Patriarchy


I have developed a reputation in my office as an intimidating militant feminist. This development makes me laugh because when I read my favorite feminist blogs and see the various efforts many make on a daily basis the concept that I am anything approaching militant or intimidating is absurd. What was the capstone in my qualifying to this elite cadre of scary ladies? I made a stink about the fact that only women were invited to a recent baby shower in our office and did not confine said stink to merely carping quietly to my peers.

Having cemented the reputation is kind of freeing, you know? They ain’t seen nothing yet.

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In response to this horror  of an op-ed, Melissa McEwan wrote this.   To which I say, Yes, Melissa, yes!

 I ran a lot as a young teen, ran the mile in junior high and briefly flirted with being on the cross-country team in high school; in any event, I ran.  During the schoolyear, I’d run in the morning.    I stopped running after my sophomore year in high school after a foggy morning experience that still leaves me shaking when I think about it.

We lived in a classic northern California subdivision, wide streets, two car garages, palm trees mixing with live oaks along the sidewalks, etc., etc.  I was running along the sidewalk along the street, probably around 6am.  It was barely light, and foggy.  The fog was brighter than the sky.  As I neared the end of my run, a  pickup truck was coming the other way towards me.  It began to slow.  Shortly after I ran past it stopped then pulled a U turn in the middle of the street and began to follow me slowly about 50 feet behind me.  I had begun hyperawareness after it had slowed, and when it turned around I went into hyperfreak mode, thinking, “shit, shit, shit, shit”.  I was still running at a jog trying to think fast as it continued to follow me.   I saw a turn off ahead, which I knew to be a cul de sac, Sleepy Hollow Court.  Aha, I thought, I’ll turn there and he’ll think I’m going home because it is only a half block long so no one out for a run would otherwise turn there, right?

 So I did, ran up the cul de sac and hid behind a pine tree, half afraid that I’d made “the wrong decision” because I would now be trapped in the cul de sac if followed.  In my hyperfreak mode I never once thought to bang on a door of the dozen houses I passed, it was too early, people were still asleep. I was alone.  Also, I was simultaneously worried about being labeled a hysteric.  Yes, I was completely terrified and yet at the same time worried about embarrassing myself.  I waited, breathing heavy, for over 15 minutes, terrified that if I left too soon, the truck would still be waiting out on the main drive through the subdivision.  Finally, I left, walking, figuring I’d save energy if I saw the truck again and needed to sprint for home.

 I was lucky, the truck was gone.  Who knows what the driver’s intent was, perhaps they were only lost.  I don’t care.

 I never ran alone in the morning again until I was in my 20s, living in Manhattan, and even then, vast portions of the year I would not run in the morning because it was dark out.  Ten fucking years of less exercise because of one scary event.  Ten fucking years of less FREEDOM because of one scary event.

 Do NOT fucking tell women where and when they can run.  We’ve already internalized it.  We’ve already endured the comments on the street, on the trail, wherever we walk or run by.  We’ve already limited our choices to our own comfort level based on experience and the ever present voice of “WARNING, WARNING you could be next.”  We’ve already turned down the ipods to make sure we can hear any footsteps behind us.  We’ve already

 DO NOT fucking victim blame.  Fuck Off Logan Jenkins.  You just have no FUCKING idea what you are talking about.

This post reminded me of a terrible poem I wrote back in college.  (I wrote a lot of terrible poetry back then).  In essence, it was a rant against my then boyfriend, now husband, that I would not be his personal feminist librarian.  I was in that first flush of feminism: angry, depressed, yet filled with rage seeking an outlet.  mr. jolt read the poem and, in some ways, backed away.   I think, looking back, he felt somewhat clueless, and in keeping with his general undergraduate persona, he took the lazy way out, and continued to rely on me to inform him of feminist viewpoints (dear reader, he has improved in this regard – but more on that later).

I am torn on the issue of feminist education and my individual obligation to provide it- I think it depends on the place and the person.  There are people who I think are not unreasonable, who seem merely unaware, who I try to draw in, educate, a little at a time.  I think I do this more often where I live now, which is a generally more conservative and traditional area than the BigCity I moved from a few years back.  So I try to have patience and remind myself that ignorance is not always arrogance.

But.  In a legal group I belong to, a certain portion of members are nominated as students by an officer of the local law school who is also a member of this legal group.  This year they were all male, all white.  I was discussing this with one of mr. jolt’s colleagues I’m friendly with, who said, yes, you need to tell Mr. G and he’s always appalled at himself, and says “please remind me, I just don’t think.”

Sheesh, the privilege in that.  He means to nominate women, to nominate non-white males, but just can’t remember unless someone reminds him.  Give me a break.  One or two years of “oversight” maybe- the guy is of an older generation where enlightenment is less commonly found – but this is absurd.

Anyway, I find myself torn between opposing drives: the drive to convince people I know that feminism is not as scary as they think it is (more on an interchange on that subject in a later post) and the drive to say: fuck ’em they’re just a bunch of entitled, privileged assholes.

When I was in college I always knew that I would be more comfortable working “in the system” trying to change it from the inside out.  I knew I didn’t have the heart or mettle of the revolutionary radical.  Which leads me to conclude that I must continue to educate and subtly manipulate.  And, where necessary confront, as I may well do with the guy above who just can’t “remember” because reminding him is not so much education but insistence on action.  But jeez, providing all this enlightenment gets old.

The NYT had an interesting article in the Sunday magazine a few weeks back, “Family Leave Values” by Eyal Press (probably behind the wall, e-mail if you want the text)- exploring the question of whether workers have the right to care for their families and discussing a new type of work discrimination lawsuit.  The examples cited in the article are pretty extreme, and obviously extreme cases can make the best groundbreakers for a new area of law.  While strong facts don’t always make good law, strong facts can support pushing the envelope on the law.

Anyway, some of the examples are the story of a woman who was pregnant and had a very premature birth.  She talked to her employer over the phone about her need for time off due to the delicate condition of her preemie, everything seemed to be fine, but a few weeks later she found out during the refinancing of her home that she’d been fired.  The employer hadn’t even told her; the bank found out when checking her financial statements (i.e. salary). In another instance, a man asked his employer for thirty days off, available to primary caregivers under Maryland law.  He was told that unless his wife was in a coma or dead “you can’t be a primary care provider.”

One attorney and law professor, Joan Williams, describes the recent flood of lawsuits a result of the pressures as follows:

Williams has been racing across the country giving such speeches since 2000, the year her book “Unbending Gender” appeared. In the book, which set in motion the legal trend that now consumes much of her time, Williams argued that the growing tension between work and family was not simply a product of economic necessity. It stemmed, rather, from a marketplace structured around an increasingly outdated masculine norm: the “ideal worker” who can work full time for an entire career while enjoying “immunity from family work.” At a time when both adults in most families had come to participate in the labor force, Williams argued that this standard was unrealistic, especially for women, who remained the primary caregivers in most households.  

The article also highlights some of the extreme differences between the benefits given parents here in the U.S. and in Europe.  I do agree with the attorneys and advocates quoted in the article, though, that these lawsuits are at best a hatchet on a problem that would be better served with a more precision tool.  Lawsuits are not the best way to try and create public policy.  But they can serve as impetus for better public policy.   And there’s nothing like a million dollar verdict to catch some attention on a problem.

In my mind, some of the problem stems from the traditional undervaluing of care-taking.  It’s considered women’s work and whether or not the woman is working outside the home, there isn’t a lot of support for the time, effort, and patience (oh, god, the patience) it can take.  This plays out in reverse fashion for men who want or need to caretake for their children, partner, etc. 

And the men being faced with this in the workplace may, in fact, be the best plaintiffs.  Many of the biggest strides in gender equality in law in the 70s and 80s were made when advocates found sexist laws, intended to ‘benefit and protect’ women, were in fact harming men (i.e. widow pension benefits higher than widower benefits harming a single widowed dad, etc).  Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a nimble and savvy advocate and won many cases using this technique.  Perhaps the same will be true here.  We can hope.

And the right to caretake does not just involve parents.  That’s why I’m somewhat hopeful that this can be a rallying point across that line that sometimes separates parents and non-parents.  Whether or not you have kids, it is highly likely that at some point in your life you will have caretaking responsibilities, whether for a partner or an elderly or sick relative.

What’s clever is that the cases can be framed as not “just” discrimination cases, but as family values cases, which expands their political appeal if the issue can be pulled into the legislature to act on.

In my view, these types of cutting-edge cases can serve as canaries in the coal  mine, a sign that the system we have now of it being company v. employee as opposed to companies working with employees is simply not working.  I’d like to see the hatchet of litigation exchanged for a thread and needle of carefully crafted legislation to increase worker’s caretaking rights.

So I was reading this post at this blog (so happy to have found it and I added it to the blogroll) and wondering why the types of verbal assaults that dizzy describes, such as that or this type of stuff, doesn’t happen to me more often.

No, seriously, I’m not looking for trouble, but I’m wondering if I have sunk so far into the muck of settled parenthood, getting along to go along with the dominant paradigm of working-outside-the-home-momhood and trying to get through the day with the shreds of my sanity intact that I’m only noticing 5% of the insulting things that happen to me on a regular basis.  And what happened to my anger?  I’d like to have it back.  It’s exhausting being angry all the time, but it’s exhilirating, too.  

I have definitely experienced all sorts of verbal harrasment, but not as frequently as I used to.   It may be that years of suffering these unwarranted intrusions have made me oblivious a lot of the time, worn down from the constant onslaught.  But I think it’s also that now I am in my late 30s I have moved from “potentially fuckable and thus subject to any and all pestering that any idiot male chooses to provide” to “eh, not old, but why bother.”

Part of me is really enjoying this slide into the invisibility of females over 35.  Part of me is just pissed off.  Look, I don’t need the hassle, but when even the lack  of hassle pulls you into the swirl of the patriarchy and assigns you your rank therein, it’s annoying as hell.

There’s just no escape from the assholes.

Reading this post via Carnival of Feminists reminded me of all the ways in which I, and some of my friends, were humiliated during those awkward years of 11-14.*  All these emotions and memories come rushing to the forefront and it seems impossible to type down in any coherent fashion.  But I think it’s important to get this out there – the regular confusion, assaults and resulting shame due to confusion about who is to blame (the self? the aggressor?). 

(triggers?) (more…)

The story of the pharmacist in Montana refusing to provide contraceptives (even to a woman who was using them not as contraceptives but to address other medical issues) is one of many similar stories.  It will be interesting to see whether the media-attention has any impact either directly (by changing their minds, doubtful) or indirectly through loss of business the way it did on walmart a few months ago.

In any event, it reminded me of a similar experience I had when I first came to this small city.  When I arrived, I had, in addition to a 2.5 year old, a five month old baby. A month or so later I stopped breast-feeding and wanted to resume birth control pills (which you can’t take while Bf-ing).  A neighbor, an older lady*, recommended a local ob/gyn practice.  I called them up and was informed that they were not taking new patients at the moment because one of the doctors was on maternity leave and suggested I call back in a month.  I was ok with this because in my own rough research, this was the closest ob/gyn practice that had women doctors, which I greatly preferred for this particular service, so I waited using non-presciption methods in the meantime.

So a month goes by, I call, they take various information from me and then ask why I am seeking an appointment.  I reply that I have stopped breast-feeding my second child and want to go back on birth control.  At which point, they said, “Oh we don’t do that here.”

“Uh, excuse me? You are an ob/gyn practice, right?”

“Oh yes, but we are affiliated with [local catholic hospital] and we don’t do that type of thing.” 

Oh, so really they are only a ob practice, not an ob/gyn practice

I ended up at another local practice with guy doctors that frankly I’m not thrilled with, but they have an awesome female nurse practitoner and I get the contraceptive prescriptions that I need.

But.  And I have had this discussion a couple of times with doctor friends who disagree — IMO, you have no business doing an ob/gyn practice if you are not going to offer full services.  IMO you have no business being a pharmacist if you are not going to offer full pharmacy services.  The only exception I might permit (if I were chief goddess) is if, the second that doctor’s office had answered the phone they had said, up front (rather than wasting a month of my time) We offer only limited services.  Even then I think there are certain obligations you have if you are going to set up in an area where the pool of medical professionals is limited.

But still, there is something wrong with this.  There are a million areas of practice in medicine.  Why go into a particular area of practice when you won’t provide services considered basic to that practice field.   There is the argument that you can go elsewhere, but really, in smaller towns, particularly conservative ones, you don’t have a lot of options. 

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