Don’t believe women are oppressed in the US? Read on.

Many people feel that women in the US are privileged, have won their rights, and ought to be content with their lot. While women in the US definitely benefit from many privileges that women in other countries do not have, they are still an oppressed group, and this oppression needs to end. The thing is, people are relatively uninformed about the status of women in the US, and the various issues that factor into their oppression. I have compiled a list of statistics and data that shows, by the numbers, the truth about being a woman in the USA.

Beauty Standards:

42% of American girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner. 80% of 13 year olds have attempted to lose weight. Fast forward to older women, and 2.8 million American women have had botox injections, almost 400,000 have had breast augmentation surgery, 456, 828 have had liposuction. In 1997, 2 million cosmetic surgeries were performed, while in 2007, 11.7 million cosmetic surgeries were performed. 91% of these surgeries were performed on women. Women in the US feel the need to have their bodies cut, reshaped and mutilated in order to conform to prevailing standards of beauty. Women are oppressed by the onslaught of media and advertising that objectifies their bodies.

Sex, Domestic Violence and Rape:

In terms of the global sex trade, an estimated 50,000 women are trafficked into the US each year. The USA is both a destination country for trafficking, as well as a source country. This means that American women ARE kidnapped, or otherwise coerced into the sex trafficking industry. Women are often lured into the sex trade under false pretenses; being hired as waitresses or maids and then forced into prostitution. This is not just a problem for developing countries. It is here, on our own soil.

In the US, 23 women a week are killed by intimates. This has held steady for more than a decade. 74% of women  murdered from instances of domestic violence were murdered after the woman left the relationship, filed for divorce or got a restraining order. Our government has failed to protect women from abusive partners, and band-aid solutions like restraining orders are proven to be, ultimately, ineffective. Until we start taking domestic violence seriously on a legislative level, this percentage will stay about the same. The only country with more women known to have been killed by domestic violence than the US is Russia.

up to 700,000 rapes occur in the USA each year. 18% of American women have survived a rape or attempted rape. In 2001 39% of rapes were reported to the police. 81% of rape victims are white, 18% are black. Fortunately, marital rape is a criminal offense in the USA.

Abortion Rights

Christian fundamentalists continually seek to impose increasing social restrictions on women. We see this because, between 1995 and 2007, 301 anti-choice measures were enacted by state legislatures. 87% of counties in the US are now not served by an abortion provider. Roe v. Wade may stand, but on a state level, women are increasingly oppressed, and hypocritical “anti-big government” Republican politicians seek to legislatively erase women’s power over their own bodies.

In the Workplace

Women still earn 72 cents for every man a dollar earns. In 2008, women occupied only 15% of board positions of Fortune 500 companies.

The proportion of women in government was lower in 2007 than 1997. In Scandinavian countries, there are policies that enforce equality in representation of government. Not in the US, with a paltry 17% of female government officials–Iraq has a higher representation of women in government than we do. So does Namibia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan. Until there is equality in representation on a government level, there is no equality for women on the civic level.

On a Global Scale

While countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have signed and ratified the CEDAW treaty (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) the US is the only signatory that hasn’t ratified it. One aspect of CEDAW would outlaw female genital mutilation-a common practice in developing countries intended to reduce female sexual desire, and thus, ensure virginity at the time of marriage. Not only are women oppressed in the US, the US won’t acknowledge the plight of women in more demeaned, oppressed situations on an international level.

This data was updated in 2009, in the fourth edition of The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World.

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Men opening doors for women = sexism?

There is a concept in feminist thought known as “the birdcage.” Oppression, according to feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye, is like a birdcage. If you concentrate on just one wire, you don’t see the whole cage, or your own imprisonment within the cage.  In my Gender Women’s Studies class, we discussed whether or not a man opening a door for a woman is sexist. Those who spoke in class unanimously agreed that it is sexist, and feminist should reject that particular social practice.

 After I left my GWSS class the other day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that particular “wire” in the “birdcage.” Do I really think that a man opening a door for a woman is one of these wires? The conclusion I continued to reach was a decided “no.”

As a woman, I know that I am capable of opening my own door. I am under no illusion that I need a man to open a door for me. If I am on a date and my date opens the door for me, I certainly do not feel that I am being oppressed. Nor do I feel offended that he was clearly socialized in an oppressive (towards women) society. Often, it is the man’s parents who have taught him to open doors for women he takes out, and they teach it to him as a formal sign of respect. Because my date’s intention in opening the door is not sexist–rather, it is grounded in respect for women–I do not have a problem with it in the least. In fact, I would rather that anyone I date always open the door for me. Furthermore, in our culture, we teach others that opening doors for people in general is polite. Assuming a man is only opening a door for a woman because she is a woman is oftentimes untrue, and thus, it is not sexist.

Ultimately, being upset about men opening doors is the kind of thing that gives femists a bad name. There are much bigger fish to fry, and, pursuant to Frye’s “birdcage” analogy, we need to stop concentrating on one “wire” when we really need to step back, look at the whole birdcage, and  find the door out.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Feminism Means to Me

As someone who identifies as a feminist, I feel the need to define what feminism means for me. The best I can do is explain my beliefs concerning feminism as they currently are, with the knowledge that they will evolve and probably end up differently from what I now believe.

As I type this, my fingernails are painted red, my hair is styled and I am wearing makeup and a push-up bra. Can I still be a feminist? While I agree with Jessica Valenti that everyone can create their own definition of feminism that works for them, according to my personal definition that is only meant to dictate my own brand of feminism, yes. I am still a feminist, even with all the accoutrements of a woman victimized by the patriarchy.

My definition of feminism (for myself only) is this: Embracing traditionally feminine characteristics while simultaneously working to empower and better the lives of other women, whether that empowerment be through example, action or the written word. My belief is that “femininity” (as defined by our patriarchal culture) is a powerful tool for advancing the cause of feminism. Sexists and misogynists need to see that a stereotypical woman can also be a feminist. In this way, femininity and feminism would no longer seem to be at odds with each other.

My personal experience being one such feminine feminist has been that I come off as a strong woman, not just a strong person. I think that identifying as a strong woman is imperative to combat sexism, an issue that directly concerns gender. Furthermore, the stereotype of the “butch,” “dyke-y” feminist only encourages disdain from others, which does feminist ideology itself a great disservice. Thus, the gender I perform is integral to my personal definition of feminism.

Because you’re [NOT] worth it: The dirty little secret cosmetics companies are hiding

It all started with watching the documentary America the Beautiful. Expecting to see a true, though predictable portrait of America as the land of unrealistic body images and eating disorders, I found myself instead struck by the utter insanity that is the American cosmetics industry. In a nutshell: The European Union has banned 450 commonly used cosmetics ingredients because of health risks. The US has only banned six. There has GOT to be something wrong here, I thought, with a discrepancy that enormous.

   American women are not only the most body-conscious in the world, but we are also the most at-risk from harmful ingredients in cosmetics, 60% of which are directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.

   I did my own investigation of the contents of my own collection of cosmetics. I had never looked at the ingredients in my makeup before, and was surprised that I actually had to look the ingredients up online for some of the items. The type was nearly invisible on some of the containers, and some descriptions were downright misleading. It should not have to take a five to ten minute internet search to find the ingredients of something I absorb into my body. 
   Looking at the ingredients, I knew, was an incomplete resource, because cosmetic companies don’t have to list ingredients considered “trade secrets,”–which leaves a gaping loophole for cosmetic companies to use cheap, harmful ingredients in their products. Nevertheless, I did very basic research, and here are some of the things I found:
   Eyeshadow: Every one of my eyeshadows (brands like Maybelline, Too Faced, and Clinique) listed Talc as the main ingredient. If Talc is inhaled or ingested at all, it is a highly harmful carcinogen, and has been directly linked to ovarian cancer.
   Foundation: My foundation, Too Faced “Magic Wand” Illuminating Foundation/Cashmere Finish (“achieve complexion perfection from one wave of a wand!”) is filled with parabens. Parabens are artificial preservatives that I found in almost every skincare product I own. They have been proven to enter the bloodstream through skin absorption, and they have been consistently linked to breast cancer. Parabens are also toxic for the reproductive system. Keep in mind, the skin absorbs 60% of what is applied to it.
   Powder: My powder (directions: smooth all over face…starting from center and blending outwards) Neutrogena Mineral Sheers in Classic Ivory also has parabens in it. Fortunately no talc, though. Mica, the main ingredient, is not absorbed onto the skin and is therefore not a carcinogen. Overall my Neutrogena minerally makeup was beginning to look less shady than others, until I found that the third ingredient, zinc stearate, was not only a carcinogen, but a carcinogen that had appeared on several citizen-filed petitions for causing medical problems as a carcinogen.
   Blush: Whoa mama! My Nars blush (shade: “Deep Throat”) had several carcinogens, such as talc, zinc stearate, manganese, a boatload of parabens, and lanolin. Lanolin is fine on its own, but cosmetic-grade lanolin is often contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin, and lindane, in addition to other neurotoxic pesticides.
   Lipstick/Balm: Clinique is the best lipstick brand, since they are unscented, and therefore contain no phthalates (carcinogens used in perfume and nail polish, among other things). However, Clinique still uses aluminum in some shades, as well as petrochemicals and sunscreens containing zinc oxide. Unfortunately, every other lipstick and lip balm I own contained parabens upon parabens upon parabens.  And we EAT lipstick and lip balm.
   Not only are most lip products chock full of parabens and harmful sunscreens, there are also copious amounts of lead in many top lipstick brands. “Lipstick is a product intended for topical use, and is only ingested incidentally and in very small quantities,” said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek in September. “FDA does not consider the lead levels that it found in lipsticks to be a safety concern.” The FDA blatantly ignored the simple fact that women ingest lipstick through absorption and eating. Unless it is wiped off, lipstick is ingested into the body. And yet, dangerous levels of lead are “not a concern.”
   According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the average level of lead found in the lipsticks — 1.7 parts per million — is more than 10 times higher than the standard imposed on candy.
   These carcinogens and chemicals are like ticking time bombs. They don’t necessarily have an immediate effect, but constant intake of small doses builds up in the body. I will never believe that the chemical build up from cosmetics doesn’t have a detrimental effect.
   The crazy thing is, in Europe, cosmetic ingredients are tested BEFORE consumers can get to them. Here, however, the FDA only tests cosmetic ingredients AFTER they have harmed someone. In other words, the big cosmetic companies’ ability to earn a profit is prioritized above the safety of the women they manipulate. Cosmetics are the least regulated product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  Motivated by a media-catalyzed sense of inadequacy, American women pay to have their bodies contaminated by harmful chemicals and carcinogens. The worst part is, they don’t even know it, and as far as the US government is concerned, it doesn’t matter.
   As I looked at my cosmetics strewn on the floor, I felt tricked. I also felt like my government had failed me…which it has.
   To the girls out there: Check your cosmetics for harmful ingredients, such as parabens, talc, zinc stearate, etc. In the meantime, there are plenty of options for paraben-free makeup. Don’t be fooled by brands like The Body Shop that claim to be “all-natural” or high-end brands like Chanel. Their products are just as filled with the bad stuff as cheaper drugstore  brands, like Revlon.
Some tips:
1. Wear less makeup. We need to stop the perfection obsession, anyway.
2. Use perfume oil instead of phthalate-loaded perfume, or spray perfume on clothing and not directly on the skin.
3. Go out right now and buy Burt’s Bee’s or Alba lip balms, so you can stop eating carcinogens.
Brands that are safe-ish: Urban Decay, Clinique (for unscented products free of phthalates)
Brands that are safe: Alba, Burt’s Bee’s, Zuzu, Dr. Hauschka
If anyone has any suggestions for safe cosmetic brands, I’d love to receive them and update this post!
For more information:
http://thegreenbeautyguide.com/ (updates about cosmetic safety)
http://www.safecosmetics.org/ (for lists of harmful ingredients, as well as an index of safe cosmetic brands)

Revisiting the Tree of Knowledge

 

The Church Father Tertullian tells us “the woman should wear a simple dress, be mournful and full of repentance to suffer for her inheritance from Eve, the shame of being the one who committed the original sin and the guilt of being the cause of mankind’s condemnation.

 

 

 

That’s great, Tertullian. So I should stop writing immediately and repent for my feeble, womanish thoughts?

 

No such luck.

 

While Tertullian’s opinion isn’t held by many people in the Western world, variations are still visible in everyday life. In our society, there is a collective rejection of the feminine that was, in reality, born long before any of us would think to question where it came from. Any connotation with femininity (i.e. showing emotion, the color pink) implies weakness, in today’s society. How many times have we heard the phrase “Don’t be such a girl”? When did an association with the feminine become a symbol for weakness, or even evil?

It is necessary first to look at how women were perceived “in the beginning.” During the Neolithic period (10,000 B.C. to 3,500 B.C.), men were hunters and women stayed back to tend to their dwelling and children. Tasks were divided without any idea of superiority- that is, it was not “better” to be a hunter than it was to tend a garden. In South America, the society known as the Amazons was headed by women, who acted as warriors and spiritual leaders. In Mesopotamia, the Goddess Nin-khursag was worshipped just as much as the God Enlil. Celtic tribes worshipped a divine mother, as did the Native Americans.

With the rise of Christianity, and mainly the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, feminism in the western world would change forevermore.  Let me say first that I have no problem with the original Christian/Jewish religious texts, just the misinterpretation of those texts. For example, one third of American adults interpret the Bible as the literal word of God, when it is really a collection of anecdotes and historical accounts from various religious students. It is this literal interpretation (Eve being to blame for Original Sin and the condemnation of mankind) that helped create an image of woman as a temptress who leads God-fearing men to the Devil. Because of this incorrect conclusion, religious groups that still worshipped the Goddess were wiped out, often including the torture of women as penitence for the sins of Eve. The Adam and Eve parable provided a reason to bar women from obtaining clerical positions in the same way they had been priestesses in generations prior. Generation after generation, women were taught that they were inferior and made to feel guilty for the reproductive organs they were born with. Even Martin Luther referred to women as “magnificent animals” and did not consider them to be human.

So how does this history translate to our modern view of women? Women have won rights such as the right to vote, and certain religious groups allow women to be in the clergy. While I am grateful for these rights, they are still the rights that women already had at one point in history.

Now, problems with feminism are more psychological than anything else. For example, it has been scientifically proven that intelligent women are less attractive to men. A 2005 study by the University of Edinburgh found that for women, with each 16 point increase in IQ, are 40% less likely to be married. Men, with each 16 pt. IQ jump, increased their chances of marriage by 35%. Every day I see smart girls acting dumb so as not to scare off prospective boyfriends.

Intelligent, successful women are seen as threats to society. The widespread hatred of Martha Stewart is a perfect example of this phenomenon- she is a charismatic, successful and driven woman who happens to have made her fortune by- gasp!- being a fantastic HOSTESS. How dare she!

Many women claim to be feminists and reject traditionally held feminine roles, such as mothers or homemakers. I believe that this rejection of all things feminine is antifeminist as well, because shouldn’t we embrace the rights we’ve won while simultaneously being proud of all things feminine?

In conclusion, girls really have it harder than guys. I’m talking about the historical reasons why we collectively have a very skewed perception of women and feminism, and that girls are forced to search for an identity in a society that praises them for being beautiful, but punishes them for being intelligent.

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 8:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Palin’s “Experience”

* She was elected Alaska’s governor a little over a year and a half ago. Her previous office was mayor of Wasilla, a small town of about 9,000 outside Anchorage.
* Palin is strongly anti-choice, opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.
* She supported right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000.
* Palin thinks creationism should be taught in public schools.
* She’s doesn’t think humans are the cause of climate change.
* She’s solidly in line with John McCain’s “Big Oil first” energy policy. She’s pushed hard for more oil drilling and says renewables won’t be ready for years. She also sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species—she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska.
* In July of 2008, Sarah Palin became the subject of a state ethics investigation looking into whether she fired a top law enforcement official in her administration because he had failed to dismiss a state trooper who was involved in a divorce with Ms. Palin’s sister.
* Sarah never left the country before July 2007 when she needed to first obtain a passport before visiting Alaskan National Guard troops stationed in Kuwait.
*As mayor of Wasilia, Palin built – as her legacy – a $15 million multi-use indoor ice arena on land that did not belong to the city. It will cost Wasilla at least an additional $1.67 million to acquire the land which the town is attempting to pay for by cutting library services, postponing capital improvement projects, and raising fees.

(by the way, if you have a facebook, join the group “Sarah Palin is NOT Hillary Clinton”)

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pant Suit vs. Skirt Suit

I do competitive Mock Trial (yes, capital letters), and I have never done a trial in a pant suit. I’m not saying that they’re bad, but I don’t think women should have to try and look like men. Some pant suits look nice, but if you only go to trial in a pant suit, I begin to think of Hillary Clinton, who emphasizes her “fighter,” “tough,” “I-wear-a-pant-suit-to-sleep” masculine side far more than her feminine side. HC is of a generation whose mothers had to fight for their rights, and so this spirit of being a “fighter” is what they view as feminism. I don’t think that feminism means rejecting all that is feminine, such as cooking or knitting. Instead, feminism means embracing the things that are feminine while also embracing the rights that we’ve won. Being tough and macho does not equal smart or serious in any way.

Published in: on April 11, 2008 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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