How much of a feminist are you… or more correctly… am I?

A few days ago I was having lunch with DrMrA and the BigA, while the BigA was on a break from testing out of the next grade level at math. We’ve been pushing her in math- because she is not challenged in math at school…and we know that eventually she needs to be better than the boys to just as well. This last is a sad fact that I wish weren’t the case, but it is.

During lunch us grown-ups thought we were talking over her head about recent events involving prominent women and feminist conversations that I’ve been eavesdropping on here in the blogosphere, but the BigA was actually paying quite careful attention. And she came out with the question:

Mommy, what is feminism?

This is an important conversation to have with my eleven year old daughter.  I’ve been going through a lot of soul searching about my own particular brand of feminism lately.  I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist- as someone who wishes for and works for equal rights and protections for women ( Ahem… ah- because I am one, a woman I mean), but I realize there are lots of different levels of this.

Maybe I don’t always go the distance that I should or could, and that’s been bugging me quite a bit. In some ways I’ve been trying to choose my battles, separate the major (i.e. she got a poor performance evaluation or no mentoring because she’s a woman) from those that feel less major (an insensitive joke, a sideways glance to the wrong place).  And hell, sometimes, being a girl who was trained by society never to offend, I just plain don’t have a quick response to the insensitive jokes, or with someone carrying these just one step too far. But when I come to read about feminism, and maybe even feminism put to use to improve the lot of women in science, in the blogosphere- I always leave feeling like even the minor battles represent something major- and by prioritizing the battles that I fight for and the ones I let go- I’m somehow not a ‘real’ feminist.  And boy oh boy that’s an uncomfortable feeling that I struggle with- especially because a) I am a girl and b) because I’m putting two daughters out there into the patriarchy world.

I’ve been so proud that there are women in prominent academic positions popping up here and here, and well here and here and there…(not academic but let’s not forget this one… because I cried watching her take the job as speaker).  Seeing all of this, makes me believe that anything is possible, that feminism has done its’ job- or is doing its job and the playing field is becoming more level. But in recent weeks I’ve been confronted with some issues I had hoped no longer exist… that I just think we should be over with in 2009. For those of you that don’t know- the first woman and the first Hispanic to lead Texas A&M… in like… well, EVER,  just lost her job. The reasons for this have been poorly elaborated but they don’t pass my smell test. I’m not sayin’ she lost her job because she is a girl, but in what I can only imagine is a hotbed of good ol’ boy-ism (remember A&M didn’t even admit women until the 1970s)… what were the 1000 small (or maybe not so small) cuts that contributed to her decision in the face of what appeared to be her imminent firing after only a short time on the job?  What conglomeration of ‘less major’ incidents created the atmosphere that allowed this to happen?

I’m thinking I’m going to have to re-evaluate which battles I’m fighting with respect to my gender, because they all feel pretty major right now. And I’ve got an 11 year old daughter.


21 thoughts on “How much of a feminist are you… or more correctly… am I?

  1. The difficulty is that one would love, ideally, to teach two incompatible ideas:

    (1) That she has the right to be treated as well as a man is, and to be afforded the same respect in all situations;

    (2) That the world is complicated, and that success will sometimes be best achieved by picking one’s battles.

    (2) isn’t just about feminism–it’s also about, say, negotiating with your parents about curfew but dropping the argument about nose piercing, or about letting the Republicans get rid of a birth control provision in the stimulus bill so that you can get said bill through Congress, or whatever.

    11 is just old enough to begin learning both these things. Handling incompatible ideas in your head is a hallmark of adulthood, right? The double digits is about when kids begin to be able to deal with this sort of complexity, I think–the idea that sometimes there is a better solution and a less-good solution, and that which solution is which might depend on the weighting of other variables, and that different people will always weight variables differently….etc. Letting her know that you struggle with some of these decisions is probably the best way for her to learn that life will be one long series of struggling with complex decisions. Uh, good luck with that.

  2. “I’m not sayin’ she lost her job because she is a girl”
    I will! She lost her job cuz she’s not a d00d! A bunch of widdle douchebags are skared of a woman in charge. boo hoo. So they kicked her non-d00d-compliant ass out the door after a whole eternity (1 year!) of letting her eat cookies from their cookiejar. I hope she sues their asses into oblivion.

    Now is the time to pounce on your daughter’s curiosity about feminism, SMART GIRL! This would be a great article to read with her.

    You lose the battles you don’t fight. However, I’ve learned it’s sheer stupidity to not have allies in battle because the P is so ingrained and every d00d is ‘a nice guy’. Sometimes it’s not about what battles, but when to fight them. I’m learning to pick the whens and the allies.

  3. (1) That she has the right to be treated as well as a man is, and to be afforded the same respect in all situations;

    You’ve already lost the battle with this phraseology, since the implicit assumption is that she won’t be treated as well as a man is, and that the best she can hope for is to get the same respect, regardless of merit. You’ve also set this up as a female-vs-male struggle, which is antagonistic.

    Better would have been:

    She should expect and demand the respect she deserves on her own merits, without regard to her gender.

  4. Jc- I had hoped she would ‘sue their asses into oblivion’ as well- and I said so to DrMrA. I read somewhere that she settled with them- on the condition that she would not sue. There was a more detailed article in the Houston paper yesterday. See this link.

    This is the most in-depth article I’ve seen and there is A LOT to be alarmed about here!

  5. Right Whimple! And drdrA make sure to insist that Santa Claus is real because, let’s face it, the world *should* have a Santa. So by whimpelian logic, Santa exists! Yay!

  6. Whimple- I’m kind of learning the hard way that I should stop giving a shit about offending people in this struggle for 50% of the population to be treated equally with the other 50%. I’m just tired of the implication that I have to be ‘nice’ about it.

    Bikemonkey- She’s already wise to the no Santa thing, in fact, she taught her little sister that 1. There is no Santa, Mom puts the presents under the tree… and 2. Magic doesn’t exist.

  7. Inre a Civilised Westerner’s take on the provincial goings on in a certain country far away. (If only they could be as progressive as us!):

    “Neda’s death makes remarks made by the BBC’s John Simpson on Friday’s Newsnight programme seem even more crass now than when he uttered them. Predicting that only the “hard cases” would take to the streets on Saturday, he said: “I suspect, without wanting to be sexist about it, that very the charming blondes in their black outfits won’t be there.”

    The Guardian blog

    Comments inre the Iranian protester, Neda Agha Soltan (11 yrs old is probably too young for the Youtube footage)

    In other news, macho manly men wielding large rubbery black dildos are attacked by girly women and dandy fellow prepared to risk blood-staining a v. nice well-fitted shirt).

  8. You don’t have to be nice. Do whatever you think will be most effective in achieving your goals. I don’t have daughters; why should I care anyway?

  9. wow whimple, are you serious about “why should I care anyway?”!

    DrdrA, notice the article talks about “the good guys losing the war” [to the big bad evildoers…..but wasn’t it the woman in charge who lost her job? yup, funny that… what war? OH, it’s a battle of MANLY MEN ELEVENTY!!!!!] The article isn’t about her (huh, where’d she go?), it’s about power and money, boys’ power and boys’ money. They derailed the living fuck out of her firing.

  10. First, I think the question “am I enough of a feminist” is sort of destructive. There is no ideal prototypical feminist out there that we should all rank ourselves against. Feminism is not just another stick to measure ourselves with, it is a tool to help us navigate the minefields that we find ourselves in. IMO, a better question is “am I being as brave as a I want to be?”

    Anyone who is trying to put feminism into practice is continually pushing against social pressure. If you create too much social resistance, then you will fail to advance in society and thus you will also fail to change society. If you over-avoid creating resistance, then you are not doing all that you could be doing. Success involves this constant tinkering and re-evaluation. Much of the time you won’t know if you picked the right battles or not. If you ask me, successful applied feminism feels very uncertain because it involves continually re-asking the question: am I pushing hard enough? OR am I pushing too hard?

  11. “If you create too much social resistance, then you will fail to advance in society and thus you will also fail to change society.”

    That is a slice of oft sited “conventional wisdom” that has limited (if any) historic basis, though, and on the issue of gender equality its proven embarrassingly trite.

    We can whoop and holler for the brave ladies taking it to the Ayatollah lately, but the shouts ring hollow in a country in which a popular Midwestern fast food chain recently air an ad featuring a leggy brunette devouring a burger with the tag line “Hardy’s Thick Burger: More than just a piece of meat!”*.

    * although, in fairness, they did kindly acknowledge the inflammatory nature of the add by later adding subtitle pointing out that the eye candy was a well known “writer” and thus presumably also “more than a piece of meat”. They then followed with an ad stating “guys don’t bake!”, because… well… that’s a woman’s job isn’t it? Welcome to 2009 BC.

    / rant

  12. I think you have to pick the battles that hit you in the gut. There’s no absolute ranking of priorities for everyone — someone else might find the offensive joke perfectly clear, a frontal assault, but consider the evaluation of performance to fraught with complexity to make a clear case.

    I tell people, sometimes, that I am raising my child to be a “sanctimonious feminist”, by which, I mean, someone who won’t let the comment they think is sexist slide by. But, I’ve realized, that another facet of our characters (mine & my daughters) produces this effect without our effort. We’re completely transparent. If you say something that offends us, you will know. So, it’s not hard for me to react by word or gesture. Suppressing the reaction would be the more difficult task.

    Another kind of person may have other battles to fight in the revolution. My contribution, to others, is to never dismiss their point of view.

  13. Add to you list the removal of Deb Powell as the dean of the U of MN Medical School.

  14. I agree with yolio that second-guessing ourselves for not being “feminist enough” is probably not productive. My personal opinion is that anyone who believes in, and works for, equal rights for women is a feminist. And “working for” women’s equal rights can take many forms and each individual may choose to fight different battles in different ways. As far as I’m concerned, women like you promote the feminist cause simply by being excellent scientists and by inspiring/encouraging other women to reach for what they want.

  15. Murano obviously didn’t fit into the good old boys network; I hope the Faculty Senate continues with the no-confidence vote the Council of PIs started last week. Oh, and Perry needs to keep his hands away from his alma mater which, thankfully, has come a long way since the 70’s.

  16. Hey, I’m just glad you’re thinking about it this much. I saw a talk recently by a female CEO who said she didn’t really get involved in women’s issues until she had her 5th child, who happened to be her only daughter. Then all of a sudden she realized. So, you’re not alone in struggling with how much to do and how to do it.

    I am glad to hear that women bloggers have influenced you at all. I’m always glad to hear if blogging has helped provoke thoughts and possibly even change minds.

    Didn’t know about the A&M president thing.

  17. until she had her 5th child, who happened to be her only daughter. Then all of a sudden she realized.

    daughters are a fantastic motivator

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