I'm pro-choice, but "thank God I'm not a Feminist!"

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11 comments posted
Let's talk about the ERA

Media girl also mentioned the ERA in the discussion I had with her on the netroots thread. She said the Democratic Party has dropped and forgotten it, and I have to say that does seem to be the case. In fact, I haven't seen any mention of it at all, in any context, in the past ten years that I can remember until these posts right here. So what happened? It's as though after the initial push for ratification failed, it simply vanished.

Wikipedia's entry on the ERA

Or maybe it didn't vanish. It just transformed itself into a movement on all the fronts of discrimination against women, taking on one at a time the issues where women are treated unfairly. Many changes have been made because of the feminist movement, and just because the ERA didn't pass I wouldn't call feminism a failed cause or curiosity of history. Did it completely succeed? No, not yet; but neither has the civil rights movement completely succeeded, and both movements continue to work on the injustices they encounter. As they should.

As a white male in this country I can't pretend to know what it's like to be the victim of this kind of injustice; all I can do is try to empathize as best I can and try to keep an open mind. I do agree with the need for equal treatment, and I hope you will accept my statements for what they are. I may not be everything you expect me to be; but the reason I'm here is to learn, and I hope you are willing to keep teaching.

liberalrob's picture
Posted by liberalrob on 7 February 2006 - 5:58pm
Are Women equal or not?

In the Pledge of Allegiance, there are words that ours is "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

"All" in my mind means minorities. It means women. It means including those who are different physically from ourselves.

What is racism? It's many things, but the definition I find that really pegs it is,

Discrimination, either for or against someone, based primarily on a common and naturally occurring biological variation over which the individual has no control.

Feminists would say that sexism is a form of racism. Racist laws are offensive in that they unfairly tip the scales - often the scales of justice.

Slave owners justified themselves based on racism.

Slavery is morally repugnant. Surely statues could have been crafted after the American Civil War to outlaw slavery, but the fact that the Constitution has an Amendment that nullifies all prior reference in the Constitution about three-fifths of a person, and other language elsewhere, about slavery makes a point. The Amendment abolishing slavery went a long way to wiping the slate clean. There were many statutes and case law on the books dealing with slaves. By ratifying a Amendment, that body of law was more or less declared irrelevant, even though Jim Crow laws and segregation was far more prevalent than people under 40 can realize, save through history books.

Women have been discriminated against based on a naturally occurring and common biological variation.

Constitutional Amendments give moral authority.

So what is the problem with the Equal Rights Amendment, ERA? Just this: for an Amendment to pass, there has to be a popular will about a fundamental problem. Abolishing slavery, I would suggest, met that test. So did women's suffrage.

Prohibition, it seemed, failed that test.

Some amendments are not very controversial. Presidential succession and the elimination of the poll tax were only marginally controversial.

Some are "sleeping dogs," like not reforming the Electoral College.

However, an amendment to declare that women are equal created quite a stir, and then it failed, and was finally forgotten.

Women won the right to vote in an era when only men could vote, although in many states, state-by-state, men decided to add women to the voting rolls - so this is not some patriarchal sand-bagging. Men are NOT the sole and central problem, despite what many of my feminist sisters say.

The debate, and we see it over Roe v. Wade, and also over on Kos, has a philosophical underpinning that is based on a belief that women are NOT equal. Each time the language comes up about women's rights being a "narrow" issue, we have unmasked a form of "racism."

And racism also is found among women who also do not believe that they are equal to men.

I have tried to discuss this with other women in closed forums with lots of support, and this issue - internalized sexism - is a shameful secret that many women will not speak of or cop to.

And yet, with the power of the female vote, it is obvious that women could ask for equal rights and probably get them in short order.

But the fundamental debate is not taking place. To be sure there are the religious and other authorities that declare women to be inferior (using the "racial" argument, and they cite Scripture), but that is not a debate. It is merely a reiteration of policy.

The question women aren't asking themselves in a serious way is,

Are women equal, or are they not?

If they are equal, then an Amendment might be worthwhile - and I will speak to that in a main thread blog in the next day or two.

But to the immediate point, if we are fundamentally not equal - if there are two "races" that are trying to co-exist, this does not let anyone off the hook, because then the issue that you speak of, liberalrob, fairness must be addressed. If women are not equal, are they being treated fairly? This is important.

But worse, if they are not equal, and moreover, if they are inferior to men - which, I will argue subsequently, is where much of the legislation around the control of women is based - then we have an even more complex problem, because what we have is a "racial" under-class that is dominated by the over-class.

If women are seen as having narrow issues, read "issues about reproductive rights," then it means women are largely excluded from the political process that is dominated by men. A sort of tautology, but what I find is that women in private will admit that their power is sexual in nature and played completely differently.

Some women, and by no means a small number, see this power as more significant than political power.

The Women's Movement has yet to catch up to it and is loath to discuss it because of issues among women who are practitioners of this form of power, and those who don't, but again, it is an "dirty little secret" that this is what is happening.

The ERA debate ranges well beyond "who runs the wolves."

It is a debate that may well be outside of elections and politics, yet is so fundamental that society at large is blind to it.

If the debate ever starts to roll, I'll bet it will be lively and take us in unexpected directions of thought.

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 9 February 2006 - 10:17am
Clarification

When I wrote that women use "power," I am not talking about just looking hot. I am was referring to how women approach decision making and how they deal with conflict.

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 9 February 2006 - 10:59am
Excellent post

I agree with your analysis that sexism is a kind of racism, and therefore deserving of the same treatment.

I would be interested in your opinions on the issues raised in the "Opposition Issues" section of the Wikipedia entry I linked to.

I think there are some ways that women are fundamentally not equal to men (not in the sense of being better or worse, just different), and no amount of legislation will change. Women get pregnant and men don't; that's got to lead to some inequality, yet it doesn't have to be seen as a negative. Women have some different health issues than men. There are studies that appear to show that women have different thought processes than men; I don't know how that might translate into different legislative treatment, but the potential is there for a requirement of absolute equality under the law to have an unintended harmful effect.

So are there perhaps different kinds of equality, and if so, which one(s) are we talking about in terms of the ERA? Should it be itself amended to incorporate this concept? I think that ties back to your question of "are women equal".

I think women are not "equal" in the sense you mean (if I'm understanding you), and that un-equalness has led to discrimination and second-class treatment of women through most of history. I don't think it's racism to acknowledge the obvious physical differences between males and females and the psychological and/or philosophical differences that might arise from that. The question for me is, "do women have the same opportunity to pursue their destiny as men?" I think the Declaration of Independence's rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" should apply equally to men and women, despite any differences in what those might mean to a man vs. a woman, and our task as a society is to enable all men and women to enjoy those rights. Do we need a Constitutional Amendment to do that, or can it be done through the normal course of legislation? I don't think it matters, personally, as long as the goal is achieved. Isn't that the point?

I think it's dangerous to focus on "reproductive rights being seen as a narrow issue". It is a narrow issue in that it is only one of a host of issues that affect who we elect as our leaders and what policies we ask those leaders to enact. It is a broad issue in that it directly affects over 50% of the people of this country and the world as a whole. The danger comes (and this is all my opinion) when those who see the broad issue and see how obviously vital it is to the majority become convinced that merely because it is a broad issue it should naturally be the overriding issue in comparison with any other. Not everyone sees the broad issue, or if they do they might see other issues as being of even greater immediate importance; and there may in fact be more than one such broad issue. It only takes a small percentage of people to shift the balance, and the broader issue then takes second place.

liberalrob's picture
Posted by liberalrob on 9 February 2006 - 4:59pm
Personal Views on Equal Rights Amendment

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Yes, there are physical difference between men and women. If there weren't any observable differences, there would be no need for a Constitutional Amendment or legislation. I suppose that the issue is whether the differences between men and women are so overwhelming, that a different set of rights are justified.

The area where this can get very tricky is when differences are used to justify discrimination. Thomas Jefferson, whose intelligence history treats with some great deference, observed that his black slaves were not as bright as his own "kind." I do not have the quote in front of me, and he was charitable in some respects than the part I now will quote, but he was blind to his complicity in turning blacks into an under-class, his relationship with Sally Hemings notwithstanding. His observations were that black people were more emotional and less able to think abstractly. Was this true, or was it a rationalization for owning other people. A terrible flaw in thinking of a man renown for his intellect.

At one time, around the 1950s, many police departments had a height requirement, which ended up discriminating against ethnic groups of smaller stature. Yet, in dealing with youth gangs, someone of a similar ethnic group could be more effective than a member of another ethnic group.

Was this perception that only tall people get respect one that tall people imagined in order to justify a form of discrimination?

With the technology changing rapidly around child bearing, the arguments that women are "different" may go the way of ditch-digger-arguments. That is, one of the arguments in the 1950s against women working in construction was that they "can't dig a ditch." Today a back-hoe is used to do that. Perhaps tomorrow babies will come to us differently.

Brown vs. Board of Education said, in part, that "separate is NOT equal." The separation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am not sure of the answer, but I think that the question is not being addressed as openly as it could be by many of the people who are now in the political fray.

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 9 February 2006 - 7:16pm
I pro-choice, but thank God I'm not a Feminist!

What's Third Wave Feminism? I didn't see a defition or any illustrative examples of this strand of thought/practice.

Bitch | Lab's picture
Posted by Bitch | Lab (not verified) on 8 February 2006 - 1:51am
"Third Wave" of Feminism and the Human Rights Movement

Sometime I forget that many intelligent and politically aware individuals have not spent much time involved in the Women's Rights Movement.

The "waves" of Feminism are, in my mind, somewhat artificial and tend to divide us, rather than to unite us. As we all know, women have been actively waging a struggle for political equality since the 1800s, and perhaps since the "the Garden."

The first great strides in the United States came with the Women's Right to Vote. About the same time, the early years of the prior century, women also demanded the right to get access to contraception.

In the 1960s, when the birth control pill became a practical, although sometime controversial, means of contraception, two things happens that may well have been related.

1. The Sexual Revolution.

2. The Women's Movement.

The pill put the control into the hands of women in a new way. No longer were barrier devices the only way to control pregnancy, and with the pill, women felt more free to have sex. The mothers of the girls of my era used to chide, "bad things come to bad girls," meaning, if you have sex, you could end up with an unwanted pregnancy.

With more control of our bodies, and in the throes of the anti-War and Civil Rights Movement, a generation of more highly educated women matured politically. No longer were we tied to old models and the huge contribution that Betty Friedan made was to simply point out this political fact.

The resurgence of political consciousness was later dubbed as "Second Wave" Feminism, though few, if any of us, ever called ourselves that, at least to my knowledge. People born after the American Revolution was won, were not called "Second Wave Patriots," or "Second Wave Americans."

I suggest that reproductive rights and political rights were one and the same thing and they grew out of a meta-movement - The Human Rights Movement - of the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1980s, there was a backlash against the Human Rights Movement - and it was not directed just against Women. Affirmative Action programs were attacked because of "reverse discrimination." Gay Rights were under attack. The anti-War Movement was painted as excessive and revisionist historians tried to paint a friendly face on the Vietnam War and turn the Vietnam Vets into some sort of war heroes.

Conservatives, who opposed Women's equality on any number of grounds, managed to block Human Rights Legislation that would have declared that under the law, men and women shall be equal.

The proved a watershed of history and some women who gained a great deal from the women who fought for equality, broke ranks. They said of themselves, "I am not a Feminist," all the while enjoying what political and economic gains women had won.

Women coasted along, many buying into the argument that equality was won and confident that there were already enough laws to guarantee women's rights.

With the erosion of Roe v. Wade, that confidence is no longer so sure. Some women have taken to fighting against judges who would undermine a woman's right to choose and thus undermine a woman's control over her own body.

And from this, a self-defined "Third Wave" of Feminism has taken shape.

And yet, if the Equal Rights Amendment, ERA, had been passed into law, the conservative judges and legislative bodies would have a difficult time making the laws they do which limit women's options.

So, in my view, we can and should oppose judges and legislatures who would limit a woman's right to choose, and have control over her own body.

But so long as it is unclear that women are equal under the law, the door remains open for people with a political agenda (left as well as right) to take into their own hands, private choices that any citizen ought to be able to make about his or her own well being.

It is clear that in the United States, since the 1980s (and really starting in earnest with Nixon) the Right has been pushing hard to keep women from achieving full equality. Part of their tactics are to marginalize the Women's Movement by turning it into "waves." Yet if the edifice of discriminatory legislation and judicial opinions stand, there has been no "wave," per se, but merely an unsuccessful attempt to finish the business that was started in the 1800s.

The ideals of the meta-Human Rights Movement have been forgotten by many baby boomers and never fully embraced by their children because the crrent crops of Progressives cannot seem to articulate them.

And so the struggle continues.

Human Rights can be suppressed, but there is something in people that eventually will overcome even the more oppressive regimes.

The only tragedy is the human toll it takes until the gains are made - and that, as Lincoln called it, is the "unfinished business."

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 9 February 2006 - 6:30am
Third Wave Feminism

"Sometime I forget that many intelligent and politically aware individuals have not spent much time involved in the Women's Rights Movement."

Hi Matsu,

I spent 8 years teaching women's studies. And I've spent 20 years as part of the women's movement.

Bitch | Lab's picture
Posted by Bitch | Lab (not verified) on 12 February 2006 - 3:23am
Third Wave Feminism - old wine, new bottles

I have to admit I was surprised to hear folks label themselves post-feminists. "Third Wave Feminist" is a word that some others applied to themselves, and "Second Wave Feminist" a label they stuck on me. Ugh!

My point was that even with all these waves, it's the same ocean - peaks and troughs and all.

I used to wonder: "why, after the 1920s, did the Women's Rights Movement fade away?" Some women I knew from the 1960's Women's Movement did some research and the conclusion stunned us. Women were as active as ever, only the mainstream press stopped reporting on it.

Thus women felt isolated and out-of-step if they wanted take the next step.

It is also interesting, as I am sure you know as someone who has taught Women's Studies, that we make political gains while the men are away at major wars. When the boys come home, our fight for liberty is not longer newsworthy.

I think that distinctions between first, second, third, or whatever waves is a way to divide us from the common thread of Women's Political History and struggle.

Matsu's picture
Posted by Matsu on 12 February 2006 - 10:30am
Politically warped ERA led to Pro-Choice Trap

There's no point in rephrasing what I have already written, so here is the first of two essays by-passing twenty years of politically compromised wannabee professional feminism and I'll-kill-it-with-complications-to-get-tenure Women's Studies feminism to get back to the basics of why ERA is a constitutional sine qua non for American women and how that fabulous invalid, Roe v Wade, relates to it:

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STOP ABORTION? FIX MEN!

Writer Toni Morrison once remarked on: “what men frequently do when they want to manage and govern women. They focus on their babies – whether they’re having them or not having them. Reproductive organs become the focus.� [Wash. Post 1/6/98, B2]

Pregnancy discrimination is the perfect form of sex discrimination, letting some men harass and dominate women without penalty to themselves or other men. Pregnancy – actual or prospective - has long served as the all-purpose pretext for everything from job discrimination and insurance exclusion to forced marriage, forced sterilization, social ostracism, physical assault and genital mutilation. And all without violating a revered constitution that has repeatedly denied women’s right to bodily integrity and equal protection of the law. Denial of the Equal Rights Amendment preserves the framers’ original intent to privilege men by excluding women from constitutional rights and protections.

Restricting abortion is just another way to control women through a condition that men create but do not experience. While some men have described a pregnant woman as “in a fix,� and noted with a chuckle that “there’s no such thing as a little bit pregnant,�abortion spoils this age-old gotcha because it lets a woman who is a little bit pregnant be not pregnant after all. A painful medical procedure is apparently too little punishment for such insubordination.

Pregnancy is virtually impossible without, as it were, male input. To have any credibility, therefore, abortion opponents must deal with the primary cause of unwanted pregnancy – uncontrolled male fertility.

One and a half million abortions per year in the United States testify to a million and a half occasions when men chose intercourse without contraception. Had they prevented conception, there would have been no need for abortion. It should be obvious, therefore, that men who say they have a problem with abortion should address it realistically by working for regulatory legislation to curb men’s fertility. A variety of effective methods are already available and putting some real money into research should make it possible to manipulate men’s hormones just as readily as women’s.

In the United States, child abuse and neglect is rampant while funding for child care, health care, and the education of children is chronically inadequate and given low priority in state and federal spending. Children are all too often impoverished along with their mothers in the wake of divorce or abandonment by fathers. Or in other instances, taken from their mothers in custody battles weighted in the father’s favor by his ability to hire more costly legal firepower. Does this sorry situation for real children square with the overblown rhetoric of tender devotion to fetuses professed by men who oppose abortion, or does it call their bluff?

But what about the women who oppose abortion? They are equivalent to the women who in times past obediently beseeched legislators to protect them from the awful burden of the ballot. Women who, making the best deal they can under the circumstances, pledge allegiance to men’s authority over their minds and actions, as well as their bodies.

As for pro-choice activists, it is time to stop defending abortion and start attacking the outright misogyny that made it a debatable issue in the first place. If activists prefer to continue treating this human need as a shaky “right� always on the brink of extinction, they reveal themselves as part of the problem, not the solution. Any law treating abortion differently from other medical procedures is sex discrimination.

Women know that abortion is an essential aspect of pregnancy and they also know that denial of access to abortion is misogyny that privileges all men (whether anti-abortion or not) at expense to women’s dignity, autonomy, and right to bodily integrity. Our first responsibility is to women.

-- Twiss Butler

Twiss Butler's picture
Posted by Twiss Butler (not verified) on 8 February 2006 - 1:17pm
Feminist waves

The first "wave" of the feminist movement was led by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and all the other courageous women who sacrificed so that women today could have the right to vote. The second "wave" of feminism began in 1966, when Betty Friedan, and a couple dozen other women, formed NOW (the National Organization for Women). Their goal was to secure economic justice for women, and to create a country where women would only be limited by their own talent, not due to any assigned role. Many believe we now have a third "wave" of feminism, as who were born having the right to control their reproductive lives, greater access to education and to the workforce seek to raise the bar once again for women.

I consider myself part of the second wave of feminism. I am concerned that I might be part of the generation that both 'won' and 'lost' Roe v. Wade. Young women in the third wave have every right to be concerned about their reproductive freedom, because it is clearly in jeopardy.

I agree that we do need an ERA, and there are women all across the country still working to make it happen. They don't get a lot of media attention, because it's just not the 'sexy' issue it was in the 60's.

It took the first wave of feminists more than 70 years to secure our right to vote. Why should we think it will take any less time to write women into our Constitution? Anyone who sees this as less than a 'lifetime' endeavor is fooling themselves.

BAC104's picture
Posted by BAC104 (not verified) on 18 February 2006 - 4:54pm