Sexism


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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So I was reading this story by Shakes Sis, which instantly brought to mind a similar experience I had as a teen, only I failed to demonstrate similar wit or fighting ability, alas.

Back in high school when I still thought I might go into politics*, I interned afternoons after school for our local congressman.   My job mainly consisted of taking constituent calls & directing them to the appropriate constituent service person in our local office (not bad, actually, for a high school gig, albeit, unpaid).

Anyway, I and the other local interns were invited to attend a local fundraiser.  It was a mid-term one, just keeping the coffers steady as it were.  So it’s this local place with long tables, with catered bbq or some such and somehow in this table where I’m sitting surrounded by donors and their wives the topic came up of people who could wiggle their ears (I swear I didn’t raise the topic).  Well, I can wiggle my ears, so I demonstrated.  I then also demonstrated my amazing ability to lift one eyebrow at a time (I can do both sides; I am SO talented).  At which point the middle-aged man across the table from me grabbed his pecs and said, “Well, can you wiggle these?”

I died, I died, I died a thousand deaths.  His wife smacked him in the arm, and squealed “Harry!” or whatever his name was in that shocked-embarrasment-horror that only some women can do when confronted with a mate’s utter slimeballness.  I slunk away from the table in a haze of pink embarrassment and buried the memory by following a fellow intern’s suggestion to try the mudslides being served back at the bar & slinking out with said fellow intern for a massive make-out session in the parking lot.

As horrible as it made me feel at the time, it did cure me (mostly) of any desire to show off my fabulous ears and eyebrows. 

* I honestly have no idea what happened to my desire to get involved in politics.  Perhaps when I studied political science in college and it sapped all the juice out.   Now I just read the papers and political blogs and vent. 

So the other night, mr. jolt and I were watching the Daily Show on the tivo (meaning, as usual, we’re about 2 weeks behind – it’s still funny).  The guest was Halle Berry- the clip is here.  I don’t know much about Halle Berry, I’m not sure which of her films I’ve seen, but she is obviously damn gorgeous.

Now Jon Stewart in his interviews has various approaches: (1) with celebrity/hollywood guests he usually keeps it light unless the person is known for some issue; (2) with author guests he will discuss the book and either politely poke fun at its absurdity or praise its thoughtfulness.  Ms. Berry obviously fell into the first category. 

Now, I’ve been watching this show for years and seen him flirt mildly with the various female celebrities or at least get them to giggle with meandering absurdities.  I was extremely struck by, however, of his complete inability to see her as a person.  I don’t know how well they know each other, but I swear in a clip of maybe 5 minutes he basically said in about 20 different ways that he would love nothing more than to fuck her.  Now, he obviously said it more humorously and with more charm, but it really did interfere with the flow of the converation at various points.

So I said to mr. jolt – I wonder if she has ever been able to have a serious conversation in her entire life?  Look, there are huge advantages to being attractive.  Studies show you are more likely to get ahead in school, at work, and obviously it can make meeting people easier.  But.  The level of Jon’s objectification  of her was staggering – and this from a guy that seems, most of the time, to get it, or at least get it more often than most male comedians. 

I don’t really follow show bizness, so I have no idea where Ms. Berry is believed to be in terms of wit/intellect.  I’ve certainly seen other actresses he’s had on the show that have literally done nothing more than giggle at his jokes, apparently due to nervousness or complete lack of anything to say other than the 2 prepared sentences about the movie they are promoting.  But, it seemed that Ms. Berry was attempting to have one of those semi-serious conversations about nothing that you see on these programs, and the converation had no flow because every 30 seconds Jon would make some comment about her body, face,  etc. 

 It brought home to me the way that beauty, which  many anti-women men will say is power, is really nothing but a cage.  And lack of attractiveness isn’t any better.

(updated to fix typo)

It is really irritating that whenever I get together with a particular woman of my acquaintance, the first thing out of her mouth, 4/5ths of the time, is “Ugh, men!” or something similar.  Shortly followed with a short description of some clueless deed (or lack of deed thereof) committed by her husband.  Look, lady, just because your dude is a clueless twit at times, does not mean the entire category is hopeless. 

Perhaps I have been guilty of similar behavior on occasion, although nothing is coming to mind.  But at some point I am going to be unable to restrain myself from pointing out that her problem exists with her particular man.

Now, that is not to say that many of the issues of which she complains are undoubtedly due to the patriarchy inherent in our culture and this particular gentlemen’s privilege and entitlement (although he would be the first to protest that he has any, I’m sure – yes, he is nice but clueless).  But while that may spread blame across society, etc., it does not change the fact that the particular actions at issue are committed by a particular person at a particular moment in time and are not, in fact, committed by all persons of that category.

My theory is that by attributing his behavior to some general failing on the part of men, she avoids the difficult issue of the fact that her husband, as sweet as he is in some respects, is clueless.  He is nice, but totally oblivious to the privileges he has had (and I’m not saying total, he has definitely overcome some obstacles, but you can’t be a white male alum of a top 10 law school without certain privileges acrruing to you) and totally oblivious as to how those privileges have shaped his viewpoint and understanding (or lack thereof).

I think it’s a cop out.  Individual behavior should be called to account.  Certainly to the extent that individual behavior is shaped by society or persons engage in such behavior in consistent patterns it can be commented on more generally.   But if someone near and dear to you is behaving in a way you find unacceptable, then one should find a way to raise the issue (with obvious exceptions for dangerous or abusive situations which this categorically is not).

In case you couldn’t tell, patience is not one of my virtues.

So today as I walked from the evil parking garage to my office and around my office, I frequently heard a small, but noticable squeak arising from my left shoe.  Anyway, it ranged from a pip of a squeak to a multi-decibel meow like sound.  Quite disconcerting and rather embarrassing as I shuffled past various persons and colleagues trying to find some way of walking without being ridiculously noisy.

So, this squeaky shoe got me thinking of that old hackneyed phrase “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  And it’s true.  In my job anyway, we pay a lot of attention to those of our constituencies who either (a) logically, calmly and politely ask for expedited assistance due to events beyond their control that require immediate answers; or (b) rudely, and after they have sent you incomplete or inaccurate information, demand immediate satisfaction despite the lack of complete, accurate information because the matter is already behind schedule because someone, somewhere was twiddling their thumbs for many months before elevating the issue to where it could be acted upon.

Anyway, back to my metaphor.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease is a lousy vision as a metaphor for inspiring change through feminism because it immediately draws to mind the whiner, etc.  And indeed, the grease serves only one purpose: shutting up the squeak.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that those manly doods* that comment on blogs in the femisphere** are trying to apply the squeaky wheel theory, thinking that their greasy misogyny and attempts to undercut our arguments with compassionate trollism will make us stop “squeaking” and complaining. 

But, manly doods, take note.  Feminists are not wheels and we will not be greased with your alternating efforts to placate us or spread hate.  We will not shut up.

Rather, we are the squeaky shoe.  Yes, we will keep squeaking as you attempt to step on us with your male privilege.  We will keep squeaking until you are forced to alter not only your patriarchal strut in a vain attempt to avoid the squeaky bit of the shoe, but until the patriarchy in which you reside as you attempt to keep us squashed is forced, hobbling, to collapse and remove us, the squeaky shoe from the bottom of its fetid stinking feet so that we too may breathe the fresh air of possibility, equality and liberty the like of which we have never known.***

*manly doods would be the evils that comment, with a singular lack of open-mindedness or understanding on many feminist blogs.  I’m not talking about men who get it.  I’m talking about those that manifestly don’t.

**Femisphere sounds like some sort of personal hygiene product, but I like it as shorthand for the feminist blogosphere.

***When I grab hold of a fun metaphor I do so love to meander with it. 

Blog Against Sexism Day

UPDATE: I have edited this post to delete a second subject originally referenced because I decided I didn’t have enough info to speak on the issue.
In honor of International Women’s Day and Blog Against Sexism Day, I will take up the two one questions raised by Amanda in her BASD post.

1) When did I embrace feminism/become aware of sexism:  At a pretty early age.  My first encounter with the public school system when I entered kindergarted involved a ‘test’ so they could determine how prepared I was for kindergarten.  The test had several components: learning, such as knowing the alphabet & stuff like that (that part I did fine), and a social component, that I almost flunked. 

Why did I almost flunk?  Because I did not know the answer to two questions: (a) what did my daddy do (workwise)? and (b) Did my daddy wear a tie to work?

Think about those two questions and how loaded they are.  First, they did not ask if I could answer these questions with respect to my mom, which I could have told them what she did and what she wore).   So the questions themselves were sexist.  But also, the questions were loaded with class issues – not only were they trying to figure out what I knew about my family, they were gathering information about my family so they could put me in my proper pecking order.   Was my daddy blue or white collar (in those days all white collar workers wore a tie, no business casual)?  What kind of job did my daddy have?

I didn’t know the answer to these questions because my parents were separated – I didn’t see my dad everyday (usually a couple times a year b/c he lived several hours away) and so had no clue what he did or what he wore.  I don’t remember the test specifically, but I remember my mom being furious.  Furious at the sexism inherent in the questions and furious that I was being tagged as “socially immature” because my family situation was such that I was ignorant of what the testers saw as ‘basic’ information that a child my age should know.   I think she may also have been concerned about them not letting me into kindergarten becase as a single mom paying for my care while she worked, having me in public school for a few hours a day had a real positive effect on our family budget.

So, from a very early age, I was aware of sexism.  My mom, as a single divorced mom starting a new career told me tales on a regular basis of her sexist working conditions.  I don’t know if I called the fight against sexism “feminism” but I knew what it was even if I didn’t know the word.