Monday, December 26, 2011
So there I sat, coffee in hand, marveling at the whirl of childhood vim and hysteria. The stage was set in the form of a Christmas tree bedecked with various discordant designs of glossy paper. Expectation weighed portentously in the air. Chris, my sister's husband, held bleary vigil over the mound of gifts. My sister, Catrin, tended vainly to the children (Lucy, 6, Mimi, 4), who were bouncing up and down in their pajamas, as if little electric bolts shot through their feet every few seconds. Wide-eyed, they awaited a bounty of gifts -- a bequeathment of generosity so excessive as to create, by my lights, decades of subtle psychological damage.
I had in previous years seen both of my sisters in various stages of the gift-buying process: the planning, buying, organizing, wrapping, and so on. I noticed that, no discredit intended to my bothers-in-law, that this was quintessentially my sisters' role. I saw it yesterday morning too. I looked back to my childhood, and remarked at (in the post-Santa years, before which my parents of course had nothing to do with Christmas) the buying and the anxiety over who gets what, and the tending carefully to children's myriad and almost unknowingly selfish "wants." All of this, I saw now with crystal clarity, was my mother's work. Period. And without having to do a study on the subject I would wager that this is the case for most American families and most American mothers.
Some of it may be explained by the fact that many families' private/domestic spheres still belong very much to the mom. Unfair forces still continue to keep many mothers limited to the private sphere of family life, and so gift giving, then, may be but one extension of that world. The parental "sorting process" --an interesting dynamic we covered briefly in one of our class's early discussions-- may also play a part in explaining the mother's dominance of the gift-buying domain. Fathers may end up being the caretaker of the trash, or of temperamental DVD players; mothers may end up in charge of dinners, the garden, or furniture arrangement. These are admittedly hopelessly obvious stereotypes, but it is remarkable how that sorting process often works with such consistency. Maybe gift-buying falls in Mom's hands, but maybe it does so for no greater reason than the presumption (likely flawed) that they are better at it.
At any rate, I have noted time and again my woeful skills at gift-buying. I have always pegged it to my brain --my quixotic and distracted intellectual musings, my acute lack of insight into my friends' evolving "wish lists." I might be misled into thinking that women are just better at this, using as very limited evidence my mother, my girlfriend, and my two sisters. They are all whizzes at it. Yet my brother also has a knack of divining intuitively what someone wants or what they might like. Clearly, then, this is about nurture and not about nature. In my sister's family, at least, Christmas gift-buying lands in her lap. She's good at it, yes, and she clearly enjoys putting thought an love into her children (not just on Christmas and not just in the form of presents). Yet I could sense her relief that this morning spelled the end of another harrowing month-plus of planning and execution.
Now, this isn't what I really intended to write about. I actually wanted to write about gender roles for children, seen in the way we buy things for children. Yet it was covered already, by one of my clever classmates, here. Even worse it was a thoughtful and good read! At least if she had done a rotten job of it, I could rationalize getting around the preemption. Alas, so be it. I will add my two cents anyway.
When deciding what to buy "our" children should we mix it up, and go for so-called "gender neutral" gifts, and allow them to move naturally to those kinds of toys they prefer? On one level, that would appear to make sense, in that there are some things all children love (children's books, DVDs) and there are some things (dolls, princess dresses, footballs, for example) where a child will rarely, though of course not never, be happy to receive and to play with both. The question is, which way will the children lean? According to gender assumptions about pink, dolls, swords, army men, etc.? Or according to the assuption that kids like all kinds of things, and if we allow the kids to choose, then the parents can follow the lead. That is what I think Rose Sawyer was getting at in her post, and it is a great idea to follow the kids' leads.
This article, here, makes a similar point in decrying parents who reflexively suppress or turn a blind eye to a son who takes a liking to playing with dolls, or a daughter who wants to get a mohawk. The article talks about how more and more parents are allowing their children to run with it, and are supporting their choice. If we assume that there ave always been kids who wanted to cross genders by not falling in lockstep with the other football-loving boys --and if we assume that gender proscriptions hurt their ability to be who they want to be with their identities and with their toys-- then removing those restrictions will alllow more fluid toy-gender identities to emerge. Moreover, writes the author of the article, not only should it not be a "bad" thing for a boy to want a barbie, but unnecessarily worried parents should also cool their jets about exactly what that means anyway. A child psychologist interviewed for the column states that kids go through various stages of interest with their toys. It often says only that they like to mix it up, not that they will be straight, or gay, or transgender.
I found that insight a helpful way to get unfairly worried parents to sit back and let things happen, even if they are not yet willing to be enlightened enough to allow their children to be who they intuitively want to be. My niece, Sylvia, asked if I would play with her. I said sure. Little did I know that her main and almost only playmate is her rambunctious older Brother, Alfred, whose sole apparent purpose is to construct elaborate games involving knights, soldiers, and murder-by-sword. So I found it a bit jarring when Sylvia, a lovely little thing who looks as if primed to enter a Janis Joplin look-alike casting, said "Let's play WAR!!" and proceeded to chase me about the apartment with a plastic dagger.
However, I also noted, as may others have, just how uncanny it is for most --and I stress, most, not all-- kids to gravitate to toys according to these strict gender norms. The boys will so often find great glee, without any solicitation, upon building a fort, or throwing balls, and the little girl will so often want to play with dolls (case in point: Lucy and Mimi, who, every two hours or so, seem to demand being changed into a different princess dress!). Still, the fact that most kids act this way proves nothing. Articles like the Ny Times on, and Rose Sawyer's post, alert parents to their responsibility with their children, who can sense the foreboding pressure of parental gender expectations. A great way to understand the dynamic is to listen to his wonderful gem from the 1970s: It is a bit of poignant nostalgia, a great song/skit, from the pathbreaking children's LP, Free to Be You and Me. The skit is called "William Wants a Doll." You should listen to it. I grew up with this album. It is etched forever in my psyche.
enjoy the rest of the holidays all!
Sunday, December 25, 2011
A few weeks later, during some late-night procrastination on Facebook, I noticed that a friend posted a link with a message encouraging her network to listen to an inspiring speech for an event called TEDxWomen. As soon as I clicked on the link, I realized that I had found just what I was looking for. It was a piece of empowering, feminist heaven--and all right there on my computer screen.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is an organization dedicated to spreading ideas. Started in 1984, the organization hosts conferences, talks, and “TEDx” projects that provide communities with the ability to host their own, local, independent TED-like events. Central to each event is the accessibility of ideas. To achieve this purpose, each speaker essentially delivers the speech of a lifetime in eighteen minutes or less, and then the organization does its best to make these talks and ideas accessible to others.
TEDxWomen represents one of the independently organized efforts. On December 1st, women from around the world came together to discuss a variety of issues relevant to women and the female experience. Several videos of the event are accessible on the TEDxWomen website at http://tedxwomen.org/videos/. I encourage you to watch them.
The speeches that I watched inspired me to do more than simply discuss the challenges women face—as we did so productively over the course of the Feminist Legal Theory course. They inspired me to do everything from encouraging my little sister to use her vocal talents to sing about the struggles of girls and women like the Girl Up/Project Girl Collective, to thinking more about using the interdependence created by technology to aid other women.
Although criticized for its failure to readily recognize the event as feminist, the events and website provide a space for people to empower women both at home and abroad. By acknowledging the power of women to insight positive change, hopefully more women will volunteer to help each other, to promote inclusiveness, to lead, or to just be nice.
Full contact, high energy sports [that] emphasize masculinity and therefore have made it difficult for female participation. It is often believed that these battles are no place for a woman.Indeed, although (for legal purposes) the major sports leagues do not officially "ban" women from participating, there is a clear expectation and informal practice of keeping them male-only. Instead, they create separate, all-women leagues that are inferior and not nearly as popular as their male counterparts.
In doing research for this blog, I came across countless forums that discuss whether or not women should be allowed to play in the major sports leagues. The sexist comments were not surprising. The world of sports belongs to men, and that's just the way it is.
But every sports league and network needs its reporters and writers, and although there also are no official rules against women reporters and writers, they are certainly the minority. Of course, being the female minority in the male-dominated, testosterone-fueled world of sports doesn't come without sexism.
Jennifer Gish is a sports columnist for the Albany Times-Union in Albany, New York. In September, she wrote an article on the lack of talent on the Buffalo Bills this season and about how Bills fans were becoming a bit delusional. In response, she received hundreds of responses from Bills fans - sexist, insulting responses. Many of the responses had nothing to do with her capability as a sports columnist; they attacked her physical appearance:
Seen some photos of you and you are as ugly as your story about we bills fans. we may lose, we may win but you will still be ugly either way. in response to this story GO TO HELL and you may want to consider plastic surgery or something, you are one god awful ugly looking female.Here's a picture of Jennifer Gish, by the way. She's not ugly - certainly not "god awful ugly looking." But why is her physical appearance even an issue here? Oh, right - because that is how men place value on women. Writing skills, sports knowledge, and intelligence aren't what get the spotlight, but attractiveness is. If a male writer had written this exact same story, do you think he would have received the same hate mail? No. Even if he did receive hate mail, it wouldn't have discussed his physical appearance.
Because the world of sports is a man's world, there is a widely held stereotype about women that they are essentially inept when it comes to sports. Even if a woman is as die-hard of a fan as a man is, she isn't taken seriously. It seems to be assumed that women don't like sports and don't know sports. I'm not surprised, then, that men react poorly to women whose job is to talk about, write about, and analyze sports. In fact, I bet that many men view it as a threat to their manhood, that a woman is "higher up" in the "sports hierarchy" than them.
Although female reporters and writers have come a long way in the past few decades (meaning they are actually allowed to be sports reporters and writers), they still face an uphill battle. In addition to the issue of work-life balance with a career that requires one to work nights and weekends, most sports editors are male and rarely give the "good" positions or assignments to women.
Indeed, female reporters are often delegated the work that male reporters consider themselves to be "above," such as sideline reporting. An article about the peephole nude video scandal involving ESPN reporter Erin Andrews referred to the controversial way women are used as sideline reporters:
Once upon a time, ex-jock lugs like O.J. Simpson worked the sidelines chasing down interviews with guys they once played with or against. But these days, those jobs are also filled by young, pretty women, while mostly male analysts narrate the game's action in a distant broadcast booth. It allows broadcasters to stock their shows with beautiful female faces who nevertheless remain outside the core of the show.This brings up another aspect of the female sports reporter: sexual objectification. Female reporters aren't hired for their ability to report sports, they are hired for their looks. The sports audience is primarily male, and what better way to raise ratings than with a nice piece of eye candy on the field. It's an issue in itself, but what makes it worse is when the woman becomes such an object of sexual attention that her privacy is taken advantage of. A man illegally filmed a nude video of Erin Andrews through the peephole in her hotel room while she unknowingly curled her hair and got dressed and mass-distributed it via the internet. The article linked to above sums the situation up accurately:
She has been reduced to a symbol of the tension between the still-limited opportunities for female sports journalists and the way the sports world has responded to them.What is even more disturbing is how the mainstream media responded to the video. As Howard Kurtz pointed out, the media reported on the victimization of Andrews by the "peephole pervert," discussing her outrage and the egregiousness of the behavior. But along with that, multiple news outlets accompanied their stories with photos from the actual nude video - some barely censored, some not censored at all. Simultaneously, the news media reported on how the video victimized this woman and further victimized her by even more widely disseminating the private pictures.
Sexual objectification of women is nothing new, but it is becoming increasingly common in the world of sports reporting and is clearly getting out of hand. What will the future be like for female sports reporters? Will they become more prevalent and gain more power and respect in the industry, or will they remain sexual objects put on the field to get good ratings and have their privacy and bodies exploited in the media? I'm not too optimistic.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Recently, Jimmy Kimmel released a YouTube video that went viral. The video was titled, “I gave my kids a terrible present.” The challenge: present your child with a holiday present a few weeks early, but make sure it’s something that the child won’t like. Videotape the reaction.
The clip is, predictably, funny. Most of the children appear to be 3-8 years old. Their cute, crestfallen faces are certain to induce fits of laughter. However, the video also indicates the extent to which societal gender stereotypes persist.
What makes a present “terrible?” Some of the “terrible presents” are gender neutral – an onion, a battery. But many of them are not. One boy receives a girl activity book. Another boy receives a Hello Kitty pink sweater. Another boy receives “ponies.” Each of these boys has a particularly vehement negative reaction.
In light of all that we’ve discussed over the semester, this struck me a discouraging example of gendered socialization at a young age. What makes a very young boy distraught over receiving a girl activity book, a hello kitty sweater, or a pony? Why weren’t the girls upset about receiving batteries, or hammers? Why was the pony recipient’s sister devastated to receive a book?
The more I watched the video, the more I realized how ubiquitous and persistent gendered socialization is. In particular, I noted the extent to which hegemonic masculinity influences boys. In the article “To Lynch a Child: Bullying and Gender Nonconformity in Our Nation’s Schools,” Michael Higdon discusses bullying as a sort of “gender policing,” a way of making sure that individuals “mirror those stereotypes that exist within our society at large.” He points out that “our society tends to prize highest of all a form of masculinity referred to as ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ which is characterized by ‘power and the subordination of both women and non-hegemonically masculine men,’” and that, perhaps accordingly, “boys are both “more likely to bully and also be bullied.”
Boys’ resulting unwillingness to adopt traditionally feminine behaviors, in turn, helps to explain the so-called “reverse gender gap.”
And though a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, the clip in which a little girl receives “eggs” and a boy receives “a hot dog,” as well as the clip in which a young girl puts a rotten banana in her mouth, raise further questions. It’s not the children that I’m wondering about, here – it’s a society that (as regards the former) gave these presents, and (as regards the latter) selected this specific clip for mass viewing.
For gender-conscious parents, it seems that there will be an inevitable tension, during the holidays, between giving a child a gender-neutral gift and giving that child a gift that he or she will genuinely like. Perhaps, due to social pressures that Mom wishes didn’t exist, a little girl desperately wants a Barbie. What to do?
Although it’s arguably impossible to resist all of gendered socialization’s influences, I believe that it is worthwhile to resist giving one’s children those gifts that most blatantly entrench traditional gender roles. Children are malleable. My little brother was raised around three older girls, and wanted nothing more than to be accepted among them; he asked for ponies and paper dolls. A parent whose son (or daughter) throws a fit about receiving a gender-inappropriate gift can explain how the gift is “cool” – by pointing out, “the activity book will make you a better painter, like grandpa,” or “cowboys rode ponies.”
The winter holidays are a time of year defined by symbolism, and tradition. What better time to break away from the more restrictive aspects of our shared social history? What better time to start something new?
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Almost one year ago, the people of Egypt rose up against rampant inequality, government corruption, and Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian government shut down the Internet and cracked down on the populace. Eventually, the Egyptian military had to intervene. After the government capitulated power, the Egyptian citizens celebrated and the ruling military promised to return the government to the people in the form of democracy.
But those actions now seem a distant memory. In recent months, conflicts between the military and other political groups have begun to appear, leading to a newer series of protests. Amongst these protests, women have been repeatedly victimized and subjected to appalling acts of violence.
In recent crackdowns, the military has killed dozens of protesters and beat a number of women, dragging them by the hair and stripping them in public. After the above photo was released, the military justified its actions against the veiled woman because she was “immoral” – releasing a video showing the woman talking about sex outside of marriage with her partner. Seriously. That was their “she deserved it” defense. The image has sparked both domestic and international outcry. Hillary Clinton expressed her outrage saying, “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.”
Thank goodness for Hillary Clinton having the courage to say what we all are thinking, despite the strain her remarks may have on the US relationship with Egypt. Indeed, some Egyptian officials have denounced her remarks, calling on the US to cease its interference. As Erin Ryan notes, perhaps the US should stop interfering – perhaps we should withdraw our $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. However, in recent days, Egypt’s military offered its regret for the attacks.
I have a hard time accepting Egypt’s regret as a sincere apology. Egyptian culture has a long history of disrespecting women’s rights. This isn’t the first instance in which the military has beaten or stripped women. In some cases, the government subjected women to “virginity tests.” And rape is a rampant throughout the country. The Interior Ministry concludes that an average of 55 women are raped each day but some believe that figure is even higher. Many rape and sexual assault cases – as high as 98% in 2003 – are unreported to authorities. Egypt’s conservative society does not accept such issues being brought to the forefront because they consider them to be too private or personal. And social taboos prevent many women from seeking help.
Egypt’s “apology” is not an apology – it is politically correct. It is a child apologizing with his/her fingers crossed behind their back, knowing that they will continue to act as they have until they are caught again. A changed heart must accompany a real apology. Until the nation attempts to make social and cultural changes encouraging gender equality and women’s rights, Egypt’s heart will remain unchanged.
One thing that bothers me about this is that I have seen countless men, especially with the growing problem of obesity in our country, topless in public who have larger breasts than myself and many other women. And really, if you took pictures of just their chests and showed them to me, I probably couldn't tell whether they belonged to a male or a female.
In the summer of 1991, female University student Gwen Jacob in Ontario was arrested for walking home with her top off in 92 degree heat. She was charged with committing an indecent act and fined 75 dollars. Jacob recalls that she took her top off after seeing some men playing sports with no shirts on. A woman saw Jacob and called the police, saying she was concerned because her young children saw Jacob topless. Jacob challenged her arrest in court, arguing that:
Women's breasts are just fat tissue, not unlike men's.The judge ruled against her and upheld the conviction, saying that breasts should not be uncovered in public because:
A woman's breast is part of the female body that is sexually stimulating to men both by sight and touch.This reasoning reminds me of reasoning I've heard for why Islamic women should wear hijab: to prevent sexual harassment from men who can't control themselves when looking at the female body. In that vein, any part of the body that is sexually stimulating should be covered up, right? Well, I happen to find a nice set of pecs on a guy quite scintillating, as do many women, but men can flaunt their pecs all they want. Is the judge implying that it doesn't matter what women find sexually stimulating, only what men do? If people were concerned about exposing body parts of men that women find stimulating, there would be a stronger argument for men not being allowed to go topless than for women. Rock-hard arms, six pack abs, perfectly sculpted pecs like a Ken doll - the entire torso is like a sexual playground, really.
What about the woman who called the police? She was concerned because her young children saw Jacob topless. This is so twisted to me - that parents want to shield their children from seeing breasts, a body part that belongs to more than half of the world's population. A body part that, if her children are girls, they will grow in a few years. A body party that, if her children are boys, their nourishment as babies likely came from her own breasts. I wouldn't be surprised if that woman is more concerned with her children seeing breasts than with them playing video games.
The good news for Gwen Jacob is that in 1996, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned her conviction, ruling that:
There was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the appellant did. The scope of her activity was limited and was entirely non-commercial. No one who was offended was forced to continue to look at her.It may be good news that her conviction was overturned, but the reasoning is a bit strange. What if the scope of her activity wasn't limited? What if she was playing sports with those topless guys? What if her toplessness was commercial, just like men's toplessness is? Would the appeal court have ruled differently? I suspect so.
Many women, even in places where toplessness is legal, still choose not to do it. A current student at the University of Toronto said she'd never go topless:
No, because of the interpretation of the behaviour. It's still deviant, right? If you are going to make something legal, that's one thing, but the culture has to change around it.Her statement reminds me of a discussion held in Feminist Legal Theory: does law influence society or does society influence law? Her interpretation seems to suggest that while perhaps a small group of society may change the law, the law won't necessarily change society as a whole. Or, if it does, it would take a really long time.
GoTopless.org is a U.S. organization that claims women have the same constitutional right as men to be topless in public. They host an annual, National Go Topless Day in August. This year on Go Topless Day, a pro-topless protest occurred in Asheville, North Carolina, and was met with an anti-topless protest held by former conservative elected officials who called the pro-toplessness event "child sexual abuse."
As far as which States have decriminalized toplessness for women, take a look here. GoTopless.org notes that:
Even if a top free law is firmly in effect, the police can still arrest you under the pretense of "disorderly conduct."The criminalization of female toplessness is yet another form of gender inequality, misogyny, and oppression. I applaud groups like GoTopless.org, and I only hope that the movement continues to grow.
Anyway, my mom will be making some sort of delicious hors d'oeuvres, a standing rib roast, roasted potatoes, a vegetable medley, pies, cookies, pumpkin bread, etc. She also decided to have a Christmas day brunch for the family, and she's making what my sister and I call the "Jew Feast" which includes matzah ball soup, potato latkes, brisket, and kugel. She was consulting me about the menu for these meals because she calls me her "co-chef." Now, my parents are still married, and my dad is one of those dads who does all of the handy-work around the house; he is the model Mr. Fix-it. But I'm pretty sure he knows how to cook one thing: spaghetti sauce. In the twenty-five years I've been alive, I think he's made it twice. So, I'm delegated to helping my mom cook while my dad fixes a toilet somewhere.
As my mom was talking about all of the food we're going to make and showing me the newly-decorated house via Face-Time, I realized that my mom runs the holidays. She cooks, she cleans, she does all of the gift shopping and wrapping, and she decorates the entire house and Christmas tree. The only things my dad does are get up on a ladder to put some lights on the exterior of the house, strap the Christmas tree on the car, and bring the tree into the house (and these things are at the instruction of my mom). If my mom decided not to cook, clean, decorate, shop, and wrap, we wouldn't celebrate the holidays. I suspect this isn't something that holds true in only my household.
Women have historically and traditionally been relegated to domestic labor and childcare while men work outside of the home and provide financially for the family. Over the past few decades, women have increasingly entered the outside labor market, yet still bear the brunt of household chores and childcare, resulting in the "second shift:" women come home from their job only to go to work as a mother and, essentially, a maid.
Is this part of the reason why it's the women who "put on" the holidays? They cook, they clean, they shop, they wrap. Is it that women feel more comfortable than taking time off from their day jobs to act accordingly with their traditional gender roles?
A survey of women conducted in October 2011 found that they consider Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's, and Halloween to be the messiest holidays (in that order). These holidays can triple the weekly cleaning time spent by women, adding nearly four hours to the "normal" two hours per week of cleaning that women already do. What I found most interesting about this is that many women claim that cleaning makes them feel good. Not because they actually enjoy they act of cleaning, but because they "feel most judged by how clean their homes are." Domesticity really is that entrenched. That said, two-thirds of women said they'd like assistance with cleaning, while only 11.6% said they'd like help with cooking, and even smaller percentages want help with child care, laundry, ironing, and pet care. However, only one third of women are actually receiving assistance with household tasks. Half receive it from their spouse, and 17% receive it from their children.
Women also do 56% of the household gift shopping while men do 36%, and while half of women buy gifts for their significant others, one third of men do. Where the male percentage exceeded the female was in buying gifts for themselves: 47% of men compared with 35% of women.
A recent survey of men revealed that a third of men think that women make too much fuss and stress too much over Christmas. Further, a majority think that they could run Christmas better than women - it would be less stressful, less expensive, and less rushed. If men ran Christmas, this is how it would look:
1. No Christmas cards.
2. Food = take-out.
3. Get gifts gift-wrapped at the store.
4. No visiting in-laws.
5. Put kids to work in the kitchen (rather than them helping out in the kitchen).
I must say, though men pitching in more during the holidays might go a ways toward breaking down the traditional female domestic stereotype, I'd rather eat a standing rib roast and Jew feast than some Chinese take-out.
Naturally, these laws have had an adverse effect on the willingness of devout Muslim women to attend higher education institutions. Faced with the choice between practicing their religion as they see fit and pursuing their educational dreams, women have reacted in different ways, with some complying with the law in order to pursue their studies and others (in some cases, under familial or spousal pressure) giving up on such plans. Ultimately, we must ask if such regulations are justified for the sake of protecting the secular, democratic state and ensuring religious freedom for all, particularly for non-Muslim religious groups such as Christians, Jews, and Bahais, as well as agnostics and atheists? It would seem that the motivations for such laws can be understood when one takes into account the political tides in the region. Most recently, in Middle Eastern states that have experienced political upheaval in the past year (Egypt comes first to mind), we have seen Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom (e.g. the Salafis in Egypt) hold deeply illiberal views regarding women and religious minorities, greatly amplify their political influence in the region.
The most hard-core adherents of Kemalism in Turkey fear, with some justification, that such movements could gain a considerable number of adherents in Turkey, which would undermine the secular state. Thus, following this logic, permitting hijab in higher education institutions and generally loosening limits on manifestations of religion might open the floodgates and invite bolder and more radical challenges to the Kemalist state. The following essentially sums up the prevailing attitudes of many secular-minded Turks:
"Western-oriented turks fear that their country's image is suffering...These profoundly worldly Turks, who used to be the nation's elite, feel threatened by the creeeping Islamization of society. Specifically, they point to the fact that, under the AKP, the religious sectors of society have been reintroduced into the state bureaucracy. Under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, adherence to laws meant to protect secularism has been lax, complains Ural Akbulut, rector of the Technical University in Ankara. One already sees women with headscarves at some universities, he points out. 'On my campus, no one is permitted to show up in a religious uniform,' Akbulut emphasizes. 'If we lift the ban on headscarves, then they would come tomorrow in a chador and the next day in a burka. In the end they would be beating up girls who wear modern dress. We have seen in Iran how fast it can happen.'"
While most of us can sympathize with these sentiments, they seem to be very much overblown. While Turkey might be moving in a more religious direction under the AKP, it is a huge exaggeration to think that it will move in the direction of Saudi Arabia and Iran (both of which severely restrict opportunities for women). Most likely, devout Muslim women in Turkey will simply win rights that women in many other states already enjoy, such as the freedom to wear hijab in government institutions, including higher education institutions, and the freedom to express their religion openly in other ways. We can also expect religion to play a more prominent role in Turkish life with greater emphasis on conservative, religious values and perhaps greater pressure on women to stick to "traditional family roles."
This does not seem to be much different from what is advocated by Christian Democratic Parties in Europe and conservative groups in the United States. This will understandably arouse indignation from women's rights advocates who fear the further erosion in rights and opportunities for women. While such fears should, again, be carefully weighed, they seem to be without much foundation. One should consider the enormous socioeconomic progress Turkey has made in recent decades, rising living standards and democratization of the political system, which has brought the country stability and prosperity which is well beyond what exists in neighboring Middle Eastern states. Based on such facts, it looks as if Turkey is on an irreversible path towards even greater political freedom and socioeconomic prosperity. Relaxing strict regulations pertaining to hijab and other expressions of religious faith are signs of the growing maturation of the democratic state.
Seen in this light, such developments should be welcomed rather than feared.
The roots of these seemingly harsh laws lie in the circumstances surrounding the creation of the republic in the early 1920s and in the ideology that arose out of this political upheaval. This ideology (which has since then been official state creed) has been dubbed 'Kemalism,' and is named after the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Kemalism stressed, among other things, the separation of religion and state, a principle that would, in the view of its adherents, help to empower women and allow them to play a meaningful role in society. This ideology continues to play a powerful role in Turkish politics. In recent years, there has been a growing fear that the secular state is eroding. These fears have been amplified after the rise to power of the Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP, in Turkish), whose chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, became prime minister of Turkey in 2003. It is in this context that the strict regulations relating to dress (which we discussed in class) should be considered. The Islamic headscarf (or hijab), worn by many Muslim women, is prohibited in government buildings, in schools, and in most universities. These regulations are, as would be expected, very controversial, but they are justified by its proponents on the grounds that they are necessary to protect the secular character of the state, a key aspect of the Kemalist ideology which has governed Turkish life for close to 90 years.
This very issue arose in the case of Leyla Sahin v. Turkey. A female medical student, Leyla Sahin, brought this case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) challenging Turkish laws that prohibited the wearing of hijab in universities and other government institutions. Sahin relied on Article 9 of the "Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" (adopted by the ECHR) which guarantees freedom of religion and protection from interference with religious activity provided that such interference is not necessary "in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health, or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others." Sahin alleged that the hijab ban constituted an "unjust interference" with her right to manifest her religion; that is, her right to wear hijab in higher education institutions, in accordance with her view of what is mandated by her religion, Islam. Unfortunately for her, the ECHR sided with the government of Turkey, finding that although there had been an inteference with her religious beliefs, such interference was justified. The ruling stated, in part:
"In democratic societies, in which several religions coexist within one and the same population, it may be necessary to place restrictions on freedom to manifest one's religion or belief in order to reconcile the interests of various groups and ensure that everyone's beliefs are respected...Likewise, the Court has also previously stated that the principle of secularism in Turkey is undoubtedly one of the fundamental principles of the State, which are in harmony with the rule of law and respect for human rights...In a country like Turkey, where the great majority of the population belong to a particular religion, measures taken in universities to prevent certain fundamentalist religious movements from exerting pressure on students who do not practice that religion or on those who belong to another religion may be justified under Article 9, Section 2 of the Convention. In that context, secular universities may regulate manifestation of the rites and symbols of the said religion by imposing restrictions as to the place and manner of such manifestation with the aim of ensuring peaceful co-existence between students of various faiths and thus protecting public order and the beliefs of others."
Thus, in this matter, Turkish law was found to be compatible with the "Convention." Part II of this topic will further explain the arguments for these laws and how convincing they are given the realities of Turkish life today.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I have a sweet tooth. I like sweet food. And, worse, I like sweet drinks.
Let me explain. I was in the middle of a long ten-hour drive. My female companion and I decided to stop at Dutch Bros. I needed some coffee, badly. But I’m not a huge fan of regular coffee- it tastes bitter to me. So I decided on their seasonal Pumpkin Pie Latte. It was festive and seemed like a very tasty treat. My co-pilot asked for a small coffee. As we slid into the drive-thru, I had no idea that I would soon be making a cardinal mistake – apparently, sweet drinks are not for males. And so ensued the following conversation:
Me: “Can we get a small coffee and a regular pumpkin pie latte?”
Pretty Barista (leaning down to look into our vehicle and across to my companion): “Would you like whipped cream and sprinkles on that latte, ma’am?”
Awkward pause ensues
Companion: “Oh, oh no. It’s not for me. I’m the coffee – he wants the latte.”
After some laughter and mea culpas, I denied the whipped cream and sprinkles. Then she responded, “It’s ok, I know some tough men who like it, too.”
I was struck by the gendered implications of this event, particularly the assumption that sweet drinks are for girls. Are men truly not allowed to enjoy a drink that is sweet to the palette? For a moment, I was slightly embarrassed to have been exposed. But why should I be? I could hear Catherine MacKinnon chattering in my ear – another power imbalance defined by the male perspective. Societal stereotypes say sweet drinks limit my masculinity, that a real man’s drink is strong. But fruity, sugary flavors do not cut into my manhood, revoke my “mancard,” or make me a “bitch,” as Hamilton Nolan or some comments on Jim Romenesko's blog suggest. Nor do they reveal a super-confidence or toughness that deserves admiration as an evolved-male. I simply like sweets and I will continue to order them.
On further reflection, I probably never would have recognized this gendered assumption and others like it had it not been for Feminist Legal Theory. Having had no prior experience with feminism, I joined this class to learn more about it and it is interesting to see how much I have learned in this semester.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
Both verbal and nonverbal behavior, such as wolf-whistles, leers, winks, grabs, pinches, catcalls, and stranger remarks; the remarks are frequently sexual in nature and comment evaluatively on a woman's physical appearance or on her presence in public.She suggests that the ignorance of street harassment results from the fact that there is no legal recourse; a woman can't sue a stranger who gropes her and then disappears. She refers to Robin West's depiction of street harassment as a disempowering injury:
Women suffer unpunished and uncompensated sexual assaults continually...Although we have a trivializing phrase for these encounters - "street hassling" - these assaults are not at all trivial. They are frightening and threatening whispered messages of power and subjection...Yet, men who harass women on the street are not apprehended, they are not punished, the victims are not compensated, and no damages are paid. The entire transaction is entirely invisible to the state.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
It takes me back to the same kinds of issues raised a month ago. Then, in our class presentation on Feminism and Religion, a few of my classmates and I presented the case of Leyla Sahin v. Turkey [A good discussion of it is here, at the ComparativeLawBlog]. A companion case in France, "L'affaire du foulard," or "The Headscarf Affair" --no, it is not a Norman Mailer novel-- occurred in 1989. Both dealt with the same issues of women's autonomy and choice, state paternalism, and Europe's often very loose relationship with the concept of free exercise. I find the whole issue fascinating.
Coming into that week, I already knew that in some cases what is purported to be a free expression of religion is in fact an instance of little choice, and that, in some more fundamentalist Muslim circles, the practice was and is enforced by so-called cultural police. To the extent that the enforcement involves violence against women, the practice is troubling on a criminal and moral level; to the extent that enforcement involves nonviolent coercion, it can still be unsettling. Enlightened observers often find it difficult to accept instances where women's (and not men's) freedom is cabined by society's and husbands' proscriptions of what they may and may not wear. My more liberal sentiments find that manipulation of women's public self particularly disturbing.
Yet I also recognize that that is but one part of the bigger picture. I now realize that Muslim headdresses are, for the most part, not just individual women's choices, they are in fact vital choices -- symbols of allegiance to God, and willing sacrifices of the self to that end. In fact, Muslim friends of mine have told me that only the most devout Islamic groups even require hijab as a part of their religious practice. These are the same kinds of signs of worship used by Jewish men who wear yarmulkes, or Catholics who confess. They are choices, and they are obligations. That a niqab, for example, so demonstrably covers a woman's face is to many a distinction without a real difference.
In that respect, then, the decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to uphold the Turkish school's ban on wearing hijab on campus was a powerful underestimation of the importance of a woman's peaceful religious expression. The ECHR majority opinion expressed its need to respect religious pluralism, which it said "has been dearly won over the centuries," yet was all too ready to dismiss that hard-fought principle because the Turkish state had deemed such expression disturbing to the public. I couldn't help but think of that series of free(ish) speech cases from the US in the first half of the twentieth century -- where the discussion and promotion of anti-war and pro-Communist teachings was a potential source of societal implosion. Decades later, during which freedom of expression and religion have found voice in countless national and international instruments, the ECHR used its majority opinion to give its imprimatur to the Turkish government's similar brand of fearful moralizing.
But I digress again. What I find as troubling as the Court's treatment of religion is the heavily paternalistic rhetoric advanced by those who support the Turkish and French bans on hijab in schools. Nicholas Sarkozy, for example, perhaps the best spokesman for France's brand of secularism, said in 2009, "We cannot accept to have in our society women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity... That is not the idea that the French Republic has of women's dignity. The burqa is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic." (as found in International Law: Norms, Actors, Processes, Dunoff, Ratner, Wippman, Eds.). This kind of thinking may be understandable to some, but it is an awfully shaky foundation for the creation of national legislation.
Monday, December 5, 2011
When I sat down to write this final post on our Feminist Legal Theory Blog, I started to think about the themes that came up during class discussion and throughout our posts. We discussed the role that media, educational institutions, and gender norms play in the feminist movement. Another issue that came up in discussion, but perhaps was harder to write about, is women’s treatment of other women. My colleague, Hanestagless, touched upon the topic in a recent post. Many of the post commentators noted the prevalence of this problem. So, is there any truth to the notion that women are our own worst enemy?
You don’t have to go far to find studies and commentary about this topic. A paper recently released out of the University of Ottawa, titled, “Intolerance of Sexy Peers: Intrasexual Competition Among Women,” suggests that hostility towards female peers increases depending on how the peer is dressed. According to authors Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, the less conservative females dress, the more their female peers judge and dislike them. The findings prompted Pasadena City College professor Hugo Schwyzer to write an article in response, titled, “Short Skirts Magically Turn Women Into Bitches.” (Note, although I found the Professor’s commentary interesting, I did not appreciate his using the term “bitches” to described female to female animosity). He concludes that his female students are more hostile towards each other in spring then in winter (when we wear more clothing).
Author Susan Tardanico, a regular contributor for to Forbes, recently published an article addressing what she refers to as “Relational Aggression.” In her piece, “The Psychological Warfare of Women: Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?” Tardanico explains that the same episodes of judging and criticizing amongst college women (as discussed in Schwyzer’s post) also occur amongst female executives. She uses the example of a female higher-up who, following her promotion, is essentially ostracized by her female co-workers. She questions why this happens so regularly and her answer is Relational Aggression, or as she puts it, “the single most damaging and often-used weapon in a woman’s arsenal.” I find it sad, but likely appropriate, that she deems this behavior a “weapon.” It’s likely appropriate because at the end of the day, it’s just that. Behavior that discourages female empowerment is destructive and counterproductive.
How does this destructive behavior play out in the real world? Tardanico points to an interesting study released in 2009, titled “Holding Women Back,” that researched the “glass-ceiling” within the female labor force. The study questioned what it was that is “holding women back.” The answer, as Tardanico reports it: “information about developmental opportunities is not shared (and therefore not known); recently-promoted women have little to no support when transitioning into a new role; and there is a startling lack of female advocates and mentors.” The suggestion being that opportunities aren’t shared, support is scarce and female advocates are lacking, because other women are holding back.
If this is true, it is something that we can change. Both men and women can take part…but especially women. Although it may take generations to make it “better,” it starts with a simple “just be nice.”