Sunday, November 08, 2009

Getting a Clue about Feminism

I originally concluded, I needed to read more books about woman and feminism after reading  Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness claim Susan Jane Gilman's book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless inspired her to meditate on what it means to be a feminist and whether she could consider herself one. It has been a long time since I considered my own views of feminism, and am intrigued with the idea of renewing my feminist meditations through reading.

I was again reminded of this goal when Grace of GRACEful Retirement commented on my blog post: Ten non-fiction books that help us understand the world, that Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique" helped her better understand the world.

Now, I may have finally stumbled upon the motivation to actually fulfill this goal; I’ve discovered the reading challenge Women Unbound. The challenge runs from November 1, 2009-November 30, 2010. Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ I am signing up at the Suffragette level: which requires I read at least eight books, including at least three nonfiction ones.

The challenge begins with the following meme:
1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?
2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

What does feminism mean to me?
I grew up in a household where my dad controlled my mother’s every move. She was a housewife living in the country without a driver’s license. She had to ask for every penny she needed (not to mention a ride to the store); justifying each purchase whether it was a card for a sick friend, a birthday present for one of her six children or a tube of lipstick for herself. I vowed at a young age my life was going to be different; I was going to have my own money and control my own destiny. As I’ve gotten older, my feminist ideals have broadened to include all women; no woman should have to live a life of oppression.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I was a feminist from the moment I was exposed to the idea; I grew up in the 70’s in the midst of the “women’s movement.” I thought a lot about equal rights for women throughout high school and college. Actually I considered myself a feminist right up to the moment I was hired at my first “real” job which I attained only after I proved I could type. After that, all thoughts of feminism took a back seat to actually working, my marriage and just living life.

What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?
Most recent media accounts list "lack of time" as the modern women’s biggest obstacle. Statistics have shown, not only do many women work outside of the home but continue, despite their male partner providing some assistance, to perform the majority of child rearing and housecleaning duties including staying home with sick children, leaving little time for themselves.

Despite Penelope Trunk’s claim the gender pay gap no longer exists, I think the reality is women still need to fight for equality in the work place. Just last week my friend Kate, who works for a Milwaukee manufacturing firm, asked a male colleague, "What do you have to do to get promoted around here?" She was told you need to be a male who puts in a lot of face time. And as to Penelope’s claim the pay gap no longer exists; check out this business week article, this article and this one.

I think part of the problem is most women; including myself, do not promote themselves and their abilities as confidently as their male co-workers do. If they do happen to be one of the rare women who does promote herself they are labeled a B----.

Footnotes to this post:
1. I titled this post "Getting a Clue about Feminism," after reading an interview where Susan Jane Gilman described her book, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, which is actually a collection of personal essays, as “getting a clue” on race, sex, injustice what makes other people who they are.
2. The Woman Unbound challenge is my first book challenge.
3. This post includes my first meme.
4. It will be interesting to see if my answers to the above meme questions are different at the end of the challenge.

Can you recommend a book that helped you meditate on feminism?


  1. I find it interesting that "lack of time" is stated as the biggest obstacle when it has been proven that as a society, we have more free time than any generation before us. This argument used to bother me when people would wonder how I was so involved in everything. Time management isn't difficult; it's all about choices.

    One of the books that made me rethink the idea of feminism was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The idea of women banding together to not only survive and thrive was both new but inspiring. It made me think about how today's women do the exact opposite - fighting among each other, backstabbing, and just fighting among each other. To me, that is the biggest obstacle we face today.

  2. Glad you're joining the Women Unbound Reading Challenge! I couldn't resist it either.

    Most of the participants have posted prospective reading lists, which they've linked at the challenge blog. There are links to more "authorized" women's-studies reading there too, so you can find lots of ideas for your challenge reading there.

  3. Great post! I'm glad you're taking part. I like your comment that women should be more assertive. I think that's true- that we tend to hold back more. I also think we deal with more "what if" situations in relation to the work sphere than men do. For example, "Should I take this promotion? What if I get pregnant?" or something like that. Guys don't really ever worry about that sort of thing. Which is sad for them- really from the get-go, they don't have the real chance to stay at home with their kids.

  4. I'm glad my mention of Gilman's book was sort of an inspiration. I haven't read the book since college, so I don't know what I'd think of it now if I read it for the first time. But at the time it was the first book by a feminist that I'd read that made me feel like I could agree with the ideas and that maybe feminist wasn't such an inaccurate label for me. I'm planning on re-reading the book for the Women Unbound challenge, whenever I get around to writing my post about it!

  5. Michelle,
    I agree, of all the obstacles women face today lack of time is most likely not our biggest issue. I have always been a proponent of: if you really want to do something you will find the time to do it. With my answer, I went with the first thought that came to mind because I wanted to see how my views evolved as the challenge progressed. I too see an incredible amount of “petty” infighting and backstabbing among the women at both my place of work and in my professional organization. As a manager and leader in my prof. organization I find this behavior exhausting and it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

    I also read and very much enjoyed “The Red Tent” several years ago; I think the book deserves a re-read for the challenge.

    Thanks for pointing out the reading lists linked to the challenge blog. You are correct there are many great suggestions to be found over there.

    Thanks for stopping in and I agree with you. I think women do consider the “what if” situations much more than men. I wonder if we (myself included) get so caught up in the “what if” we become paralyzed and stay where we are at way too long.

    I just loved the idea that a book helped you formulate your own ideas about feminism. It will be interesting to see what you think after reading it a second time. For myself, I think I would have found it more insightful if I had read it in my twenties, but it was still worth it. I especially liked this:

    “At age 15, I’d inhabited four different body types. I’ve been chubby, skinny, flat-chested and voluptuous. From this I learned a crucial lesson: size didn’t matter. No matter what kind of figure you had someone always felt compelled to dream up some sort of asinine and degrading nickname for you.”

  6. Thanks for sharing that information about the reading challenge - I hadn't heard about it. I've been so frustrated lately (see my recent post on the "Feminist Evolution" : It just seems like I'm now meant to do everything well - not just work but also take care of everyone as well as manage to keep myself together. Maybe some of the reading will help me! I plan to join the challenge.

  7. Heidi,
    I read and was moved by your post a "Feminist Evolution" a couple of days ago, it is very real and I think many woman including myself feel the same way as we get older. I am glad you are joining the “Women Unbound” challenge and look forward to your participation.