What’s your view of feminism today?

Photo courtesy of Soroush Karimi

One of the many advantages of growing old—yes!—is the new ease with which I can select my friends and associates. I suspect I’ve insulated myself from most of the annoying types I had to deal with when I was younger and my livelihood depended on greater tolerance of misogyny and its distant relative, male chauvinism. Whatever the reason, I no longer feel embattled. But I still empathize with young women as they contend with fools.

Megan M. Garr, editor of Versal, the bright literary light in Amsterdam, blogged today about the difficult decision to accuse someone of sexism. It’s an interesting and important discussion: “That boulder’s so easy even a girl could do it.” Why not click over and join it? I’d like to know your thoughts.

14 Replies to “What’s your view of feminism today?”

  1. Robin,

    Thanks for the link. Reading such inspires me for the women of the future–and the present! She truly is a positive role model. (As are you!)

    I also agree with the joy of choosing our friends, and choosing those we don’t care to spend much time with due to negativity and prejudice.

    It is also a joy to have reached the point of maturity–at whatever age that occurs for each woman–that we can stand in our power and speak out to those who talk like they live in a different century. Our society may still be patriarchal, but I don’t support it, and I certainly don’t allow others to treat me as inferior or make disparaging comments me–or about other women. Together we stand!!

  2. Still thinking about this, Sylvia… The best way to encourage mature, exemplary behavior is to reinforce it. But do I pay compliments when I observe men treating women as peers? I need to make a point of it.

    I’m tempted to mention some of the men who deserve recognition for being enlightened and honorable. If I did, it would be a long list, and, sadly, it might not have the intended effect. Wouldn’t it be ideal if the acknowledgment and reinforcement of commendable behavior came from other men?

    I’ll go this far. I’ll name one man who was always a fine role model and treated me absolutely fairly when I worked for him: John R. Carruthers.

    Anyone care to add another name from your world? Please include a link, if possible, so we can find out a little bit about the person. Let’s spin this.

  3. Robin, The name I must add to this marvelous list is Col. William M. Smith (Ret. U.S. Army) a man above men. A man who should, by his upbringing, be serving time behind bars. But instead, who served his country for 30 years. A man who redefines the sterotypical role model of step father. And this from a man who had SEVEN step fathers who set the example of how NOT to be a responsible, respectful, courtesy, loving role model. A man who proves that Indeed–we can learn from other people’s mistakes. A man with high regard for women, and who treats me with the highest respect, courtesy, and equality. (Sorry, no website available)

  4. The gender inequality not only shows up in direct comments, such as Megan experienced, but, more insidiously, in written language choices.
    Example: An American author, male, recently published a book about writing. He used ‘he’ throughout. When he listed authors he admired, they were all guys. Perhaps he did not like using the plural or the unwieldy ‘s/he’. But given that writing classes and workshops attract a majority of females, it would have been realistic to use ‘she’ as the norm.
    Why ‘mankind’ when ‘humankind’ is more inclusive? Why ‘man-made’ instead of ‘artificial’? Why–say in a feature such as an advice piece–are women more likely to be used to illustrate the ‘bad/fail’ element and men the ‘good/success’ element?

  5. I have struggled for a couple of days to find eloquence. I’ve abandoned the search and will just say this: As long as “feminism” is an “ism,” and not a default state, we’re not there. Ultimately we’ve never fully there.

    Yesterday I attended the memorial service for the father of my best man. My best man and his family are Japanese; in the remembrances, there was the most oblique of references to the father’s time in a World War II concentration camp.

    Say what you will about racism — I’ve said quite a lot myself — but it is, I believe, unthinkable that the U.S. would do such a drastic thing today. Muslims, the current out-group, suffer many kinds of suspicion and indignity, but there’s simply no question of rounding them all up and isolating them.

    In the same way, we are making progress on gender equality. It is never as fast as we would like. But it’s happening. Nobody seriously questions women’s suffrage today. Few refer to female flight attendants as “stewardesses.” But yes, there continue to be equality issues, and many men could use quite a bit of enlightenment. What’s important is to recognize progress and to continue to fight for the right path forward.

  6. Marsha, I make an effort to use gender-neutral language, but I’m not sure I’m perfectly evenhanded about it. If a sentence sounds inelegant otherwise, I’ll choose one sex or the other, but I’m not keeping count. I am, however, keeping count of my clients. Their number is too small to make a generalization. Otherwise, I’m in trouble. :)

    Speaking of “the count,” a couple of years ago, VIDA initiated a discussion of perceived bias against women creative writers. They and others have since been comparing the number of creative works authored by women to the number authored by men appearing in various literary publications. Some of the data are displayed in pie charts on VIDA’s website.

    I’ve read a few editors’ public responses to VIDA’s challenge. One answer in particular seems to reflect my own experience in reaching out to women writers whose work I admire. Some magazine editors have said they receive fewer submissions from women and more from men, and what they publish reflects that disparity. Again, the numbers are far too small at this point for me to come to any valid conclusions, but when I invite women writers to share their work with me, more often than not they decline. Essentially, this is their opportunity to reject me instead of the reverse. Given the opportunity, the women convey the consistent impression that they have other priorities, which of course might include a full-time job, completing their education, or an expectation of working with a more experienced agent. I’m guessing, but it seems true that a male writer is somewhat more likely to make time to take all the steps that lead to publication, first by completing a work of creative writing, second by submitting it widely, third by withstanding or learning from repeated rejections, and fourth by interviewing or somehow becoming acquainted with prospective collaborators (such as editors and agents).

    Experience makes the process of getting published familiar, if not easier. A workshop offering writers hands-on experience in the submission process—culminating in actual submissions—might help instill confidence, although I suppose it would be boring to instruct.

    By the way, I hope someone will hop over to Versal Journal and leave a comment. I need to learn how to shut down comments on individual posts so I can keep all of us on the same page. ;)

  7. Hi, Mike. I didn’t read your comment until I’d added mine above. Thanks for giving us a male perspective. I wanted that.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about the concept of “feminism.” I don’t like the word. It creates cognitive dissonance for me. Its definition doesn’t agree with its root forms.

    Not sure I agree, though, that it’s no longer possible in the US for racism or another form of discrimination to result in such horrific dehumanization. Certainly we’re capable of dehumanizing others at a remove. We still drop bombs. Our taxes fund detention facilities housing illegal immigrants. The mere fact that we feel entitled to consume more than our share of the earth’s natural resources is a testament to our ability to dehumanize others.

    You and I live in what we’d call progressive, and others would call politically liberal, communities, which distorts our perception of what other Americans are thinking. There’s an enormous swath of US territory between you and me where we’d be in the radical minority. We might overlook it, but politicians can’t afford to.

    History shows that the path doesn’t always lead forward, but let’s hope that citizen journalists and social media will help, in a dramatic way, to keep us headed toward a default state of equality.

  8. Thanks, Robin. You’re right, of course. We are a long way from “there.” Humans being what we are, we’ll never get there. And change takes generations. My own late grandfather lived in a mixed-race neighborhood in southern Los Angeles; the epithets he used to describe some of his neighbors are unrepeatable and go well beyond even the ones we see being “reclaimed” today.

    I think my main point — the one that keeps me here rather than on Megan’s page — is my intent to respect the wrong inflicted on Megan. “Even a girl could climb that rock.” It’s a terrible thing to say and it deserves to be challenged. Ultimately, though, the people saying this are unlikely to change what they’re *thinking*, even as we succeed in getting them to stop verbalizing negativity.

    What changes society is the passing of values from generation to generation. I didn’t seriously fault my grandfather for being unable to escape his wartime-era prejudices. Trying to change him would have been counter-productive. But my father never verbalized any such belief, whether he thought it or not. I, too, have prejudices, but I recognize them as relics to be challenged, not as truth.

    My own son would be raised (here I bristle at the lack of subjunctive voice in English) on Marvin Gaye’s protest music and women’s professional soccer. These girls, my boy, could score on you at will.

    To pursue this narrative as a response to Megan’s experience would be to seem to trivialize or marginalize it. “You can’t be serious? Imagine being black in the 1950s.” But I don’t intend this at all, and so I stay over here. Megan’s pain and anger are very real and justified; they are the manifestation of her generation’s challenge. I suggest progress not to belittle her or defend misogyny, but to provide a sliver of hope.

    For all the ways that we’re still wrong, men my age and younger no longer believe that a woman’s place is in the home, or that her ideal state is barefoot and pregnant. I was determined to marry a woman who could kick my ass. I hope never to find out the answer to that question, but she *can* pick me up.

  9. Fowler said the subjunctive was dying, but I’m with you, Mike.

    I’m not as optimistic as you seem to be about cultural evolution. Economics play a large part in shaping our behavior toward one another. It’s easier to share the wealth when there’s plenty of it. In lean times, we revert to justifying oppression in our efforts to maintain our standard of living. But there’s no way to pinpoint all the influential factors. Pop culture also has a powerful effect. I’m glad you had a good dose of Sigourney Weaver, Joan Jett, Ellen DeGeneres, or whoever contributed to form your ideal. I’m liking C more and more! Can’t wait to meet her.

    Yes, I do appreciate being able to pick my friends, even if it makes this blog into an echo chamber. Dangerous.

  10. Marsha,

    I’m right there with you on that subject. When men say its just semantics, that the masculine infers/includes women as well, I ask them, “If I say ‘she’ do you feel included?”

    Of course their answer is no, of course not. Point made. And that is the reason I write strong women. AND read many more women writers than men.

    Of course, when I speak up with a more inclusive language, many people sneer. Which does not alter my behavior one iota. When people give the “just semantics” argument, I say there is no such thing as ‘just semantics’ Words change how people think, feel and act.

    Over time, hopefully our society will move more into an inclusive language–but when our language fails us, we need to alter our language!

  11. Mike, your eloquence is fine! I enjoyed reading your comments. Old habits do indeed change slowly, and we have made progress, indeed. And I agree, it is important to recognize such progress.

    Young women today are blessed to be able to take so much of that progress for granted. I so admire these young women and their limitless vision. Sometimes I ask one, “How did you get so smart, so young?” Took me a lot longer! LOL

  12. Thanks for the VIDA link and the disturbing stats about publishing and gender.
    Your comment about women writers being less likely to submit their work rang a bell. A study from years ago identified that when applying for professional jobs, women tended not to apply unless they were over-qualified. Men were more likely to apply on spec, even those who were under-qualified. I remember the study because I noticed the same when I served on selection panels for senior appointments.
    In terms of your work with writers, It seems likely that many new writers (women and men) are looking for a ‘sign’ before they feel they can legitimately use the title of ‘writer’. That is, they may not feel comfortable showing their work until someone they admire taps them on the shoulder and announces ‘it’s time’. One could call this the myth of the fairy godmother, fixing up life, and what a strong myth this is.

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