False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part III

– Pay equity has not been achieved yet. This is a crucial issue which will not be resolved by promoting the belief that “men conspire to keep women down by paying us less.” We will not achieve pay equity, in my opinion, until the male identification with professional realization and money-making is weakened and the female identification with them is strengthened to a point where they meet somewhere in a healthy intermediate point. (I can go into more detail in another post if people are not sure how this is supposed to work.)

– Gender discrimination in the workplace should stop. And it’s up to all of us to stop it. A man who believes that women should not be doctors, firefighters and soldiers are as much of an idiot as a woman who believes that men should not be massage therapists, secretaries, and daycare workers. There is nothing in anybody’s anatomy that makes one incapable of performing well in any job.

And the most important thing that, I believe, would help us resolve all of the above-mentioned issues:

Let’s stop fixating on genitals so much. As progressive and enlightened as we are, we still allow the biological sex (of others as well as of ourselves) to matter to us way too much. As long as we see the world in terms of men and women, men versus women, female interests against male interests, we will be stuck in this gendered universe that hurts all of us forever. Just imagine the freedom we will all experience when people will read as little into the shape of our genitals as they do into the shape of our ears and the length of our toes.

Last week, in my Spanish 102 class, I handed out an exercises with pictures of people practicing different professions (we are studying the vocabulary of the workplace). Immediately, several students raised their hands.

“There is a mistake in the handout,” they told me. “Here it says that this person is called Carlos and that doesn’t make sense.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he looks like a girl. And besides, this is an elementary school teacher, so it’s got to be a woman.”

I started getting hot behind my ears, especially because the students still don’t possess the kind of command of Spanish that would allow me to explain to them that it’s nobody’s flapping business how Carlos looks and what profession he chooses to practice. And also that we should not be policing anybody’s gender identity in a Spanish class or elsewhere.

 

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False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part II

False feminist issues (continued):

– “Women are conditioned to please.” Everything I have seen in life has led me to conclude that men are the ones who are conditioned to please women. However, I realize that I should not be projecting my own very limited experiences onto an entire gender. If anybody is conditioned to do anything here, it’s me. I was brought up in a way that makes me see men who strive to please and not see men who don’t. In reality, however, this is not a gender issue, but, rather, a matter of individual psychology. I blogged about it before and don’t want to repeat myself too much.

If people have more false feminist concerns, feel free to mention them. Now, for the list of really important tasks that feminism still has to accomplish.

Genuine feminist issues:

The right to manage one’s own body as one sees fit. This is a core feminist issue. The only actual differences between men and women can be found (not always, but in the majority of cases) in their physiology. And until this physiology is under the complete control of every individual possessing it, there can be no discussion of gender equality. This is not only about abortion, even though the right to an abortion is absolutely crucial. There are other important issues, too, such as, for example, the very inadequate nature of male contraceptives. Is there even anything there, aside from condoms and sterilization? This isn’t good enough.

 Equal rights and equal responsibility parenting. Until taking care of children stops being the exclusive purview of women, we cannot hope for any gender equality. Maternity and paternity leaves of equal duration need to be legislated. Shared custody of children should become the norm and be awarded in the absolute majority of cases. All of us, men and women alike, will have to work hard to change our mentality and stop seeing children as some sort of an appendage to their mother with the father being expendable.

– Gender stereotypes need to go. There is still way too much of this “women (men) are, think, want, feel” crap going on. There is such a huge demand for these tired old gender stereotypes and for the discourse of “hardwired gender differences” that all legitimate research is vitiated and forced to serve the goal of selling more copies of tabloids. (Read Cordelia Fine on the subject, people. If you don’t have time for an entire book right now, the read Janet Bing’s article “Brain Sex.” When you do, I promise you will not want to talk about gender hard-wiring in the brain any more.)

(To be continued. . . )

False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part I

Before I begin, I want to remind everybody that when I speak of feminism, I refer to a system of beliefs and a form of political activism arising from the idea that one’s physiological characteristics need not be invested with meaning. Simply put, feminism is about making sure that the shape of our genitals does not translate into the roles we are assigned in our personal, professional, intellectual, political, etc. endeavors.

One of the main dangers to feminism nowadays is, in my opinion, the frequency with which people label as feminist aspects of existence that have nothing to do with gender roles or gender expectations. Many people seem to think that feminism exists to make their lives better in every possible aspect and when it fails to do so, condemn it as a failed ideological project. It makes as much sense, however, to expect feminism to achieve anything other than what falls under its purview, as it is to expect a Kindle to do your dishes for you.

In this post, I want to provide a list of issues that often receive the label of feminist concerns but that have nothing to do with feminism. Then, I will offer a list of what I consider to be genuine feminist concerns. This is a work in progress, so feel free to add to both lists.

False feminist issues:

“The impossible standard of beauty.” Beauty is supposed to be quite impossible, otherwise it wouldn’t be beauty. My appearance, which is as common as pickled cucumbers in my country, has been referred as “exotic” in many places I have visited. Beauty is supposed to be hard to achieve, difficult to find, special, rare. It’s frustrating as hell that we can’t all consider ourselves and each other beautiful. But it’s not a gender issue. It’s as hard to look as Brad Pitt as it is as Angelina Jolie. Female and male models in magazines all have the kinds of bodies that cannot be encountered in nature. It can be extremely frustrating to see those impossibly skinny, ripped, flawless bodies on the screen and on billboards. To suggest, however, that it is more frustrating to all women than it is to all men makes absolutely no sense.  (Research shows that I’m right and that body image issues have no gender.)

“There is a system in place in our society that uniformly oppresses all women (men) and benefits all men (women).” There is a very large group of people who confuse gender wars with feminism or men’s rights activism. In reality, however, their engagement with gender is neither political nor philosophical. It’s always strictly personal. Such people have been hurt by a man (many men) or a woman (many women) and are now analyzing societal issues through the lens of their personal hurt. (See a very vivid example discussed here). I believe that no patriarchal ogre is quite as damaging to the cause of feminism as these gender war champions.

– “We need to promote women’s right to choose any lifestyle they wish.” As we all know, I detest “choice feminism” and see it as profoundly anti-feminist in nature. “Choice feminism” promotes the idea that women are such saintly creatures who exist outside of societies, ideologies, family structures, etc. that every single choice these infallible individuals make should be celebrated. If you question any kind of a choice made by any woman, you are an anti-feminist. This kind of respect for any choice they might make is, of course, not extended to men, which makes “choice feminism” a movement that reinforces gender boundaries.

– “Women are told to be skinny and are fat-shamed!” Once again, as annoying as this phenomenon is, it has nothing to do with gender. The fascination with thinness is very recent historically and very culture-specific. A society values what is scarce. This means that a society that routinely overeats will value thinness for the same reasons that, until very recently, my society (I’m from Ukraine, in case you don’t know) valued plumpness after surviving horrible famines. I don’t think that anybody can reasonably argue that all fat men have things easier than all fat women. Not only is this not a feminist concern, it is also not an issue that anybody can do anything about until the majority of our population becomes thin.

(To be continued. . .)

Meaningless Expressions

Whenever I encounter the following expressions, my mind boggles. I can actually feel my brain starting to warp as it strives to deduce their meaning. I’m not trying to be funny here (when I am, I usually attach a “humor” tag to  the post). I truly have no idea what these expressions are supposed to mean and why they are used. Now, let’s try to figure that out together, and maybe my readers can help me.

Income inequality

This is a very puzzling one, folks. Whenever I encounter this expression, it always occurs in a context that signals this “income inequality” as something negative. If it is a negative phenomenon, then there should be a positive alternative attached to it, right? And what would that be? Income equality, I presume. Which, in turn, must mean that the ideal state of affairs is the one where everybody has the same income, right? And this is something that I simply don’t get because even Marx and Lenin never went as far as that. Even they agreed that, for example, people of intellectual professions are entitled to a greater income because they bring the added value of their unpaid studies to their work.

Often, the articles that mention this mysterious income inequality seem to be based on the idea that a significant difference in income between varying groups of population is always bad and a smaller income gap is always good. This makes no sense either since nobody has proven yet that this is the case. I can see why a greater income gap can be good for a country’s economic growth. But a smaller one? Historically, whenever the income gap shortened significantly, that always spelled a much less vibrant economy. If anybody has any proof that I’m mistaken on this subject, I’d be very interested in seeing it.

Job security

This is another mysterious one. The only way for people to feel secure in their jobs is to go the Soviet way and remove the threat of anybody being fired altogether. Can anybody guess what happens the moment such a policy is introduced? Yes, people stop working. They come to their places of employment and fritter away the time before going home.

If I had a guarantee that my job was “secure” and that there was no chance of my contract being revoked, do you really think I’d bust my ass to participate in all of those endless activities, initiatives, committees, etc. that now fill my midpoint folder? “Job security” spells a crash into instant scarcity of absolutely everything, from food to services. And here I really don’t want any arguments from people who never lived in a society where everybody’s jobs were secure and, as a result, the stores were empty of any products (I’m not exaggerating here, I mean rows upon rows of empty shelves), the doctors beat up their five-year-old patients during procedures, nurses refused to interrupt their chats to approach patients in excruciating pain, etc.

Also, if somebody is planning to argue that tenure and job security have anything in common, then you need to start following the news. That has not been the case for a while.

Work-life balance

This one just bugs me beyond belief. Work is obviously a part of life, right? So how can anybody try to balance a part with the whole? What sense does this make? It annoys me like I can’t tell you when I get asked on institutional surveys whether I am “content with my work-life balance.” Why not abandon this silly bureaucrat-speak and just ask whether I have enough free time or whether I feel overworked? I’m guessing that this is the information the question is trying to elicit.

Two-body problem

This is an expression that academics love and I hate. From what I have been able to gather, it refers to the difficulty academic couples face in finding employment in the same geographic area. What I don’t get is why instead of using this extremely clumsy “we have finally solved the two-body problem”, one can’t just say, “N. and I have found jobs in the same town.”

And the way the expression sounds is so stupid, too. Why “two-body”? Why a “problem”? You know this nasty sound of dragging a finger-nail across a chalk-board? That’s what I hear whenever anybody uses this phrase.

Sustainability in the classroom

I understand what sustainable fishing means. It’s when you don’t take out more fish from the sea or whatever than will be able to restore its number through reproduction. Right? What does this have to do with teaching, though?

I’m guessing that there might be some sciences where sustainable teaching is a relevant concept. Possibly the ones that rely upon labs, resources, etc. Why, however, am I hearing this expression thrown around so much in reference to the Humanities?

And don’t think I haven’t tried to figure this one out. I did several online searches about this concept. Every single time, however, I alighted upon a a long and extremely vague disquisition filled with endless bureaucratic verbiage that has no meaning whatsoever.

Are there words and expressions that really bug you? Feel free to share, and we’ll hate them together.

Why The New York Times Is Hopeless

Because it publishes this sort of articles:

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign debates, The Times has employed a separate fact-check sidebar to assess the validity of the candidates’ statements. Do you like this feature, or would you rather it be incorporated into regular reporting?

If you need to ask, then you are so not in the right profession. Just imagine a doctor sending out a memo to her patients asking, “Would you prefer that treating illness be incorporated into my regular practice?” Or a teacher doing a survey among students, “Do you want me to make sure that I impart the correct information to you in class? Should I be a truth vigilante and double-check the date of Don Quijote‘s publication before discussing it with you? Are you sure? Are you completely sure?”

And here is the best part of the article:

Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another?

Yes, this is the quality of writing The NYTimes regales us with. If it’s a fact, why do you need to correct it at all? What you correct are mistakes, not facts. Or is there some new definition of the word “fact” that I’m not aware of?

And this is the content they want to charge us to read online.

On Handling Stress

Spanish Prof shares the following story:

“Oh,” he answered, “. . . only rarely do I feel stressed out in my job”.

ME: “Really? Because to me, your job sounds really stressful. Do you do some kind of yoga, or meditation, or something that helps you keep stress at bay?”

HIM: “Oh no, nothing like that. It’s just that I used to be an undercover narcotics cop, so I was in situations where people were yelling at me and had guns. Now, every time a client yells at me, I just remind myself ‘S/he doesn’t have a gun,’ and that’s enough for me to stay calm.”

I use this strategy of handling stress, too, and it really works for me. Yesterday, for example, I started freaking out because of some silly document I needed for my midpoint dossier and that hadn’t arrived yet. So I started creating a huge drama over it in my head, even though its existence is far from being crucial for my dossier. In all probability, nobody will even notice whether it’s there or not. Still, I jumped on this opportunity to get hugely stressed out.

And then I remembered the most painful, horrible and hopeless moment of my life and thought, “I got through that and now, when my life is so much better, I’m making myself miserable over some stupid piece of paper? What kind of fool am I, precisely?”

Within moments, I felt such a surge of happiness that I started dancing in my office.

Happy Old New Year!

In my culture, we love the New Year’s so much that we celebrate it twice: on December 31 and on January 13. The latter celebration is called “the Old New Year” in reference to the old (Julian) calendar that made us lag behind the rest of Western countries before the October Revolution finally inaugurated the Gregorian calendar.

Thanks to that weird calendar mix-up we now have two opportunities to welcome the New Year. If, say, you made some New Year resolutions but managed to lapse in the very first weeks of January, here is a chance for you to start anew. How cool is that?

Happy Old New Year, everybody!