Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Women in the home

I've been thinking recently about sexism and all of its many subtle forms. My feeling about this is that if you aren't a woman, you just don't understand what it's like. And yes, I understand that women don't fully understand what it's like to be a man either (and please excuse my use of the gender binary here, while we're at it, but it illustrates my point). But it's different if you're a woman.

I think this is mostly an issue with the good guys, the ones who don't believe in "father knows best" and who generally respect women, or at least most women. But those same guys are blind to what it's like to be a woman in certain situations. Maybe it's because they themselves aren't overtly sexist and so they don't think about sexism that still exists, not just in the attitudes of individuals but in societal constructs and systems.

For example, most decent guys don't really understand what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated office where guys complain about their wives and make the occasional joke at women's expense. They don't understand the hypersensitivity about salary and career advancement because they weren't raised knowing that their sex makes 77 cents to every dollar that the other sex earns. They don't walk that fine line of being assertive at work without coming across as a bitch, and they don't have to worry about hemlines and necklines being appropriate at all times. And because they never had those things in their consciousnesses, I just don't think they can really relate.

But maybe the biggest area that I don't think guys can fully understand is the threat of sexual harassment and sexual violence that women are always aware of somewhere, even if it's just in the backs of their minds. They don't see why a woman would be so upset at a casual joke from a male higher-up at work about how she might sleep her way to the top. They don't understand the nervousness about walking home alone at night. They don't understand that constant vigilance.

They might be able to understand it on an intellectual level, but I don't think they can understand it on a real, visceral level, really see how it permeates into a woman's consciousness and awareness at all times. The same way that I can imagine how I would feel if I were required to wear a burqa at all times, but I can't truly know what it's like. Your experience colors who you are as a person and the outlook that you bring to everything in your life. And men, growing up removed from these issues of which women are so aware, just can't enter into it and really wrap their heads around it the way women can.

But so many men can and do respect women, not because someone taught them they have to necessarily (although that's part of it) but because it would never occur to them not to. The Washington Post ran an article recently about how women and men are becoming more and more equal when it comes to family decisions, and I think what's most telling is that most of the guys I know would be shocked to hear of families that were structured any other way.

I love that the feminist movement right now is all about choice. I know that we're still bogged down in the details, that great rhetorical wars rage on wherein women criticize one another's choices, but the fact that we can make those choices to begin with makes me so happy. We don't have to be CEOs and high-powered lawyers to be successful, happy, feminist women. But we also know that if that's what we want, we can go after it and nobody should be able to put us down for it.

I sometimes wonder if maybe feminism will come full circle and more and more women will start making the choice to stay at home and run the household instead of working in the public sector. Even if that does happen, and it may well, I don't think that would be a step backward, and that article points to why. Staying at home doesn't have to mean what it used to. You can still be an involved, equal partner in the relationship and in the family, whether or not you're working outside the home. That's where the real victory lies.

27 comments:

  1. Yeah, I think about that a lot. Because Mr. A is a good guy, but he doesn't really get it. Sexist stuff happens to me CONSTANTLY at work (not with my co-workers but with people I am forced to associate with because of my job) and NEVER gets why I think X statement is sexist. He doesn't really get the constant undercurrent of that stuff there is.

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  2. GREAT post. Thanks for writing so articulately about this.

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  3. Actually, the only men who can understand what women go through are transsexual male-to-females. They get it.

    Your post is so accurate in so many ways, it should be standard reading for all men. (And still they wouldn't get it.)

    I'm continually irked that I have to be hyperaware of my surroundings all the time, not only as a woman, but as a gay woman.

    I could go on and on, but I'll just say AMEN to all that you said and leave it at that. Thanks for articulating all of this.

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  4. This is a wonderful post... something that's been on my mind quite often lately. I have been struggling with a desire to be at home, to leave corporate America, and wondering whether it's an insult to all those women who fought for this before me. Your last paragraph was refreshing to read: what they fought for was not simply the office, but the choice.

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  5. Your statement, I sometimes wonder if maybe feminism will come full circle and more and more women will start making the choice to stay at home and run the household instead of working in the public sector. Actually, I think it's already happening. There are MANY stories of very accomplished women. Doctors. Attorneys. MBAs. Choosing to quit working to stay at home and raise children. It's gotten the women of our parents' generation in an uproar (for all they fought for, our generation or ladies a little older than us are choosing to stay at home anyway). But, despite the choice a lot of women make to stay at home, the amazing thing is they have the choice. They've "been there, done that" with the successful career and are ready to focus on the family. It's in large part why many couples don't start having children until later - to allow the women to become more established in her career.

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  6. This is a great post - and I second J.M. Tewkesbury here, I think it also applies to LGBT* men & women.

    I've talked with some good friends about this a number of times and I was shocked by how many carry pepper spray or sleep with a crowbar under their beds. Even scarier is how much of them fear from first hand run in's with violence & sexual violence, even at 22 and 23.

    I think the real freedom is in the choice to do whatever we like and in, hopefully, being able to give up that fear eventually.

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  7. Well said! I think the real freedom lies with being able to make the choice without prejudice.

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  8. This is a great post. And you're right, guys don't understand what it's like to have to be cautious when someone walks by you on the sidewalk late at night.

    Another thing (that's sort of dumb) is how women's uniform pants are absolutely horrible. My company requires us to wear uniforms, and the pants for women are more like 'made for men, but with extra thigh space.' They're horrible. Luckily we can buy our own pants.

    When I first started working at my job, I was the only female in all of my meetings. THE ONLY ONE in meetings of 30+ people. I'm still usually the only female when we go to supplier companies.

    On the flip side, it was easier for me to get a job (being a minority in the field) than it was for Mr. C (who is a white male). I also make slightly more than he does.

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  9. Great post.

    I agree, I think more women are staying home.

    We need better maternity leave and all that jazz - job sharing, child-friendly work environments, more part-time work, and so on.

    So for the millions of women who DON'T have the option to be a SAHM, they're able to balance their family and work realistically.

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  10. This is a great post. Thanks for writing it! As a feminist woman with a degree in Women's Studies this resonates with me. One sad fact that I see all too often though is women standing in the way of other women. I don't get that. It really bothers me. Or when women say that being called a feminist is offensive. What? Really? Does that mean you aren't grateful for the incredible work the feminists before you did to get you the right to vote or to protect you from sexual harassment or to protect your reproductive rights? When I hear that I get really angry and very sad.

    So this post is well needed. :-)

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  11. I agree with Nilsa. Also, great post. :)

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  12. oh man, i SO AGREE. The Boy is holding on to a LOT of "traditional" ideas about women.. or more accurately, i guess, male/female relations. for example: we talked about it once, and he admitted it would REALLY bother him if his wife made more money than he did. i know it comes from a "good place" - eg, he feels responsible for providing for a family, which in and of itself is not an offensive idea - but it's still incredibly frustrating.

    i also read something recently that said that men who believed in full gender equality ended up making less than men who thought they should make more than women. GAH.

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  13. Want to be horrified by sexism? Watch Mad Men!

    I'm with the folks saying it's coming full circle. I feel like I've read a lot of those articles lately. And in my circle of college-educated urban friends, about half stay home and half work part time- no one is working full time.

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  14. Oh, I love this post! I think about things like this quite often, and I am about to forward it along to my friends who have chosen to stay at home with their children because I think they will enjoy it as well.

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  15. Great post :) I have written many lengthy comments on it but they all turn into novels so I'll just leave it at this. :)

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  16. Have you been watching Mad Men at all? It brings up so many of these same issues but back in the sixties. It makes me angry to even watch and Chris doesn't really get it. He's all, "But it's not like that anymore!" Unfortunately, it still is in many places.

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  17. Coming out of GReader hiding at work! This is new for me. But this post is soooo good that I need to comment.

    First: YAY YAY YAY I'm not an over reacting, uptight, over sensitive girl. I love you for your timing on this post.

    Every time a sexist joke is made I feel objectified, commodified, and disrespected. Isn't it fair then for me to point out the sexism? But then I come across as somebody you nitpicks every little thing. But seriously. How else can it ever be expected to stop? But then they turn me into little miss feminist. And I'm like, yeah, I am a feminist... so that's hardly an insult. But STILL. SO FRUSTRATING.

    I'm a good humoured, good natured, easy laugh. I'm happy and positive. Just because I say "I don't think jokes about raping your wife are funny" doesn't make me uptight.

    You're absolutely right that only women know what misogyny feels like. I'm so glad this was posted today.

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  18. I'm going to be entirely honest here and I apologize in advance for a comment that is certain to rub people the wrong way. I could write a whole post on this...and probably will. For the record, I've re-written this comment five times.

    On an intellectual level, I believe my mom and other feminists fought for us to be able to make a choice, but I can't help but worry that women who choose to stay home are setting us back.

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  19. Oh my goodness, you have not even seen sexism until you have a baby. And the battles about whether to work or stay home! It all gives me great heartburn.

    I think, maybe like racism, that blatant sexism, the kind you can easily point a finger at, has diminished, but sexism is still rampant and has, in some ways, just gone underground.

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  20. There is no rational reason why women would stay home and look after children instead of men. If women start doing that en masse again, it would be hard to argue that it wasn't from some reactionary sexist impulse.

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  21. I honestly don't notice the sexism as much in my office because it's 90 percent women (which can be bad) but I still see unfair compensation which upsets me the most. We clammor to get guys in our office and many guys get 10 percent more than me and I'm doubly smart.

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  22. hmm, I know sexism is out there still but I try to just be grateful for how far we have come and the men that really matter to us have come. My husband is currently looking at his sis' baby registry online and hemming and hawing that he is worried she didn't register for enough onesies. Right involved in the perils of daily parenting, this man. There are some asshole men out there, but there are enough wonderful, enlightened ones that we will surely continue to make progress. In the meantime when we do meet the a-holes out there at work, we are still lucky to come home to good men. In short, I guess I try to just look on the bright side. It could be so much worse.

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  23. That was a really great post.

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  24. Amen, my dear. I get so frustrated about not being able to express these things for fear of being seen as a whiner or a militant severe feminist. My boyfriend is amazing, and a feminist, but he still doesn't get the safety worries thing. He thinks I'm being overly paranoid.

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