Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Myths about feminists

"A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men." Gloria Steinem

I ADMIT THAT I get annoyed when I hear a woman say, "I'm not one of those feminists or anything." 

I get it if you've been immersed in a repressive religious sect or shackled by some other circumstance of forced submission, but anyone else, it pretty well smokes me to hear such a statement come out of a women's mouth . . . most especially from one currently benefiting from rights other women (and men) have worked for literally hundreds of years to secure. 

And let's be honest; if you're a woman in this country, you're currently enjoying, and probably taking for granted, rights those much maligned feminists fought and even died for you to have.  

I don't think I can more accurately or succinctly define who a feminist is than Gloria Steinem did in the opening quote, but nonetheless I'm taking a shot at debunking a few of the most laughably ridiculous myths 
about feminism.

1) They're all women. A feminist is simply anyone male or female who believes that women should be treated equally under the law, so of course many men are feminists. Real men are outraged at the idea of women:

  • being forced to marry and have children against their will
  • not being allowed to get an education
  • not being able to vote
  • not being able to have a bank account or own property in their own names
  • not being paid for performing work that men are paid to do
All those obvious injustices were true in "the land of the free" not all that long ago! 

Under the doctrine of coverture, a woman in America was legally considered the chattel of her husband — his possession — until the mid 19th century. Any property she might have held before her marriage became her husband's on her wedding day, and she had no legal right to appear in court, sign contracts or conduct business. This was the law of the land until the 1840's when states began to gradually overturn coverture because land speculators wanted more flexibility in assigning ownership. (Yup, it's almost always about profitability; rarely about what's right.)

Women in the United States have only been able to have a say in how their lives are governed by exercising the right to vote since 1920, and women today still only make from 77 to 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work. 

I'm old enough to remember the days when a woman could not be listed in the phone book under her name unless she were unmarried. A married woman's name was never listed because only her husband's mattered.

2) Feminists are lesbians. That's so funny! I want everyone to be a feminist, so I hope lesbians are feminists, but it's an inductive, logical fallacy to think all feminists are lesbians.

3) Feminists don't like men. LOL! I like my husband a lot — better than I like anyone — and I'm a fan of any man whose head and heart work similarly.

4) Feminists think all women should work outside the home. Wrong again. If I had my druthers, I'd have a 50/50 or 60/40 split between work and home. I like nesting. Granted, I wouldn't want to do it all day every day, but if we had children, I'd be a stay-at-home mom for at least eight or ten years or arrange a split schedule with Paul so that he wouldn't miss out. 
Feminists just think that women should be able to choose where and how to work — or not work — depending on their individual circumstances and desires, and when they do, they should be paid the same wage as a man performing the same tasks.

There are lots of other myths, but that's a start, brought to the forefront in my thinking by an article (below) from The New York Times about the fall in population of baby girls in IndiaIt's getting worse, not better.

At last month's Smart Talk, journalist Ann Compton told us that in an interview with Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady revealed that one of the most memorable moments of her life occurred when she took Chelsea with her on an extended visit to India and Pakistan not long after her husband was elected President. The village women there often asked Hillary if she had other children and were amazed when she told then that she and the president did not, and not only that, but they, the Clintons, were thrilled with the child they had and happily provided her with as much care, attention, education and opportunities as they would had she been a boy.

If you don't want your life or your daughter's or granddaughter's or sister's or nieces to go back to what it used to be like all that many years ago — and still is for millions of women in the world, remember where we came from.

A Campaign Against Girls in India

By Nilanjana S. Roy

April 12, 2011

NEW DELHI — The figures tell an old and cruel story: the systematic elimination of girls in India. In the 2001 census, the sex ratio — the number of girls to every 1,000 boys — was 927 in the 0-6 age group. Preliminary data from the 2011 census show that the imbalance has worsened, to 914 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Women’s groups have been documenting this particular brand of gender violence for years. The demographer Ashish Bose and the economist Amartya Sen drew attention to India’s missing women more than a decade ago. The abortion of female fetuses has increased as medical technology has made it easier to detect the sex of an unborn child. If it is a girl, families often pressure the pregnant woman to abort. Sex determination tests are illegal in India, but ultrasound and in vitro fertilization centers often bypass the law, and medical terminations of pregnancy are easily obtained.

Some women, like 30-year-old Lakshmi Rani from Bhiwani district in Uttar Pradesh, have been pressured into multiple abortions. Ms. Rani’s first three pregnancies were terminated.

“My mother-in-law took me to the clinic herself,” she said, her voice matter-of-fact but barely audible. “It wasn’t my decision, but I didn’t have a choice. They didn’t want girls.”

Now her husband’s family is pushing her to get pregnant again, and she is hoping for a boy. Despite government campaigns against aborting female fetuses, she does not believe she will be allowed a choice.

Ms. Rani’s story is echoed across Uttar Pradesh, a state that has among the most skewed sex ratios in India. Census figures show the female-male ratio in the 0-6 year group slipping from 916 in 2001 to 899 in 2011.

In a 2007 Unicef report, Alka Gupta explained part of the problem: Discrimination against women, already entrenched in Indian society, has been bolstered by technological developments that now allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighborhood unchecked.

The 1994 Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act was amended in 2003 to deal with the medical profession — the “supply side” of the practice of sex selection. However, the act has been poorly enforced.

The reasons behind the aborting of female fetuses are complex, according to the Center for Social Research, a research organization in New Delhi. Ranjana Kumari points out that the practice happens in some of India’s most prosperous states — Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh — indicating that economic growth does not guarantee a shift in social attitudes. She pinpoints several factors that account for the preference for boys in many parts of India, especially the conservative north: sons are the source of the family income, daughters marry into another family and are not available to look after their parents, dowries make a daughter a liability and, in agricultural areas, there is the fear that any woman who inherits land might take that property to her husband’s family.

Another form of violence against women — dowry deaths — is equally well-documented, and just as ugly, though Indians are so used to these that they have become almost invisible. The names of Sunita Devi, Seetal Gupta, Shabreen Tajm and Salma Sadiq will not resonate strongly for most Indians, though they were all in the news last week for similar reasons. Sunita Devi was strangled in Gopiganj, Uttar Pradesh, the pregnant Seetal Gupta was found unconscious and died in a Delhi hospital, Shabreen Tajm was burned to death in Tarikere, Karnataka, and Salma Sadiq suffered a miscarriage after being beaten by her husband in Bangalore.

Demands for larger dowries by the husband’s family were behind all of these acts of violence, so commonplace that they receive no more than a brief mention in the newspapers. National Crime Bureau figures indicate that reported dowry deaths have risen, with 8,172 in 2008, up from an estimated 5,800 a decade earlier.

Monobina Gupta, who has researched domestic violence for Jagori, a nongovernmental organization, draws a direct link between these killings and the abortion of female fetuses: “The dowry is part of the continuum of gender-based discrimination and violence, beginning with female feticide. Following the arrival of” economic “liberalization in 1992, the dowry list of demands has become longer. The opening up of the markets and expansion of the middle classes fueled consumerism and the demand for modern goods. For instance, studies show that color television sets or home video players have replaced black-and-white television sets, luxury cars the earlier Maruti 800, sophisticated gadgets basic food processors.

“It is similar to what is happening with female feticide,” she said. “As the middle class comes into more money, it is accessing more sophisticated medical technology either to ensure the birth of a boy or get rid of the unborn girl.”

What is the cost to the Indian family of having a girl, or to the boy’s family of forgoing a dowry? The economist T.C.A. Srinivasaraghavan puts the average dowry around 10,000 rupees, or $225. That average figure masks the exorbitant dowry demands that are often made by the family of the groom.

In response to the early findings from the 2011 census, the central government has set up an office to monitor the misuse of sex-selection techniques and the abortion of female fetuses. But real progress may come about only as social and cultural attitudes toward women change. In the meanwhile, women may have to seek their own solutions.

In one of Delhi’s upscale office areas, Kiran Verma, 28, surveyed her tiny shop, a photocopying center. Ms. Verma’s father left the family years ago, and her mother, a domestic worker, worries about covering the cost of her daughter’s wedding. But like many other urban women today, Ms. Verma has her own plans. “In another year I’ll have earned my dowry,” she said with confidence. “That way, I’ll have some choice over the family I marry into.”

Young women earning their own dowries is not the radical solution — the total eradication of the dowry and discrimination against women — that a generation of feminists have dreamed about. But in their efforts to redefine themselves as generators of wealth, rather than as liabilities to their families, Ms. Verma and her generation of Indian women may be striking a few blows of their own against the prejudices that contribute to gender-based abortion.

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