My fiancé wrote, some years ago, a ten point program (heretofore after referred to as 10PP) regarding the JFK assassination. He followed it up this year, in time for Black History Month, with one regarding the MLK assassination. What exactly is a 10PP? Essentially, it operates as a framework for understanding a hotly contested political issue. The 10PP is a set of touchstones that serious researchers, historians, and scholars generally agree on when discussing this issue. They also serve as a starting point for anyone who knows little about the topic. Finally they are something as a litmus test, a way of separating out individuals who take inquiry into the topic seriously, versus individuals who are a standard deviation or two away from reality.
In essence? Every movement has its whack jobs, dabblers, and shit-stirrers. The rights of women are no different, filled with hotly contested points of research, scholarly debate, activism, and media attention. The dialogue regarding the feminist movement is just as replete with crazies as the assassination research community.
Just this year (yes, 2015), Phyllis Schlafly (who has a BA and JD), posited that the growing number of rapes on college campuses are best managed by….fewer women going to college. I read things like this and I just can’t EVEN.
I sputtered, I stomped around, and I told Joe there needed to be a 10PP for feminism and women’s rights as well. At which points he nodded in agreement and told me to get off my ass and write it.
Because just as his research community includes whack-jobs, dabblers, and shit-stirrers, there are also many more people interested in healthy scholarly debate. Determining the truth. Making the world a better place. This starts with a common ground upon which we frame our mission and an honest dialogue regarding a movement. This is where we begin.
First, a caveat. As bad as things can be for women in the U.S. – as bad as it can be in comparison to other so-called first world countries -- it is beyond horrific in other parts of the world. Sex trafficking, forced marriages, rapes, beatings, murder, female genital mutilation. While these things may happen anywhere in the world, they are the unchallenged norm in many parts of the world.
In other words, we are privileged to be first world women. While we have a battle, it is on an entirely different battlefield, and that is an important differentiation to acknowledge. Perhaps a 10PP with considerations on a more international scale needs to be developed. But for this piece, I wanted to start at home.
The wage gap is gendered. Women still do not do not make equal pay for equal work throughout the nation. It is worse in some states than others, (Seriously, Wyoming and Louisiana? You are absolutely embarrassingly awful) but nationwide, women still make 78 cents for each dollar their male counterparts make. Is it better than it was even a decade ago? Sure, but progress is of glacial proportions. At the rate we are catching up, we are still at least 75 years away from gaining equality in our pay. And the higher you move up the career ladder, the greater the gap becomes. This alone provides excellent evidence that the gap is gendered. One would think that if the issue was experience, education, or caregiver duties that this gap would close, rather than widen, as individuals progressed up the career ladder. But no. And the gap is even worse if you are a woman of color. The Sony Pictures Entertainment hack demonstrated a wage gap in real numbers, highlighting the importance of advocating for wage transparency.
Poverty is gendered. Women are far more likely to live in poverty than men of color, and once again the gap is even worse if you are a woman of color. If you read the link above, you will note that only 25% of the women in the US who are living below the poverty rate are single mothers. Over half are single women with no dependent children. It is a gendered issue, not a familial one.
Women are also more likely to be in unpaid caretaker roles in general (although not necessarily that of a single parent). When women are in the role of a singular caretaker of children, they are twice as likely as men in the same role to live in poverty. Pregnancy, disability status, chronological age, domestic violence, and sexual violence also all have a correlative effect on women’s wage earnings. And overall? Poverty rates are higher now than they have been in the five decades that the US Census has been measuring poverty. And the socioeconomic status you are born into is likely the one you will stay in. The American dream of doing better than your parents is just that. A dream.
Access to health care is gendered. Women have greater health care expenses than men and pay more of these expenses out of pocket then men do. Because women are more likely to live in poverty, they are more likely not to have health insurance coverage. Women who do have insurance are far less likely to be insured through their own employment, therefore are at greater risk of losing coverage should their marital status change.
Over three million low-income women in the United States fall into a coverage gap and are uninsured, regardless of the fact that they are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).This gap is the direct result of 22 states’ failure to use federal money already set aside to expand health care coverage through Medicaid. Women within the coverage gap, then, experience a health care gap.
When we add access to healthcare options associated with our reproductive rights, the evidence is even more disturbing. In 2014, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby allowing the owners of corporations to use their religious beliefs to deny female employees access to key reproductive health coverage. (An ironic aside? 58% of women who use the pill, do so as a treatment for hormonal imbalances, rather than for birth control.). Also, as with poverty rates and equal pay gaps, the lack of access to health care is far worse for women of color.
And access to legal, safe abortions? That is an entirely different article. However, the 20 week abortion ban bill was passed by the House while I was writing this article, and is an excellent single point example of how false science has been used by the right to again control over women’s bodies and reproductive-medical choices. This bill (which will not pass in the senate nor be signed by the current administration and is therefore a waste of time) has garnered a huge amount of attention and time away from actual governance needs. How about lawmakers using just a portion of that energy on passing bills that focus on wage parity or health care parity?
Violence, overall, is gendered. The strongest predictor of violence (especially relational violence and sexual violence) is not race or socio economic status. It’s gender. Sexual assaults are horrifically underreported. And yes, men are absolutely victims of sexual violence as well. About 10% of sexual assaults are perpetrated against men. Which means that women are victims the other 90% of the time. And whether the victims are male or female, the perpetrator is nearly always a man. The Department of Justice noted that 99% of individuals arrested for rape are men. This begs the question: Are men just naturally more aggressive and violent than women? Of course not. It means that our social norms operate as incubators for violent behaviors on the part of men, and women are usually the victims of such violence.
“Gender-based violence (GBV) is the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society.” (Bloom 2008, p14).
Unequal power structures perpetuate violence, and the consequences are often more severe for female victims than male victims. The United Nations Population Fund notes:
“The primary targets of GBV are women and adolescent girls, but not only are they at high risk of GBV, they also suffer exacerbated consequences as compared with what men endure. As a result of gender discrimination and their lower socio-economic status, women have fewer options and less resources at their disposal to avoid or escape abusive situations and to seek justice. They also suffer (…) consequences [on their sexual and reproductive health], including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and resulting deaths, traumatic fistula, and higher risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.”
There is a social acceptance of rape culture rather than consent culture. But why is violence gendered? Yes, unequal power structures. Yes, yes, all the prizes go to the winner. But why sexual violence, specifically? Why is the domain over another individual’s rights (or more importantly lack thereof) one of the main prizes? Why has this particular issue become perpetuated in our culture as a specific outcome of power differentials? This hasn’t always been the case, after all.
Culturally, we don’t like the word rape. But we continue to perpetuate a social system in which non-consensual sexual acts are excused, dismissed, justified, and/or minimized. In a consent culture, there is no grey area. Consent culture, where only yes means yes, means that many people have to revisit past behaviors, to consider that maybe some past actions were actually violations, not “grey areas.” Rape culture, is essentially, a justification culture whereas consent culture means we, all of us, are entirely responsible for our behavior at all times. No excuses (this skit, btw, is hella funny while still being telling).
This study, conducted by researchers at the University Of North Dakota, found that 1 out of 3 college men stated that they would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it… if you took the ugly word “rape” out of the question. When the term was “intentions to rape a woman,” 13.6% agreed that they would do so (still scary). But when the term was “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse,” the number jumped to 31.7%. One in three. Our culture is so accepting of violence toward women that the act of rape has quite a bit of appeal, as long as we don’t use an “ugly” label.
Women are not sexually empowered. And it’s even more complicated than that. Research demonstrates a double-standard in that if women do NOT post sexy poses of themselves, they lose out on social rewards, but when they do they are viewed as less intelligent and capable. Women are told time and again to somehow be sexy without being sexual. Is it any wonder that we have been acculturated to have a complete disconnect from our own sexual responses, according to other studies? Sexual behaviors engaged in by girls and women continue to have more negative consequences than sexual behaviors of boys and men. Sexting behavior is a perfect modern example of this continued no-win situation. You are either promiscuous or a prude. And for girls and women who do choose to sext, they are more likely to suffer negative consequences from the behavior.
Is it any wonder that we do not have a consent culture? How can you consent to desires you are not expected to have? We are consistently defined by our outer presentation but our inner desires are continuously silenced. And if you are supposed to present as sexy at the same time, how can you blame men for not being able to control their responses toward you? Our culture dictates that if you dress in such a way that makes you a temptation, you are responsible for a sexual assault perpetrated against you. Whether you are a young girl or adult woman.
This attitude can even affect basic health care? If the thought is that the services benefit promiscuity we clearly don’t deserve them. Why cover something to prevent pregnancy, when women should just be abstinent except for procreation within the sanctity of a monogamous, heterosexual, Christian marriage? Relationships such as polyamory and non-heteronormative relationships that support the expression of sexual agency in women are still considered unacceptable and immoral fringe behaviors.
I have seen the direct impact that this country’s purity culture has had on relationships when working with individuals in my private practice. Ironically, the majority of these clients are in heterosexual, monogamous marriages. We aren’t strengthening those relationships with these messages.
The role of gender within the feminist movement is poorly understood. We still struggle with the archaic notion that gender is the social interpretation of biological sex assignment. Of course, all research done outside the traditional, cis-gender experience finds that patently untrue. However, misunderstanding about transgender identity or queer identity (or any other non-binary understanding of self) continues to hurt the feminist movement. Gender identity is just as fully formed and stable in transgender children as it is cis-gender children. But there is still the message that trans women are not real women, even within feminist movements.
Why? Is it because of the presumption that transwomen (MTF) continue to benefit from male privilege (a false privilege, at best). Obviously this experience depends greatly on your transition experience, but even women who were male assigned at birth and who have presented as male for much of their lives, spoke of consciously wearing a disguise. The safety of presenting as a male individual provided some safety, but at the expense of authenticity.
Who is at the most risk in being a female in this world in the end? We talk about violence being gendered, but rarely include discussion of violence perpetuated against trans women. Transwomen, especially transwomen of color, are the most at risk for violence. Worldwide, one transgender individual is murdered every three days. Violence in general towards transwomen is wildly disproportionate to that of the general population, especially trans women of color.
The trans experience is still largely excluded from the feminist movement. Even with the articulate and positive voices of role models including Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, acceptance is still an enormous struggle. The young man who made headlines when crowned homecoming king and was a strong LGBT activist in his community committed suicide earlier this year. The suicide rate for transgender individuals is 40 times that of the general population.
Until the feminist movement actively works to create space for trans individuals that is safe and inclusionary, we are perpetuating the same misunderstanding of and misinformation about gender equality as the general populace we seek to educate.
The importance of intersectionality within feminism is continuously minimized, though it is necessary for our survival. The enormous struggle of trans individuals is but one example of how feminism struggles as a movement. Feminism is at a crossroads, and the success or failure of the movement lies in our understanding of intersectionality. Feminism IS the crossroads of intersectionality, of both privilege and oppression. I’ve written about the importance of intersectionality before. Historically, feminism has been considered a movement of privileged white women. Of course, we all have some form of privilege. Many things in my life have that have put me at a disadvantage have also worked as a form of privilege in the right circumstances. Life is complicated. Awareness of that privilege and how we can use it to further equality is what’s important here, not being the damn privilege police. It is the lens of equality that should guide our experiences. To quote myself (talk about privilege!), feminism is the voice of The Other. No matter what the other experience may be. But don’t listen to me. Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt said it even better:
In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.
We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.
Within our own movement, we decry versions of feminism that are not like our own. Here is the thing about intersectionality, and feminism in general. It means we get to define our own feminism. Yes, there are many different types of feminism even just by academic categorization. It can be damn confusing. You can be a SCUM Manifesto Valerie Solanas feminist or a girlie girl feminist.
But no matter what kind of feminist you are, the minute you give yourself the label you are going to piss off someone within the feminist movement.
Maybe judgey-pants feminism should be its own category.
Beyonce is one of the most recent and well-discussed examples. Lady Bey’s stance as a feminist has caused enormous backlash. Drop the F-bomb and go under the microscope. HuffPost author Rose Courteu refers to her a straw-man feminist. Bell Hooks calls her out as a terrorist, as she does not have complete control over how her image is produced by the media. Attended a boxing match? Bad feminist!
If you also articulate a feminist identity, many others with the same self-appointed moniker will take issue with your choices. Guaranteed. Is Annie Lennox a better feminist than Madonna because she dresses her age when Madonna has zero fucks to give? Annie seems to think so. So did much of the media.
You may not agree with my choices. Or anyone else’s choices. Miserable existence, that. But the larger point, is we are kicking the shit out of our movement from the inside with this kind of nonsense. Feminism gets to be short skirts. Or overalls. The fuck? If I chose to put it on my body, I partook of a feminist act. Feminism is the right to the choice, not the enforcement of someone else’s vision. Otherwise feminism is just the same patriarchal pig in different lipstick.
But probably still the wrong shade or brand of lipstick, depending on who you ask.
Feminism even means we support the right for women to NOT call themselves feminist. This shit kills me. But this is a serious problem. If feminism means the right to our own agency, the equality of choice and freedom of expression, it means that women are allowed to not be feminists. Feminism gets to take many shapes and forms. And it can be dismissed altogether.
Joan Nestle discussed this in a recent Curve magazine article. That’s what we fought for, and continue to fight for. Phyllis Schafly gets to benefit from higher education but insist that other women shouldn’t. Ann Coulter gets to insist on…whatever she is insisting on this week. They get to use the voice we fought for them to have to decry what we fought for. Ugh. Dammit. But yeah. They do.
Feminism means you have the choice to reject feminism. And I will think you are an idiot for doing so, but will support your choice. And will continue to support you having the ability to make that choice.
Ten points. A common dialogue. A movement forward. Did you agree with them? What did you think I missed? Feminism means you have voice in this discussion. Please share your thoughts. Or not. You’re allowed either way. Rock on, feminism.