Tag Archives: Feminism

Subtle discouragement

Unconscious bias doesn’t just affect reception; it shapes female ambition and determination, in visceral, hard-to-pinpoint ways. Studies have shown, for instance, that in the face of subtle discouragement (facial expressions and so forth) candidates perform less well. It’s really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.) If the world around you reliably reflects a slight skepticism about, a slight resistance to your talent, it’s easy to begin to internalize that notion and to strive for less, or just be turned off by the whole racket. I often wonder if this, in turn, means that women end up writing less ambitious books. I’d sorely like to put that question to bed, but I can’t help asking it over and over.

Meghan O’Rourke


Those who like to believe they have picked themselves up by the bootstraps sometimes forget that they wouldn’t even have boots were it not for the women who came before. Listening to [Sarah] Palin, it’s almost impossible to believe that, as recently as 50 years ago, a woman at Harvard Law School could be asked by Dean Erwin Griswold to justify taking a spot that belonged to a man. In [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s lifetime, a woman could be denied a clerkship with Felix Frankfurter just because she was a woman. Only a few decades ago, Ginsburg had to hide her second pregnancy for fear of losing tenure. I don’t have an easy answer to the question of whether real feminists are about prominent lipsticky displays of “girl-power,” but I do know that Ginsburg’s lifetime dedication to achieving quiet, dignified equality made such displays possible.

Dahlia Lithwick

Everyday Feminism

[T]oo many people, and to my dismay, too many young people, see feminism as more a label than a praxis. When I’m teaching Race, Racism and the Law and I talk about the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation, when we talk about what would be mainstream feminist thought, many students would agree with those ideas , ideals and ideology more broadly. But if you call them feminists, many of them get upset, because they see it as this static label, and they’re not even sure what it means, but a lot of them think it’s bad, even people who would otherwise embrace feminist principles. So that’s probably the biggest challenge: Getting people to understand that there is such a thing as everyday feminism, and that’s what thoughtful people practice. Many of us do feminism all the time, and we should be comfortable acknowledging that. If I asked a class of people “are you a feminist?” half the people would say “no.” But if I said, “do you believe the following things or do the following things?” then I’d see very different results. I mean, if you love and respect and value women, you’re a feminist.

Lolita Buckner Inniss


Further to my IWD post, I ran across this article at Salon last night (“What’s in a woman’s last name?“). Based on the article/abstract, the study seems kind of flawed (I’m with the commenter who asked “How [in a job interview] can people tell [what name you are using]?“), but some of the comments were really great:

It’s not your father’s name, it’s YOURS

Men see the name they’re born with as their own, something they’ll have for life. Women are encouraged to see the name acquire in exactly the same circumstances as belonging to someone else and “not important”.

If you choose your sexist choice, forgive me for not applauding

I’m still waiting for an argument for taking your husband’s name that actually makes one damned bit of sense.


I have been married over 25 years (so far) to my first/only husband & I kept my name. The principal at our high school is on her 3rd last name in the 5 years I have had a child in attendance. So I don’t see much empirical evidence that a willingness to change a name equals commitment.

If it were no big deal

Then men would be willing to take their wife’s last name. Were it nothing, it’d be easy – sometimes the wife would change, sometimes the husband would change, and sometimes they’d hyphen or keep their own. But nope – the wife almost always changes, the husband pretty well never does.

And this nice reminder that there are other naming conventions out there and somehow the world hasn’t come to an end yet:

Last Names Don’t Define A Family Unit…

My family of origin is Icelandic. So despite a happy marriage with no divorces, my father grew up with a different last name than his sisters who had different last names from their mother who had a different last name from their father who had a different last name than their grand father.


What I find bizarre about the pinkification of girlstuff is that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. I don’t think I had any pink clothes when I was kid. In the harvest gold and avocado years, it was just not an “in” color. My Barbie camper van was yellow and orange.

The first time I remember pink becoming popular was in high school when pink was the coolest color for prepster boys to wear. Perhaps the PinkShirtDay folks might want to organize an ’80s movie marathon to educate kids-of-today on this point 😉

But two of the places I lived in Victoria had the same pink appliances. And by appliances I mean fridge and stove (these are pretty close). This is not to mention the many pink bathrooms (toilets, tubs & sinks). So apparently pink enjoyed ungendered popularity at some point in the not-so-distant past.

Which is to say, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with pink. If pink is presented as one of a bunch of ungendered color options, then it’s completely fine. But that’s not how it is these days. Pink has become not only a girls-only color, but the only color for girlstuff. It’s a double move that’s an overt attempt to put women back in their “place” by marking girlstuff as lesser than boystuff.

Recently, I was a the drugstore picking up a few things. Razor blades were on my list. I went to grab a refill pack and… gasp! Nooooo! They were gone. After standing there gaping at the blithering array of pink alternatives, I left without purchasing anything, and went home to furiously google. It seems the product has been discontinued (sob), although it is still possible to find the refills (if I find some, it will be like Elaine and the sponge): “Just give me the whole case and I’ll be on my way.”

Worst decision ever, Schick.

I’ve only ever had one razor (just think of all the good I’ve done for the environment!). I bought it way back in high school, I guess, when I decided it was a better option than disposables. It is not pink. It is tortoiseshell. Yes, brown. Brown!

But it seems brown is not an option these days. These days you can have pink or… hot pink! Because you’re a girl, you know, and girls use pink things!

Fuck that shit. I stop shaving my legs before I buy a fucking pink razor.

That is all.

Way Too Scary

Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomfits men). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism. In fact, because this equality might lead to “sameness”–way too scary–girls and women need to be reminded that they are still fundamentally female, and so must be emphatically feminine.

Thus, enlightened sexism takes the gains of the women’s movement as a given, and then uses them as permission to resurrect retrograde images of girls and women as sex objects, still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny.

Susan J. Douglas

See, for example, commentary here, here, and here on the ridiculous tabloid stories about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s clothing choices. She’s a three years old, people. Also, for everyone whose memory and judgment has been clouded by the past decade’s onslaught of pinnnnkkkk, that’s how all little kids used to dress in the seventies and eighties. In other words, there are most likely pictures of you dressed just like Shiloh in your family photo albums.

Be a Rebel

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

The 2010 IWD theme is: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.

This year’s Canadian theme is: Strong Women. Strong Canada. Strong World.

“For Canadians, equality means women and men sharing in the responsibilities and obligations, as well as in the opportunities and rewards, of life and work.”

I wrote a draft of this post several months ago. Seems appropriate to post it today, particularly considering this year’s IWD theme.


Grrr. I am so tired of hearing people say that feminism is “about choice.” Feminism is not “about choice.” Feminism is about equality. The choices you have today are a consequence of equality. They follow from it.

This is not semantics; it’s huge.

Why does it matter?

When feminism is presented as “about choice” it becomes me-centered. It means a woman can “choose” stereotypically female things without any thought for how her “choice” is affecting women as a group. Why should she? According to the “about choice” school of feminism, she is being a feminist simply by making a choice. Even if that choice is ridiculous. (Flashing one’s boobs in a Girls Gone Wild video so Joe Francis can get rich? Not a feminist act.)

When we remember that feminism is about equality, it changes how we act (or, at least, it should). Equality means thinking about how our actions—our choices—affect others, as well as ourselves.

Let’s say there are two choices: A and B. If women always choose A and no one ever chooses B, then is B a real choice? Maybe some women really want to choose B, but at the same time, no one wants to be the Weirdo Who Chose B, so in the end, succumbing to peer/societal pressure, most, if not all, end up choosing A (albeit reluctantly).

This goes on for a time until the next generation doesn’t know anyone who ever chose B. Until B is taken off the market, so to speak, as a choice for women. As an A-chooser, would this upset you? After all, you chose A—so why would you care that there’s no B any more? You—and your sisters and daughters and nieces and granddaughters—can still “choose” A.

But, but, but…

Yes. But. The point is, for B to stick around as a real (and not just theoretical) choice, someone has to choose it some of the time. And that “some of the time” has to be non-trivial. If 99/100 “choose” option A, that is not a real, legitimate choice.  It discounts societal pressures to conform.

Example! Statistics I see quoted on the rate of women “taking their husband’s surname” after marriage range from 80-90% or higher! In 2010.  Articles abound on the topic (just google; here’s one from last month). And every time I see one, I am gobsmacked. I cannot believe this is still a topic for discussion in the 21st century.

Go back to the example above and insert “take husband’s surname” for A and “keep own name” for B. Now think about how you would feel if A (take husband’s surname) was automatic upon marriage and B (keep own name) was not an option. As in not allowed. Illegal. As in that’s how it used to be. Before feminism. Before equal rights.

I like to use this as an example because so many unconventional choices are hard. They require financial sacrifice or the ability to withstand harassment, and it’s simply not possible for everyone to make them. But keeping one’s surname is effortless. It is, in fact, the easier (and cheaper!) choice. It’s likely the only time you can be a rebel simply by doing nothing!

I’m not saying that women should always choose the unconventional over the traditional. My point is that we mustn’t forget the choices we have today are a consequence of the equal rights that women fought for in the past. But for there to be true equality between men and women, there needs to be more than just formal equality (i.e. under the law, everyone, male or female, has the option to choose A or B), there needs to be substantive equality. And you don’t have substantive equality if all women “choose” A and all men “choose” B.

This is what I thought I heard…

…on the news (Global) last night, but I thought maybe I’d missed something. Apparently not.

The CBC headline and first paragraph (emphasis mine):

Gifted doctor, fiancée killed in weekend hit-and-run in Vancouver

An 18-year-old man is facing numerous impaired-driving charges after a weekend hit-and-run in Vancouver that killed a gifted cardiologist and his new fiancée as they were crossing a street.

Now, this is a terrible story and I’m not in any way making light of it, but… why is the man “a gifted cardiologist” and the woman just “his fiancee”? He was also her fiance and she was… well, I assume she was something besides his fiancee. It’s 2009, not 1909.

Now, I’m aware that pointing out this kind of stuff is why people hate feminists. They call it nitpicking. I say language matters. Framing matters. The fact is, at least two separate news sources reported the story the same way and apparently no one at either network thought there was anything wrong with identifying the couple this way (and the CBC is supposed to be progressive).  I find that problematic.