Tag Archives | feminism

Friedan, Fifty Years Later…

Well, not Friedan, exactly, but The Feminine Mystique. It turned fifty last week, you know, and I have to say that I think it (she?) is holding up pretty well, all things considered.  As some of you have pointed out in comments, the book is flawed–there is no substantive discussion of race or class, and the attitude towards lesbians is, at best, uneasy.  I don’t want to gloss over those differences, but I will say that Mystique did, at least, prod the conversation about gender equality in a new direction–a direction that ultimately enabled a whole lot of other things.

I wrote about the book in The National, the Abu Dhabi/UAE newspaper, and I’m reprinting it in this site because…well because I think that no one has yet come up with a word better than “feminist,” so I want to keep defining and redefining that word until it’s not automatically associated with “man haters” and other ridiculously dated stereotypes.

Here’s the piece.  What do you think? Feminism as a movement is over? Feminism as a word should be retired? Or is it nope, nope, we’re still here, still insisting that feminism is about making the world a better place for men and women, boys and girls–and everyone in between.  (For another take on feminism, read this fantastic piece in Jezebel, about the misogynistic bullshit that rang even louder than usual at this year’s Oscars.)

It’s the question that bedevils us all, men and women alike; it’s the question that floats through our minds when we lie awake at night or daydream at our office computers or watch our children at the playground: “Is this all? Is this it?”

It’s the question that unsettles complacency; the question that can, in the right context, topple despots and inspire revolutions. And it’s the question with an equally potentially explosive corollary: “Isn’t there more?”

As I move closer to that comfortably upholstered majlis known as “middle age”, these questions loom large: after all, as one approaches 50, it’s perhaps time to come to terms with the fact that one is not, after all, going to be a ballerina or a fireman; that David Beckham’s career trajectory will not be one’s own.

At 50, one can only hope that “is this all?” returns an answer balanced between satisfaction and aspiration: if 50 is the new 30, maybe we can still finish that novel, learn karate, make an impact on the world in whatever small way is available to us. As that plague victim in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” protests, “I’m not dead yet … I think I’ll go for a walk this afternoon.”

“Is this all?” is the question that Betty Friedan used in the opening paragraph of The Feminine Mystique, published 50 years ago last week. Her book, which one reviewer described as “pulling the trigger on history,” provided the impetus for feminism’s second wave, the so-called “women’s libbers” who staged protest marches and stormed beauty pageants, who insisted that loading dishwashers and making meatloaf were not the ne plus ultra of the female experience.

Even though Friedan’s book overlooked (or ignored) the very different situations confining women of colour, The Feminine Mystique nevertheless inspired a revolution in the way questions of gender equality were discussed – indeed, in the very fact that gender equality became a subject for public discussion and debate.

Now that the mystique is 50, however, can we turn its question back on itself and ask, “is that all”? How have we handled the gauntlet thrown down by Friedan’s study? In grimmer moments, as when I think about some of the recent encroachments on women’s freedoms in the United States, the epidemic of rape in India and in African countries, the struggle to educate girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it seems as if we’re going backwards, that perhaps no society will ever be capacious enough to tolerate the full scope of female autonomy.

I think about my students, male and female, who hail from all the countries of the world and say things like “I’m not a feminist but …” and then conclude their statements with ideas that would be familiar to any 1960s-era women’s libber: that there should be equal pay for equal work, universal day-care, equal access to quality education, and that everyone should have the freedom to marry (or not) whomever they please.

In more optimistic moments, I think that maybe my students’ attitudes reflect the success of the feminist movement: the goals of feminism have embedded themselves in social consciousness, so maybe the refusal of the label “feminist” shouldn’t matter.

And yet, the phrase “feminine mystique” served as the spark that galvanised a revolution. Would that energy have been released without a sense of shared identity, shared purpose, shared anger? Without a common starting point, could people have moved from “is this all?” to “is there more?”

These questions, which seem innocuous enough when we’re asking about extra pudding at dinner, became paving stones on the path that led from what Friedan called “this picture of a half-life” to “a share in the whole of human destiny.” That’s the part of Friedan’s description of feminism that most people miss: it’s not just a “woman thing.” It’s a “people thing”, a reminder that everyone has gender and that none of us, really, want biology to dictate our fate.

Friedan would argue that we still need to ask “is this all”, because too often, all over the world, biology does dictate fate: health, education, opportunity, mortality. Maybe, at 50, The Feminine Mystique still has work to do; maybe this middle-aged lady can still rattle a few cages, can inspire others to ask “is this all?” and “isn’t there more?”

Who knows? Maybe at 50 it’s time for The Feminine Mystique to be translated into Arabic.

Continue Reading · on February 27, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, Feminism, Politics

The Mystique, Fifty Years On…

Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Feminist Mystique. It’s a flawed book, but still, I think, an important one, maybe even more so now because so many people (men and women) in the younger generation seem to think that the privileges they enjoy have always been available them.

And wow, if that didn’t sound like a “back in the day I walked ten miles barefoot to school in the snow…” sort of sentence, yikes. My take on the mystique is here, in the Abu Dhabi newspaper.  I’d love to hear your comments, especially about that vexed word “feminist…”

Continue Reading · on February 25, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, Feminism, Politics

abu dhabi bicycle

When women started riding bicycles, it was considered shocking. A bicycle has to be, you know, straddled.  Plus there was the possibility that a bicyclist might wear a split skirt…or, worse, bloomers.

Plus there was always the chance her ankles might show.

Susan B Anthony is reported to have said that bicycles have “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…it gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

And now, more than a century later? I’m not sure that bikes are still a feminist vehicle, but they are certainly an alternative means of transportation.

My column about the pleasure – and serious perils – of bike riding in Abu Dhabi appears today in The National.  Click here to read the article – and then feel free to share the article with all your bike-loving friends.

Look, if the women in this picture can ride bikes in long skirts and truly ridiculous hats, you can ride your bike to the grocery store.






photo image credit here

Continue Reading · on November 16, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, exercise, Feminism, sports, UAE

Madonna, The Spectacle, Part II: who you calling queen?

Maybe you’ve heard that Madonna and Lady Gaga indulged in a little twittertiff a few weeks ago about the connection between Gaga’s song “Born This Way” and Madonna’s classic “Express Yourself.”  (Funny to think that bad-girl Madge is in the position of having a “classic,” isn’t it? In the same ironic vein as “Jumping Jack Flash” becoming supermarket muzak.)

I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard “Born This Way,” I thought it sounded a lot like Madonna’s song, no question asked.  So then it’s either the generous interpretation: Gaga’s homage to Madge.  Or less generously, Gaga’s unattributed borrowing from Madge.

Gaga says that the chords in her ditty are just the same chord progressions that have been part of disco music for the past fifty years.  Which jesus, disco has been around for fifty years? Wow.

Madonna, apparently, takes the less generous viewpoint, as she made clear in her Abu Dhabi show during a version of “Express Yourself” that featured cheerleaders, pompons, and a drum corps suspended on invisible wires from the rafters. (Can you imagine it? Good news! you’ve been chosen to join Madonna’s tour! Bad news! You’re going to hang twenty feet off the ground with your full drum kit playing an incredibly complicated rhythm line for about thirty minutes!)

This version of “Express Yourself” sampled “Born This Way” and as Madge paced the stage, she exclaimed: “She’s NOT me!” The audience roared its approval, and roared even louder when she said “I’m the Queen!”

I like Gaga’s tune, and a few others, although if I have to listen to my kids doing “p-p-p-p-p-poker face…” one more time, I’m going to make that woman eat her damn meat dress. And Madonna – well, Madonna is the soundtrack of my college years, of bombing around New York’s East Village in paisley leggings and black Chuck Taylors, of dancing sweatily into the night in apartments that looked much better in the dark.  So although her shock value has worn away, I can’t so easily shove her off the throne – those tunes are my youth.

But both Gagalina and Madge would do well to stop quarreling and bow to the American South, home of the woman who spawned them all, the first truly iconic one-word woman:


All of them – Madonna, Gaga, Britney, Beyonce – owe a debt to Dolly.  She used boobs and talent to force open doors that women weren’t supposed to open and gave us a woman unafraid to re-invent herself with the flip of a wig and the wave of a press-on nail.

From Nashville with Porter Wagoner, to 9 to 5 with Lily Tomlin, to Dollywood, to Kennedy Center Honors, and back around to the bluegrass music that was her first love, Dolly owns it all.  The wig, the eyelashes, the nails, the huge shoes…it’s all part of the show, as is her ability to laugh at herself, a talent that other divas might want to consider. At the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, she even rapped about her amazing rack – and paid homage to Queen Latifah, also a breastally gifted woman.  Dolly has a long way to go as a rap star – Latifah won’t be losing that contest anytime soon, but can you imagine Gaga, or Madonna, or anyone else making fun of themselves like this:  She’s the queen of her own hood … but I’m the queen of Dollywood! I don’t hip and I don’t hop … I’d black both eyes with this big top.  I know the Queen has got ’em too …  but she don’t work ’em like I do!”  (to see the clip, from tmz.com, click here).

Gaga plays the piano, and Madge had a guitar with her for a few numbers the other night, but Dolly (even with those nails) plays guitar, banjo, authoharp, dulcimer – and even, occasionally, the drums. Which is to say that for all her self-proclaimed fakery, the lady is the real deal.

Here’s Dolly, back in the day, with what can only be described as a a literal beehive on her head. Amazing what could be done with just hairspray, y’all.  (source)

And here’s Dolly a few years back: pink, sequins, wig, face-lift, waist cinched, smiling. (source)

Gaga can wear all the meat she wants and Madge can pretend to kill people on stage, or break up with God, or whatever it is she wants to do. But when they’re alone in their lavish dressing rooms, they’d better pray that when they’re pushing seventy, they can be as cool as Dolly.


For Part I about the Madonna show, click here





Continue Reading · on June 7, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Feminism, pop culture

photoshop phail: a pixel too far


There are lots of sites that display photoshop screwups: an arm that suddenly disappears, a hand with too many fingers, a waist digitally whittled (digiwhittle?) into nothingness. Photoshop can even, as Jezebel documents, re-image history by removing people from pictures.

I don’t know about you but I like to think that there are some celebrities who resist the allure of photoshop “perfection,” even if it means looking like, you know, an actual person instead of a Barbie doll.  And then I saw this picture:

 Who is this, you say? Is it maybe…Kristin Stewart? Or…some charming morning talk-show hostess? Nope. It’s Tina Fey. Or rather, it’s “Tina Fey,” the digitally created version of the acerbic and brilliant actress/writer whose career is predicated on presenting herself in all her flawed and human glory.

Don’t get me wrong. I love what she’s saying but it would be nice if she could say it without being airbrushed into Barbie-land.  Because the words in this picture say one thing but the picture itself says something entirely different.

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Continue Reading · on June 4, 2012 in Feminism, Politics, pop culture, ranting

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