Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

At what age is it appropriate to read “A Handmaid’s Tale”?

My oldest daughter is almost 13 and I think I may have her read it soon.  Especially after the past few months of legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, and many states making women jump through hoop after hoop to obtain an abortion (I was going to add more links, but there are too many).

Today during lunch, my mother, mother-in-law and I got into a spirited discussion about abortion rights.  Kind of a heated and strange topic for Mother’s Day (or not).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my mother is very much pro-choice.  I always thought she leaned more anti-abortion, but I suspect that legislation in recent years, augmented by emails from a very pro-choice friend of hers, has given her the courage to state that nobody has the right to dictate what happens to a woman’s body except the woman herself.

Why is this topic on an atheism blog you may ask?

It is my experience that religion and anti-choice tend to go hand in hand.  The subtle difference between ethics and morals is missed.  Just because your religion dictates a certain moral code does not mean that we all must live by that code.   Your religion may teach that abortion is a sin and wrong and should be outlawed.  I don’t share your religion, so I do not necessarily share your moral code, yet that does not mean I live without morals.   Many on the religious right try to force their beliefs on everyone, despite what the law states.

Margaret Atwood’s novel illustrates what could happen if everyone were forced to live under one moral code, whether or not you believe in it.   My daughter is intelligent and emotionally mature.  She recently read Fahrenheit 451 and Animal Farm and was able to discuss both with me and I sense that she likes to read books that challenge her to think about society and what is accepted versus what is acceptable (not always the same).  Books that challenge one to think and form their own opinions seem rare these days.  These modern classics seem perfect for sparking interesting conversations and often help you see society from different viewpoints.  Any other suggestions for similar books that are captivating reads?

This past year or so has been a trying time for women’s rights.  They are being chipped away at piece by piece, starting with the easiest and most contentious target, women’s health.  Lawmakers like to frame their argument, claiming it is trying to reduce abortions, when they are most likely increasing unwanted pregnancies and STDs due to birth control and low-cost health care being taken away.  I guess if you are a low-income, single woman you shouldn’t have sex.   Ever.  And if you do you are forced to have a child you are unable to care for.  All those people who care so much about keeping your fetus alive care so very little once you have an actual child.  Because now you are a parasite on the system, living on welfare.  It puts a lot of people in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Lately I fear I’m becoming a broken record on the issue.  I see myself moving fairly quickly from a sometime feminist (only caring about what directly affected me), to a full fledged cheerleader of women’s rights and a cog in the machine that must make a change in the world for all women.  It has been my intent not to react due to fear, but fear has been the driving force of this evolution of mine.  Fear that my daughters will grow up to live in a world where important choices regarding their health are made for them, without any regard as to circumstance.  Fear that they will live in a world where women are still not given full credit, and still fear to make their opinion heard.  Fear that a world could once again exist where they will be labeled as criminals for taking control of their reproductive health in the way they see fit.

A little fear can be a good thing if it creates a space for us to rise up and challenge the source of that fear.


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So, I finally commented on Pharyngula.  Never really thought I would since the discussions often left me fearful of inviting a smack down of epic proportions.  After reading the responses on the “Woman Problem” thread, I got to wondering why I was so fearful.  I think I gained some insight into why I don’t often express my opinion.  In some ways, I’ve been told repeatedly that my opinion doesn’t matter and that I shouldn’t exercise any type of self-confidence.  Sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly.

For instance, there was one discussion I had with my husband a while back.  We had a minor scheduling conflict involving a child’s birthday (our best friends) and our child’s soccer game.  He thought our daughter should just skip her game and go to the party.  I thought that we paid for her to play soccer, and her team was counting on her being there, and we could arrive to the party late, but still attend.  He told me I need to be careful while asserting myself that I don’t shit on those closest to me.  That pissed me off and at the time I couldn’t really see the real reason why.  Now I know that it was a roundabout way of saying that he was always right, and I always had to fight for my opinion.  In the end, I went to the game with her and he went ahead to the party with our other daughter.  We showed up late and everything was fine, even if he was a little prickly towards me.

Not to give him a pass on this moment of bad behavior (it doesn’t happen often), but a lot of his opinion was borne out of fear.  He has this idea that all it would take is one “no” to our friends and we will no longer be in their good graces.

It makes me think that a lot of the societal marginalizing of women is borne out of fear.  (Before I hear a “No shit, Sherlock!”, I would direct you to an earlier thread which highlights the fact that I seem to be coming into critical thinking fairly late. )

As I so often  point out to my husband, he is a straight upper middle-class white male, enjoying all the privileges that comes with being one.  By this very nature, he is inherently blind to the issues of minorities (women, POC, gays, etc.).  This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for him, it just is what it is.  The downside to this is that he has a tendency to deny there is a problem, sort of like a knee jerk reaction.  Because it doesn’t affect him, it doesn’t affect anybody else.  It’s a lazy way of thinking, but those that are “privileged” in society don’t really have a reason to think otherwise.  Unless they are married or have daughters, or have minorities as friends, co-workers, in-laws, etc.  He has become more sensitive to women’s issues due to the fact that I consider it my mission to educate him when he is dead wrong, and the fact that we have daughters that will one day be women.

Those in power (whether they realize the are or not) sense someone or something challenging their power, and they get scared.  A common response to fear is denial.  So combine the inherent blind spot and fear, then add denial, and there can be a major roadblock to progress.  Add a few people who tend to be a little more testosterone laden than others, and a situation (either globally or personally) can become a very scary thing for women, gays, etc.  There are many men who are aware of their power and wield it like a weapon, and there are others, thank goodness, who realize that they can use their power to make things more equal.  We need more of the latter.

We also need more women to stand up and speak up.  I acknowledge that this can be scary.  Start with a fairly safe audience, like friends with similar thinking, and express an opinion that you normally would have kept quiet about due to fear.  Sometimes it even helps to acknowledge that you are afraid you will be jumped on for this opinion and stress that you need a safe place to voice it.  It’s practice for bigger audiences, or less receptive ones.

I need to take this advice more often myself.  I “practice” with my husband.  We can often have spirited debates, but I know that even if he doesn’t agree with me in the end, I will have been heard, and I may have even educated someone on the realities of being a woman.  For instance, I expressed a desire to be more involved in women’s rights, whether through an organization, or involvement in local issues.  He made a comment that all the issues have been solved.

After picking myself off the floor after laughing so hard, I explained to him that while a lot of big issues have been “solved” (voting, equal rights, etc.) there were still problems.  In the U.S. there is still a pay discrepancy between women and men (it keeps getting smaller, but it’s not equal yet).  There is the whole health care issue.  Not just abortion rights, but rights to birth control, and affordable health care for women and children.  Globally there is still a huge issue.  There are many places in the world where women are not allowed to have an opinion, let alone any control over their own lives, and live in constant fear of rape as a method of control.  When I stopped to take a breath, he acquiesced and admitted that maybe he didn’t know the whole story.

One thing that stood out for me in the comments over at Pharyngula, was how much us women see a subtle oppression, whether it is in assuming societal “norms” of behavior, such as women being quiet, diplomatic, and conflict phobic, you know, just smile and be nice, or as insidious as girls still being discouraged from the hard sciences and maths (Barbie uttered “Math class is hard” as recently as 1992), while men tend not to notice this at all.  Yes, there are exceptions, but without research and statistics backing this up, would these men be aware of the problem?

I have been in situations where I point out that certain things are a problem for women (equal pay for instance), and I get a wave of the hand and a “Pshht” that dismisses me right out of hand.  This has to stop.  Just because you don’t want to hear it, or are afraid of losing power, doesn’t make it any less real or valid.

Wow, I got a little long winded.  I could probably write about this all day, but there are many more who have done so much more eloquently and skillfully than I have.

I finally put on my big girl panties and commented, and I will probably continue to do so in conversations that interest me.

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