07 March 2007

Up On My Soapbox

I’ve been told that Russian men traditionally give flowers or gifts to the women in their lives on International Women’s Day. That sounds real nice and all but it’s a shame that the social and political roots of the ‘holiday’ have been lost.
I see it as a day to promote awareness of the prejudice and persecution that still occurs in the world against 50% of the population.

For example:

In Tehran just last week, over 32 women were arrested for protesting outside a courthouse. The women were protesting against the previous arrests of women’s rights group leaders who were planning events on IWD to call attention to Islamic laws that discriminate against women.

Since 2001, more than 2,000 women and girls have been murdered in Guatemala and almost no convictions in these gruesome cases (men in Guatemala are allowed to rape women so long as they eventually marry the victim and she’s over the age of 12).

These horror stories are almost expected in developing countries and it is easy to feel distanced from their suffering, however we have displays of our own here in North America even if we choose not to see them. Last year for example we had two shocking and prominent examples of men walking into American schools and selecting girls to assault and kill. Everyone scrambled afterwards to address the issues violence in schools and society (or why someone might hate the Amish) while few acknowledged them to be brutal hate crimes against women. At the New York Times, Bob Howard wrote an article “Why aren’t we shocked?” about how our culture is so saturated with misogyny that we don’t notice it anymore even when it walks into a school and executes innocent children.

It doesn’t take a school shooting to see modern misogyny either as Forbes magazine demonstrated in August last year when it ran the article "Don’t Marry Career Women:"
Guys a word of advice, marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career.
Naturally there was a deserved backlash against the piece from women yet curiously I read few rebuttals from men. And men should be offended by its outdated portrayal of their gender as emotionally stunted, insecure and laaaa-zy, but strangely I don’t think too many men saw it as an affront to them.

Dang, I'm afraid I've gone off on a tangent and that was not my intent here. I have a feeling that most people (regardless of gender) aren’t even aware IWD exists nor give any more than a passing thought to it. Instead of giving out flowers to those who were born with a womb tomorrow I just wanted anyone reading this to take five minutes to reflect on the roles and rights of women here and abroad and consequently what that means about roles and rights of men -I think one has a lot to do with the other.

There, I’m off my soapbox.


Dr J said...

I don't know about Russians, but an ex of mine was Polish, and apparently the IWD gifting was a tradition, at least in their family. (How do I remember this? Gawd only knows.)

I think you're right about the day having lost much of its original meaning (or purpose), and surely the world would do well to pay closer attention to the instances you highlight, not to mention countless other ones around the world.

That said, I also think the most significant aims of feminism have been betrayed by tendencies to label just about everything as misogynist in some way. (Same is true of classists, too, who see imperialism in everything.) I think this is part of worldwide tendency for people to cast themselves as victims, a gesture which inadvertently belittles those whom have been genuinely victimized, often brutally and with all-too-often regularity. I think days like today ought to be as much about correcting our perspecta and re-examining our priorities, not least of which should be the need for fundamental human decency.

Thanks for the excellent post.

nic said...

That is interesting; a Polish coworker was just telling me that growing up in the eastern bloc the women didn’t like IWD because it felt to them like Russia was telling them to celebrate it.

It's unfortunate that the perception of feminism is that it labels everything as misogyny, which is probably why there aren’t many young women who will claim to be feminists. As in any movement there are factions who will do just that –label anything that seems unfair as oppression and constantly lay accusations and blame. I’m very thankful to live in this time, in this country where generally I don’t have to worry about going out for groceries and ending up decapitated in a ditch or that I’ll be punished for speaking up for myself. I simply think that it’s easy to forget these are genuine fears for many women and appreciate one day a year to consider their individual situations as well as the position of women in general.

Dr J said...

Well, I don't want to go off on a rant here, but feminism in the past 20 years has splintered very badly, and accidentally worked against itself. Affluent and faux feminism have, I think, been especially damaging, esp. among those who followed the Simone de Beauvoir model. (And that's before we even get into the Madonna-cum-Britney models that did so much damage in the past 20+ years.) The cynical examples I mentioned are primarily in North America, and some in Europe; but your points hold true in most of the rest of the world, not least of which in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even first-world countries like Japan.

I think we're right now living in a step backwards for feminism, a step that often happens before another two are taken forward. (In other words, it's still working out some of its own fissures.) I worry sometimes, though, that it has taken two steps backward rather than one.

Pointing everywhere and identifying misogyny accomplishes only so much; and worse, the leading female icons that play into the most nefarious examples of femininity exacerbates the garbage. (Think Aguilera and Girls Gone Wild and Ann Coulter, all of whom are part & parcel of a truly debased feminism.) And academia helps not a whit, as most of the harbingers there sound like professional complainants.

True feminism, as I think of it (and I could be wrong on this), works toward equality, toward ensuring that woman be respected as full members of society, and deserving of every right and entitlement, decent or otherwise, we'd guarantee men. This is worthy, and something we ALL should be fighting for.

But feminism, in its recent years (and in the academic context), has tended toward the "well, the pendulum swings back" mentality. I understand that, but that's a short-term answer, and not a long-term one.

A woman, any woman, is as capable of greatness, failure, accomplishment and inadequacy, as any man. That realization is important. Some feminists will never believe the capacity for female error; some chauvinists will never believe the capacity for female correctness. (And there will always be the factions of labellers. Oy vey.)

There has to be some degree of swing and throw as all this, and all this history, works itself through. And yes, it's a little easier to be intellectually cavalier in this regard in a country like Canada (as opposed to Pakistan, or even Japan).
But it shivers me half to death when a country like Canada seriously entertains allowing Sharia law, so misogynistic as it is, as a viable alternative to national law. Another fear for a giant leap backwards.

I also realize I'm a contradiction in this regard. Sorry, I was raised as a kind of chivalrist, which I know these days equates with chauvinism. Now that's a faulty syllogism.

(I should prolly add this: I have been accused of extreme sexism on one side, and, from more than a few female friends, of being the most genuinely feminist person so-and-so has known. Which has me, of course, showing up my hands and saying, "Okay, I don't know anymore...." Maybe good Sylvia might remember some of the stuff in this regard from my haler days. Or Zelda.)

RK said...

I wasn't going to go here, as we say nowadays, but I do have to say that there is something wrong with any culture in which no-longer-quite-so-young women can read Donne and call him a misogynist. Not all, and not some of the genuinely young, I'm happy to add: perhaps this was just a passing fad. A bright young woman in an American colleague's class allowed, after reading the 19th Elegy, as how she'd be more than happy to have JD colonize her.

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