Fact: Most Feminists Don’t Practice Castration

In the common gender discourse, it’s easy to vilify men. Women are often the pushers of gender equality, but for it to be successful on a global scale, men have to be a part of the conversation. Writer R.W. Connell says just that in her article Change Among the Gatekeepers. It’s ironic that a group trying to achieve gender equality would not only exclude men, but also characterize them as the problem. To achieve the equality that these women’s groups are suggesting, they need to start seeing men as just as complex a group as women.

The problem is not men themselves, it’s patriarchy. Many men do not overtly share the beliefs and practices of a patriarchal system. A man who won’t allow his wife to earn more than him is certainly participating in patriarchy, but if the wife obeys and takes a lesser job is participating just as much. What many gender equality groups and women in general forget is that even though many men are advantaged, the benefits are not spread evenly over all men. Only the few, powerful and wealthy men possess the true benefits of being a man, without incurring any of the disadvantages. When you think about it, there are several disadvantages to possessing a “Y’. Men occupy the most dangerous careers, suffer the most industrial injuries, pay most of the taxation, and are under heavier social pressures to be and remain employed in a typically “masculine” job according to Connell. Many of the men who occupy the dangerous careers are not the ones with stay-at-home wives or a high salary.

The irony of the situation is demonstrated pretty well in an episode of Parks and Recreation in which Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson take the Pawnee Rangers and the Pawnee Goddesses on a weekend trip to the forest. Ron is in charge of the Rangers, the boys’ group, while Leslie is in charge of the Goddesses, the girl group. In the Rangers, Ron emphasizes manliness, which consists of silence and surviving by just sitting and staring into the fire while eating beans. The Goddesses partake in several fun activities like making s’mores and having pillow fights. This sparks envy within the boys in the Rangers and they beg to become Goddesses. At first, Leslie refuses them saying they belong in the boys’ group with Ron, but then the girls argue that segregation is always inherently unequal, citing Brown v. Board. They also say that excluding the boys is against everything their feminist heroes have fought for: equality among the sexes. Leslie then decides that the boys have every right to become goddesses and they’re all initiated into the group. They celebrate with a puppy party.

Even in fictionalized situations, it’s obvious that men and women have to share ideas and respect each other for the truth of gender equality to be realized. Excluding men is the same as excluding women, both are social injustices and demean human character. Rather than take revenge on the entire male population, many of whom probably haven’t a true sexist bone in their bodies, we have to move towards a mutual respect that perpetuates the idea that when together, we can accomplish great things.

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Hello, My Name is Birthing Vessel

In many aspects of my life I’m reminded that I am a potential mother. That lovely crimson reminder each month is the least of my worries however. As young as five years old, I was told that I would make a good mommy some day by my day care supervisor. I had a fascination with dolls at the time and was constantly dressing them, brushing their hair, and making them drink tea, one of the best beverages of all time. I’m not sure if this was indicative of my innate mothering skills though, since I often forgot to feed them or put them to sleep.

Women are often assumed to have one main purpose in life: to give birth. Regardless of actual want or skill, it’s society’s command that women who can bear children should, and must. At some point in their lives, women are encouraged to become pregnant by friends, family, coworkers, or culture such as TV shows, advertisements, and/or movies. I myself have felt the heat mainly from family members.

Once when I was seven or eight, my mom gave me her old Barbies from the 60’s. I liked Barbies a lot, so I figured they were just for me to play with, but the first thing my mumsy told me was that I would pass them on to my daughter when I did have one. This confused me, I instantly withdrew from the Barbies and asked her, “What if I don’t have a daughter?” She laughed as she said that someday I would make her a very happy grandma. It was a sweet moment, my mother wanting to start a family tradition and all. But the happiness that I caused her seemed to be a conditional one. If I became a mother and gave her grand babies to spoil, she would be happy. Now that I’m older I know my mumsy will always be happy for me, but at the same time I know she would be even more ecstatic if I got married and popped out a couple rugrats.

It’s a common theme threaded throughout society that a woman’s most noble and important role is to replace herself with a new human being. Think of all the period piece movies in which people, especially those of noble birth, say a wife’s only role is to bring her husband and the rest of the world a son. She’s diminished to nothing more than the means of releasing a boy into the world. Nowadays, giving birth to any gender is highly revered in many places, not just boys, but the logic remains the same. The woman is mother first, and wife second. Nothing else is important.

In cases of domestic violence, women are often blamed for the abuse inflicted on their children by intimate partners or the children’s father. It is the woman’s fault for not removing the children from harm’s way even though she is incurring abuse as well and the options abused women face are often faulty and dangerous. In the book, Our Bodies, Our Crimes, Flavin says that when abused women try to leave their abusers it actually creates more reactionary violence because the abuser’s control is being threatened. The automatic blame placed on the abused mothers and not the abuser is a telling sign of how society thinks of women. Their ultimate goal is to be mothers and to protect their children, her harm is of no consequence, the only harm that matters is the harm against the child. What society doesn’t seem to realize is that healthy, stable children are usually the result of healthy and stable mothers. With no concern to the mother’s well-being children are often thrown into the same state of despair. Not to mention children become adults. If we take care of the children only when they are young, our society is sending the message that youth is a priority, especially the female population.

Another area of society in which women are treated as mothers and nothing else is in the actual process of giving birth. Hospital birth has largely taken over the United States, leaving home births with midwives at less than one percent. This is a problem because when women deliver in a hospital, all of their control over their bodies vanishes. In The Business of Being Born movie, it shows that women are pumped with drugs to induce labor faster so they can get more women in and out of the hospital, and a lot of the time they’re urged into treatments and surgeries, like cesarean section, without having knowledge of what it is they’re being forced into. The woman’s health is compromised and she’s viewed as just another body delivering a baby. All the focus is on the child and getting it out as quickly as possible. The whole process of birth is diminished along with the woman’s autonomy.

When viewing popular culture, it becomes clear that women are destined for motherhood and nothing more in our society. Most of the women on TV are either attractive, young mothers, or young women of childbearing age that could become mothers quickly. With these images saturating the market, it’s no wonder women are reduced to child bearers and nothing more. While it’s true that giving birth can be a great blessing and empowering for some women, it can also mean devastation and disempowerment for others. Just because women have the ability to become pregnant doesn’t mean that they want to or should. It applies in the same way that just because men can become fathers doesn’t mean that they have the desire to or are obligated. It cheapens the whole experience to force it onto people who are unable to enjoy it or simply have no interest in it. And even when a woman becomes a mother, it is not her only role in society. The ideal mom who does nothing but mother and homemake is quickly vanishing. Most women have careers, hobbies, and even interests! No one should live for one single thing. It has been said that it’s wise not to place all of your eggs in one basket.

Birthright

When Americans think of reproductive rights for women, they often go straight to abortion. That is what has had the most controversy and media attention, but there’s the opposite side of the reproductive rights spectrum: the right to bear a child.

Being the white, middle-class woman that I am, it’s hard for me to imagine someone not allowing me to conceive and give birth to a child. In fact, it’s incredibly easy for me to see people protesting the fact that I don’t want my own child by either giving it up for adoption or getting an abortion. Many people would probably call me irresponsible, stupid, etc. but I can’t think of a single person or entity that would tell me it was simply not allowed that I bear a child and raise it myself.

This is not the case with many women however. Women of races other than white were discouraged from procreating in the 1920s because the United States had a eugenics program in which a European Protestant population was favored. President Theodore Roosevelt thought that the “wrong” women were reproducing according to Flavin’s book, Our Bodies, Our Crimes. He thought that their genetic backgrounds were unsavory and so thought that their genes should not contribute to the future generations. These minorities in the future fought for the reproductive right to bear a child by arguing for better pay and benefits, state supported child care, and affordable, safe housing.

Race is not the only distinction made in terms of who has the right to bear a child. Women determined “feeble-minded” or who have been incarcerated are also encouraged to be sterilized. Women are even given “no procreation” orders by judges without any kind of legal backing. As a woman who doesn’t want to have any children that I couldn’t afford, it was difficult for me to read that women who were socially and/or economically disadvantaged actually wanted to raise a child on their own. Raising a child while in prison or addicted to drugs or even without much financial support is what I picture a living hell to be like. And especially in the case of women who are addicted to illegal drugs, it’s hard for me to sympathize with their desire to be mothers when they can’t seem to take care of themselves.

I’ve come to realize that the “it’s for the child” arguments can lead down a slippery slope in which women’s reproductive rights are tightly controlled by government, which is as we know, is dominated by men. These women, despite their personal issues, have every right to become mothers. The government should only step in when the mother’s actions actually have a negative effect on the child. And a woman should never be sterilized so that there’s no hope of her ever becoming pregnant, no matter how much personal reformation she undergoes. It sets a poor example for the rest of society whenever women are given court orders not to procreate and men are rarely sterilized in the penal system. When women are stripped of their reproductive rights, it sends the message that they don’t have the ability to be autonomous or have control over their own bodies. And that message, given usually by men, is a dangerous route to defining men and women’s roles in society.

Silly Women, Sports Are For Men

It’s common throughout the world that women are either limited in their participation in sports or banned from the concept entirely. But one would think that in a progressive, Western society like the United States there would be a bit more equality and inclusion. I’m here to report that this is still only an ideal in our country rather than a reality.

As with many aspects of society, this separation and exclusion starts young. As a child I was ushered into dance and gymnastics, feminized sports if people even desired to call them sports. My brother and my male counterparts however were encouraged to partake in baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. I “rebelled” at the age of 8 and joined the recreational soccer league. I could choose to play on an all girls team or a co-ed team. I was all for playing with boys and girls, since in the fourth grade I played with people of all genders on the playground, but my parents told me that the co-ed teams would play too rough for my poor girly sensitivities. “They’re too aggressive,” mumsy told me. “You’re liable to get hurt.” If any of you know me, you know I’m not simply the type of broad to stand off to the side and let people walk all over me. Well I was even more aggressive as a child.

When my parents segregated me from male players, I think I lost a bit of my aggressiveness. I became more introverted and hesitant. I no longer went after everything I wanted and I held my tongue when I otherwise would have spoken. It’s hard to prove that this one decision made by my parents when I was in fourth grade had that much of an influence on me, but part of me thinks that it was a large factor in my personality shift. Sure, increasing social pressures and school changes compounded with this to make me more timid, but maybe if I had be allowed the opportunity to compete with boys, see them as my equals and match or exceed their aggressiveness, I would have been more equipped to handle the new pressures of middle school and junior high.

Even when women are allowed participation in sports such as basketball and soccer, they have separate leagues and are often encouraged to exaggerate their feminine sides to compensate for their masculine behaviors. Danica Patrick, a female race car driver, is an exceptional professional in what would be considered a masculine sport. But most coverage of her focuses on her appearance, so much to the point that she no longer resembles a driver. The bikinis she’s photographed in make her out to be more of a silly fan girl than the athletes that inspire the silly fan girls.

It seems that women’s options in terms of sports are few. They can participate in feminized sports, which most people don’t think of as sports such as cheerleading and ice skating, or they can join a women’s league of a masculine sport and have to choose between over-exaggerating their femininity for others’ sake or risk the media labeling them as butch lesbians. Luckily I’ve regained my confidence and some of my aggressiveness that is necessary to take control of my life. But many girls growing up in this kind of double standard society may not be so fortunate. If women are told that their best is still not equivalent to any man, they’re going to start believing it. It’s a shame to prematurely shut down half of the population’s innovative potential because society believes women shouldn’t dirty their hands.

The Progressive, The Almost There, and The Ugly

As Gillam and Wooden said in their article, Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar, male characters have done a complete 180 in terms of their masculinity. So long macho men, a new, more mature man is in Pixar town. Gillam and Wooden focus on Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, and Lightening McQueen from Cars. While these men have matured into an acceptance of “feminine aspects”, they’re the only characters that seem to be multi-dimensional or able to develop over time.

The often singular women roles in these movies portray the female as a sidekick or less complex person. They’re often still sexualized in either their image or their effect on men, perpetuating the idea that their sex appeal is one of the greatest things they could accomplish. The story is told from the men’s perspective about men’s issues with little concern about the women around them.

But that’s not the only group getting put in a box. Diversity is still lacking in these Disney/Pixar movies. If there’s a minority character, they’re usually a minor role and stereotypical. The hispanic car in Cars is recognized only by his accent and seemingly clownish attitude that is often attributed to hispanic men in children’s movies. The main characters remain white men in leadership roles. While they may be emasculated and more well-rounded, emotionally complete men, they are the only ones largely progressing from their old, static expectations. Their improvement is great, but if the characters around them don’t become more prevalent and progress with them the story still lacks a fundamental perspective that is left out of society, even though it makes up a majority of it.

The movie Brave is a step in the right direction, featuring a strong female lead who rejects the traditional gender role of women and the expectation that they have to marry to become anything of worth. While she is a strong female character in that she stands up to her mother’s demands, partakes in sports, and adventures by herself, she is still only representative of the white perspective. And the other dominant female in the movie, her mother, is the same stereotypical role of womanhood that involves primping, cooking, being polite and quiet, and marrying young to a prince who could take care of you. The main male figure in this movie also takes a step back in comparison to the previous Pixar movies. Instead of being this “new man” touted by Gillam and Wooden, he blunders around as a large, masculine moron who’s main desire is to take down a huge bear to prove his essential manhood. Granted he doesn’t urge his daughter to marry as much as her mother does. Even with this new movie Brave, it’s still the only one out of many Pixar movies that even has a female lead.

With these examples in mind, it seems that Disney/Pixar would have us believe that if a man is progressive but still powerful, the women have to remain in their static secondary roles. And if a woman is progressive and powerful, the men then have to stay in their static “macho” roles. Essentially, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. But is this true to real life? Are men and women not permitted to both be multi-dimensional and strong if they’re within sight of each other? Methinks not. In fact, if men and women are constantly fighting over who can be the interesting one, both lose. The “winner” is bored by the lack of equivalent companionship and the “loser” cannot enjoy their own faculties. To say that it’s mutually exclusive for a man and women to both possess dynamism is complete and utter bullshit. Intelligence is a public good in that it is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Being in the presence of another intelligent human being does not lower your intelligence, rather it provides an opportunity to learn from each other, thereby increasing both participants’ intelligence levels. So I challenge you, Disney/Pixar, to make a children’s movie in which both male and female characters represent the reality, that we can in fact eat our cake and have it too.

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