a biography, she is usually the great man’s wife or love interest, not an achiever in her own right. The woman I’m writing about was a pioneer in her industry. Her story is about a woman’s insatiable search for knowledge at the cost of raising a child and building a home. Up to her death, she felt she was a failure because of her inability to create a “home.” She, just as much as I, was limited by the patriarchic structure of her era, the one that judges a woman with power outside of housewifery as threatening, unwomanly.
I am a feminist. Exactly what that means in 2013 is ambiguous. I was born in the 70s, which is when the women’s movement occurred, and as a young woman out in the work force in the early 90s I don’t recall any discrimination directed toward me personally, but then again I wasn’t working in areas dominated by men such as Film Direction, Piloting, or Engineering. However, today with women’s earning power lower than men’s (77 cents to the dollar), no one can argue life is equal between the sexes in 21st century America.
When I observe my nieces, who grew up in the new millennium, I see some progress. They seem to be color blind, which correlates with the historic presidential turn out for Obama by our youth. My nieces are not as progressive in the field of women’s equality as they are in racial equality, though interestingly, they are up to speed with gay rights. This leads me to believe that women’s rights are being undermined by an insidious, unrelenting patriarchy perpetuated by the media. A woman president? I don’t see that happening any time soon.
When I had my son, it was the moment when the doctor told me “it’s a boy” that the child growing inside of me became a human being as opposed to a nonentity. It would have been the same if he had announced it was a girl. It had a gender and therefore an identity.
I had actually wanted a girl, and thought I would have a girl, so I had to readjust my expectations the way one might be counting on eating a juicy steak for dinner, but ends up having sushi instead. It isn’t a matter of better than, just a readjustment. Crucially, when I thought I was having a girl, I did not research rearing my child. Once I learned I was having a boy, I went directly to the bookstore to find books on how to raise a boy, revealing the level of brainwashing of which I’ve unknowingly been the product. Also, I have to admit; it made me happy that this boy would have my last name as I was not married at the time, and that he would carry on the Ochoa lineage. In retrospect, my satisfaction with him having my name was another example of how I’ve been brainwashed to believe my father’s name is more important that my mother’s.
Here I must excerpt from Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon’s pamphlet, written in 1854, “Married Women and the Law”:
“A man and wife are one person in the law; the wife loses all her rights as a single woman . . . A woman’s body belongs to her husband; she is in his custody, and he can enforce his right by writ of habeas corpus. What was her personal property before marriage, such as money in hand, money in the bank, jewels, household goods, clothes, etc., becomes absolutely her husband’s, and he may assign or dispose of them at his pleasure whether he and his wife live together or not. The legal custody of the children belongs to the father. During the life-time of a sane father, the mother has no rights over her children, except a limited power over infants, and the father may take them from her and dispose of them as he thinks fit.”
Though these laws no longer apply, the rights of women today could be looked upon as having transformed immensely, but on closer examination, societal views of women are far from revolutionary. A woman with power, as I mentioned above, is viewed as a threat, and yet a man with power is viewed as commonplace. How far have we really come, and do women in heterosexual relationships realize the history of that institution which asks them to change their name to that of their husbands, obliterating their identity?
When I did marry, I hyphenated my name, which was a concession. I didn’t want to change my name, or the identity I had had for almost 40 years of living. I didn’t change my name, but I did alter it. At the time, I was thinking something along the lines of “I waited until I was almost 40 to marry. It’s a big commitment and I should at least take on his name to some degree as a symbol of my commitment.” What boloney. As if a name is going to save a marriage. News flash: If two people turn out to be unhappily married, a last name ain’t going to save it.
Now that I’m entering my 40s, I know what kind of a feminist I am: I believe in human rights. And for that I must take a stand. I have spent my life thinking I’m not a feminist of the bra-burning variety, but I didn’t have a model for an alternative. I didn’t want to be labeled angry or strident (whereas a man with convictions is seen as “strong” and “assertive”). But taking a stand does require a certain amount of motivation. Anger can be a good motivator, but so can compassion and tolerance of our differences.
We women have a long way to go. We can begin by writing more narratives, new “histories” of others and ourselves where women hold a position of power. When we are called bitchy or shrill or dykes, we know we’re getting somewhere.
Visit Sheana’s blog on Stella Adler’s Biography Here.
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
I recently had another hair battle with my son, and this one ended in an unexpected way. His long hair gets tangled easily, as mine did when I was a child, and he enjoys dealing with those tangles about as much as I did. Honestly, I had expected the end result of this fight a while back, when he started being teased. After enough of a fight, I finally blurted out “I’m either combing your hair or cutting your hair- PICK ONE!” After a moment of shock while the implications set in, he timidly asked “Will you cut yours, too?” Trying to redeem myself, I agreed, and got out the clippers. He had quite a fun time planning to use the piles of hair to make Halloween wigs.
Unfortunately, changing things take time. Thankfully, the hair cut is going over better than the arguing, although it’s created its own controversies with some people. Then Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” for the Atlantic. Talk about things that take a while, and the -isms (sexism, racism, etc.) might just take the cake. There are some interesting accompanying pieces and critiques on Slate and The Prospect, as well as some great discussion on the Facebook page of Connie Schultz (award-winning writer and wife to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio).
But the thing that really struck me about the Atlantic article was the assumption that everyone wants to have it all, and I think that’s the major point of feminism that Slaughter misses. Feminism (to my limited understanding) was never about having it all; it was about having what you wanted. It was about life choices of both men and women being respected and valued, no matter what they were, and having equal opportunities to live those choices. Feminism isn’t about getting women out of the kitchen and into the board room; it’s about giving women equal access to be in the boardroom, if that’s what they want to do with their life. There’s so much fighting over life choices, and I’ve never understood it. To work at home or outside the home, to have children or not, how to create your family, what career one wants to follow- I frankly don’t get how any of these things affect anyone outside of the family making those choices, and yet our culture fights tooth and nail for a particular view of how these decisions should be made. For a country founded on freedom and talking extensively about liberty, we sure aren’t free from others’ judgment of us and our lifestyles.
Ironically, my husband has had far more gender studies classes and discussions than I have, as he is a historian who writes on definitions of masculinity and the impact that had on the civil rights movement and other revolutions. He is, however, a staunch supporter of equality and recognizes his own privilege, and tries to do his best to not take advantage of that privilege. And so long as we limit the issue to outside of our house, he does pretty well at accomplishing his goal. Inside the house, I attribute the differential in division of labor as interpersonal differences in energy levels more than his or my view of gender roles; he can easily sleep ten hours a day and be happy, while I’m usually good after about six. It wouldn’t matter what gender either of us were, I don’t think there’s a way to have that and a 50/50 split in household duties, but if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Essentially, the right to choose our own path to follow is a huge gap in the US. While there are obviously strictures about what is “acceptable” for men to do, those strictures are looser and less often seen as critically as the strictures around women, and there’s rarely negative connotations connected to those dividing lines for men (think of how people used to say “women’s work” and its implications). Outside of careers, choice in family structure is also contentious. Again, I realize that it happens to people of both sexes, but how much more is it for a man to say he doesn’t want kids, compared to a woman? For a woman to be infertile is often seen as a critical blow to her identity, and whether a person becomes a parent through adoption or surrogacy is seen in some circles as a point to judge just easily as their politics or clothing.
The real answer, of course, is to continue the push for equality- equality of opportunity, equality of access. In the short term, can we simply stop judging everyone with a different opinion or life choice from ours? As many families as there are, there are that many ways to become a family and make a family work well. So long as no one is being hurt, what does it matter if dad stays home, or mom only wants one child? And heck, isn’t it just easier to not worry so much about what other people are doing? Now go be lazy, and don’t judge decisions that don’t affect you, like a boy with long hair or a dad who wants to stay home. I think that’s a pretty positive step for equality, don’t you?
By: Danny Thomas
Even before I had kids I was angry at the world, or more specifically humans.
I mean, I have a sense of humor
And I can see the light and joy in a lot of things.
I can even see the bittersweet beauty in things that are heartbreakingly sad
This is humanity.
But sometimes the anger and frustration I feel
As a father, and as a father of daughters
Makes the anger I felt toward humanity pre-fatherhood seem like small beans.
(there are going to be more uses of the word “fuck” in this blog than I’ve ever used before)
Look, probably by many people’s standards I am a completely disqualified feminist.
I gawk, and I guess I think it’s okay, I look at, and enjoy the shape and allure of an attractive human shape, be it male or female (admittedly, I have a broader definition of what that is than mass media and culture at large),
I enjoy pinups, I think porn and strippers have a place in this world, my kids play with Barbie Dolls and watch movies about Disney princesses – we have all kinds of toys and entertainment in our house that I’m sure would fail many people’s definition of healthy body-image-developing influences.
There is a real challenge there because I want my children to have confidence and healthy body image, but, I am not interested in sheltering my children, I am not interested in hiding the world from them. My goal is to foster confident, self aware, engaged, and insightful spirits, with strong psyches who can look at a Barbie doll and determine for themselves what it represents about our culture and what it means to them as individuals. However…
I am becoming increasingly aware that, particularly in the case of women, our culture is not designed to help me with that goal.
A few things have happened in the last three or four days that have pointed that out to me.
Not that I was ignorant of it before, I live with a woman who’s academic focus is largely based on Gender Studies…
believe me, there have been times when, in our house, we have eaten, breathed, and slept “female representation in the media” along with queer theory, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and location…
I am glad.
Frankly, part of the reason I married my wife is that she was the first woman I fell for who had enough Yang to compensate for my overabundance of Yin. Hell, part of the reason I asked her to marry me is because she told me I would.
Anyway, over the last few days, the Thanksgiving Holiday I guess…
a few things have just been hitting me over the head, gender wise…
First, we watched the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving morning.
It’s a family tradition that we honor, it is theatrical, and ridiculous, and weird, and surreal…
I enjoy that part of it.
We rarely, almost never watch live, commercial t.v. anymore – we stream most everything we watch, in fact, the kids don’t really understand commercials at all – that is a trip for another blog.
The point is, watching these commercials I was struck over and over by the tenor of them, almost all of them were geared toward women (the parade demographic, I suppose)…
I have long taken umbrage with home care products being marketed exclusively to women, but the thing that was jumping out at me, and, as I have said, I know this isn’t new, it just struck me as… old fashioned, last century, as we watched t.v. on Thanksgiving 2011.
What jumped out at me was all of these fashion, hygiene, and cosmetic products basically telling women that they are inadequate, in essence telling my daughters that they were not good enough. I wanted to holler, “Fuck You!” at the TV. – I may actually have. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I wanted to go Elvis on the TV…
Apparently, if you’re a woman, your body needs skin protection, this soap, that eye liner, butt lifting this, boob lifting that…
The fucking deodorant was even pissing me off, I muttered under my breath, “we are human, we smell, it’s actually a good thing, fuckers…”
Here are my beautiful, perfect, raw children… Oh man it was just… not the way I’d ever seen things before, I guess, so stark, bare… a new light. That must have set a sensitive tone for the weekend.
The next thing, I can’t remember if it was Friday or Saturday morning, my nearly six-year-old, she is only almost six, mind you, asks me if she’s fat or skinny… I was floored.
I knew that this was on the list of inevitable, challenging questions I was going to have to deal with as a father,
along with, “Have you ever done drugs?” and, “Can I go to a boys & girls sleep over?” and “Can I borrow $500?”
Believe me I figured it was coming, just not at five years old.
“I think you are perfectly sized.” I said. Which is not a lie. She is proportionate… as if it even fucking matters, but now I am racing to find books to read, as well as books to read to her, about healthy body image…. Fuck.
And finally, this afternoon, as she and I trolled through a stack of pictures and homework, scanning the keepers and round filing the rest, we came across a coloring packet she worked on in kindergarten.
The packet, clearly put together by a well-intentioned teacher, volunteer, or TA was titled, “Community Helpers”
and included public professionals that are important for kids to be aware of and recognize, as well as a few other professional people.
Doctor, Policeman, Farmer, Baker – all men. In fact all the professionals were men – except, of course, the teacher and the nurse.
Now – my kids know, in their personal lives: female cops, female farmers, female doctors, male nurses – so not only is this coloring packet at best: careless, at worst: bigoted, it does not represent the reality it is purporting to convey. Argh.
I was so disappointed.
Believe me the school, and the teacher will be getting a letter, not that I blame them, I blame our culture, but I also feel obligated to let these educators know I think they could do better.
I’ve wanted to be a dad since I was 20 years old, and I feel blessed to be one, a million times over blessed, beyond measure. And I thank and honor the many friends and strangers who have opted not to have children, leaving space and opportunity for mine, and their peers, however, sometimes the challenges are so huge, and insurmountable I feel that all I can do is fail. It is a proven fact that parenting is a Sisyphean task, so I guess I’ll keep my head down, rolling that rock up the hill, swearing at the TV, and hoping that my efforts pay off, with strong, independent, self aware daughters, who are happy with how their bodies smell and feel and look…