Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When your choice is no longer your own

So, in my morning perusal of tumblr I came across this, which made me say this:

(Read it and you’ll understand why. Don’t worry. I’ll still be here when you get back. I’m just that kind of dependable.)

I, of course, just had to respond. The post has been excerpted for your benefit. I don’t who this girl/woman is, or how much traffic her page gets (not that it matters), but I do know that sentiments such as those highlighted below pervade our society. As a budding feminist, this both saddens and frustrates me.

“[…]the quickest way to set me on the warpath is to tell me you want to be a stay at home mom for the rest of your life and not get an education and mooch off your husband/partner completely by choice (ie: You have the ability/funds/everything else required to attend school and better yourself) BUT THAT’S NOT BECAUSE IT’S AN OPPRESSIVE FEMALE ROLE, it’s because it’s a waste of a brain[…]”

Going to college and having a career is indeed a wonderful opportunity that countless men and women should be proud/thankful to have. But, what you seem to be missing is the fact that white men have *always* had that opportunity. What you’re failing to consider, or are just blatantly ignoring – I’m not sure which – is that people of color and women as a whole were historically denied the choice of getting a decent education and following that up with a career. But, for now, I’ll shelve the class/race element for the sake of brevity and focus solely on women.  Feminists fought for a woman’s right to attend college, graduate school, etc and eventually pursue careers because women did not previously have the option to do so.  Our role was to grow up, go to finishing school if our culture dictated, find a husband, have babies, cook, clean and shut up and look pretty. We could not choose to operate outside of this role. (Again, shelving the class debate, because Black women were definitely working and raising families before white feminists began fighting for a woman’s right to have a life outside of the home. This, of course, informed a large portion of the debate between early feminists of color and early white feminists.)

What we have now, in the 21st century, is the ability to choose what we want to do.  A woman that chooses to stay at home and take care of her husband, wife, significant other, [insert term of choice here] is no less intelligent than a woman that chooses to pursue a career. And they are no different than women who choose to pursue careers and take care of their families. There is no difference between telling a woman that she has to go outside of the home to be considered worthy and telling a woman that she must stay at home, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, to be considered worthy. Why? Because both claims deny her the right to make the choice for herself. They strip her of her choice. And that’s what feminism is truly about – giving the women the authority to govern their own damned lives. Got it?

 Now, if you think that being a stay at home wife/mother would be a waste of your personal brain space, then that’s fine, but do  not seek to extend that belief to all other women in the country, or on the planet. Such a job (and please believe it is a job, an often thankless one at that) is a waste of brain FOR YOU.
Don’t get me wrong. The last thing on earth I want to be is a stay at home anything, least of all a stay at home parent. But I would never look down my nose and tell a woman (or man) that chooses to do that that s/he is somehow inferior and stupid.

“You want equality? You want to be respected? Well then, the best solution is clearly to just lay on the floor and whine about how disrespected you are. You wonder why women are seen as weak? Do I really need to explain why? It’s because your response is to whine and complain rather than getting out there and eating stereotypes for breakfast. Go out there, get an education, and take over the freaking world..”

I agree that people simply whining about being disrespected and marginalized does nothing to implement change. However, you seem to think that “eating stereotypes for breakfast” is going to somehow show men that women are equal to them.  I see two problems with this assessment. First of all, stereotypes persist because they make the privileged majority (in this case bigoted men) seem superior.  In fact, they are a set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations about a group that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly (thank you www.dictionary.com). Stereotypes continuously marginalize othered groups, making claims such as “women are the weaker sex because they lack testosterone” and “women earn less because they are less aggressive” seem normal and therefore acceptable.  Secondly, you either forget or simply do not know that a stereotype persists regardless of the evidence mounted against it. Women don’t have the drive, don’t have what it takes to be scientists/engineers/politicians/pilots/[insert career of choice here]. And yet, there are countless women who are scientists, engineers, politicians, pilots and so on. And there are just as many stories by women in those professions that detail how much sexism they’ve had to deal with on their way to the top. Having a career and being educated does not automatically mean that sexist men will no longer be sexist. “Herpderp, she has a career now. I guess I have to stop thinking she’s a lesser being.” No. That’s not how it works.

Suffice it to say – negating the stereotype does not destroy the stereotype. So, the onus isn’t upon women to prove to men that they are equal, the onus is upon bigoted men to stop thinking they are superior just because they were born with a penis.

“The harsh reality is that if you want respect you’re going to have to show men you deserve it. Yes, just like any other human being. Oh, you thought men just walked into a business environment and everyone respected them?”

So, all of those women who are groped or on the receiving end of disgusting sexual invitations when walking down the street (including myself) need to show those men that they “deserve” respect? Or perhaps all of those women who are CEOs, COOs and CFOs of companies both big and small and are still treated like they are “just” women? Or maybe you mean those women who are legal partners in major law firms, top surgeons in their medical field, or those women who stay at home and raise the children that will become our future. What you fail to understand is that imploring women to show men that they deserve respect places them squarely in a man’s world and thereby at the mercy of what men think a women should be or do. And it makes the fact that they aren’t respected their fault. That’s like telling a black man that someone hurled the ‘N’ word at him because he had the audacity to have black skin. Let’s not play this “blame the victim” game.  It’s tired and oh so boring.

I do not think men just walk into business environments and immediately garner respect, but I do think women sometimes walk into business environments and immediately get even less respect – from both sexes. Think about what women who like to wear high heels and have their nails done often have to face in the work place – in other words women who are conventionally pretty. The stereotypes persist even then – you’re pretty so you must be dumb as a rock. You assume that success (both academic and professional) somehow affords women respect. It does not. When a person believes himself to be superior to another human being, he will find a way to prove his point. Period. It does not matter if I stay at home or if I go out and join the work force. I’ll still be a woman dealing with real woman problems at the end of the day.
So get off your high horse and make decisions about your own life and encourage other women to do the same. But do not tell them that your way is the right way and that their’s is wrong. I mean this in the best way possible - before you go on a rant about a topic such as this – perhaps pick up a book and educate yourself. If you choose not to, that’s fine. But that’s counterproductive and, dare I say it, lazy.


  1. Oh this gave me the best tingles. YOU ROCK!!! Love, Sharon (Goddess from Bitch Lifestyle)

    1. Hi, Sharon! I'm so glad you liked the post. I definitely had a soapbox moment.

  2. I guess your message got across because when I click that link, it tells me that the page cannot be found. Right on sister! *throws up fist*

    Seriously, from the excerpts that I read, she was going about completely wrong. Much like you stated, a woman shouldn't have to show that they deserve to be respected, they should just be respected because they are a human being. The only time respect needs to be earned is when you have given people a reason to lose respect in you. The same goes for pay. Salary should be set based upon credentials and if you meet those credentials... man, woman or Martian... then you should get that pay.

    The blogger in reference is looking at the issues in the wrong light. It's unfortunate because her views are possibly adding to the stereotypes out that about angry black women... etc etc etc. And like you said, I think her heart is in the right place but her execution of trying to get the point across leaves a lot to be desired.

    1. I think "respect" is such a sticky issue. There are too many people running around that think they just deserve it because they exist, and there are too many people running around that don't think they deserve it at all. There's always that question of are you just granted respect or do you earn it?

      I tend to agree with your assessment that we should enter situations with a healthy dose of respect and maintain that until someone gives us a reason to decrease the dosage so to speak. It's kind of like entering class - you start off with an A, what you do throughout the semester determines if you keep it.

  3. Well, you presented your argument so well that I have very little to add. I applaud those women & men who have the stamina to stay at home & shape the next generation. Lord knows I was never in that category.

    Women denigrating other women for their choices is akin to the Republicans' war on women: You don't have the ability, little woman, to make the right decisions for your body, so I feel it my constitutional duty to legislate the hell out of your womb [pats woman on the head as if to say: Run along now, and go play at being a rational, thinking adult person capable of governing your own life].

    1. Ya know? It's just...infuriating when people come along and say "I know better than you how to govern your life." It's one thing to offer advice, it's another to completely blast a person because they aren't leading the sort of lifestyle that you agree with. C'mon.