Filed under: Opinion, Politics, Post by: Sarah M, Women's Health
“Hey, the 1950s called, they want their stereotype back,” I said during a somewhat intense debate last night. I was asking a new friend, let’s call him Adam, what he thought of Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent article in The Atlantic called “Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?”
If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena, don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But, the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem: “The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.”
Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either. The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.
BUT… still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:
Filed under: Interview, Poetry, Post by: Sarah M, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews
Sheila: Why is feminism important to you? What does it mean to you?
Sarah: Feminism is responsibility. I believe that I am responsible for being an effective advocate. Like Steinem, I think that a “feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Being a feminist means subverting an accepted culture of silence. As such, feminism is vital to creating civic-minded, educated humans and consumers. I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to win hearts and minds. I lesson plan and write and start conversations and show my face in my community. I support other feminists— I think we have a duty to be role models for young women and men. I am painfully aware of my words and actions and how they impact those around me. I am overwhelmed by the cultural backlash to feminism that surrounds us on a daily basis: reality television, violent and degrading (always present) pornography, the Republican’s war on reproductive freedom, etc. It is important for me to remember that I am (we are) the example. People are always watching us. We are educators and guides, and being a feminist means having integrity. It means being in healthy relationships. It means modeling how to be with a respectful partner. Having self worth and refusing to wallow in self-pity. It means not looking in that bathroom mirror, hallway mirror, car window, etc. and saying, “I look disgusting,” because I never know who’s watching me. A student? A child? A friend? It means not judging someone’s clothing or lack thereof. Today, I am accountable for giving what I never had.
Being a feminist in today’s academic culture means publishing my students, teaching equality in the classroom, and talking about gender identity and sexual violence even when it’s uncomfortable—even when no one wants me to have the conversation. During college I was a sexual assault/rape crisis counselor and victim advocate for Butler County, Ohio. Being a feminist means positively impacting our communities. Gloria Steinem has always been my hero because she represents fearlessness. She revolutionized the presentation of our emotional lives. She represented the uninhibited. She was apt to unwomanly assertion, passion, and individualism. Through her example and the example of so many others, (Adrienne Rich, Elaine Showalter, Eve Ensler, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller) I learned that being brave and strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have a difficult time or make mistakes, but that you walk through them with dignity and grace. I learned to embrace femininity. I think that forgiveness (true forgiveness conquers the dutiful martyr) is principally feminine.
Today, I feel this communal attitude that we are only allowed to publicly call ourselves feminists within certain limits. We are not supposed to be aggressive or appear angry. We should know how to communicate and operate and advocate for change within the realm of our context—within what the current patriarchal hierarchy has deemed acceptable—what they feel comfortable with. This model feels submissive and repressed and ironic to me. Sexual and angry—we are threatening; we are dangerous. I think that our discipline is self enforced and kept in check by society’s incessant scrutiny.
I do not pretend to speak for or represent an entire movement or even a small part of a movement. I’m not sure that I would even feel comfortable aligning myself with a particular wave of feminism. Although, I do have a soft spot for second wave hardliners… I am a feminist operating within a tradition of trailblazers. I am also a feminist who loves and appreciates chivalry (I have received unfortunate, collective gasps for this statement). I hate that some people would like to kick me out of the club for this. Yes, please open my car door and do kind things. I do not expect this, but I certainly cherish it. I respect it. It’s not because I don’t know how to open my own door. It’s not because I need a man (or anyone else) to help me. I value the concept because it’s caring, because it epitomizes the idea that we should be of maximum service to our fellows. It was a beautiful day in my life when I realized that I was finally becoming the kind of man that I was told I should marry (Steinem’s description of self-actualization).
A: In the 7th grade, Mr. Simeone told our class that patience plus perseverance equals survival. This is a math equation that makes sense to me. I hope BACKCOUNTRY inspires us to be ferocious. I am arguing that the act of entering someone or something (a landscape) physically and emotionally is a type of violence. It’s violence even when it’s beautiful. This is a violence because some boundary, some border, has been irreversible crossed. A barrier is broken. I think love is a type of violence. People describe themselves as love-sick (so the body experiences a violence). Perhaps these instances should be called small violences. Everything about our human nature is voyeuristic, intense, and wild. When you enter someone, you must also at some point leave them. (This is a violence.)
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Nonfiction, Opinion, Post by: Sarah M, Starring Local Feminists
I asked Anna, Marissa, and Catherine what they could take with them into the world from this first year advanced composition class:
“It’s important to write about something that I am passionate about and to be confident in my writing.” -Anna Rothstein
“I learned how to express myself in this class. I know that I will take that gift out into the real world.” -Marissa Rossi
“It is really great to write about current issues in the world and your opinion on them. This motivates me to want to make a change! Critical reading has opened my mind to so many other perspectives.” -Catherine Cassidy
These students remind me that to inspire others, one must first be inspired. I really loved the following personal narratives written for an essay assignment by these three brave young women. After reading their work, my motivation to help support, guide, and educate students to become responsible global citizens who can positively impact the communities around them was renewed. I am encouraged that these women dare to dream and continue to foster a challenging, supportive, and safe community of empowered voices.
May we all be so loving, kind, and compassionate with ourselves and others throughout this season and this new year. I can’t wait to see what amazing things these feminists will do next. We should do everything in our power to support and empower our students. Our future depends on them.
This I Believe Official Guidelines: http://thisibelieve.org/guidelines/
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Opinion, Post by: Sarah M, Starring Local Feminists
How do we identify ourselves amidst the incessant negative images and messages perpetrated by our ever-loud media culture? I think about this a lot. I show my advanced composition students the Missrepresentation documentary, and I ask them to write a cultural critique based on an advertisement of their choosing. From a pedagogical standpoint, in a world where sexism is so blatant, I feel responsible for guiding students in their analytical quest to uncover what is overt and implied. Again and again, I come to the construct of gender. I come up against that dreaded statement: “That’s so gay.” As teachers, how do we have these conversations without alienating the students who need to hear this message the most? How do we create a safe, inclusive space for everyone? I believe the conversation must be made personal. Political and social efficacy must come from within. We are the roots of the weed. I believe the unspoken social contracts of acceptability must be defined in order to be broken and freed.
I challenged my students to make it personal. I really loved David Bache’s essay; I wanted to share it with you.
A brief description of the assignment.
Courage Is The First Step Into Nonconformity by David Bache
Every time we gather around our television screen, we are bombarded by advertisements for America’s finest products. Each of these ads has an agenda to not only sell their product but to form societal rules for its viewers. Nearly every commercial that hits the air features beautiful people, in beautiful clothes, living their beautiful lives with the aid of the company’s product, of course. The constant visual assault of what the media deems normal and beautiful has had an extremely negative effect on it’s viewers. One ad campaign in particular, Old Spice, targets men who don’t fit into society’s definition of masculine, by exclusively representing a muscular, womanizing type of man. Old Spice targets these men by assuring them that after the use of their product, they too will be as masculine as “The Old Spice Guy” and, therefore, be rich, famous, have sex with beautiful women and, on occasion, defy the laws of physics. Unfortunately, what Old Spice, and the general population of the United States, do not understand is that being masculine has nothing to do with being a man; a man is quite simply a human being who identifies as male.
Men today are belittled by the media. Every father and son who are subjected to today’s advertisements are being subliminally told that if they do not look, act and talk a certain way they will live a less than satisfying life. Old Spice pitches in on this objectification in the form of promotions for their mens grooming products. In the television commercials, the muscular and ‘manly man’, Isaiah Mustafa, informs the female audience that unless their man uses Old Spice products, he will never be able to live the exciting and adventurous life that a man who does use the products could. Another depicts a young man with little muscle mass, who starts using Old Spice products. The young man is instantly blessed with large biceps and a beard and eventually goes on to “cure all the worlds problems”. This over exaggeration has become extremely detrimental to the vast majority of men in our country.
Filed under: Lesson Plans, Post by: Sarah M, Starring Local Feminists
Breaking Boundaries of Textual Space
Before I returned to academia for my M.F.A., I worked in communications and public relations for two and a half years. Through this experience, it became exceedingly clear to me that the skills learned in the writing classroom need to be translated into “real-world” writing. I am an advocate for encouraging and assisting students in publishing their own work, because I believe this instills a sense of confidence and accomplishment even in the most inexperienced students. My hope is to help produce informed and capable global citizens. To me, this principal is at the core of feminism. These students have already begun to make a difference in their communities. They are socially aware. I am so proud of their ambition and passion. In the classroom, I strive to foster a type of character culture, because I believe that learning and writing flourish in safe, open environments. I want to be a teacher who creates a space that inspires individual creative writing and learning. I also think we should all feel responsible for offering students the necessary tools they will need to survive and succeed in the American academy and beyond.
*Disclaimer: I did not come up with this assignment. I stole it. It most likely came from some combination of my pedagogy classes, colleagues, and mentors.
The Assignment: Take one of the formal papers you’ve written this semester and turn it into something completely different! In this process you will take apart your writing and reassemble it in a new form. I want you to revise to the point that your revised text is so different from the original that you may think it is near failing. I am encouraging you to push the composing envelope. Systematically stretch your writing to the limit!
Then, you will write a story of what you learned during this revision process. This should be in a narrative essay that will accompany your final presentation to the class of your radical revision project. I believe this assignment teaches writing as a writer experiences it.
You must reach an audience OUTSIDE of this classroom. Consider the following when approaching this assignment: Audience, Meaning, Clarity, Style & Form, Development & Depth, Purpose, Organization, and Context.
Please, take a look at how these incredible students are impacting their communities!