Month: February 2013

Dear “Feminism Destroys Things” People

Dear Mr. Nold,

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but my name is Lauren. I’m a feminist, and I wanted to introduce myself. I say this because I recently read your article entitled, “Feminism hurts modern-day relationships,” and I’m not sure you’ve ever met a feminist before. At least, that’s what I’m hoping, because it’s the only conclusion that leaves you with much dignity after that piece.

So hi. I’m a feminist. Not the kind you’re envisioning, most likely. I don’t have hairy legs because I like how they feel shaved. I love my bras, and am more likely to burn dinner than I am my lingerie. I own an embarrassingly large collection of cosmetics and skyscraper heels. I almost always wear a skirt or dress in professional settings, because I feel confident and like the way they make me look. I like kids (at least, my daughter better hope so). If I ever get married, I’ll probably take my husband’s last name. I’m still a feminist.

Doesn’t quite line up with the women crusading against evil men in your piece, does it? To be fair, there’s not much in your piece that adds up at all.

You’re right that economic modernization has been good to women. We’ll ignore that your justification for said claim was that industrialization created an economy less reliant on manual labor – despite the fact that many women are just as capable as men in such work – and instead focus on some of the good news. Women do make up a larger portion of the workforce than they did before. That’s cool. Except for the fact that they:

  • Still earn $.77 for every dollar a man makes doing the same job with comparable performance and qualifications- a mere 18 cents higher than it was in 1970. On average, that’s a deficit of around $10k a year in pay. That means that if I start working at the age of 22, and retire at 65 (oh, to be so lucky), that’s just under $500k that I don’t get as a woman. 
  • Still only make up 15% of corporate boards, and only 14% of executive roles, for Fortune 500 companies. You’re right that there are more executives than before, but you’re wrong about the pace of the trend- it’s glacial. I’ll admit that some gap here would be reasonable, given the social constructs of family and the decisions some female professionals make about their priorities, but it doesn’t justify a 35% gap. Not by a long shot.

Maybe an employer can’t tell me I won’t get a job because I’m not attractive to him, or that I won’t get a promotion because he’s worried I’ll have kids, but he can still think it. Without solid proof of discrimination, he can act on those thoughts without consequence. I may have a better shot in the workplace today than I did in the 1950’s, but that doesn’t make it a fair shot. I, personally, am lucky to work for a firm where I don’t have to worry about anything of the sort, but I’m lucky. Lucky. Luck should have nothing to do with equal treatment.

Perhaps the knowledge of these facts is why we’re so competitive, as you mention when you discuss collegiate differences between the sexes. To be fair, I wound up very confused when I read this part of your article. You say that men are not earning as many degrees, and their grades aren’t as good, because, “they are no longer being held to a higher standard.” You say this is a result of feminist-driven competition, but (graciously) we shouldn’t blame women for this.

Lolwut?

For starters, you must hang out with some weird guys. I don’t think I have ever met a man who was like, “Man, I’m going to piss away $120k in college loans before interest and get C’s because FEMINISM.

But assuming this bizarro world where your logic holds, you’re right. You should not blame feminism for alleged male slacking, because slacking would be the man’s choice, no? I have no idea why this was in your article to begin with, because it certainly doesn’t support your point. Yep, women folk are gettin’ themselves some edumacation. Which means that while women are more educated and better trained than ever, they are still paid less and promoted less frequently than men. 

Nice try, though.

Then we come to your section on relationships, and this was the part where my brain started to implode a little bit. You articulate an argument I’ve heard more frequently lately than I care to think about, largely because it sounds a great deal like bitter whining, and also because it’s complete and total intellectual slop. Your words:

The fact is women have become so independent and focused on their work many have forgotten how to have a relationship based on mutual understanding and cooperation.

Hokay, time out. Aside from the fact that your sentence composition makes me weep for the future of journalism, a few things need to be said:

  1. Wait, why do I need to be in a relationship to begin withNews to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong – relationships with the right people can be great – but I’m fairly certain I don’t stop being a person when I’m single. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’d always been told that it was important to be your own person, and not define yourself based on who you date. Perhaps that’s why women are so focused on their careers and individual interests – they’ve realized that they are, in fact, people. GASP! Unintended consequences… they’re a bitch. 
  2. If you’re right, and feminists are so competitive they can’t do relationships, you should be happy feminism exists! After all, now you have an easy way of identifying people who will challenge you as an individual, and can avoid dating them. #WINNING
  3. You know, men- for centuries- worked as the breadwinners for their family. They worked outside the home, and they still had relationships. The question is, does ambition and perseverance and hard work mean you can’t grasp the importance of mutual understanding and cooperation? (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)
  4. Also, since, as you point out, women are such bad ass business people now, you better believe they understand the importance of mutual understanding and cooperation. I don’t know many successful people in business who don’t.
  5. If men are slacking the way you say they are, it’s a damn good thing we’re focused and independent. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees. Or your parents’ basement walls.
  6. I love that your vision of mutual understanding and cooperation is you telling women not to be a feminist and to participate in a relationship according to your worldview. It’s so ironic, it’s like post-hipster. Gnarly, dude.

Alright, bitchfest done. You probably didn’t deserve all of that. But you still needed to hear it.

In all seriousness, this comment is why I was worried you’d never met a feminist. Feminists are actually on your side here. I mean, I’m sure there are a handful who want nothing more than a purse holder in a man, and most of us would caveat the bulk of your writing with more gender neutral terminology (to be more inclusive of the LGBT community- intersectionality for the win), but generally and broadly speaking, feminism has evolved to the point that it’s about treating people equally, regardless of gender. That means they want the ability to participate in a partnership that’s based on mutual understanding and cooperation as equals.  They’re down with the idea that “men and women in a relationship need to value one another equally and agree to their responsibilities to the relationship, together in mutual partnership.”

I’m not sure who you’ve been talking to or reading (outside of a woman whose career is telling other women not to have one). Feminism is very much in line with the ideas you praise.

If you believe:

  • that an equally qualified, educated and performing woman should be paid the same amount as a man of similar qualifications, education and performance in the same job;
  • that assuming a woman will have a family and become an unreliable employee is probably a bad idea;
  • that people should be able to choose whether they want to get married or have kids;
  • that people should not be expected to perform certain tasks around the home because of their gender;
  • that gender has nothing to do with your intelligence;
  • that people should not be made to feel unsafe because of their gender; or
  • that gender should not dictate your treatment of others…

YOU ARE PROBABLY A FEMINIST.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? It’s like that twist ending in The Sixth Sense… terrifying.

You started your article by telling us that, “Feminism has achieved what it was set out to do.” To be fair, we’ve made progress. There’s no doubt about that. But are we done? No way. Feminism is still necessary because of the reality of economic inequality. Feminism is still necessary because we think access to degrees means everything else has been addressed. Feminism is still necessary because it is viewed as a “threat” to our relationships.

In other words, feminism is still necessary because I’m writing you this letter. Until we stop equating feminism with antiquated stereotypes, stop making statistical apologies for systemic discrimination, and stop demonizing women who have the courage to be themselves (even when it doesn’t fit neatly into someone else’s definition of being a woman), it will always be necessary.

You might be feeling a little scalded or indignant right now. I won’t begrudge you that. After all, this post was the cumulative response to a good six months of showing restraint in the face of other articles just like yours. Perhaps the proper salutation would have been addressed to any of the people who try to argue that feminism is somehow the root of all evil. But you’re young. You can still learn and change and grow. Maybe getting burned will save the women in your life down the line from being subjected to the “feminism hurtz” campaign.

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you just didn’t realize how wrong you were. I’m going to pretend I didn’t notice the thinly veiled nostalgia for the way it “used to be” found in your descriptions of what you “don’t” mean- PC caveats draped in the bite of a Southern “bless your heart.” I’m going to ignore the #obamabowl tweets, and the fact that you’ve defended some shady stuff in the past in your writing. I’ll just assume you had no idea what a feminist was.

But now you know. So stop writing stupid things.

Thanks,

Lauren

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SOTU 2013 and Republican Self-Destruction

Obama and BoehnerToday’s coverage of the State of the Union has been uniquely interesting to watch. Yes, someone on MSNBC has cracked a joke about Rubio’s thirsty moment every two minutes, but generally speaking, the response has been a mixed bag. Democrats aren’t particularly fired up. They liked the passion of the gun control refrain, but were taken aback when Obama said people could vote no if they wanted. Republicans didn’t like it because it was Obama, but not even their commentary has been particularly charged. Much of the speech was expected, and the surprises that did pop up were not monumental in scale.

And yet…

There’s something about that speech that was quietly powerful. There was some element to it that’s hard to point to as a catalyst in the rhetorical mix, but poignant nonetheless. It stuck in my mind like a small barb I couldn’t quite locate. There was some game changing dynamic in the mix, and I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

I was watching The Cycle, which I usually don’t. I feel like the commentary is a bit caricaturish sometimes, and sometimes it’s just dull, but I couldn’t find the remote (luckily this time) and I caught the group’s banter with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Again, not my favorite political figure, but he unwittingly hit the nail on the head as they discussed whether the gun control section of the speech was really that strong.

“It’s the ask.”

Obama had not demanded that Congress pass a specific bill; he had demanded they vote. As Rendell pointed out, that puts more establishment Republicans in danger than anything else. If you’re a moderate or traditional Republican, representing affluent suburbs or an urban area, do you really want to be on record as voting against background checks right now? When 74% of NRA Members support them, on top of 88% of the general public? Probably not. See, if you do vote against it, you look pretty extreme, given the timing and current public climate, and that hurts your general election prospects. By demanding a vote – not passage of a bill, but a vote – Obama paints the GOP into a very uncomfortable corner.

Rendell’s characterization of the power of the ask was dead on, but he underestimates the scope of its strength. There are two things worth considering. First off, like he did on gun control, Obama focused on elements of wider policy realms that, broadly speaking, should have general appeal in the populous. Ideas like a bipartisan committee on voting, improving preschool opportunities for children, and expanding services for our vets are pretty vanilla. He focused on the fact that these initiatives would be paid for without expanding the deficit. The speech was certainly light on details, but the ideas were sort of hard to hate. A vote against voting or the vets is going to be just as ugly as a vote against background checks.

Second, the tactic he used on gun control was, in some shape or form, present on each of these vanilla topics. No, he didn’t directly ask for a vote on each of them, but this isn’t just about the “They deserve a vote” refrain. This is about when he asked them why they hadn’t voted on refinancing yet. This is about when he told them to pursue climate legislation like they had in the past, or he would take matters into his own hands. This is about when he said some variation of “let’s get this done” 11 different times. No, Obama didn’t just ask for a vote. The reason his speech was exceptional was that he asked Congress to do its job by teeing them up on issues where defying him would be the equivalent of political suicide.

Pretty deft political strategy, really. It bodes well for Obama accomplishing a decent amount of his agenda.

But there’s more to this story. See, Republicans know the consequences in a general election if they vote against these ideas today. However, if they vote for them, they might not see that general election at all. Think about it. On one hand, if they vote against these ideas, they are characterized by Democrats for heartless partisan party hacks. On the other hand, if they vote for these ideas, they are RINOs, and characterized as being pushovers for Democrats. They’re anti-gun, pro-nanny state, and big spenders.

At least, that’s what their Tea Party challengers will say, and in the Conservative base- the adamant voters that participate in the primaries- that’s all it will take. We saw this happen in the last election cycle, as Dick Lugar was unseated by the uncompromising Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock. What happened there? Mourdock got creamed in the general, after offensive remarks about rape victims were made.

What am I getting at? Obama’s seemingly meager “ask” may cause the Republican Party to self-destruct. If they vote against the President’s fairly tame agenda, they’re too extreme and get killed in the general election. If they vote for it, they’re not conservative enough, and lose in the primaries to a more of a far right candidate who will consequently be killed in the general election for being too extreme. Don’t think that’s a concern? See Karl Rove’s ill-fated attempt to bury Tea Party candidates. They knew they were in trouble before the President’s speech. They’re really screwed now.

The Republican Party is in trouble, and they have been for some time now. While they were in denial during the 2012 election cycle, more and more in the GOP leadership are beginning to recognize that something’s gotta give. The strategy of playing to the base has faltered, because the base is no longer large enough to sustain them. A platform that once represented a great deal of a largely white and Christian population has now aged out of relevance, as the base they appealed to have since passed or evolved. The generations that have come since have a hard time identifying with… anything Republicans are saying anymore.

Long-term, ultra conservative views on reproductive rights and same sex marriage are a losing proposition for them. For the most part, even those who aren’t fans of abortion don’t think the Government should be forcing religion down people’s throats, and insurance companies covering birth control doesn’t seem unreasonable in a world where we’re covering Viagra. Oh, and a little tip? The GOP should just stop talking about rape. They’re really bad at it.

In an aging population, proposing massive cuts to Medicare or Social Security to prove fiscal discipline is poisonous- no matter how necessary they may be. Older voters don’t want their support endangered, and their grandkids don’t want to see their grandparents suffer. In an era of high unemployment, cutting things like unemployment or Medicaid is a terrible idea. Younger voters can’t find jobs and need those programs, and their grandparents are worried about what would happen to their grandbabies without the government support, so those cuts will, again, cost you on both ends of the age spectrum.

Today’s America  is also very tired of politics as usual. This is not a uniquely Republican problem, but because their platform seems so antiquated, they’re taking the fall for it. The criticisms are not necessarily without merit; how many times have they attempted to repeal Obamacare out of the House, knowing full well the Senate would never support it? Still, in reality, the Republicans have their hands tied. They could change their platform. They could change their tactics. If they did, slowly but surely, they would find their base voting in young faces with relics for minds that the general population can’t stand.

In other words, unless primary voting demographics shift for Republicans, they’re looking a little bit doomed. I may be pretty left leaning, but this downward spiral is not something I celebrate. We need strong voices disagreeing with one another. If we don’t challenge each other – if there is no one asking questions and hitting hard – we’re lost before we even get started.

So we know the ask. Now, Republicans, let’s hear your answer.

A Letter to Our Future Pope

Dear Future Pope,

Welcome to the job! I’m sure you are overwhelmed, excited and anxious about the massive responsibility with which you have just been endowed. Or maybe you’re feeling peaceful, basking in the glow of God’s will, and your confidence in it. Either way, you’ve stepped into a mess – no other way to put it.

The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI means that you now head a Church in crisis. In a complex and suffering world, the Church has been struggling for some time in their quest to connect with those of us in the pew. The disconnect is inversely related to age; younger demographics are finding it harder and harder to relate to the Church and its teachings. Discerning a way to overcome this challenge is now your job.

I am your challenge.

I was raised in the Catholic Church. My mother came from a large Irish Catholic family. With her 12 brothers and sisters, and well over 20 cousins running around, my life was a parade of sacraments and celebrations. I participated in catechism classes. I made my First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. My confirmation name was Bridget. I was, at the time, a vapid, shallow thing, and in many ways, the opposite of Saint Bridget. Her story was one of rejecting earthly beauty and romantic pursuits in favor of her love of God. She was a woman of compassion and generosity- beautiful inside and out. Perhaps I wanted to remind myself that I was capable of more depth. Maybe the idea of faith not being incompatible with beauty in the end was reassuring. I don’t know. I was a dumb kid. We mostly went to Church on Christmas and Easter as we got older and schedules got busier, but I identified as a Catholic when asked… and on Ash Wednesday, when no one needed to ask.

But if we’re being honest, my reservations with the Church began to emerge in fifth grade.

See, my mom was Catholic, but my dad was Protestant. They respected each others’ beliefs; in their minds, all that mattered was that they were both Christian. They wanted their children to be Christian as well, but in a parental expression of their mutual respect, made sure we were exposed to both of their churches. That meant some Sundays we were at Mass, and other times we went to my dad’s very, very Evangelical Church. That meant that on top of my catechism classes, I went to youth groups that gave out awards for Bible verse memorization.

In fifth grade, one week started what would become a life of feeling unwelcome in any church. My catechism teacher that week was discussing the difference between mortal and venial sins. She explained that mortal sins endangered your soul. When a student asked if that meant you could go to hell, she said yes. She indicated that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I piped up that I sometimes missed Mass because we went to my dad’s church. Her response?

“That counts as missing Mass, so yes- that’s a mortal sin.”

Wondering why I should go to hell because I prayed in a different location, I went to youth group a few days later. As we bowed our heads to pray, and as Catholics often do, I automatically began with the Sign of the Cross. A collective gasp came from the youth group leaders- kids themselves at only ten years my senior. They pulled me to the side to inquire about my pre-prayer hand signals, and when I told them that I also attended the Catholic church in town, they expressed concern for my soul over my worship of the Mother Mary.

To say I was confused would be putting it lightly.

But like I said, that was only the beginning. It would be silly if I were to hold you and the Catholic Church accountable to one bad experience. And to be fair, it wasn’t just the Catholics. As I grew up, the seeming competition between congregations in my small, conservative town caused me to become more and more disenchanted with organized religion in general. I had my own beliefs, but found myself a member of a community with which I could not commune. This was particularly true of the Catholic Church.

As a woman who has never considered gender to be an obstacle to achieving my goals, the Church’s treatment of women was hard to swallow. It didn’t make sense that women were not allowed to be priests; what about being female negates our ability to effectively communicate on issues of faith? It didn’t make sense that the Church would continue to stand against birth control; procreation does not make me more or less of a Christian, and it doesn’t seem awfully Christ-like to doom the faithful in poverty and their children into a life of hunger and desolation in pursuit of such an argument. I cringed as I listened to descriptions of marriage in terms of female submission and male provision from Church leadership. It’s hard to feel at home praying in a Church that seems to see your role as one of reproductive submission.

I mean no disrespect- I know the Church preaches that women should be cherished and protected. I know there are many women of strength in the Bible. I also know that these messages sound a little hollow and tinny in light of Church practices.

The sex scandal and pursuant cover-up turned my stomach. It spoke to a system set up to protect its participants- not lead those they serve in faith. It spoke to a pervasive sense of privilege. I have defended the Church to critics in the wake of these revelations, but that had far less to do with my allegiance to a hierarchy than it did the good, hard-working priests I had met in the past.

And then there’s the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. I’m not really concerned with the justifications. The thing is, nothing taught by the Church about homosexuality has ever lined up with real life for me. Some of my best friends are gay. They are beautiful people, inside and out. I cannot fathom a God that would condemn someone for loving someone else. It is impossible for me to support an organization that actively encourages policies that discriminate against them. That’s a deal breaker.

I will never be able to completely cut ties with the Church; my sprawling family guarantees this. I will always do the Sign of the Cross when I pray. I still think about what I’m going to give up for Lent. I whisper a rushed Our Father when I get nervous. But in many ways, this is a merely matter of habit and comfort.

So perhaps it’s not fair to say you face a challenge. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say you face nearly impossible odds. Realistically, unless the Church were to rather rapidly modernize, I doubt you will be able to overcome these obstacles. Given the typical rate of Catholic dogma evolution, such a modernization is unlikely. Like I said in the beginning, you’ve stepped into a mess.

I suppose that means all that’s left to do is pray that you have the courage to be Christ-like. After all, if the stories are to be believed, he was pretty damn revolutionary himself.

Sincerely,

Lauren