Ideologically speaking

(TW: violence)

Dear Dad,

I enjoyed visiting you and the fam in Minnesota for Christmas. You know I always love a chance to get a White Christmas, throw a few snowballs, before returning to the warm climes of California.

A photo of a woman, bundled in jackets, sweaters, scarf, sweatpants and a hat, standing on top of a snow-covered playground structure.

Wearing my haphazardly slapped together snow outfit on a winter excursion. Can you tell I don’t actually own snow clothes?

I also enjoy our conversations, even though this Christmas’ debate was a particularly tense one, which wasn’t aided by the fact that we hopped around from topic to topic like a cat on the nip. I’d like to return, however, to our discussion on ideologies, especially since it relates so much to discussions we’ve had before on this blog about ideology and “lenses.”

Your second blog post to me was on this same topic, describing ideologies as glasses that one views the world through: They shape how we perceive our reality. I’ve thought often about this comparison, and about where this metaphor falls down. Even with a feminist worldview, for instance, my perception could vary wildly from that of Beyonce, Gloria Steinem, and Jessica Valenti. What I’ve experienced and learned, read about and watched, all has an impact on my own personal ideology, which is an amalgam of classes I took, advice from friends, my own contemplations, and my reading.

I guess what I’m saying is, we all have our paradigms. Sometimes, we put a name to them and call them an ideology, to let people know we fall into the same camp as other individuals we admire. I proudly say I’m a feminist because it’s a quick way to let people know that I stand up for women’s rights. But my feminism is something I keep revising and evolving in and growing. I proudly claim the title, but if one day, I find one that suits me better, I can discard it in favor of that one.

All that being said, you were right when you wrote that ideologies can warp reality. In our discussion over the holiday, Dad, we talked about the frequency of shootings in the U.S. You said that the San Bernardino shooters espoused a violent Islamic ideology, but that other recent mass shooters were simply mentally ill and in need of care. I thought on this on the plane ride home, and for the whole week, and I can’t agree. I think in our country’s narrow focus on terrorism as an Islamic threat, we don’t acknowledge that there are other ideologies present in the fabric of the United States that can lead to violence as well, regardless of the mental health of the perpetrator. Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, for instance, took a gun to African-American churchgoers because he believed he was defending white women. This man espoused a radically white supremacist worldview. He wasn’t just some “crazy.” His vision was warped by lenses of racism and a twisted sense of patriotism. Similarly, the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado declared afterward that there would be “no more baby parts,” clearly influenced by pro-life rhetoric about the health care provider. His view of right and wrong was distorted by a pro-life movement that led him to believe the only solution to safe, legal abortion was to kill those providing it. Maybe it’s difficult to see a pro-life person lumped in with radical Muslim terrorists, but all of these shooters have an ideology, a distorted worldview influenced by their experiences and the information they receive, that led them down the path they took. To write the non-Muslims off as “crazy” anomalies is to obscure the path to a solution.

And that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after a week of stewing, though I’m sure, with time, my vision will continue to develop and I might have to adjust the prescription on my lenses a little. Thanks for the food for thought, Dad, and happy new year.

Love you,
Victoria

It’s okay not to shave

Dear Dad,

As a woman who has been razor-free for six-ish months now (and almost two years on my armpits) I get pretty upset when I hear the same old tired myths about shaving repeated over and over again. And one I’ve been hearing a LOT lately is that shaving makes your hair grow back thicker. I heard it on the radio last week, I hear it from friends and family, and it is driving me nuts, because people always use this reason to justify why they must continue shaving.

Let me take one moment, right here and now, to clarify this myth: Shaving does not make your hair grow back thicker. Shaving DOES NOT MAKE YOUR HAIR GROW BACK THICKER.

What actually happens, according to science, is that hair is tapered at the end, so that when you blunt-cut it with a razor, it appears to grow back thicker because the part of the hair you see next is the fat base part.

There’s also the fact that, for a lot of women, we’ve never seen what we look like unshaven. I started shaving in seventh grade, before I hit puberty, when my legs had just the faintest wisps of peach fuzz and my armpits were completely bare. Of course, when I stopped shaving, my hair grew back thicker. I’d matured! I’d started growing hair in places I didn’t before!

Even after a decade of shaving my legs almost every four days, I don’t have a coat of fur:

2015/01/img_0119.jpg

This isn’t to say that people should stop shaving. If a woman likes shaving, she should go for it! I love the way my legs feel when they’re freshly shaved. But I also want to challenge societal norms that say that women’s body hair is unsightly or gross. In my ideal world, women would shave if they wanted to, or grow out their body hair if they felt like it, without judgment, similar to the way you grow out your beard or shape your goatee, Dad. Heck, maybe women could start shaping their armpit hair the way men shape beards! That would be awesome!

Basically, my message to women is this: Hair doesn’t grow back thicker after you shave. It just grows back. So shave, or don’t. The choice is up to you. And you can stop shaving or start shaving whenever you want.

Love,
Victoria

On big life changes

Dear Dad,

Yesterday, while driving, I saw one of those light-up road signs. “CAUTION” it flashed, and then just “CHANGE AHEAD.” I thought how fitting that was right now.

As you know, I’ve just taken a new job, and it’s absolutely a dream. I’m working creatively and in academia and I’m completely thrilled by the level of enthusiasm and commitment to education of my coworkers. But my decision to take this job wasn’t without sacrifices. When the position was offered to me, it would mean leaving the county I grew up in, leaving my friends, and leaving my boyfriend.

tom and vicki

This goob right here is so supportive.

We talked about the decision, and the distance, and even though he told me again and again he would miss me, my partner also told me that he knew what a big opportunity this was for me, and that he was happy for me. And I knew that I didn’t want to surrender my career for a relationship. So we’re working it out long-distance.

My boss found out this week that we’ve been dating a little less than a year, and her response was, “Wow, that’s amazing. Not many people would leave a new relationship for a job.”

And that’s been the dilemma for a lot of women for a very long time now. Many women do give up their careers for their husbands and their families, or limit their opportunities for their partners. For decades, the big question in the media for career women has been, “Can women balance work and home life?”

I’m grateful that women’s rights have advanced to the point where I have good job opportunities and can pursue the path I want. And I’m grateful to my partner for understanding and valuing my achievements. I’m hopeful that soon all women will be supported in their endeavors, be they in the work field or the family field. I know for me, my partner’s support has meant the world in this big change.

Love,
Victoria

Feminism is for mothers

Dear Dad,

I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern in the news lately: Pregnant women and new mothers being discriminated against in the workplace.

A silhouette from profile of a pregnant belly.

A pregnant woman shouldn’t have to surrender her career.

It started last month, when I read the story of Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle, an attorney whose request for a continuance because she had an infant was denied. Ehrisman-Mickle, an immigration attorney, requested continuances from three judges so she could have a six-week maternity leave with her newborn child and still fulfill her duty as a lawyer and serve her clients fully. Two judges granted that request. The third, however, not only denied her request for a continuance, but scolded Ehrisman-Mickle when she brought the baby to court and the baby began to cry, as babies are wont to do.

As if this case isn’t upsetting enough, a couple weeks ago, a pregnant lawyer, Deborah Misir, says she was shouted at and ridiculed when she asked that a trial be delayed because of her high-risk pregnancy. Misir says the judge’s refusal to allow her request forces her to choose between possibly losing her child or letting her client down. It’s a very literal choice between work and family, and neither option is suitable.

In a case that echoes almost too closely Misir’s story, Rep. Tammy Duckworth is being denied her request to vote in Congress by proxy. Duckworth, an amputee and Iraq War veteran, is eight months pregnant and her doctor has instructed her not to travel. She requested to vote long-distance, but House Democrats say allowing her request would mean they would have to allow everyone’s request to vote by proxy. Unfortunately, this means Rep. Duckworth is being denied her voice in our government because of her decision to have a child.

This is the very real dilemma women are faced with every day: work or family. And while it’s not easy to balance both, it’s even harder when institutions and those in power actively restrict women’s ability to do their jobs because they are choosing to have children. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in her piece on Rep. Duckworth,

Duckworth may be in an unusual position, but the experience of losing esteem and power at work because you got pregnant will feel awfully familiar to all too many ordinary women. Particularly since pregnancy is seen as a “voluntary” condition, it becomes very easy for employers to deny rights and guilt trip women for needing even the smallest accommodation.

As a woman, I shouldn’t have to be forced to choose between my career or my kids. Ideally, my employer would empower me to be a good parent, and by empowering me to take care of my kids, I would be better able to focus on my job while at work.

In the administrative parts of your job, Dad, I am sure you’ve had to work with pregnant employees. I know how much you value parenthood and can’t imagine you’d behave like these judges or politicians. I imagine that cooperating and communicating with pregnant employees helps build a better work atmosphere, and more positive, productive office. I hope in the future that others become aware of how valuable women are in the workplace, and that pregnancy doesn’t have to hold any worker back.

But for now, I’m just hoping for success for Ehrisman-Mickle, Misir and Duckworth, three

Love,

Victoria

Achieving parity

Dear Dad,

I saw another study about women’s representation in movies and was reminded of our brief conversation on the topic a few months back.

First, some summaries of this study:

  • Globally, there are 2.24 males for every female character.
  • Only about 30 percent of speaking or named characters are female.
  • Only 20.5 percent of filmmakers are female.
  • Female characters are more likely to be sexualized, skinny, or wearing sexy clothes. (Almost twice as often as male characters)
  • In films for children, female characters are even more likely to be thin than in films targeted at adults.
  • Women make up only 23.2 percent of the U.S. workforce in films, but 46.3 percent of the workforce in real life.
  • Comments about appearance were directed at women at FIVE TIMES the rate they were directed at men.

In my last post, I talked about how women make up about 17 percent of crowd scenes in movies, as well as about 17 percent of leadership positions in real life. You replied that women are rapidly surpassing men in holding bachelor’s degrees, and that the gender pay gap is nigh but a thing of the past. And that is encouraging (though if you read that story, you’ll realize that the reason women are graduating at higher rates is because they can’t get a lucrative job without a degree, so they’re more willing to take on student debt than men, who have more job opportunities available regardless of education, and student debt is a whole other issue that saddles students of lower socio-economic status and any gender, but I digress).

You also mention negative portrayals of dads in media, and you’re right! This is a shame! The “dad-as-dumb-couch-potato” trope is harmful to men! And it perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to families and women. These are important media critiques to make, and I should add that the slacker dad plays into the “mother runs the home” trope, keeping Mom in the kitchen and taking care of the kids because that is her purview. The slacker dad trope perpetuates ideas of masculinity as being animalistic and lazy, thus giving men a free pass on participation at home. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see positive portrayals of engaged fathers. It’s one of the reasons “Boy Meets World” is still one of my favorite sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is another sitcom, this one geared at adults, that features passionate, engaged dads. They sometimes make silly goofs, but that doesn’t make them buffoons. They can be funny without being stupid, and I appreciate that.

But on the topic of women surpassing men in the job market, even the articles you point me to say that that hasn’t yet happened. Certainly, the gap is closing, but we’re nowhere near equality. On John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” segment on the pay gap, one pundit points out that unmarried, childless women between the age of 35 and 43 make 108 cents to a man’s dollar. Which is like, great if you don’t want to have kids or get married or ever turn 44. But we shouldn’t be restricting women’s options in the name of fairness!

The full, thorough, hilarious segment here:

And, as the fabulous documentary “Miss Representation” points out (I really liked that movie, okay?), an interesting thing happened when women first started to make forays into the job market: Media representations of women became far more toxic. In fact, as women continue to make headway, our counterparts on television become weaker and more sexualized, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. This is a way of making equality harder to achieve.

Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean we don’t have more to get done. And the latest study on representation in media shows that there is still so much to do.

Love,

Victoria

What it means to support all women, and what that means for Joni Ernst

Dear Dad,

Read your latest post. So good to see you back!

You make an interesting point with the lack of feminist support for Joni Ernst. “Instead of being celebrated for her accomplishments (Ernst) is demonize (sic) for her political viewpoints,” you write in your post. It seems hypocritical that feminism would advocate for women in leadership, and yet not support all women who seek leadership positions, you say. Unfortunately, the link to the Washington Post article you included didn’t work, so I had to do some of my own research. I can only assume you linked to the George Will opinion piece which has since been taken down?

Ernst is, as you admit, pro-life. She, in fact, has been a staunch advocate of a “personhood amendment” in Iowa, which would assert the personhood of “any person at any stage of development,” according to this article on Ernst’s pro-life views. She also supports a ban on gay marriage at the state or federal level.

A photo of Joni Ernst, a woman with short brown hair in a plaid shirt and a vest. She stands smiling next to some stalls for livestock.

Joni Ernst. Photo by Gina Whang.

I think there’s an important distinction to be made here between supporting women and supporting equality. For instance, most feminists aren’t staunch supporters of Sarah Palin. But we are critical of the way she’s been sexualized by the media.

I remember the media coverage when she wore a jacket with zippers over her breasts, and the way the male news anchors focused not on her message, but her “nipple zippers.” As a body-conscious teenager, I found it extremely disturbing to see a woman who was nominated to be vice president reduced to a sex object. I don’t have to agree with Sarah Palin to be critical of the way she is treated by the media.

Check out this trailer of “Miss Representation” for some perspective:

(P.S. Condoleezza Rice is in this documentary, Dad, and she says some really amazing, powerful things. If you haven’t made the time to watch it, do! It’s on Netflix.)

If I saw Ernst being derided for being feminine, or weak, or if I saw her being treated as a sex object, like Sarah Palin, or if I saw people saying she’d be unstable while menstruating (like the media said about Hillary Clinton), I would speak out against that. That is never appropriate.

But part of equality is also being allowed to disagree with people.

After my research on Joni Ernst, I don’t support her as a politician. I disagree with her views on gun control, reproductive rights and gay marriage. She has been called out by liberal media for these stances. That is fair and an important part of American politics.

It also should be noted that she seeks to limit women’s access to health care, which is anti-woman, and her stance on gay marriage limits LGBT individuals’ access to equal rights as well. These are both unfeminist stances.

It is okay for feminists to disagree with women, Dad. Hell, there are feminists I disagree with. It is okay to advocate for more women in leadership but still say, as a woman, “I don’t want Joni Ernst to lead me.” That’s fine. And it’s good. It’s good to have options and variety and more women entering politics. And in politics, people disagree. In this case, I disagree with Joni Ernst’s beliefs. But if I discovered people attacking her for being a woman, you can bet I’d be there to defend her.

Love,

Victoria

On the meaning of pro-life

Dear Dad,

Thanks for your post in response to my post on abortion (whoa this may be getting too meta).

I’ll admit I didn’t always support abortion access, Dad. For a long time, I thought of abortion as a terrible evil in the world. But then I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone considering an abortion. And while I like to think that I would choose to keep the child, I recognize that I’m struggling to make rent each month without a dependent. I have student loans to pay off, as well as a pricey wisdom tooth removal that I have hefty bills for. A child would require time and energy to raise properly, and I’m afraid to make a lifetime commitment like that if I don’t know that I can guarantee that child a good life. Furthermore, there’s the fact that I would have to carry that kid for nine months, dealing with pain, weight gain, possible medical complications and permanent changes to my body. Not to mention the judgment of coworkers, peers, loved ones and strangers as I try to carry out my day-to-day as a young, unmarried, pregnant woman.

While I’d like to think I wouldn’t have an abortion, I can’t guarantee that. And I know that I can’t make that decision for anyone else, either.

A brunette white woman holding a sign that says

I support the right for anyone to get an abortion, without explanation, scrutiny or shame.

You say you support abortion in the case of rape or incest, Dad, but who decides that? Will doctors take women at their word? Or will they have to wait for a conviction? Keep in mind that only 4 percent of rapists ever get a felony conviction. Will a panel decide if a pregnant woman was violated? If so, I have a feeling it will probably be the same men who are restricting abortion access in Texas. And would you really force a woman to relive such a traumatizing event before obtaining an abortion? That seems cruel.

I know deciding to have an abortion can be painful (though it’s not always), and I want for them to be as rare as possible, Dad, truly. You talk about the value of life. I value it too, Dad, both the possible child’s and the mother’s. I’d like there to be as few abortions as possible. But the way to do that is not through trying to restrict abortion access.  That only results in the desperate turning to illegal, dangerous and potentially deadly operations.

A photo of a marble monument that says

Being pro-choice saves lives.

One doctor described his work in emergency rooms before Roe v. Wade for The New York Times. The descriptions are horrifying, so trigger warning for gore. But his memories of women mutilated, made infertile and killed by botched abortions performed illegally are essential to consider when talking about abortion rights. And as Dr. Waldo Fielding says, legal abortion simply means that these procedures can be performed in safe settings:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Abortions can be reduced by increasing access to affordable birth control options, by providing comprehensive sex ed to every child, and by allowing accessible, affordable, shame-free abortions for anyone who needs one. Even while on birth control, some people still get pregnant, and while many choose to keep the child, those who truly don’t want a pregnancy or a child shouldn’t be forced to carry through with it.

I recognize that it is a pregnant person’s right alone to decide whether or not to get an abortion. And it is so so important to remember why that right needs to be protected.

Love,

Victoria