The ETSU’s Women’s Studies blog would like to spotlight the exceptional writing of students currently in Women’s Studies classes by reposting selected posts. The following is a guest post by Eva Alom.
Throughout history, religion has been notorious for promoting heavy gender stereotypes. From idolizing virginal figures such as Mary to the overwhelmingly popular choice to classify God as male, religious traditions conflict with many feminist ideals. Christian or otherwise, the presence of these heavily patriarchal systems of beliefs has a definite impact on the lives of women. One of these effects is the attitude towards sexuality in religious women. In her writing Indecent Theology, Marcella Althaus-Reid brings to question the great divide between natural human qualities such as sexuality and religion. Attending church is perceived as higher than any other activity one partakes in throughout a normal week. This apparent holiness is grasping at the idea that connecting with spiritual forces is outside of our quotidian experiences, but fails in doing so in that the result has been a separation of humanity and spirituality. This separation manifests itself most strongly in the separation of sexuality in religion. Feminists teach that women should not be made to feel ashamed of their sexualities, but religion, by excluding such a prominent part of anyone’s being, strengthens any sense of shame. When this is done, the implication is that humanity is on such a lower level than spirituality that it may never achieve pure goodness, happiness, or holiness. Even farther, the belief that one is fundamentally flawed becomes a barrier in doing all that one can to be good.
Though these negative attitudes towards sexuality are present for both male and female sexes, it is undeniable that female sexuality is scrutinized much more harshly through the lens of religion. The small number of female characters in religious texts creates an “all or nothing” dilemma, wherein the only examples of women are unnaturally pure or unnaturally impure. This phenomenon translates to an unfair expectation for women to maintain an unrealistic idea of purity in all aspects of her live. Since this is impossible, women are instead left with the expectation to keep these “impure” parts of themselves hidden.
Much can be learned by stepping back and looking at sexuality as an experience that can coexist and even enhance spirituality. In many ways, sex can be the epitome of spirituality. The act of sex has often been described as the merging of two souls. When two or more people connect with each other in such an intimate way, a loss of ego can occur, creating a powerful feeling of being one. During masturbation, accepting one’s body can become a symbol of love and appreciation of the creation that the universe, God, or any number of spiritually forces, provided as a home for the soul. When orgasm is achieved, a state of pure bliss at losing all control is experienced. It could be argued that this state is the work of a spiritual being.
Deepak Chopra provides 12 “insights” into sexuality and spirituality.
Religion was created for the soul purpose of understanding humanity on a deeper level. Since nothing has ever been achieved by suppressing truths, it follows that at least part of the path to understanding would involve the acceptance and celebration of sexuality, for both men and women.
I am [sort of] Woman, Hear Me Roar: How I became a Feminist, from my Grandmothers to “Meeting” Andrea Dworkin
By Tyler Schrichte
“Tremble, great enemy, for you now lie under the foot of a woman.”
– St. Margaret of Antioch, included in Dworkin’s Intercourse
Believe it or not, I was not born a feminist. I did not come forth from my mother’s womb espousing tales of how men use intercourse to oppress women; I did not analyze why it was not socially acceptable for me to be enthused over dolls and beauty; and I certainly did not consider the gendered implications of Disney movies. Feminism was something that grew inside of me, like a finely-pruned bonsai; it would later burst forth from inside, making the seemingly-angry radical you may be familiar with today. The seeds were planted by women; great and powerful women who raised me: my grandmothers, my aunt, and my mother. In my childhood, I was always around women who had such great strength, I often wondered how they raised me, held down a job, and kept the house clean. I was upset when people would suggest women couldn’t do anything meaningful; I must disagree, sir (it was usually a sir). I’ve seen them do it all! What have you done? Have a beer and contribute nothing? Dictate what is appropriate for others to do? I hated this. I hated men. However, let’s be clear, feminism is not about hating men. I am just an individual feminist who happens not to be the biggest fan of men, collectively. Perpetuating stereotypes is the last thing I want to do; this is a feminist essay, for god’s sake! Please don’t miss the point.
Looking back on my childhood and my “younger” years, if you will indulge that kind of rhetoric, I suppose I was a feminist from about the age of four, maybe five. My earliest “feminist” memory is that for as long as I can remember, I always worshiped powerful women in the television shows I watched. I worshiped the pink Power Ranger when I was young; I loved that a woman who was quite literally kicking ass was finally represented on television, and it made me realize that no matter how many times it was suggested that women couldn’t do anything, I’d think “What about Kimberly, the Pink Power Ranger? She could probably kick your ass!”
That was my feminist thought in its infancy, not yet put into practice. I truly think, however, that my love of strong women characters really kicked off when I started watching Sailor Moon. It came on in the afternoons, after I’d gotten home from school for the day. It was my afternoon treat: women standing up for themselves, and showing young girls that they could be strong and fight for justice too; that strength and substance wasn’t a just a boys club, no matter how much popular culture would have you believe that it is.
These fictional characters which I loved so much were really the best form of escapism I can imagine, as my childhood was not really a normal one, nor was it all sunshine and rainbows either. My earliest memories are of my parents, before they divorced when I was three or four. My father had a very bad methamphetamine problem, and while he never was physically violent (to my mother and I anyways) he would go on insane and frightening tirades due to the drug-induced paranoia. I saw how this affected my mother, and I realized that men had the power to do this sort of thing, physically and socially. I wondered how many other mommies had to go through things like this. I won’t lie, either: after my mother left my father, things didn’t really get better. She had a string of…let’s just say not so pleasant…boyfriends, but I never really had to stay around them that much, and I have my grandmothers to thank for that. My parents’ mothers are the best people in my life; they truly are my favorite women. Whenever something bad would happen, they would always swoop in and save me from it, if at all humanly possible. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly repay them for all they’ve done for me, but I hope I can do something equally as significant for them someday.
Eventually, my mother settled on a man whom she would marry, and that is probably the single worst thing that has ever happened to me and to her. This man, who does not even deserve to be referred to by name, as he is not human, was the worst. He seemed innocuous enough at first, just your “typical” male. However, it wasn’t long before the true and evil nature of this man came to the surface. He was a drug pusher, user, and addict. I don’t mean just one, either. It was pretty much all of them. No joke! He coerced my mother into using intravenously, and he used this to keep her weak. This wasn’t enough: for every perceived mistake, every slight “mistake,” just…everything, it didn’t matter the reason, he would beat my already weakened mother, and this was something I had to witness, for a long time. I’m not telling you this for pity; I’m telling you this because this happens to women all over the world, all day, every day. Statistically, a woman’s own home is the most dangerous place for her. A woman is more likely to be killed in her own home than anywhere else, and I know this is true. I know this is true because I’ve lived it. I know this is true because I had to hide in the closet while it was going on. I know this is true because I had to make up some colorful tale of why my mother looked like she had just lost a pro boxing match. I know this is true because it went on for four years, and I know this is true because even calling the police never stopped it. Now, I don’t want you to think there isn’t a bright spot in all this darkness, there is, I promise, and I’ll never, ever forget the day it happened. Notice I said day, not date. This was sometime in 2003, around late fall or early winter, and I know for a fact it was a Sunday evening. I have a grandmother, my father’s mother. Her name is Anita, and she saved me from everything. Every weekend, I would go to her house to escape the turmoil in the house where I did live. Well, one weekend I’d simply had enough; I was tired of being around junkies; I was sick to death of being verbally abused by a male on a daily basis; and I was sick and tired of seeing my mother either beaten up, in an opioid-induced haze, or in some cases both of those things were true.
One night, I remember it being clear and slightly windy, my grandmother pulled up to the apartment where I lived with my mother, and I simply refused to exit the car. My mother was called out to remedy the situation, but I have her stubbornness, and refused to budge an inch. Enough was enough, and I knew I couldn’t help my mother out of this situation unless I got out of it myself. Of course, this was met with resistance: my mother didn’t want to be separated from me, and my grandmother expressed concerns regarding not being able to balance myself and her job, but I stood my ground, and I have lived with my grandmother, Anita ever since, and let me tell you what this woman has done for me, and what she still continues to do for me today:
Since she lived in a different school district than the one I was in when I left my mother, she drove me back and forth, thirty minutes each way, every weekday so I wouldn’t have to switch schools. She did this while still making it to work by eight in the morning. She selflessly agreed to essentially raise a child for the second time. She tolerated my outrageous teenaged behavior, even when it was at its very worst. She put up with me when I was at literal rock bottom: when I was sixteen and very badly addicted to OTC cold medicine and chemical inhalants, among other things. She continues to help me financially, and if it weren’t for her help, I don’t know if I would be here at this university writing this essay right now. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I would not be here today if I had stayed with my mother. She has been the only stable and consistent person in my life; she gives the best advice out of anyone I know; she is always there for me when I need to talk about something, or just simply to vent. She was insistent that I would not end up like my parents, and always pushed me to study hard and do well in school. A list of the things this wonderful woman has done for me could take up this entire essay, but I believe I’ve made my point quite well. If it weren’t for my grandmother, Anita McCawley, I would not and could not be the person I am today, and I cannot express my gratitude to her in words, as she literally gave me my life. I cringe at the thought of what would have happened to me without her, and I vow to one day be able to repay her for all the kindness and love she has shown me.
To continue with this conversation of great women who influenced me, I’d like to tell you all about my hero, Andrea Dworkin. I was introduced to Andrea Dworkin and her work when I took Philosophies of Feminism here at ETSU. The selection I read was “Occupation/Collaboration,” which is chapter seven of her book titled “Intercourse,” I cannot describe the ephemeral surge of enlightenment that coursed through my veins, as I read every word; I devoured it; it produced a great hunger within me, and I had that moment. “This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life, and I didn’t even know it. I need this,” I thought as I put down the packet of scanned pages, crumpled from me clenching them and absolutely drenched in ink from my notations. I had to have more; I needed Andrea Dworkin to be a part of my life. I rushed to the first computer I saw and looked at her Wikipedia page. To my dismay, I saw that Andrea Dworkin had passed April 9, 2005. She passed away seven whole years before I discovered her work. To me, this is an injustice of cosmic proportions. Andrea was only fifty-eight when she passed, and I would give anything to have her still be here today. I weep because she was taken so soon. I weep because I will never meet her, and I weep because I will never see her speak. Most of all, I weep because she could still be here today. Fortunately, however, a handful of wonderful people preserved the audio recordings of her speeches, and to my surprise, there were several. For the past six or seven months, and even as I write this, I listen to those speeches. I listen to her passion; her eloquence, and the absolute sobering effect the speeches she gave had on me. I soaked up every word, and tears flowed down my face as every word, every passionate and powerful syllable struck my ear. Andrea Dworkin is most well known for her anti-pornography activism, but Andrea was a writer first and foremost, and she is a damn good writer. I cherish all of the books I have that are written by her, and in fact refer to Intercourse as “my feminist bible,” and in fact on the back of the edition of “Pornography: Men Possessing Women” that I own, there is a quote from Gloria Steinem, which makes my deeming of Dworkin’s literature a feminist bible all the more appropriate, the quote reads:
“If we were to have an Old Testament prophet for feminists, it would be Andrea. But even that is not a good comparison, because she offers not just a voice of anger and justice, but also of compassion and redemption,” –Gloria Steinem
I could not agree more with this statement. Reading Dworkin’s books of feminist theory gave me the foundation for all of my feminist stances, and Andrea Dworkin is another wonderful woman I owe a great deal of gratitude for shaping me into the person I am today. Although I’ll never be able to express this gratitude directly, I vow to crusade in Andrea Dworkin’s name in all of my feminist activism; my vow is to become this generation’s Andrea Dworkin, because I believe she was the first to name the problems of pornography and the sexual violence it produces, but discussing that is another essay entirely. In short, I am endlessly thankful to Dworkin and the work she did; she is my feminist prophet, and when I am teaching feminist theory classes myself one day, I will make sure all of my students know her, because Andrea Dworkin should be a household name. Thank you, Andrea Dworkin, I will always remember you.
So, why am I a feminist? I’m a feminist because my mother was beaten and she was told she shouldn’t make the man who beat her upset. I’m a feminist because I have seen violence against women firsthand. I’m a feminist because I watched my mother be kept prisoner. I’m a feminist because my grandmother told me she was deliberately left out at her job because she was a woman. I’m a feminist because I’ve experienced more homophobia than I can possibly list. I’m a feminist because I’ve heard too many stories of violence against women; some of those stories involving people who I am close friends with. I’m a feminist because I’ve heard of too many instances of women being coerced into sexual intercourse. I am a feminist because I want to fight for the rights of my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, my friends, and for all women to live in a world that is free from violence, objectification, and sexual coercion. I’m a feminist because I never want another woman to experience what my own mother experienced. I’m a feminist because no child should have to bear witness to their mother’s daily beatings. Most of all, I am a feminist because I have seen the oppression of women up close and personal, and I swear to you I am hell-bent on stopping it. I’m a feminist because it is the right thing to do, and I am a feminist because I believe it is the right of every human being, regardless of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, body type, national origin, or anything else, to live in a world that is free from violence and discrimination. I am a feminist because the hate needs to stop; I am feminist because I want to make the hate stop. This is what I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to, and I never have been so passionate about something before. I’m a feminist because I know women suffer, and most importantly of all, I am a feminist because I am full of love, even though I may seem cold, I am full to the brim with love, and I want to make sure every woman knows there is love, there is hope, and despite the darkness that seems to overwhelm us at times, there are those who are fighting to make it better. We can make it better, and that’s what I’m here to do.
Christina Huffington debunks the myth that women are underrepresented in leadership positions due to lack of ambition.
Teach sex ed honestly, already.
Pregnant women in America are being locked up for losing their babies in miscarriage.
Michael Dyzel Smith talks about how street harassment is partially about impressing other dudes.
The importance of calling rape and rape culture out, and calling them by name.
Linda Burnham gives a critique of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, and “1% Feminism”.
Boys’ Clubs: A tumblr dedicated to exposing the areas in society that women have yet to tread.
Ozy Frantz put up a wonderful post critiquing “sex positivity” and our dialogue regarding sex, sexual desire, sexual goals, and expression of sexuality in general.
Brittney Griner talks about being “out” in pro sports.
David Haglund talks about the “feminist comedy” of Louis C.K.
And on a day like today it is important to remember the power of white privilege, as Tim Wise points out.
(editor’s note: I am also very proud to announce that at next week’s ETSUcon, a comic convention held right here at ETSU, there will be not one, but two incredible feminist panels which I highly recommend attending. The first, hosted by Women’s Studies student Caroline Locke, “Feminerds Unite!” is a discussion about internet misogyny in nerd culture in general, with the second, my panel, regarding Sexism in Video Games (industry, culture, the games themselves)
A final note of congratulation to all FMLA members and Women’s Studies students elected in the SGA elections, as well as a thank you to those who did not for running and trying to make the campus a more inclusive and safe space. It is appreciated.
In my interactions with individuals who are hostile to feminism, one phrase that I encounter repeatedly, either verbatim or in similar iterations, is
“The problem with modern feminism is…”
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and very clearly there is a perception out there, however misinformed it may be, that “modern feminism” is something that is deviant from an idealized version of feminism that existed at some point in the past, where it was more legitimate (because in their minds equality has already been achieved) and that now those who proudly wear the feminist label are merely “too sensitive” about things or “take things to seriously” or are just “too radical”.
For those of us who actually have even a cursory knowledge of feminism, we know that such notions are silly, to put it kindly. Feminism as a movement has only become more aware of intersectionality and more mindful of inclusion as a goal over time, and the feminism of the past was severely lacking in that area – leading to necessary movements such as womanism springing forth to fill the gaps that first and second wave feminism left unfilled in their push for equality. This can only be a good thing. We need to include a diverse range of experiences in our push for equality in society if we wish to be able to tackle the broad systemic oppression that we face, which cuts across boundaries of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, and class.
Granted, there are some issues in modern feminism which are problematic, and there are spaces for legitimate criticism that we should address – the trans-exclusionary radical feminists (often called TERFs, who self-identify as radfems), the lack of respect and inclusion for sex workers, paternalistic, first-world centric attitudes, etc.
Feminists aren’t perfect, and they never claim to be. Similarly, like any social movement, feminism is one that has necessarily evolved over time as more and more individuals have identified with it and brought their experiences to the table. We all have blind spots and having people remind us of those is helpful in pushing the movement forward rather than having it remain stagnant and unable to take on evolving oppression.
I think at the root of this, partially, is a concept called the straw feminist. One of my heroes, Anita Sarkeesian, made a wonderful video analyzing what is not only a social conception that many unfortunately have of feminists and feminism, but it’s one that is a common cliché in popular forms of media, thus constantly reinforced and validated.
Like Anita points out, the straw feminist is not an accurate representation of feminism as a movement or feminists in general, but merely a means by which detractors of feminism are able to create a division between their idealized, toothless feminism that never really existed at all and a “straw man” feminist that is hyper-aggressive, tilts at windmills, and is altogether unnecessary in our age of equality.
Nevertheless, despite what they may think, we do not live in an age of equality, and women DO face oppression, even in the first world. Just with regard to some of the things that I’ve written about, Rape culture and sexual violence are at epidemic levels and the perpetrators are rarely charged, let alone convicted – and all the while blaming the victims for their assault is normalized. Access to reproductive health and contraception is under constant assault. Transgender women face even higher rates of violence, sexual or otherwise, than cisgender women, especially if they are trans women of color, and their oppression and lack of acceptance in society even extends to forcing them out of public restrooms.
Despite increases in earnings, the gender pay gap, which cannot be explained away by lack of ambition or biological determinism, persists. Women are underrepresented in tech jobs , gaming (both of which fields in which women are not only underrepresented but face severe, organized harassment campaigns for speaking out) , STEM fields, politics, and really any upper level positions across industries. This is the oft-referenced “glass ceiling”, which Hillary Clinton famously alluded to as recently as the 2008 elections.
Feminism is not a movement whose time has come and gone, it is a movement whose time is now, and the only thing that is “too radical” in our society is the broad, systemic, unrelenting oppression that women face across the globe. Identifying with feminism is an identification with the overall broad goal of an increasingly inclusive and mindful movement actively engaged in dismantling this system of oppression, and a milquetoast, toothless version of feminism that neither acknowledges nor is willing to aggressively confront this oppression is so pointless that if it ever existed, it would beg the question of why it even exists at all.
These critiques, which I hesitate to even refer to them as, are ignorant excuses to uphold the status quo and insulate their complicity in perpetuating it from receiving any criticism. Frankly, in my opinion, if these “critics” aren’t going to lead or follow, then it’s time they get out of our way. We’ve got work to do.
The following was left anonymously in our office, and thinking that it was an attempt for the individual who left it to have their voice heard, we felt it appropriate to share on our blog. In the future, however, we would ask that all submissions include a name so that we are able to provide proper attribution. Also, if the author would like us to credit him, let us know and we will do so as soon as possible.
The Feminist Male
Before I Begin, I feel the need to tell a little bit about myself. First off, I am male. More elaborately, I am a white, middle-class, straight male who is currently working towards a college degree. In many parts of the world, I would be among the few who have unfairly been selected to be one of the most privileged people in the world. Despite the fact that I have more opportunities than most, I strive to bring equal opportunity to everyone.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me begin.
A few semesters ago, I found myself sitting in an introductory Women’s Studies course. On the first day of class, the professor gave a simple homework assignment: we were to mention to at least five people that we were taking a women’s studies course, and then we would discuss the various reactions to the statement during the next class.
When beginning the first assignment, I expected to receive the extreme reactions from the appropriate stereotypes. Thus, I did not hesitate when my hipster friends from art class responded with the anticipated nod of approval. And I understood that the frat-ish guys were expected to respond with either a look of slight disapproval or a modest fist-bump indicating they approved of my assumed “elaborate attempt to meet women.” And of course I expected the men throwing Bibles at people in front of the student union to condemn me to hell – which they did without hesitation.
Stereotyping, however did not prove to be entirely accurate. I approached my incredibly independent female friend expecting to receive her standard high-five. She, like me, was the age of a sophomore, but she was a few semesters ahead in school. Outside of kicking ass in class, she was also working as the editor of a local magazine and getting published regularly in numerous nationally recognized ones. It made perfect sense to me that this obviously progressive, intelligent woman would applaud my open-mindedness. Much to my surprise, however, she instead responded to my simple statement with an equally simple one: “Fuck women’s studies.”
Her response threw me back for a moment. Though she was content in abandoning the conversation with that conciseness, I was not content yet, so I asked her to please elaborate – I could not wrap my head around the idea of a white, straight male being more accepting of feminist values than an outwardly successful female. In my mind, it was feminism which allowed her to get to where she is now. But not only was she brushing the subject away absent-mindedly: she was condemning it more than anyone else I had come into contact with.
She matter-of-factly explained to me, “Chris, society’s had it out against women forever. It’s about time for us to suck it up, quit bitching, and learn to work the system, already.”
Thus was my succinct introduction to post-feminism.
While I may see more value in feminism than my friend, she made her point understood. In many circles, women have come a long way. They are finally able to attend school, they can be taken seriously as writers and scholars, and they can hold positions of authority. I am able to see and appreciate this battle. What my friend failed to recognize is the fact that in more circles than not, women’s rights are closer to jokes than realities.
What I’m trying to get at is this: even if you think that the push for equality is coming to a close, just look around for a second. You might be well off, but others aren’t quite as lucky. Many women throughout the world are nowhere near as privileged as you are.
So please keep fighting for equal rights. If I – a white, straight male – can admit that there’s still a need for women’s studies, I’m sure you can, too, if you look hard enough.
“A Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”
– Alice Walker
As touched upon in an earlier post, feminism has not always been as inclusive and sympathetic to the struggles faced by black women and other women of color as a result of the intersecting oppressions of racism and sexism. What exactly do we mean when we say “intersecting oppressions”? GeekFeminism defines intersectionality as the following:
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”
The womanist movement, feeling left out by the mainstream feminism of the first and second wave, which was focused primarily on the struggles of white women, thus came into being. Womanism focuses primarily on the struggles of women of color, but as racism affects all people of color, male or female, womanism also targets the oppression faced by black men as well.
When we look at womanism as a movement, we should make sure to not view it as a lesser movement beneath feminism. To do so is to reinforce the marginalization of women of color and the hierarchy which elevates white women at their expense – the whole reason womanism came into being in the first place. It calls attention to the historical and ongoing privileging of whiteness and disregard of people of color within feminism.
We should also be mindful that womanism is not merely a historical movement. It remains as relevant as ever, despite more of a recent push for full inclusivity and diversity within the feminist movement. The racist hierarchy which gave rise to womanism is a systemic imbalance of power whose persistence is evidenced in the unequal platform for women’s voices in even new media. Thanks to the internet and the feminist “blogosphere”, women’s voices are louder than ever, but the voices which are amplified most remain those of white women.
“Blogs run by traditionally marginalised women do not attract the same attention by the media. When feminists are pulled from the internet for interviews, it is routinely the same white feminist voices representing the broad perspectives that are visible on the internet. Unlike academia, where the power dynamic between professor and student does not allow for radical confrontation, marginalised women have forcefully made themselves heard through a series of boycotts, as well as critical essays confronting feminists of privilege regarding race, ableism and transphobia.”
– via Renee Martin, “I’m Not a Feminist (and There Is No But).
If feminism is meant to be a movement that represents all women, all women must be viewed as equal players in that movement. Womanism is an integral part of the movement while simultaneously being a movement of its own, equal in importance, whose concerns and goals should be the focus of all invested in achieving equality and social justice. The struggles of women of color are not an addendum to the feminist struggle but they are the feminist struggle, not just one month in a year but at all times, inextricable.