Hey Feminists! Can't We All Just Get Along?
Why can't we be friends?
There has been a lot of hubbub on the feminism front as of late. While it is wonderful that the ladies are getting their voices out there, there seems to be some disagreement on what those voices should be saying. Exactly 50 years after Betty Frieden's famous The Feminine Mystique was released, women still can't see eye to eye on what we all want... but what is so wrong with that? Can't we just agree to disagree agree, as long as we are in agreement on something?
The most recent woman to be making waves is author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead was released this month and has caused quite a stir in the female (and male) community; people are either leaning all over her or leaning way in the other direction. Sandberg's thesis is, more or less, that working women need to take a seat at the big kids' table. Through studies and figures she presents a pretty compelling argument as to why women are not leading in the workforce, some of the reasons are the fault of men, some our own deflated egos and then there are the standards of society.
We've all heard the facts: women still make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes, there are only 17 women in Congress despite women accounting for more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, and more women than men now are earning college degrees. It's hard to disagree with the notion that more women should have corner offices.
Or is it? For all of her good intentions, Sandberg has received quite a bit of aggressive feedback, some of it deserved and some not. The bulk of her critics say that Sandberg is clueless to what "real" women go through. It's easy for Sandberg to stand on a soapbox and say that women need to speak up more and take charge; she's got a Harvard-educated really nice, Prada soapbox. Most women are happy enough to just have some soap. Other commentators have negated Sandberg's argument by stating that it is polarizing and too one-size fits all. What if women don't want to lean in and they just want to hang out?
Such an argument was made last week in an article written for New York magazine by Lisa Miller. Miller writes that there are tons of women out there who want to stay home and describes this idea, not very creatively, as "leaning out." Miller's piece represents the ideal of the stay at home mom and states there is a recent trend of women giving up on their corporate lives and opting to bake pies (or buy them at Trader Joes or wherever). Miller interviews one mom in particular who calls herself a "feminist housewife," and is proud to support the cause but would rather do dishes. OK, that sounds fair.
But there has to be backlash to the backlash and much of that came out of the feminist website Jezebel last week, natch. Jezebel author Tracie Eagan Morrissey apparently hated Miller's article on the twentieth century homemaker and is pissed as hell about it. In three different posts Morrissey slams Miller for basically being full of shit. Morrissey writes:
On one hand, it's gross that New York is contributing to the insidious cycle of implicit sexism with no real evidence or hard data to back up the claims. But on the other hand, I guess it's kind of a win that feminism is so "cool" again that they'd make an attempt, however sloppy, to chime into the conversation.
Fueling the feminist fire is a story that broke late last week in the tech world when female computer developer, Adria Richards, got upset when a couple of tech frat bros made some dick jokes at a computer conference. Richards tweeted pics of the guys resulting in one of them being fired for "inappropriate" behavior.
But it gets better (no worse), some folks on 4chan's anarchic /b/ forum hacked into Richards' company's website with the specific intent to do harm. The hacker's case being that Richards is a bad person for complaining about these guys and if she can dish it out, she can take it. Within no time, Richards herself gets canned. The Intertubes lit up with distressed polar viewpoints from lots of women that suggested "she deserved to be fired for being a whiny bitch" or "she stands for all women's plight against tasteless, sexist men who dominate the computer world." The website feministe.us had to moderate its comments due to the onslaught of negativity.
Ladies, ladies! Time the hell out. Let's take a step back and remember something someone famous who I don't remember said: United we stand, divided we fall even if we think some of us are being ridiculous and over-the-top and have no idea what's good for the group as a whole (I added that last part in).
I guess what I am saying is, can't we all just get along?
A few years ago Rep. Steve King (R-IA) made the incredibly offensive comment that if gays don't want to be discriminated they should stop acting so gay. As upsetting a remark as this is, and he wouldn't be the first to say it, I think that in some ways it applies to the way women are reacting to each other's opinions of what makes a feminist and what doesn't. If women would stop acting so catty with each other, maybe we could make some progress. They call it cat fights for a reason and that reason is that cats go from being standoffish, to demanding, to demure, to annoying, and then they crap in the corner of your house and you don't know about until several days later when your realize that your bedroom smells like poop. Whether we believe that women need better pay or the freedom to take care of their children without society making them feel bad about their choice, the bottom line is let's fight for those rights together and not in angry, angry silos.
In thinking about society's latest bout with feminism, I cannot help but bring up woman du jour Lena Dunham and her much talked about HBO show Girls. One of the biggest complaints about the show is that Dunham, a regular-sized woman, has the nerve to show her naked, imperfect body on television. And guess what? The negative comments about Dunham's physique are coming just as much from women as they are from men. Soul sisters, shouldn't we be applauding this behavior not dumping on it?
Sandberg's perception of what makes a feminist may be equivalent to those who go out and "do," while Miller's may be those who stay at home and take care of their young, and both are correct. Jezebel's assertion that Miller is completely off base is silly and is just getting people riled up. Of the many (many) things about the New York article that pisses Morrissey off, one in particular is the notion that girls grow up playing with dolls and that women are brought up to be caretakers.
Er... I hate to break it to you but this is true. Little boys like trucks and little girls like dolls and whether this is intrinsic or pushed on them by society, you can't really argue with the fact that this assessment is accurate. Like it or not, women are built to make babies. We have these crazy mammary glandular appendages protruding out of our chests that are there for the sole purpose of feeding those babies, and when a baby is nestled against its mother, it's going to feel more nurtured than when it is being held by its father. There are physiological characteristics that have defined the differences between men and women forever and all animals for that matter.
Granted, that just because we have boobs and uteruses it doesn't make us good moms or even the desire to mother, but inherently our gender understands the territory well. Why argue about science? We are born to be mothers but that doesn't mean we can't be CEOs as well, or hairdressers or plumbers.
I am in two book clubs and both clubs unanimously picked Sandberg's book to read this month (score for me). My book clubs are both stereotypical consisting of a bunch of highly educated women with "smart" careers such as lawyers, writers, marketing executives, etc. And we spend a good chunk of our meetings discussing the latest New York Times' Best Sellers, politics, the media and women's rights, but after a while conversation slides into "girly" territory, and more often than not it is about vajazzling. Does this make us bad feminists?
Rather than getting into what makes a feminist and what doesn't, we should be figuring out how to make a unified step forward as women. We're not men and there's no reason we should be. We're awesome just as our crazy, PMS-y, chocolate eating, big hips for birthing, celebrity-obsessed, bra burning, gossipy, cheesy Rom-Com loving, silly pink cocktail sipping, too many shoe shopping, calorie counting, self-deprecating so that someone will say "no, you are really smart," good at sewing and actually like sewing, banana tree buying because it makes the bananas get ripe, pictures of our butts and sending to friends to see if they look fat taking, beautiful, brilliant and wonderful selves.
On a side note, I spent the majority of my professional career attempting to "lean in" and several times I was pushed out, and it wasn't because of any man or my own lack of drive, it was consistently done by other women. Each time it happened it was as disappointing as the previous and I never understood (still don't) why. Women need to support other women. Period.
Author Louise Bernikow once said, "Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other to belong to themselves." And then Bel Biv Devo said, "Never trust a big butt and a smile;" they are both correct.
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