Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swiffer's "Man Up, Clean Up" Campaign Turns a Mainstream Eye on Gender Equality

I have no doubts that Swiffer's new "Man Up, Clean Up" campaign is profit-driven (that is, after all, what advertising campaigns are for). Men do more housework than they used to (though the gender imbalance still exists, even when both the man and the woman in the household work), so they are a potential growth market for household cleaning supplies. But this new campaign also tackles some questions of the division of labor and the social construction of "work." 

The campaign features spokesman Rick Harrison from the popular show Pawn Stars. He opens this video by saying that some men are doing more housework, and that's true. As this article on the campaign reports, nearly a third (31%) of men now report doing most of the housework in their homes. This is up from just 17% in 2006. That alone would be enough to justify an ad campaign aimed at this market, but in the same breath Harrison also tells us that some men need to be doing more housework, which moves this campaign from reactive to proactive. It's not just reacting to men who are already moving into the role of house cleaning, but also proactively suggesting that this is a more equitable arrangement that more men should be taking up. 

When I first heard about the campaign, I was a little worried that it would fall into the stereotypes used in the Huggies "Nominate a Dad" campaign, an ill-fated campaign that drew ire for displaying men as bumbling idiots who were wholly incapable of providing competent care for their children. I feared that the Swiffer campaign would display how their products help anyone, even a man, clean the house, further promoting the idea that men are incapable, which--in turn--further entrenches traditional gender divisions. 

But that doesn't seem to be the way they're approaching it. 

This video does have some suggestions of sexist tropes. The idea that men need to clean up to keep their women happy could pit women as nags and--more problematic--suggests that the management, if not all of the actual work, still falls on women shoulders. However, these lines feel more like vestiges of the traditional system than an endorsement of them. At its heart, the campaign seems to be fully suggesting that housework is everyone's responsibility. 

This path toward equity is also in their campaign's Facebook page, which explains:
We’re dudes who clean up.
If we & our ladyfriends come home from work and we’re both tired, but the dog has unleashed a dust bunny the size of a dust wolf, we don't wait for her to clean it up. Seriously. We’ll go to town on it. We’ll do our fair share. And we’ll do it right.
Join us.
Man up and clean up.
Look at that language: "and we're both tired," "we'll do our fair share." This is not a matter of men doing work because they don't want to get nagged; this is a recognition that no one really wants to spend their evenings after they get home from work cleaning the house, but that it has to be done, so it should be done fairly.

They also have an e-card campaign.

Again, some of these cards gently use some gendered stereotypes (men like video games; women take a long time to get ready), but they seem to be using these tropes in a way that is tongue-in-cheek so that they do more to normalize the idea of men cleaning house. It's as if they're saying, "Look, we're not trying to radically change the world. Sweeping the floor is only fair, and it's not that hard." 

To further drive home the "it's not that hard" message, there are how-to videos like this one for how to dust a table:

And, the truth is, sweeping the floor could radically change the world. The division of household labor is a sore subject for a lot of people. It can be a thing--and sometimes the thing--that drives couples apart. Household chores are a point of contention. Also, a Cambridge study found that men are happier when they do more housework. And studies have also found a link between doing housework and having more sex

I'll also use this as a moment to plug my favorite Swiffer product--completely unsolicited and uncompensated. I love my Swiffer Sweeper. I have two cats, a dog, a toddler, hardwood floors, and no time. This vacuum/dry cloth combo is amazing, especially in tight spaces and on stairs. 

So, what do you think? Is this campaign gently challenging some age-old assumptions about gender and work? Is casually normalizing an equitable division of labor effective?

Monday, October 29, 2012

I Survived the Zombie Dash (But I Didn't "Survive" It)

A while back, I wrote that I had signed up for a zombie themed obstacle 5k. That run was this weekend. The event itself was a little disorganized. It was a pricey run ($75/person) and promised a lot: an after party, live music, costume contests, zombie-themed games. Most of those "extras" weren't set up and were poorly run. People aren't too pleased with shelling out that kind of cash for an event that didn't deliver, and they've taken to complaining--fairly constructively--on the event's Facebook page.

But I'm assuming that most of you reading about this weren't actually there and so care less about the details of the execution than the experience itself. While I was disappointed with some of the organization, the event itself was a blast, and I would definitely consider doing it again.

My husband and I signed up to run this together, and we got up bright and early to drive an hour into the middle of nowhere in order to register for our 10am wave. It's pretty chilly here in Missouri right now, so we did some warm-up and then hung out in the car until it was closer to our start time. While we were waiting, we saw lines of zombies headed out to take their places on the course. It was a  creepy sight.

Watching the zombies file into the woods from the car.
In real life, that would probably be a sign to stay out of the woods.
We put on our three flags and got ready. (The zombies grab your flags. If you have one left at the end, you're a "survivor").
My flags, before we parted ways.
When it was time to go, we were released in groups of about 30. We took off across an open field and ended up on a wooded trail almost immediately. Within the first five minutes, we were faced with zombies. There were several kinds of zombies, but there was no way of knowing which ones we were facing. Some were slow and confined to their own little space. Some were fast and could chase after you. Some didn't move but only grabbed flags as you ran past them.

Before the race--smiling and clean!
I cost my husband one of his flags right away because I went up over a hill and got my foot caught on a tree. He stalled behind me and a zombie grabbed his flag. I kept running with a limb hanging off of my shoe for a good ten feet. I managed to keep all three of my flags for the first ten minutes or so, but then a quick-moving zombie caught one at the top of a hill. My husband lost a second flag somewhere along the way, and we moved out of the first danger wave. He had one flag; I had two, and then we were in a clearing.

I tore my calf muscle a few months ago and wasn't able to run for almost two months. I've run a few races since then, so I was hoping it would be good to go, but all the lateral movement had it acting up, and I was afraid it was going to tear again. While there weren't any zombies around, we walked for part of the path.

But we didn't have long before we entered another "infected" zone. We also started to encounter some obstacles. We ran through tires, around barrels, and up hills. There was a series of a zombies in a row and I managed to get past the first four, but the fifth one--a guy in military gear--grabbed my second flag.

I was pretty sure I was going to lose my last flag as I approached a pile of tires with two zombies on it. I started to run past and the zombie (a "pregnant" (not really) zombie with a fake baby in one arm) blocked me completely. I pulled back and re-evaluated how to get over the hill, but my husband was on the other side and I didn't want him to lose while he was waiting for me. So I just went for it, thinking I wasn't going to make it. But I did! The zombie lunged for me but lost her balance and tripped over the tires. I kept running but hit a patch of mud and slid for about six feet like I was on a skateboard. Amazed that I'd stayed upright, I had no time to celebrate my fancy footwork as the next fifty feet were jam-packed with zombies. My husband and I were side by side and facing a line of zombies in the middle of the path. He went left, and I went right. The zombies parted trying to leap for us on either side and we both made it through with our single flags!

My empty flag belt after the race
Then we turned the corner and there was a steep hill of tires starting at the base of a hill at a creek bed filled with muddy water. There were four zombies across the top of the hill, two zombies standing in the tires, and one hiding along the bank of the creek. The crowd started to bottleneck as all of us stood with our jaws dropped trying to figure out how to get past this atrocity. My husband dove for the tires in the water, pulling himself up the tires that were tied together. A man to my left tried to leap across the creek and climb the hill without getting on the tires. The two zombies in the tires split and went after each of them, so I decided to try to make it down the middle. I did, but when I got to the top, the four zombies waiting there had an easy shot at me, and they grabbed my flag. I turned to see if my husband had made it, hoping to block for him if he still had a flag, but they'd gotten him, too.

I guess I can take some solace in knowing that we became zombies simultaneously, fighting together 'til the end!

He's more stoic about his defeat.
The rest of the race was definitely less fun. Knowing that we weren't "survivors" gave us a lot less to fight for. There were some major obstacles in the last hundred yards of the race, and we went ahead and did them even though we were "infected." We climbed over some giant barrels, up and over a house made of two-by-fours, and crawled through a mud pit.

Even though I didn't "survive," I survived! This was the first obstacle course race I'd ever run, and I was very intimidated going into it. I don't run very fast, and there were definitely a lot of younger, fitter people around me.

But this race taught me that my body is--to put it frankly--pretty amazing. I dodged zombies, climbed tires, dove through mud, and felt pretty damn impressive. This particular race was kind of a mess, organization-wise, but I'll definitely be looking for some more themed obstacle runs in the future.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Stop There, Mr. Mourdock: More on God's Will

Last night, Indiana Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock (apparently learning nothing from Todd Akin--who, in case you missed it, was repeatedly arrested for anti-abortion protests in the 1980's) explained how he'd done a lot of soul searching on the topic of rape and abortion and had come to the conclusion that his anti-abortion stance was A-OK because, after all, pregnancy resulting from rape was "something that God intended to happen."

Okay. I'll play.

Obviously, Senator-hopeful Mourdock's version of God is a interventionist one, one who steps into our lives and makes individual things happen. He also seems to ascribe to a God of predestination, a God who determines when an individual life begins, even if that means sending a rapist to visit a woman who isn't complying with his will by getting pregnant in some other way.

Fine. Let's take this version of God and see how it fits with Mourdock's other views, which can be found on his own website.

Issue #1: Repeal Obamacare
Richard believes that Obamacare is unconstitutional and wrong for America. As a U.S. Senator, he will work to ensure that it is repealed immediately.
This is pretty consistent. After all, if God is an interventionist who determines when life begins at any cost, He should also be able to decide when people die. In fact, we really don't need health care at all. We probably shouldn't take Tylenol (God gifted you that headache!) We definitely shouldn't remove cancerous cells (God intended them to grow!)

Headache Pills

Issue #2: Secure Our Borders 
Richard opposes the DREAM Act and any other legislation that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants. He believes that we must act immediately to secure our borders and enforce the law.
Wait a minute here, sir. Why do we need to secure our borders? Why isn't God doing that? He's so concerned with our individual actions that He'll send a rapist over to impregnate a woman but He can't keep people in their own countries if He wants to? No, no. If those "illegal" immigrants cross the border, it was clearly God's will that they do so. Who are you to intervene?

Issue #3: Stop Liberal Judges
Richard believes that judges should respect the original intent of the Founders when interpreting the meaning of the Constitution. He will oppose the appointment of activist liberal justices like Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! "The original intent of the Founders?!" Some of our Founders weren't even Christian!  How can you support these men who were so clearly going against God's will? Furthermore, if God didn't want Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor appointed to the Supreme Court, doesn't He have the power to stop that? I think you're getting a little full of yourself here, Senator.

Issue #4: Preserve Social Security and Medicare
The solvency of these programs must be maintained in order to ensure that we keep our commitment to those currently receiving benefits as well as those nearing retirement.  Richard supports the “Ryan Plan” as a good first step to preserving these programs.
Wait a second! If God wanted these people to have access to money and health care, He'd give it them, wouldn't He? Why should we intervene on God's behalf and provide these extraneous services? If God wants these people to live, they will.

Inconsistent in Upholding God's Will

His list goes on, but the bottom line is that it appears Mr. Mourdock doesn't have all that much faith in God's will after all. Again and again he sees reason for human beings--specifically elected officials like himself--to intervene on God's behalf.

This leads me to suspect that maybe Mr. Mourdock's hard-line anti-abortion stance isn't really so much about making sure that God's will is done so much as it is making sure that women don't have control over their own lives or health, especially in the face of the violent victimization of rape.

Following Mourdock's reasoning out to its logical end would completely crumble the foundation of liberty and justice in our society. After all, if it's God's will for that woman to get pregnant, then how can we punish the rapist, who is now just an agent of an act of God? And if God is so minutely involved in pre-determining when each life begins, then He's surely equally minutely involved in determining when each life will end. If that's the case, then we should view all medicine as an affront to His will and we certainly can't blame murderers for simply carrying out what has been divinely ordained. In fact, if he's an omniscient, omnipotent God who carefully pre-determines every act, then aren't those abortions themselves a part of the plan?

If you think that Mourdock's stance is both dangerous and completely unhinged, I want to remind you that--as of this writing--he still has the endorsement of Mitt Romney, the only Senatorial endorsement the Presidential candidate has made an ad for.

Picture: sacks08

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Linked Instead of Ranked": Equality is Not a Zero-Sum Game

You should watch this great clip of Gloria Steinem. 

What sticks with me most is her comment that she doesn't understand why people think that there always has to be a hierarchy, why people "can't be linked instead of ranked."

It made me think of the young woman from last week's town hall who asked the question about equal pay. She talked about the importance of reproductive rights and later said that she thinks that women should be treated the same as anyone else. And yet she said that she was "absolutely not a feminist" because she's "not only concerned with women." 

This woman has the right to self-identify however she'd like, but I take serious issue with the idea that feminists are "only concerned with women." That wouldn't be the promotion of gender equality; that would be the promotion of a new power hierarchy. 

Equality, by its very nature, is not a zero sum game. It's an everyone-wins scenario, and that's why it's so hard to achieve. We don't have many models for that kind of fight. 

And let me be clear: it is a fight. While I believe that collaborative rhetoric has a place in achieving goals, I don't think that argument is a bad thing. That's why I think this video is so powerful for this particular topic. Her two main topics--the demonization of the word "feminism" and the need to raise children in homes that aren't violent so that they don't see the world as a dichotomy of victim and victimizer--may not seem that connected upon first glance, but look closer. 

If you are raised in a world where you see everyone as victim or victimizer, then you are much more likely to victimize in order to ensure your own position of power. But if you are raised in a world that dismantles that dichotomy, you have the ability to see beyond those narrow labels and position yourself outside of a cycle of victimization. There are two ways to accomplish this. 

In the first way, everyone gets along. If we live in harmony and agreement, we don't need violence. 

In the second way, we fight without violence. 

The first way is often dismissed because of its overly-optimistic approach and seemingly impossible implementation. The second way is often simply ignored. But we can fight without violence. We can fight without hatred. We can fight without victimization. When I fight for my rights as a feminist, I don't have to do so at the expense of your rights as a ______ (fill in the blank).

If we live in a dichotomized world of victim and victimizer, anyone fighting for their rights is viewed as a victim fighting to become a victimizer. That means that people who do not see themselves as victimized in that way fear that they are about to be victimized when the shoe is on the other foot. If a man does not see himself as part of the feminist movement, he might view feminists as trying to victimize him. That's the only way we can see the world when there are only two choices. But if we don't see the world that way, then someone's fight for their own rights does not have to be an attack on ours. 

If people are linked instead of ranked, we can see how someone's fight against oppression is not a power play, but a move that makes us all stronger. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

Look! A Good, Bad, and Curious on a Sunday! That hasn't happened in like two months! Here's what I've been reading this week that made me smile (the Good), cry (the Bad), and think (the Curious). What have you been reading?

The Good

Girl on Saturday is going to be a roller derby girl! Even though she can't skate! And I'm jealous. 

Stand and Deliver posted some fun ads, and this Luvs commercial is great. 

This has gone viral, so you've probably already seen it, but he's from my home state and it's so very seldom that we're in the news for something positive, so I'm sharing it again. This Missouri preacher does an excellent job of talking about gay rights. Be sure you watch it all the way to the end. 

Inspired by Allison Tate's great piece "The Mom Stays in the Picture," Offbeat Mama has featured some great pictures of moms and dads doing exactly that

The Bad

Colorlines reports on the disturbing trend that's popping up involving different plays on the idea that only white people belong in the White House (because racists are so creative in their witty wordplay, you know). 

Sociological Images has some data on economic opportunity and college education in different countries, and it highlights both the American gender gap and the class gap. College may have a big payoff in America, but that also means that for people who can't afford it, it has a big cost

An xoJane blogger talks about working at American Apparel and reaffirms my hatred of the company. 

The Curious

Amy Odell argues that Pinterest is killing feminism. I disagree, but it was an interesting look. 

This Washington Post article on the differences between American Sign Language for black and white people is absolutely fascinating, and it sparked some great conversation among my students.

An xoJane blogger talks about the web of lies she's caught in surrounding the tooth fairy, and it reminds me that I still have no idea how I'm going to handle fantasy holiday people and animals with my own daughter. 

Resist Racism has a piece on Abigail Fisher, the student at the center of the affirmative action in higher ed case that's being heard by the Supreme Court. A closer look shows that she probably wouldn't have gotten into the school regardless. 

blue milk posted a link to this Guardian piece from a few years back featuring a psychologist mother questioning the way we frame gender differences as biological

Friday, October 19, 2012

The (Feminist) Risk of Marrying Young

Lately, I've been thinking about how lucky I am to have married the man that I married. Don't worry, this isn't going to be some overly-sappy adulation about how amazing my husband is--though he is, indeed, amazing. Rather, this is a reflection on how much he and I have both changed in the decade we've been together and just how amazing it is that those changes were compatible.

Heart in the Sand

We started dating as freshmen in college, and we were only eighteen years old. I--of course--thought nothing of that age at the time; I was grown.

But I was young, and there was a lot of me left to develop (just as I hope there's still a lot of me left to develop in the future). When I came to college, my personal politics were largely unformed. I came from a family of independent voters in a heavily conservative area. I had been exposed to very little diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation, religion, or culture. I did not harbor much actively prejudicial thought toward people different from me; I just didn't harbor much thought at all.

College truly changed my life. Getting exposed (even in a small Midwestern college) to diversity opened my eyes to the world. I began to think of oppression and became the often-ranty equality-minded person you love (or love to hate) today. But I mean "began to think" very literally; this was a process over time.

My husband--who had grown up in an urban area and went to a very diverse school--didn't need quite the cultural primer I did, but college was expanding his world as well. He studied politics and journalism, and he was constantly exposed to new perspectives.

Neither of us explicitly studied feminist theory as undergrads, but we both took some critical race theory and--partially because we are an interracial couple--we talked about equality often. As we grew through the steps of moving in together, joining our finances, getting engaged, etc. we negotiated an increasingly equitable partnership that carried over into our marriage. There was no big conversation, though, about our views on gender roles and equality. We just dealt with things as they came, and we came up with arrangements that worked for us.

Then, as I've written about before, having a baby threw a wrench into our otherwise equal arrangement.  Where before we had the benefit of time and gradual changes to negotiate our responsibilities, having a baby threw a whole slew of never-before-attempted work into our laps at once. And there were some tensions that revolved around gender roles.

Understandably, since I was breastfeeding and had a much longer leave from work than he did, the early weeks of parenting fell more on my shoulders. In many ways, this left me the "expert" (a term I use loosely, because I had no clue what I was doing most of the time) in the parenting field. That left me in charge of so many tiny decisions that it felt like death by a thousand paper cuts. Then things seemed to snowball for a while.

My husband is a great man, and when I voiced these concerns he really, truly heard me. But neither of us knew how to fix it. That took time, but we started to figure it out.

Puzzle Pieces

But do you know what I never, ever had to say in those conversations with my husband (all 8 million of them) to get to this space? I never had to justify my equality. I never had to argue why the work of the home shouldn't just fall on my shoulders. I never had to explain the patriarchy or justify my desire for a fulfilling profession. I never had to convince him that his role as father was as important as my role as mother. Sure, we had to fight through some potentially gendered habits, but we never had to fight through a philosophical foundation of inequality.

And I didn't realize until recently how very fortunate I am. There are many, many women who I know personally that have to fight to justify their need for equality in their own households. There are many women who simply will not get it from their partners. I am not making this observation to say that I am somehow better than these women because, honestly, I didn't know to have these conversations before I got married. I knew that my husband was a great man, but I had no way of knowing that he was a feminist because I didn't know to ask those questions.

And what if he hadn't been? What if we hadn't grown into the understanding of equality together? Some recent conversations have reminded me that there are plenty of people for whom the assignment of roles in a relationship are based purely off of genitalia, without a second thought. Did getting married so young put me at a greater risk of entering into a relationship with someone whose thinking had not yet evolved (after all, my own thinking wasn't yet on that level)? Or did starting so young give me the opportunity to grow with my husband, to make discoveries in how the world works simultaneously?

Either way (or neither way), I am so very glad that this mutual equality evolution happened in my household.

Photos: anitakhart, Pablo S Rios

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Radical Eating: Is My Dinner a Feminist Issue?

A friend posted this link on Facebook (thanks!), and it made me spend some time thinking about an issue that's been nagging at me for quite some time: my dinner.

Dinner May 27th

The link is to an NPR article on working women and home-cooked meals. After Mitt Romney claimed that women need more flexibility in the workplace so that they can get home and cook dinner, the issue has been forced into the spotlight.

Women have certainly reduced the amount of time they spend in the kitchen (and increased the amount of time they spend in the workplace) over the last several decades. Men have increased the amount of time they spend on housework, but the gender disparity in housework still exists. The NPR article explains:
On an average weekday, working women spent more than twice as long (35 minutes) as working men (15 minutes) whipping up meals and cleaning up afterwards, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey.
In 1965, she notes, women did about 30 hours of housework per week on average; by 1995, that weekly average dropped to 17.5 hours. During that same time period, men doubled the amount of time they spent on housework — from 5 hours to 10.
While much of this change has happened because of shifting workplace expectations, they are also the result of differences in how we consume our food. Since the 1960's our food has become increasingly "convenient": pre-packaged and processed.

So, while women spending less time "whipping up meals" may be seen as a feminist success, our lives are complicated. We don't just have one set of concerns; we have many. I am very concerned about workplace equality, but I am also concerned about the quality of my food. These two things do not exist in separate spheres: they exist in me, one body that has to move throughout the day and make decisions about how to handle the real-world implications of these concerns.

Feminism Vs. Homesteading

As concerns over our Standard American Diet (SAD--isn't that cute?) grow, new movements have risen to answer them. The way that we eat--especially the chemical additives--has been linked to all kinds of negative health outcomes: obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, depression. The growing body of knowledge about these potential dangers has pushed consumers to fight back. Movements like Just Label It are trying to force food companies to tell us what we're eating and many are trying to legislate what can go in our foods.

In the meantime, several people are fighting back on a micro-level by changing their individual diets. Whether you call it "clean eating," "a whole-food diet," or something else, many people are cutting processed foods and making an effort to eat in a way that they think is healthier.

The spread of these movements has been made easier by the internet, and several blogs have cropped up to help people make these changes in their own life. Sites like 100 Days of Real Food, Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss, Whole Food Mommies, The Gracious Pantry, The Clean Eating Mama, and The Sprouted Kitchen are all popular places to find recipes, philosophy, and tips on these types of diets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these sites are run by women. Women, after all, have traditionally spent more time in the kitchen, and we're more likely to make the food purchasing decisions for our households. We're also more likely to take our personal lives into the online world through blogs, so the intersection creates a woman-dominanted niche. But this movement also appeals to men. A more male-centric version of "clean eating" has cropped up in the form of the paleo diet, which also has a large online community. Many of the researchers behind this food movement are also men, such as Michael Pollan, the whole food guru. Still, the mainstreaming of the whole foods movement is largely taking place with women (particularly moms) at the frontline.

New Pot, Pan, and Knives!
Weapons in the war on SAD. 
Of course, being the mean little humans that we are, we can't just quietly adopt our own lifestyle and slip gently into the kitchen to cook our meals; we have to be loud and righteous about it. Just as the very real concerns about baby formula too often manifest themselves as shaming women who bottle feed or the absolutely scientifically-justified promotion of fitness turns into public shaming of people's bodies, the completely logical assault on the SAD too often comes to fruition as shaming people's food choices. 

And there are other women on different frontlines who aren't having it; feminism and homesteading have come to blows. Mary Rechner does a great job of capturing that tension here:
It is of the utmost importance to me to resist the earthy lure of urban homesteading. Why shouldn’t I, a writer, mother, and arts administrator living in 2012 who also does most of the shopping and cooking in my family, take advantage of the relative ease of obtaining healthy food at the supermarket? I refuse to accept the moral imperative of growing my own vegetables, butchering the animals I eat, and making my own jam. 
There are blueberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, and a few squash plants among the flowers in my yard. Who doesn’t love picking and eating a strawberry? But I refuse the burden of a harvest. When I see women with their kids (they usually also have a dog or two) weeding their vegetable gardens and tending their flocks of chickens, I fear they have bought the idea that these many labors are the markers of what it means to be a good mother-wife-woman.
And as Jennifer Jeffrey points out, the "whole foods" movement isn't exactly new. This used to be how we ate out of necessity, and then women were simply expected to do all of these things that we now consider to be extra. Is shaming women back into those old roles just reinforcing the old sexism?
Ladies, when we cluck our tongues at drive-through lanes and packaged convenience food, we are forgetting that convenience has been our friend. The fact that women hold more executive positions than at any other time in history, and can freely choose any career path they like is in no small part due to the prevalence of supermarkets and the availability of easy-to-prepare foodstuffs.
Something's got to give, right? We can't really expect to log in a 10-hour workday and then come home and prepare a 3-hour meal. At some point, we just run out of hours, let alone energy and ambition. If we shame women for not spending enough time working over their food, are we actively trying to push them away from working over their jobs? And isn't pushing women back into the kitchen--even under the banner of promoting health--still sexist?

Feminist Homesteading 

But, like most dichotomies, this one isn't as simple as it first appears. There is not feminism on one end and homesteading on the other. There are plenty of feminist homesteaders, in a variety of combinations. Whether someone is a "radical" feminist who is out protesting for women's rights and also shopping at farmer's markets with an occasional stop at McDonald's or a "radical" whole foods activist who is dressed as a GMO in front of Monsanto who also cares about who is legislating her birth control access, there are millions of us who share concerns in both of these arenas. We are not enemies, and we are not a continuum; we are friends, and we are the same people.

Furthermore, we have a lot of overlapping concerns.

As Peggy Orenstein writes in her article "The Femivore's Dilemma" (I know I have 8 billion links in this article, but if you only click one of them, click this one):
Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible? 
There is even an economic argument for choosing a literal nest egg over a figurative one. Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse. Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?
That last point is the one that interests me most. "Femivores" are challenging the patriarchy in new ways. And these are ways we need to see. Sure, there are several women who are going to be amazing CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and we need to smash the glass ceilings that would prevent them from getting there. Women are every bit as capable as men, and we need to fight for equal pay and flexible benefits (for everyone, because being human (not woman) requires flexibility, and men care about their families, too).

But we cannot pretend that there aren't patriarchal structures holding up that rise-to-economic-power model. When Elizabeth Wurtzel claimed that the only kind of equality was economic, she was ignoring that there most certainly are other kinds of power, and the power to feed ourselves and sustain our bodies in a healthy way are not minimal. And we cannot pretend that there's only one way to smash the patriarchy. We can fight to have more women CEOs while simultaneously fighting for more nourishing food. They are not at odds.

As Heather Laine Talley explains, food is a feminist issue:
Food is a feminist issue because our health is a result, in part, of what we eat. Given our overarching concerns about health, feminism cannot shy away from taking up food. All food provides the body with calories. Some food contains nutrients—vitamins, fiber, essential fatty acids. Twinkies do not. We must challenge nutrition claims steeped in body fascism, but we also have to confront the idea that feminist eating resembles a kind of Bacchanalian backlash to diet culture. Such living is reactionary not revolutionary.
And this isn't just a personal issue. There are feminist issues wrapped around the food chain from top to bottom. When our food is harvested in countries far away where the pesticides leach into the water supplies of local people, that's a feminist issue. When our "convenience" culture promotes minimum-wage food manufacturing jobs that cannot provide a quality of life to the people who take them, that's a feminist issue. When companies refuse to label the foods they produce so that we can know what is going into our bodies, that's a feminist issue.

And when we allow the dichotomy of feminist v. homesteader to divide us at the places we are strongest, we lose the chance to stand up to all these issues.

Photos: richpompettiliv,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Romney Voters, A Word, Please?

Look, I don't need you to like Obama. I don't even need you to vote for him. And if you really, really want to vote for Mitt Romney, then--by all means--practice your right to vote and go do what you need to do.

But if you do that, then there is one thing I need from you. Please, if you elect this man, if you promote this man, if you ascribe to this man's philosophies, please think through and then hold him accountable for this utterly insane stance on birth control.

Photo a day project: February 2006

In Tuesday's debate, a question about fair pay segued into birth control. Some have accused Obama of changing the subject to hit Romney in a vulnerable place but we need to hear Romney's stance on birth control because what he's said in the past has not been very promising. And secondly, Obama's connection wasn't a reach; he was spot-on. Birth control is an economic issue, for individuals and for the community at large. 

Here's what Obama said:
"When Gov. Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country."
And that is a pocketbook issue for individual families. Birth control is not cheap, and it is most certainly a health issue for women. Romney's current position on abortion and birth control is a complete 180 from the one he held not that long ago. He's lying. He's either lying now or he was lying before when he said that he would cut off funding for Planned Parenthood and that he would support the Blunt Amendment (making it legal for employers to deny birth control coverage under their insurance plans). I suspect he's lying now, and--regardless--someone who would attack my right to reproductive health just to get conservative support is not someone who can be trusted in a position that actually impacts my reproductive health. 

Birth Control is Personal--Economically and Socially

I might be about to overshare about my own reproductive choices, but I've decided that if our rights are going to be up for public debate, then talking about the way those rights impact us is a necessary way to combat it. When Mitt Romney and the Republican platform says that they want to eliminate the coverage of birth control in insurance plans while simultaneously defunding Planned Parenthood, they are essentially telling me that I have no control over when or if I get pregnant. 

My insurance paid for my birth control, an IUD that I could not have afforded out of pocket. I had just had a baby, and I was already paying for new cribs and breast pumps and clothes and diapers. The IUD was the most economical option because I knew I wanted something long-term, but it had the most up-front cost. At the time, I was employed by a university with religious affiliations; they very well could have opted out of covering this procedure if the Blunt Amendment had been in place. 

And here's the thing, birth control is an economic issue for me not only because I have to pay for the actual birth control (which is one of the most important parts of my personal health plan), but also because I cannot afford to have another child right now. And I'm in an extremely privileged position. I am married, work full-time, have health insurance, have a husband who works full-time who also has health insurance, and we live in a place with low cost-of-living. I am educated and have marketable skills. I am lucky and grateful. But I still can't afford to have another baby now. 

I haven't been at my current job long enough to qualify for FMLA, so my job would be in jeopardy if I became pregnant. I could not afford--even with my job--the cost of daycare for two children without seriously sacrificing the quality of my child(ren)'s care. I would not be able to do the work I am doing now--finishing my PhD and teaching full-time--with an infant and a toddler. And everything--from the size of the houses I could potentially buy to the zip codes I would consider living in because of schools--would be impacted by a decision that was outside of my control. 

So, yes, access to birth control is an economic issue. My entire life would be thrown into upheaval if I could not control my reproductive choices.

From CafePress--get yours here!

Let's Talk About Access

On Tuesday, Romney had this to say about birth control access: 
"I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."
In addition to being completely out of line with his previous comments, this statement also has a hedgy phrase: "Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives."

Just what is Romney calling access? Does he think that women should have access to contraceptives the way that I have "access" to Lamborghinis and Rolexes, that is, that they exist in the same world that I do and I may occasionally see one? "Access" can not just mean hypothetical ability to obtain. Access must mean actual ability to obtain. His talk of defunding Planned Parenthood--which even in the debate he did not take back--seriously jeopardizes that ability for women all across the country.

The Fiscally Conservative Position

And this is where the economic issue becomes more than individual. Let's be real. Babies are not free, and unwanted babies are not somehow more affordable. How do you think that women who cannot afford birth control are going to afford a delivery of that child, let alone the costs of raising him/her? 

A 2007 study found that unintended pregnancies cost the U.S. $5 billion in direct costs in 2002 and that  the use of contraceptives resulted in a medical cost savings of $19 billion dollars. A more recent 2011 study (that calls its estimates "conservative") suggests that unintended pregnancies cost the U.S. $11.3 billion a year. 

Mitt Romney has singled out Big Bird (and public broadcasting in general) as a place that needs cutting to save money, yet it costs only $445 million a year. To put it another way, you would have to fund public broadcasting 25 times to make up for the cost of unintended pregnancy. What, exactly, is the fiscally conservative argument for eliminating this necessary health service?

If You Vote For Mitt Romney

I know the world is a big place and that we all make decisions based off of our unique perspectives. I am not going to say that any woman who votes for Mitt Romney is an idiot, as I've seen plastered across message boards time and time again over the last few months. We all have our reasons for making the choices that we make. All I'm asking is that, please, if your choice is to elect this man that you consider the impact that choice has on women for whom birth control is not some hypothetical hot-button issue, but a real medical necessity that impacts our everyday lives.

Blogging to My PhD: Plato, Community, and Knowledge

For this post in the Blogging to My PhD series, I'm looking at Plato's Phaedrus. Since last night was the second presidential debate, and since Mitt Romney flat out lied about his stance on birth control in the debate last night, I thought about looking at this passage and connecting it to our current political debates:
Phaedrus: there is no necessity for the man who means to be an orator to understand what is really just but only what would appear so to the majority of those who will give judgment; and not what is really good or beautiful but whatever will appear so; because persuasion comes from that and not from truth
But that just seemed too easy. Also, this.

So, instead I want to turn my attention to a different part of Phaedrus: the part that discusses the nature of our writing pasts.

At the beginning of Phaedrus, Socrates comes upon Phaedrus in the countryside and asks him to recite a speech that he recently heard given by Lysias. Phaedrus feigns incompetence in his ability to recite it, but Socrates notices that he has a scrap of paper in his hand that has the text of the speech on it. He tells him: "I suspect you have the speech itself. If you have, you must know this about me, that fond as I am of you, if Lysias is here as well, I am not really inclined to offer myself to you to practice on." 

I know that these lines are really just a set-up to get the text of Lysias' speech into the dialogue, but isn't it telling that a scrap of paper with some words on it is equated to having Lysias present? I mean, if you printed out this blog post and took it on a date with you, I wouldn't suddenly be there, would I? To what extent do our words represent us? 

Do Not Write on the Grass !

Who among us wants to be held accountable for everything we've ever said or written? Before you get too confident, think back. Did you have some weepy Myspace poems you posted when you were fifteen? (I know I had more than a couple angst-filled AIM Profile descriptions I wouldn't want held against me.) Did you ever write a letter to a grade-school friend that had some embarrassing revelations about your immature state of mind? There are almost certainly things in your past that don't represent who you are today. You've grown; you've changed; you've matured. 

Phaedrus mentions the risks of writing: "you know yourself that the men with the most power and dignity in our cities are ashamed to write speeches or leave compositions of their behind them, for fear of what posterity will think of them."

That fear, today, is well-founded. With employers and college admissions boards scouring Facebook for incriminating evidence against applicants, your past may certainly come back to haunt you. 

But Socrates reminds Phaedrus that writing is a way to become "immortal," and--as such--is a powerful tool that no powerful person should shy away from. 

We can't take anything Socrates says in this dialogue at face value, however, because he is constantly contradicting himself. Even in this very piece of writing, he has given a speech that he is ashamed of, so ashamed that he covers his head while giving it and then insists that it wasn't his speech at all, but a product of being possessed by the Nymphs, a condition he blames (tongue firmly in cheek) on Phaedrus. 

With so much spinning around about the importance of writing, the denial of authorial responsibility, and the fact that a good speechmaker must know the full truth of his/her topic before speaking or writing on it, it's hard to pin down a firm stance on the nature of the written word from this piece. 

In the introduction to the Penguin edition of Phaedrus, Christopher Rowe writes this:
So perhaps the message is: Even though it was all well done, we shouldn't take it too seriously (for I, Socrates/Plato, don't). Socrates gives no indication as to what he got right and where he went off (maybe) in a wrong direction; but his general message is that we always need to move on and should never be content to be identified with anything we have written
That message (as slippery as it is) would fit with the overall messiness of the text as a whole, but how does it fit in our current society. Are we able to casually dismiss our past writings as being no big deal? In an age where there are records kept of virtually everything we do online and sophisticated video technology in the hands of virtually every passer-by, can we hope to escape the representations of ourselves we've given through words in the past?

If Phaedrus carried in his pocket the text of Lysias that allowed Lysias to be present, how many places am I right now? Where are you reading this? Your bedroom, the public library, on your phone while you take the train? Am I there?

Perhaps Rowe's interpretation of Phaedrus' message is the only one that makes sense in our current rhetorical landscape. Don't get caught up too much in being identified with what you've said in the past--there's too much of it out there to keep track of anyway.

I'm most interested in how this tension between records of our thoughts through video and writings intersects with our different personas. Is there a real us? If so, is the real Romney the one who last night said he cared about 100% of the people or the Romney of the secret video where he cast of 47% of them? Is the teacher who was videotaped bullying a student always the cruel person the recorded record of that exchange makes him out to be, and--if so--should we be thankful for the technology that allowed the abused teen to prove that identity? When are we ourselves and how long are we accountable to the selves that we were in the past?

Am I still secretly that 16-year-old quoting The Used lyrics in my AIM profile? God, I hope not.

Next Up: Debra Hawhee's Bodily Arts

Photo: Pictr One X

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hardest Thing About Teaching

I just submitted midterm grades for the classes I'm teaching, all community college developmental writing classes.

When I took this position, I was told that our classes (developmental education) have a pass rate of about 50%. I heard this number, tossed it around in my mind, and moved on. I heard it, but I didn't really process it. Half. Half of my students were likely to fail. Surely that wasn't the case.

A few weeks into the semester, I began to realize why it was the case. It is not that my students are not capable of doing the work. It is not that my students are "unteachable," a term that sends shivers down my spine. It is that my students--for a myriad of reasons--don't always do the work.

Of course, I am not talking about all of my students. I have amazing students. I have students who have families, two jobs, and take a bus to get to my classroom but show up everyday and truly, truly inspire me with their passion for a better future. I have students who stay for hours after their classes end because the group homes they're staying in do not have computer access and they need to type their papers. I have students who work harder than I ever have, and when people call them lazy, I get angry.

But I also have lazy students. I have students who have not turned in a single homework assignment--not one. I have students who have missed over half of the classes. I have students who seem to have dedicated themselves as fully to not succeeding as some of their classmates have dedicated themselves to succeeding.

Neither of these groups of students are the hardest thing about teaching. It's inspiring to watch students work hard and earn the futures they want. It's frustrating but expected for some students to decide not to succeed.

The hardest thing about teaching is the students in the middle. These are the students who come into a 50 minute class 40 minutes late because they were kept over on their shift at work. These are the students who turned in half of their assignments with earnest effort, but completely ignored the other half. These are students who are mostly trying but missing the mark. And they break my heart.

I posted this link of Tyra Banks screaming at a contestant on America's Next Top Model on Facebook to explain how I felt about grading these midterms:

It was meant to be funny since Tyra's "I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! Learn something from this!" has become a pop culture slogan, but there was also some raw honesty in it. I am rooting for these students--all of them. I honestly, with everything in me, want them to succeed. When they fail, it hurts. 

I try to walk the line between being understanding and being tough. If I'm completely honest, my heart bleeds for them. Every single explanation they bring to me, I want to accept. I want to extend deadlines forever and excuse all the absences and raise grades for effort. I want them all to succeed. 

But I can't do that. 

My job is not to give them sympathy. My job is to give them preparation. They have dreams. They want jobs, to transfer to four-year colleges, and to build better lives. If I send them forward without the foundation they need to reach those things, I truly have failed them. 

So I listen and I am lenient when I can be, but when I can't be, I put on a calm face and explain the policies, explain the grades, explain the rules--even when I want to let it slide. 

That's the hardest thing about teaching. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back Off the First Lady!

I met my husband when we were freshmen in college. He was studying journalism and political science, and--as our relationship grew more serious--we had a few conversations about our future. On several occasions, I remember saying to him that if his plans were to be a politician, he needed to let me know immediately. If he had high aspirations of being a U.S. Senator or even the President, then that was terrific--but he'd have to do it without me at his side.

There is absolutely no way that I could be a politician's wife.

This is not because I think there is something inherently wrong with being a politician. I just simply would not stand up to the unfair, cruel, and often misogynistic attacks of being put under the public microscope. The grace with which these people (usually women, for it does not seem that husbands of female politicians undergo the same kind of scrutiny) handle the vileness of the world is amazing.

Recently, I have seen more attacks on Michelle Obama than I can count. Whether it's off-hand remarks about her "unattractiveness" (one Facebook post remarked that Romney and Obama were indistinguishable in their policies and if you "painted" Obama white and made his wife "even less attractive," then Republicans would vote for him), public debate over her arms, a hypocritical Congressman commenting on her "large posterior," cruel and racist depictions of her with a bone through her nose or comparing her to a baboon, or Spanish magazines depicting her as a slave with exposed nipples, Michelle Obama has been the victim of cruel and absolutely senseless attacks over her looks.

Personally, I think Michelle Obama is a beautiful woman, but it doesn't matter what I think. Her beauty is neither up for debate or pertinent to the political conversation.

While there are most definitely racist overtones to many of these comments, and while I think having the first black family in the White House is a source of uncomfortable Othering, these remarks aren't reserved for Ms. Obama alone. Ann Romney is getting plenty of cruel jabs over her appearance, too. Hilary Clinton was mercilessly lampooned for her "unfeminine" appearance during her stint as First Lady. 

This type of cruel, misogynistic scrutinizing of women's looks extends to female politicians as well (Sarah Palin was victim to many inappropriate attacks). While it in no way excuses the attacks, at the very least those women had agency in choosing to be thrust into the national spotlight. The wives of politicians have no such luxury. They are cast into the public spotlight simply for being married to someone who chose to step into the arena. 

I cannot count the number of times that attacks on these women have been brought up in comments (online and in-person) during political debates. We seem to think that in politics all things are fair. We can say what we want because we need to get our points across. Attacking a woman over her looks is not furthering the political discourse. It doesn't make your argument stronger or more poignant. It doesn't give you points for creativity or knock the other side for a loop. All it does is demonstrate that--regardless of which party's in office--we have a long, long way to go to get to equality, and you're standing in the way. 

Zombies and Equality: Is Feminism a Luxury?

As a lead up to the Season 3 premier of The Walking Dead, I've been looking at the way that post-apocalyptic fiction demonstrates our cultural relationship with intellectualism. If you want to catch up on those posts, check out the introduction, Part 1: the role of intellectuals in the apocalypse, and Part 2: the role of art at the end of the world.

If I'm being honest, though, this post is the one that I've been thinking about all week. This is the question that bounces around in my head anytime I read or watch post-apocalyptic fiction. This is the one that keeps me up at night and keeps slipping out of my grasp:

If end of the world scenarios strip humanity down to its bare essence, is there a place for equality? If not, does that mean feminism is a luxury?


What's the Role of Feminism

I'll be blunt. My feminism is essential to who I am because it is based out of my core belief in equality. Everything I do is informed by a belief that individual people are worthy of respect and autonomy and that the disparities in our cultures that inhibit that equality are places in need of repair. This belief underscores the research that I do, the way I raise my daughter, the roles I assume in my marriage, my career as an educator, and the blog posts that I write. 

When I encounter fiction that makes me question the role that equality has in our survival, it shakes me to my core. (And, I guess, isn't that what a good horror film is supposed to do?)

Is Feminism Anti-Survivalist

Feminism takes many forms. Some of them have labels. You can be "third wave" or "second wave" or even "fourth wave." You can be a "sex positive feminist," a "lipstick feminist," or even a "feminazi." People will argue over who gets to be in the club, but the premise behind feminism is not a complicated one: people are equal regardless of gender identification or genitalia. While that message gets applied to various battles in our cultural landscape, at its core, it's fairly universal. 

The debates that we have surrounding feminism, though, get much more attention than this core principle. Whether its internet memes cropping up over snarky comments, moms fighting over the feminist way to feed their babies, or debates on whether feminists can wear short skirts, we spend a lot of time debating what feminism means. The internet has made this debate even easier, as we now have access to huge communities of like and not-so-like minded individuals with whom we can argue. 

But all that arguing and debating tends to isolate feminism (as its perceived and enacted) to something of an intellectual pursuit. Feminist battles are most commonly won over Twitter these days, as Ms. Magazine's article "Future of Feminism: The Hashtag is Mightier than the Sword" points out. 

But a hashtag is not going to kill a zombie. 

That's why post-apocalyptic fiction cuts so deep when it looks at equality. When the going gets tough, the women do laundry. Because modern feminism so often concerns itself with intellectual or philosophical questions, it seems (to some) expendable in the face of a crisis. 

In an article over at The Good Men Project, Jesse Kornbluth considers some of the conversations surrounding modern feminism:
Consider all that this conversation requires. Ample food. Decent clothing. Comfortable shelter. A computer. Broadband. Leisure time. In short, enough money and all it buys so you can participate in a conversation that has nothing to do with your short-tem survival.
Most of the world cannot afford this conversation. Most of the world is poor and hungry and isn’t worried at all about the issues that we care about. We know this, of course, as a conversational matter, as a statement of fact, but that’s an inch deep.
That's true. There are plenty of people who cannot "afford" this conversation in a myriad of ways. Some have more pressing concerns of survival. Some cannot afford access to the tools in which we have these conversations: literacy and access to communication resources, in particular.

It reminded me of Elizabeth Wurtzel's claim (which I ranted about at the time) that "there really is only one kind of equality . . . and it's economic."

Wurtzel's claim devalued all those other kinds of equality and privileged a patriarchal system of power that determines who is in control. It's also a system that utterly and completely breaks down in the face of a true crisis, and it's one that does not exist at all in most post-apocalyptic landscapes.

In Book of Eli, the characters barter for water with KFC hand wipes and Zippo lighters. In The Hunger Games, Katniss provides for her family by trading illegally hunted game for grains and housewares. In a post-apocalyptic landscape, Wurtzel's "economic equality" ceases to matter. And I think that these fictions demonstrate that she is dead wrong: there are plenty of other types of equality left, and--in crises--women are missing them all.

I know a lot of unemployed pot heads who would suddenly be very wealthy.
So, does focusing so much on one branch of equality and focusing so much on the philosophical questions of feminism leave the movement vulnerable. In short, is feminism a luxury?

Men as Protectors, Women as Vulnerable

In the breakdown of society's structures, one of the first things to happen is a reversion to old gender roles. Women are quickly perceived as vulnerable, and men are portrayed as their protectors. This is a play on the same tropes that demonstrate intellectualism to be useless in the apocalypse (which I talked about in part one). The physically strong survive, and that favors those in our culture who are muscular, healthy, and able to pick up heavy things. Women and geeks, our society tells us, don't have those qualities. 

Nevermind that women and geeks may very well have those qualities. As Andrea's character from The Walking Dead demonstrates, women can be very strong indeed. (Spoilers for Season 2 finale). As she escapes from the farm alone, she's physically strong and incredibly cunning. She survives where other (often male) characters did not. 

But those skills did not earn her the respect of the group. She's constantly questioned for her choices to act "like a man" rather than spend her time doing laundry and boosting morale. And those questions most frequently come not from the men, but from other women. In fact, even the strong women in the house (like Maggie) seem fairly content to let the men play the role of protector. 

It's something that anti-feminists use against feminism today even in our non-zombie-overrun landscape. Consider this Daily Beast article about women's angering of men by being inconsistent on dating rules:
Women may want equality at the conference table and treadmill. But when it comes to sex and dating, they aren’t so sure. The might hook up as freely as a Duke athlete. Or, they might want men to play Greatest Generation gentleman. . .  Why should they pay for dinner? After all, they are equals and in any case, the woman a guy is asking out probably has more cash in her pocket than he does; recent female graduates are making more than males in most large cities.
Though I just see individual preferences in these complaints, apparently all women, everywhere, have to come together and create a universal handbook for dating.  (This author sees no huge male contradiction in the fact that there are both "Duke athletes" (who I'm sure don't all hook up at the same frequency themselves) and "Greatest Generation gentlemen." Men can have variations in their personalities, but women need to get it together!)

So the fact that men still play a protector role to some women in our society is used as fodder for an argument that they are required to play that role universally and that women are incompetent. This is even more highlighted in times of crisis, and not just of the apocalyptic variety. Think of how many action movies you've seen where a man has to rescue a woman. There are plenty where the whole thing is underscored by the fact that the woman in distress was an economically and socially successful individual until the crisis struck; then she was just a plot point.

Is All Equality a Luxury?

If feminism is a luxury that can only be called into question when the world is stable, then doesn't that have to be true of all forms of equality? We've had many battles for equal treatment on various fronts: racial, physical ability, sexual orientation. If these things are only concerns when everything else is going okay, are they really concerns at all?

For me, equality cannot be a luxury. Women are human beings deserving of equal respect not only when the stock market is up and the grocery shelves are full, but also when the volcanoes are exploding and the highways crumble. 

There are people across every spectrum of identity that will be more or less capable in the face of crises--and that is going to vary depending on the crisis, as well. 

In the Season 2 finale of The Walking Dead (Spoilers, again), Rick and the gang are at a crossroads, and Rick gives a speech indicating that he won't take any more dissent. He says "This isn't a democracy anymore" and invites them to leave if they don't want to obey him. No one leaves--and who can blame them? There are zombies lurking all around them and they have no where to go, no way to get food, and no shelter. But if we're so easily able to give up our voices and equality for the sake of survival, what does equality mean? 

This question doesn't matter to me because I think that zombies will be taking over the world anytime soon. It matters to me because the world is not a stable place, and it is a big one. There are places today, at this very moment, where women do not have the luxury to contemplate feminism. And I'm not just talking about "third world" villages (which do, very much, matter in this conversation). I'm also talking about homes up the street. I'm talking about our own backyards. We cannot pretend that the culture of the economically and socially privileged is pervasive; it's not. The economically and socially privileged are the minority, and they are also not guaranteed their spots. Things change. People fall from favor. If feminism is a luxury reserved for those outlets, then so is all equality. And if equality is presented as a luxury, then it will not survive. There is always a crisis someone can use to take away your rights--zombies or not. 

Photo: Raf.F