Feminism has yet to adequately adapt to these changes, and in my humble opinion, the crux of this adaptation is going to be about gender. Feminism needs a more nuanced understanding of gender in order to adequately address the sexism of tomorrow. Our movement can’t be about women versus men anymore. We all serve to benefit from feminism, and we all need to know our place in the movement.
My vision? A feminist movement that works toward a world where no one is limited or defined by their gender identity. This movement takes on a wide range of social justice issues and brings a gender lens to all of them. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we need to continue to interrogate how gender stereotyping and gender essentialism holds us back from this goal.I read those words and nodded. Especially resonating was the line "works toward a world where no one is limited or defined by their gender identity." And it doesn't surprise me that Miriam is also very concerned with birth politics and parenting because those issues really informed my own views on gender equality.
As I wrote in a previous post about the importance of dad's voices in the parenting blogosphere:
gender equality is not sustainable if it means only that women get the freedom to take on roles traditionally ascribed to men. In that model, women either have to take on double-duty, or the work traditionally done by women goes undone (and that work is important, so that's really not an option). In order for gender equality to be truly reached, men have to also be free to take on roles traditionally ascribed to women. The ideal is that individuals then take on the duties that make the most sense for their skill sets and interests (and divvy up the work no one wants to do fairly, without concern for gender stereotypes).Furthermore, gender equality should not mean that women feel forced into traditionally male roles if that's not what they want or where they feel their skills and interests lie. We shouldn't think of men being able to take on "women's work" and women being able to take on "men's work" because--ideally--it would all just be "work."
But we can't get there just by willing it into existence. We are shaped by our cultural norms, and those cultural norms are deeply entrenched in a gender binary that pits breadwinning as a male-dominated role and caregiving as a female-dominated one. Even as individual people continue to illustrate that those rigid divisions don't always get maintained in actual lives, our cultural texts--films, commercials, television shows, songs--maintain them.
After posting about the Huggies campaign that demonstrates fathers to be incompetent and--by extension--pits mothers as locked into primary caregiving roles, I ended up in some conversations on Huggies Facebook page (probably beyond what was productive, but I digress). There, I saw many people (men and women) defending father's competence and expressing disappointment in the campaign. But I also saw many people dismissing these complaints (which is fine, not everyone has to see the world the way I do) and calling the people who were upset about the commercials--especially men--names.
Here's an example:
Over and over again I watched people dismiss the complaints about the commercial, and very few of the dismissals had to do with the actual argument against it in the first place. They tended to fall into a few--all too familiar--camps:
- I'm not offended, so it's not offensive. Whether or not something is offensive on a social level isn't determined by one individual's reaction; it's determined by a careful analysis of the message sent by the text and the ways that different audiences receive that message. I'm not saying that you have to be offended. Your individual reaction is wholly your own, but that doesn't mean that people who are offended are somehow deficient.
- Don't you have something better to worry about? This is deflection. Yes, there are other issues. Yes, many of them are more important than this one. Many of them are less important than this one. This is not a zero sum game. We all take up the causes that resonate with us, and we all operate within our own experiences and abilities. This is an argument that is used to ignore the actual topic at hand.
- It's just a commercial! In my view, there is no "just a" text. All texts are fragments of a larger cultural milieu. These ideas did not spring forth from a vacuum and they will not be heard in a vacuum. This commercial exists as part of the cultural text where movies, television shows, other commercials, etc. all send a similar message about fathers and the way parenting duties should be divided. These things add up. They count.
Look, I know that I see the world through my own little lens. I don't expect everyone (or really anyone) to see the world in that exact same way. I don't expect everyone to get behind the same campaigns that I do. I don't expect everyone to agree with me all the time. What I do expect (perhaps too optimistically) is to be respected when I am respectful, to have debates over the content of my analyses, and to learn new things by hearing from other points of view.
For me, the issues of oppression, media, and ethical consumption are highly intertwined. The media around us is full of messages, and since those messages are created as part of a culture that is rife with various systems of oppression, many of those messages are going to promote those systems. I feel that it is my responsibility as a consumer and potential consumer of those media to choose wisely based on the messages sent. If an ad campaign promotes a rigid gender binary, I have a right to speak up against the company and spend my dollars elsewhere if they insist on keeping that message. I also have a responsibility to work against dismantling that message if I want to see a more equal world. The same goes for shows that promote racial stereotypes, commercials that exclude women, and toys that promote limited gender roles.
One of the commenters calling me out on the Huggies page responded that my blog and I were misleading by pointing these things out. She went on to say that I was on a "crusade for equal rights." I don't see myself as effective enough to have a crusade, but if that's the worst thing that's said about me today, I can live with it.