Tag Archives | Politics

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

you mean “gun appreciation day” isn’t a joke from The Onion?

So today, in the United States, it’s Gun Appreciation Day.

Yep, that’s right folks. I hope you got a card for your gun, maybe one of those nice bouquets they have down at the Stop-n-Shop? My gun is partial to those big orange Gerbera daisies, but maybe yours is more of a lilies-and-babies-breath sort of firearm?  And of course, don’t forget the chocolates: maybe something with a little zing to it, a little pop in the chocolate sweetness?

Gosh, Gun Appreciation Day arrived so fast, didn’t it? I bet all the good restaurants are going to be booked already, dang it, which means someone is going to be all with the hurt feelings this evening that we’re not going somewhere special for “his” day.  Better make that flowers, chocolates, and a nice single-malt. I mean, what goes better with bullets than whiskey, amiright?

You know what I got as an extra treat for my gun? A little fuzzy wrap, like what people get for their dogs in the winter, as if dogs needed more protection than their own fur. I think Gun is really going to like that, especially in this cold weather.

According to the GAD website, we’re supposed to get ourselves down to the local gun shop with our constitutions, and guns, and signs that say “hands off my gun,” but you know, I’ll be damned if I can find my copy of the constitution! I’m sure I can get a copy somewhere, right? Like the gun store? Because there’s that whole “well-regulated” thing, which Gun and I aren’t ever quite clear about. I’m hoping the NRA will be sponsoring a “get to know the Constitution” booth down at the shop.

It’s hard being away from home on these special holidays; there’s just not a similar crowd here. I mean, sure, there are guns, but to get your hands on those super-groovy mega bullet clips, you have to, you know, get involved in something, like a movement or a rebellion or like the military. Which I have to say, I’ve been watching the news, and being part of those things? They seem really unhygienic. And uncomfortable–even sort of dangerous.But you know how it is outside the United States–people have no idea of what’s appropriate, at all.

So just wanted to say happy Gun Appreciation Day to everyone. Don’t let the celebration of Martin Luther King day tomorrow get in the way of you showing your gun some love, okay?  Heck, even the monkey in this picture is giving the gun some love. And if it’s good enough for a monkey, then it should be good enough for all of us, amiright?

monkey-hugging-a-gun-600x450source

 

Continue Reading · on January 19, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Kids, Politics, ranting

Monday Listicles: what i learned in 2012

Stasha’s listicle today, with a suggestion from Kerstin at Auer Life: ten things we learned in 2012.

I’d like to go on record as saying it’s still a little soon to be making lists about the entirety of 2012. I mean, in the next six weeks, before 2013 hits, I still plan to learn Arabic, figure out the intricacies of crochet, and master the art of pie-crust.

In the meantime, however, and in no particular order, what did I learn in 2012?

1. I love twitter. I love the challenge of 140 characters; I love the fast responses; I’m a sucker for a good hashtag.

2. I learned to paddleboard. I even bought one: a nifty inflatable thing that rolls up and fits in the back of my car. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s great exercise. And then I hurt my shoulder and I’ve not been able to paddle for almost two months.

3. Blogher ’12 taught me all kinds of things: say hello to strangers, because they might turn out to be Good Day Regular People, or The Suniverse.

4. I learned also at Blogher to give people talking to you your full attention, because the person speaking might be the mah-velous Marinka and when you realize you missed an opportunity to talk to her, you will feel pretty much like an idiot for…well, let’s see, that was August and this is November so…

5. I learned that missing my sister and my mom and my brother – and my dear friends “stateside” – is something that needs to be kept sort of over there in a little room that doesn’t get unlocked very often, because if it did get unlocked, then the rushing of emotion would be almost Sandy-like in its power.

6. I know a little bit about this whole expat thing now, even though I am surprised almost daily by what I don’t know. And I’m surprised, sometimes, by my own resilience (or powers of denial – see #5)

7.  I learned that there are limits to my imagination: I could not for the life of me imagine why a woman would want to vote for Romney. I’m sure there are many, many women who had good reasons for casting their votes for him, but I can’t get myself into those moccasins. I think that makes me a bad less-good person.

8. I learned that I like – no, I mean really like – Rachel Maddow. And I wonder if anyone has done a survey of women who consider themselves more or less straight to see how many of them would consider switching to the other team if Rachel would but cast a friendly eye in their direction.

9. I learned – or rather, I am learning – that living without cheese is a bit like living without daily phone conversations with my sister. It’s possible, but it’s nowhere near as much fun.

10. I learned – or re-learned – that I am happiest when I’m writing. And yet, of course, writing is also this:

What’s that old saying? A writer is person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Yeah. That. I guess you could say I learned that in 2012, too.

Continue Reading · on November 19, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Monday Listicle, writing

yes you have freedom of speech but that doesn’t mean you can call your brother an idiot

 

My kids get in trouble if they call each other names.  They lose precious screen time for saying “idiot,” or “stupid,” or (my personal favorite), “pig-head.”

Screen-denial happens for shoving as a response to frustration, or for bellowing “shut up,” or for clambering up on the counter and rifling through the cabinets in order to find the last two sugar cookies that mommy was hoarding for herself.  There will be no counter-clambering in my house, dammit.  (And yes, screen-denial happens if one of them happens to emulate mommy daddy and let fly a curse word. Hypothetically, I mean. If we were to curse and if they were to emulate us.)

Eleven-year-old Liam, flush with the power only a pre-adolescent can have, yammered on last week about freedom of speech and how he bloody well will express himself in the thought that his brother is THE WORST BROTHER EVER.

I said no, actually, that to express yourself for purely malicious or destructive purposes is an abuse of that freedom. And then I did some kind of blah blah blah about the golden rule, and then a little song-and-dance blahbitty blahbitty about the need for mutual respect, and that maybe if he stopped saying his brother is an idiot, his brother would stop trying to hit him.

Both boys burn with the conviction that I am far more lenient with the other, that THE OTHER ONE never gets in trouble, that THE OTHER ONE is loved more, and that my standards are wildly unfair, not to mention unattainable.

So I struggle to turn my children into civilized beings, and then I look at the tragedy in Libya, the riots in Egypt and now Yemen. It makes me wonder if we are living in the death throes of civil discourse. Maybe I should just let my kids whack each other on the head when they’re pissed off; maybe shoving and hurling insults really is the way to go.

Perhaps I’ve been too long in the world of the very young, but I can’t help but think about turning the tables. I mean, what would Terry Jones or Steve Klein have done if someone had made a video portraying Jesus as a whoremonger, a lover of young girls, a bastard, a drunk? Would they have done the Christian thing and turned the other cheek?  What about the mysterious “film-maker” (with apologies to film-makers everywhere) who made the video that insulted Islam? Or the dude who thought it would be a good idea to translate this video into Arabic, just to make sure that it got some airplay?

No, Mitt, I’m not apologizing, and no one should condone the violent responses to this video (although in Libya, it looks increasingly as if the attack had been long-planned and the video just a convenient excuse).

But underneath all this sadness and frustration (yet another nail in the coffin of can’t-we-all-just-get-along), I am having a disconcerting reaction. I find myself wanting to shut down the possibility that the Terry Jones, and the Steve Kleins, and the other purveyors of hate in the U.S. can cloak future bile in the drapery of “free speech.”  Yeah, yeah, free speech as cornerstone of liberty and all that, but you know? Really? In our house, when freedom of speech means calling your brother a pig-head, you get sent to your room and your beloved “Star Wars the Old Republic” game gets turned off.

If you’re using “freedom of speech” and “Christian values” to incite violence, mayhem, and fear, I’m pretty sure you’re not following Christ’s example. As for free speech? I’m pretty sure you’re doing that wrong, too.

 

 

 

 

*full disclosure: in the photo, the boys are actually playing a game, not trying to kill each other. although true, there is a fine line between the two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on September 13, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Kids, Parenting, Politics, ranting, religion, UAE

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