Posts tagged ‘feminism’

Women’s Choices

I have to say, I hate the new Beyaz commercial with something close to a burning passion.  How can a commercial for birth control, something that was a key component of the sexual revolution, be so sexist?  How did the ad agency get so far off track with this one?

The premise of the commercial is women walking through a store, shopping/making choices about what they want in their lives.  This should be brilliant, because birth control does, in fact, give women more choices when it comes to their lives.  The main problem, in my eyes, is that each woman in the commercial only gets to choose one thing.

It starts with the line, “You know what you want to do.  But you never know what you might want tomorrow.  It’s good to have choices.”  You see a woman grabbing a diploma from a pile labelled “graduate school.”  Then two women check out a selection of pictures of men labelled “significant other.”  One of the women snatches a picture out of the group just ahead of a second woman, then smirks as she walks away, leaving the second woman to look after her in disappointment and disbelief.  In the next shot, the woman who missed out on the guy smiles and reaches towards a choice that we don’t get to see, but from the angle, you get the impression it is somewhere else in the store.

Then there’s a fourth woman who passes over a picnic basket labelled “picnic by waterfall.”  You see her continue past a display with a stork in it.  The stork, with a lavender bundle held in his beak, steps out of the display and chases her, offering the bundle repeatedly, but she smiles, refuses, and walks away.  You next see her walk up to a model of the Eiffel Tower, labelled “Trip to Paris,” and take hold of the tag.

We then switch to a fifth woman, who looks at a selection of houses and cars, labelled “buy a house,” then chooses one and puts it into her shopping cart.  The final scene is the woman who refused the stork, sitting behind the wheel of a car full of women with the Eiffel Tower model strapped to the roof of her car.

By the time we’re done with the commercial we have been given a slew of symbolic messages about womanhood and our choices.  Right from the start, we learn that women are fickle and don’t know their own minds from day to day.  Next we see that women need to fight over men, who are their only potential “significant others.”  Sure, lesbians typically don’t have to worry about birth control and aren’t Beyaz’s target demographic, but there is still an assumption being made.  And why emphasize sexual competition between women?  Why not have both women choose a partner from among the large selection of possible mates and both be happy with their choices?  Then there’s the insistence of the stork, which I can only assume refers both to a woman’s own biological clock “going off” and the pressure from her family/friends/society to get down to the business of making babies, since that’s what women are made for.

But the worst aspect of the commercial is the fact that it makes it look like you have to choose between grad school and a baby, travel and a baby, even home ownership and a baby, and the fact that a woman doesn’t want to get pregnant at a particular time in her life doesn’t have to be tied to the things she would rather be doing.  Sure, having a child makes some things a little bit more difficult, but it’s not an either/or proposition any longer.  I know several women who went to grad school, owned homes, and had babies all at the same time.  I know multiple cultural anthropologists who took their toddlers with them to live overseas while they worked on their graduate or post-graduate research.  I also know women who do not want to have a child right now regardless of the fact that they currently have a partner, own a house, and have their degree — they’re not putting off kids for the sake of something else.  And I know working and stay at home moms, with and without degrees, who rent and own houses, with boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends/wives, and on their own, who have made the decision to have a child without giving anything up in the process.  And whether a woman doesn’t want a child now or doesn’t want one at all, her decision to use birth control isn’t about the fact that being a mom limits her choices.  It is no longer a trade off that women have to make.

I understand, many anti-teen pregnancy campaigns stress the decisions that teens need to make, and the limits that having a child can impose on young girls’ lives.  But in that case, you are encouraging young girls to think about the consequences of their actions and choose one of two things: birth control, or abstinence.  Beyaz is being marketed to adult women, and selling it with the message that having a child means the death of your dreams is sexist to say the least.  Women today have more choices than ever — I would rather see the women in this commercial fill their symbolic shopping baskets with a variety of choices, instead of having to pick just one.  We have the ability to find the combination that works best for us.  And to suggest that those choices wouldn’t be possible with kids?  The 1950s called, Beyaz, and they want their antiquated gender myths back.

One of the monotone facts rattled off in the background of the commercial is the fact that this birth control includes folate, which helps prevent birth defects for women who conceive while on or just after ending use of Beyaz.  So that means it’s safer for women who are on birth control and accidentally or intentionally become moms.  Why not emphasize the variety of reasons why women choose birth control?  The message could be, if you’re not ready yet for kids, if you’ve had a child and want to wait before having more, or if you’ve finished having kids, Beyaz is the right birth control for you.

Oh yeah, that’s right.  Mirena already stole that idea.  *smile*

My Favorite Books You’ve Never Heard Of

 

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd

This is an amazing book that I stumbled across years ago.  It is written as the diary and letters of a young Scotswoman who travels to China to be married to a young military attache at the turn of the 20th century, and follows her life as she moves from China to Japan, through WWI and into WWII.  Her sheltered upbringing is immediately tested during the sea voyage to China, as she sees and experiences things that are completely unlike her previous life.  She continues on to marriage and motherhood, scandal and rejection by the European community.  Despite all this, she finds and creates her own space as a foreign woman in a man’s world.  Whenever someone asks for book recommendations, this is always at the top of my list.

***

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

While Kingsolver is a well-known author, I suspect this is one of her less-known novels.  It is actually the beginning of a trilogy, and the best of the three, in my opinion.  While living in the southwest, a woman is handed a little girl by a Native American woman who begs her to take the child.  This three-year-old girl, who acquires the nickname Bean, has already lived through unknown abuse, and the story centers around her de-facto mother, who day-by-day tries to do the right thing to meet all her needs and raise her in a loving home.  The writing is so remarkable, I remember while I was reading this book, I would find myself going about my daily chores and wondering what Bean was doing while I was gone.  Kingsolver re-defines herself with every novel, but her consistently excellent writing and characterization are still present in this novel.

***

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

I am a fan of fantasy writing, and of fairy tales, but I don’t think you need to be either to love this retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story.  McKinley has the talent to craft an entire world for her story to happen in — one where there is so much magic in the air, it settles like dust on the houses, and causes havoc on your tea if you don’t have a fairy in your family to de-scale your kettle once a week.  Rosie is the princess whose future has been cursed by Pernicia, and she is being raised by two fairies (who would be called witches in a different world), completely unaware of her true identity.  Despite all the gifts that were given to her at her christening — long, curly, blonde locks, lips like cherries, teeth like pearls, and skin like silk — she is not pretty; instead, she insists she is intelligent and brave.  And this feisty princess turns the fairytale — and her curse — on its head by the time all is said and done, with no prince required to wake the Sleeping Beauty.  I think it’s an amazing twist on the classic fairytale.

***

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin

While I absolutely love this book, I will admit it may not be for everyone.  I tried it out on my book club several years ago, without introduction or explanation, and it fell flat for most folks.  The trick to this book is to realize it is a fictional ethnography — which means, I guess, it may only appeal to the cultural anthropologists out there.  The book outlines all the aspects of a future culture that is modeled on Northern California Indian tribes of the past.  There are songs, stories, poems, descriptions of social organization and cultural symbolism, all defining a group of people who are living in a post-apocalyptic world where industry has been abandoned and humans have returned to small-scale tribal societies.  There is a novella within the book, however, so if the rest of the writing turns you off, at least follow the parts of this story.  It details the travels of a young woman from a small, non-religious society to a nearby city that is founded on a controlling, monotheistic faith.  By telling a story in the future, Le Guin tells us something about the past, as well as our present.

***

The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo

This book was made into a film called Frankie Starlight, but I doubt it is much better known than the book (despite starring Matt Dillon and Gabriel Byrne).  The term “dork” originally referred to dwarves or little people, and this is the story of a little person named Frank Bois who grew up in the town of Cork in Ireland.  Frank is an author who tells his life story, beginning with his pregnant mother’s arrival in Ireland on an American GI troopship returning from France in 1945.  The twists and turns of her life and his make a great story, but when the adult Frank must come to terms with celebrity and unrequited love, magic happens.  The author’s writing style is poetic and his characters are intriguing — this is definitely a favorite read.

***

Children of God by Mary Doria Russel

This is actually a sequel, but I first read it years before I read the prequel, The Sparrow, and I think it stands alone quite well.  This is a science fiction novel, but it revolves around faith, religion, and cultural misunderstandings.  The Jesuits have sent an exploratory party to the planet Rakhat, after Earth received transmitions of music: evidence that there is intelligent life on this planet.  They found a planet with two intelligent species: the gentle vegetarian merchants, called the Runa, and the carniverous ruling class, the Jana’ata.  The Jesuits become stranded and begin to create a life among the Runa, but their ideas about justice and fairness spark a civil war.  The last survivor, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz, is held by the Jana’ata for years, but is eventually rescued and returned to Earth.  This book follows Sandoz’s struggles with his lost faith, his return to Rakhat 10 years later, and the aftermath of the changes he and his fellow travellers sparked on Rakhat.  While the first book tells an interesting story of faith, adventure, and overcoming obstacles, I find this the more interesting of the two novels, as it deals with the ways that the best of intentions can cause unknown consequences when two cultures come into contact for the first time.

***

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Coupland literally wrote the book on Generation X, but this lesser-known gem is a favorite of mine.  It is the story of a group of programmers at Microsoft who decide to go it alone and create their own dot-com.  Like many of his early novels, the book begins with an obsession with the material world of commodities.  But don’t let the obsessive lists of what people eat, drink and own turn you off.  As the group moves away from the regulated greenhouse of the Microsoft campus and into real world struggles in Silicon Valley, the characters are redeemed by the personal connections and emotional bonds they learn to create.  From this vantage, it may feel like a historical novel of the early-90s, but the transformation the characters go through is timeless.

***

Hopefully, these reviews will give you some ideas about what to read as the weather starts to warm up.  What recommendations would you make for books you love that aren’t well-known?

The Cleaning Paradox

Cleaning has been an issue between T and I for as long as we have been living together.

Don’t get me wrong, I am far from a clean freak.  I have never been someone who aspires to constant spotlessness, and I am far too embarassed to admit in print how infrequently I actually clean.  But drifts of German shepherd hair in the corners, clothes piled around the bedroom and living room, and the inability to actually see any horizontal surface in the kitchen eventually gets to me.  It makes me feel guilty and embarassed for being lazy.  It means when I finally do clean and see just how dirty everything is from my own inaction, I get more and more pissed-off at myself.  Not a good place to be.  The dogs have learned to just stay out of my way when I clean.

T, on the other hand, HATES to clean.  With a burning passion.  He would much rather pay someone to do it for him, and that was pretty much the arrangement he had for years before we met.  However, he is a good enough man to want to help me out when I clean.  He really, genuinely feels bad if I am cleaning without him, and he insists on helping me out.  Despite the fact that he is miserable the whole time.

Which results in the paradox.  I don’t want to be the bad guy and make him clean when he hates it,  but then I get upset that I can’t just clean by myself.  Bad feelings all around.  This makes me, a staunch feminist who believes wholeheartedly that marriage is a 50-50 partnership of equals, wish that I had a 50s-era husband who would just pick up his feet as I vacuum under him.

image from americanmemoryofthe1950shousewif.bgsu.wikispa

But this weekend I may have found a solution.  While we sat on the couch not cleaning, I suggested a possible plan that was recieved with lukewarm support.  We sat on the couch some more, still not cleaning.  I brought the plan up again, and noncommittal noises were made.  There was some more not-cleaning to be done.  Finally, as I started to motivate us to clean, accompanied by the usual, “Fiiine, if you want to clean, then we’ll clean…,” I said what must have been the magic words, “Honestly, I would rather do it by myself.”

And then he accepted the plan.  While I cleaned the house, he took the dogs to the park and did some light grocery shopping.  Both were chores that  needed to be done.  I vacuumed and scrubbed everything I wanted to, sucking up dog-hair drifts, and cleaning toilets and sinks.  Part-way through, I realized that I wasn’t pissed-off at all.  I was actually in a pretty good mood for a change.  I heard T and the dogs come home when I was most of the way done, but, mysteriously, he didn’t come upstairs until the moment I finished cleaning.  And when he did, he announced that dinner would be ready in five minutes!

If I had made him clean with me, no shopping would have been done this weekend, and the dogs wouldn’t have gotten any exercise.  This may become a routine, although I will be sad if I never get to go play with T and the dogs at the park anymore.  So we’ll see how it goes.

But I have to say, it is wonderful to have a husband who is a true partner and helps you out with all the chores.  No matter how you divide them up.  *smile*

Able Woman, Part 2

So I drive into work this morning and park in my usual spot.  I go through the set of motions that have become so automatic I don’t even think about them anymore: hold clutch in, shift into neutral, pull up on the parking brake, turn the key and pull it from the ignition.  And then I realized something was very strange.

The key was in my hand, and my car was still idling.

I tried turning the key back on, and got that awful gear grind from starting an already running car.  I turned it back off, and the car kept idling.

I called my husband.

T: “That ignition switch is bad again.”  We just replaced it about 2 years ago, after the switch my car was made with in 1993 finally went out.

T: “Try fiddling with the key and see if you can get it to turn off.”  Nope.

Me: “I can stall it out.”

T: “Yeah, but the dash lights will stay on, and that will drain your battery by the end of the day.”

Me: “Well, I could just get someone to give me a jump at the end of the day.  I have cables.” And I know how to use them, I think.

T: “Yeah, but that’s awful hard on your battery.  You could go out at lunch and recharge your battery.”  Eating a cup of ramen noodles in the cold at lunchtime?  Not my idea of fun.

Me: “Couldn’t I just pull the fuse?  Would that stop the battery from draining?”

T: “Yeah, that should work.  Make sure to pull the one that says ignition.”

not for a vintage Escort, but you get the idea

Proud to have come up with a solution, and of the fact that I know where both 1) my fuse box, and 2) my owner’s manual are, I look up the ignition fuse, check my fuse chart, and then try to open the cap on the fuse box.

No go.

Very few people are at work already, and B, the guy who knows everything about cars, isn’t here yet.  But J is here, and he owns a Jeep, so he must know something about cars, right?  I mean, Jeeps break down all the time, don’t they?

I go and get J.  He tells me he really doesn’t know much, but he’s willing to at least come down to the parking lot and try.

Well, with J as my talisman, one more try on my part gets the fuse box lid off.  But now I’m not sure how to pull out the fuses, which are flush with the box.  J can’t figure it out either, and his fingers are bigger than mine, and without nails for gripping.  There is one fuse sticking out from the others, that we could try and pull to get it out of the way.

J: “I don’t know.  I’d hate to just start ripping fuses out of your car.” I know perfectly well that pulling out fuses when the car is off won’t hurt anything. So I take over at this point.

After a bit more fiddling, I finally take a look at the fuse box lid, and discover a handy little pair of fuse tweezers in there.  Once more, I found the answer, not the guy.  Proof that car knowledge isn’t coded on the Y chromosome.

I pull the ignition fuse and get ready to head inside, but as I stand up, I realize that the dash lights are still on.  I decide I must need to pull the dashboard fuse, which was my first instinct.  Only, of all the options in the owner’s manual, none of them say “dashboard lights.”

Meanwhile, poor J is just standing in the drizzly cold next to me. So I thank him for his moral support, and send him back inside.  He’s a little reluctant, presumably since he’s supposed to be the responsible man, but he eventually heads back inside.

I start trying a few fuses whose descriptions sould like they might have to do with the dashboard.  None of them are working.  And that teeny set of fuse tweezers is killing my fingers.  And those fuses do not like to budge.  Finally, I get to the point where I simply can’t pull another one out, the tweezers keep slipping off.

B still isn’t here.  Back into the office to ask J about tools.

Here he is finally very helpful, since he has a tool kit in his car.  He’s not sure where it is, but we find it.  Then he’s not sure if there are needlenose pliers in it, since he’s never used it.  But he figures out how to get the plastic case open, and the pliers are, indeed, there.  He keeps an eye on the dash lights while I start pulling each of the fuses in sequence.  Finally we land on the right one.

And the door alarm starts beeping for the first time, because the keys are still in the ignition with the door open.  I take that as a good sign that things are somewhat back to normal.  J goes inside, I get things put away, and head up the stairs to my office too.

Then B finally pulls into the parking lot.

Since he is the car god of the office, I check in with him.  He thinks the fuse I pulled should have done the trick, but also suggests pulling the ignition switch again to make sure it isn’t draining power to my starter all day.  (He would have solved the battery drain problem by either running the car at lunchtime, or disconnecting the battery.  He seems mildly impressed with the innovative fuse option.) So I go back out and manage to pull the ignition fuse with the fuse tweezers.

And I now know one more thing about cars than I did this morning.  *smile*

Proud to be an able woman

When I was single and in graduate school, I tried to install my first set of shelves.  It didn’t go well.  I had one of those “tool kits for women”, with a small saw, a hammer, some screwdrivers, a tape measure, and that’s about it.  I didn’t know about finding studs or drywall anchors, and didn’t have a cordless drill.  I wanted to put books on my shelf, but when all was said and done, I think all it would safely hold were stuffed animals.

When I moved, I asked a guy I knew to come and install my shelves at our new rental.  By then, I had invested in a small stud finder, drill, and level.  He said he’d come help, but then stalled for months.  When he finally showed up, I asked if I could watch him work, so I would know what to do next time around.  I watched him completely butcher the drywall, put in screws at odd angles, and install a set of shelves no more sturdy than the ones I had put up the year before.  Suddenly, I realized that guys didn’t magically know more about tools and household repairs than I did.  Which meant I could learn just like anyone else.

There’s a list of 75 things that every guy should be able to do in Esquire Magazine this month.  I can do 54 of the 75 things on the list, and that makes me proud.  Sure, some of these things are “feminine” skills that my mom would have taught me in the olden days: #20: sew a button, #31: make a bed, #7: cook meat on something other than a grill, #71: iron a shirt.  Some of them needed to be adapted a bit to apply to me: #19: I can approach a man who is out of my league, #73: I can caress a man’s neck (I could probably pull these off with women as well, but why would I?).  In the multiple part categories, I can only pull off one or two: #35, I can jump start a car without drama and change a flat tire, but I have never bothered to change my own oil.  And some of these skills, that are arguably the most “manly”, I don’t have at all: #13: throw a punch, #4: score a baseball game, #25: drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.

I like being a competent female, someone who isn’t helpless, who doesn’t mind getting dirty and can get things done, who doesn’t NEED to play the damsel in distress.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a man with skills — I am amazed and impressed that T could rewire the screwed up light switches at our old house, can do extensive repairs on both his truck and my car, and can hold his own in a bar brawl if the need should arise.  I also like knitting, watching sappy romantic comedies, and going window shopping with my girlfriends.  I don’t want to be a guy — I just like knowing that I can get stuff done.

Since moving into our new house, I have installed a new shower curtain rod and painted an entire room, both without help.  And last weekend?  While T watched football, I installed three sets of level, sturdy curtain rods using a stepladder, his cordless drill, my stud finder, drill bits and screwdriver bits, his level, my tape measure, a hammer and drywall anchors.  And he was proud of me when they were all done.  So was I.  *smile*