Super-Barack Notwithstanding, Feminism Needs a Shot in the Arm

Photo from Ms. Magazine of Barack Obama as "Superman" of Feminism

When Ms magazine placed Barack Obama on the front cover of its latest issue portrayed as the “Superman” of feminism (which isn’t remotely oxymoronic or anything), it got a lot of people talking, among them Daily Mail’s Liz Jones.  So the good news is, feminism is increasingly coming up in conversations.

Obama, for example, has involved himself in some hot-button “feminist” issues, most notably ditching the “global gag rule” that kept pro-choice counseling away from international family planning groups, but there’s still an awfully long way to go … and not just for Obama, who Jones takes to task for the specific type of woman that he’s put into powerful places.

From Jones’ Daily Mail Online piece:

Let’s look at those women hired by Obama. The new homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is single, and regularly works 20-hour days. Susan Rice, the ambassador to the UN, is fiercely ambitious.

Every one of them, crucially, is past childbearing age. The message is clear: you can have this job, but only if you behave like a man.

And there’s some truth to this, even beyond the Washington.  To be perfectly honest, there are many days when balancing my career and my children, particularly as a single mother, is exhausting—and I am faced with the realization that I might well be a much better mother if I wasn’t a teacher and a far better teacher if I wasn’t a mother …

… (especially the past couple of weeks—two words: midterm exams).

Although really I’m thankful to have a job when so many women, a reported 40% of whom only work part-time, are in non-essential positions that are considered easily eliminated.

And there seems to be an increase in domestic violence, with Jones reporting that rape has a ridiculously low 6% conviction rate in the UK and that one in six 15-year-old girls admit to having been hit by a boyfriend.

It’s funny, but I think if a guy had hit me when I was fifteen, I would have hit him back.  I didn’t suck up abuse in relationships until I was an adult.  Teens today, while they appear tougher on the surface than my generation, are apparently willing to eat a fist at a younger age.  That’s beyond troubling.

Yup, there’s a lot to worry about for today’s young women.

I asked them to name their role model and just over half (including graduates) cited Cheryl Cole, the Girls Aloud member that Germaine Greer famously said is ‘too thin to be a feminist’, a woman who married a rich footballer and wears more make-up than a drag queen.

I was appalled. ‘Ah, but you’re old-fashioned,’ said one of them. ‘We know we are equal. We can dress how we like. We don’t dress provocatively to please men, it’s to please ourselves.’

The scary thing is, they really think that’s true.

And, if Jones is to be believed, it gets worse.

I asked a friend’s 18-year-old daughter why she didn’t do well at school, and instead always seemed to be chasing boys and buying ludicrous outfits from Topshop, and she told me that the culture these days among girls is one of competition.

‘It is all about the boys,’ she told me. ‘They come first. And the boys don’t want to know you if you don’t sleep with them. They were all raised on porn, they all read lads’ mags, they think that is what we should be like. We dumb ourselves down for them.’

I can speak to that all being true, much as I wish I could say differently.

But the problem goes beyond adolescent girls.  There is still a dichotomy that exists between pursuing your career and going the family route … and those of us that do both, either by choice or out of financial necessity (or a combination thereof) are run ragged trying to be part of both worlds.

We are now bombarded with ‘literature’ covered in pink cartoons and swirly typefaces, and images of women who only want to shop and get married.

Now, it might seem trite to cite fashion as a party to feminism’s demise, but let’s just see what is hot at the moment. Ooh, false eyelashes (not only on Cheryl Cole but on Michelle Obama), platform bondage shoes with 8in heels we can’t walk in, corset belts and models who look like fragile little girls.

So what’s Jones’ solution?  The gist of it is a revolution intended to bring about change in … men.  She cites a mid-twenties male friend of hers as noting a double standard in women’s actions—on the one hand, they expect to be “competitive” and “confrontational” as well as sexually liberated, and yet men are still expected to foot the bill for everything from attire to alcohol.

Perhaps the scariest observation Jones makes, though, involves a conversation with her pre-adolescent nephew.

I asked my 11-year-old nephew what he’s been learning in school. Does he know what the word suffragette means? ‘No.’ Has he heard of Germaine Greer? ‘Who?’

In sex education, have the teachers talked about love and consent? ‘Yes. That means a person only doing what they want to.’

Would he like his mum to stay at home without a job, or be a high-flier who uses her brain, is fulfilled, but won’t be home as much to cook things?

‘Stay-at-home mum, definitely.’

After contemplating Jones’ musings, I am torn.  I mean, I think she’s kind of a fatalist who is playing up certain issues to mesh with her own philosophies.  All the same, though, she raises some points that are both timely and of concern, if not of the red alert level she gives them.

Many adolescent girls today are in a mess of competition, pressure, and increasingly sexual entanglements.  A lot of working-age women are trying to be successful professionally while loving their lives as Mommy and wife … or facing criticism for choosing one over the other.

And the older generation, which features Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, and my momma?  They’re finally comfortable enough both as women and as people to have it all … but, really, they’ve already been through the teenage thing and motherhood contemplations and making their bones in their chosen careers.

Should women really have to wait that long to be able to be themselves?

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21 thoughts on “Super-Barack Notwithstanding, Feminism Needs a Shot in the Arm

  1. Wow, I must know a bunch of highly intelligent teenage girls. While most of them pursue boys, they also don’t kowtow to them and aren’t going to put up with being used solely for sex. Maybe there need to be more people like my younger sisters and their friends…
    The fact that women that Obama hired are past childbearing age may have more to do with the fact that you cannot be a primary child care provider and work for him. It’s just not possible.

  2. She should have asked her nephew the same question about his dad. I’m sure the kid would have liked to have both parents home to spend time with him.

    • Yeah, I thought that was a pretty stupid question. Of course the kid is going to say he wants his mom home all the time waiting on him hand and foot. Children aren’t really thinking of their parents’ personal fulfillment.

  3. �It is all about the boys,� she told me. �They come first. And the boys don�t want to know you if you don�t sleep with them. They were all raised on porn, they all read lads� mags, they think that is what we should be like. We dumb ourselves down for them.�
    Okay, I get what she is saying here, but the glaring over generalizations piss me off. I know a fair shake of men like this but, I know too many guys that contradict this…

    • Exactly! I know far too many men and women who don’t fit into this ridiculously stupid stereotype that it’s just alarmist to write that and believe it to be true.

  4. The Suffragette movement isn’t usually covered until middle school at the earliest in our system. In fact, I don’t remember my daughter taking any classes that were specifically about government or politics until high school.
    I have to say, I’m not particularly alarmed that an 11 year old boy, who’s never known a time that women couldn’t vote, has never heard the word Suffrage.

    • I think it is funny that she “proves” her argument by relying on the statements of an 11YO boy as the gospel of male behavior. Also who do you expect Obama to hire? He has to take people who are proven to be the best, workaholics who dedicate their lives to the job. I don’t think it is surprising there is a deficit of unwed teenage highschool dropout mothers knocking around the White House.

  5. “Every one of them, crucially, is past childbearing age. The message is clear: you can have this job, but only if you behave like a man.”
    Right, because the majority of White House staffers and Cabinet Members are all under 40.

  6. This is the most absurd collection of random dumb tidbits I’ve seen in a long time.
    And eleven year old boy would rather have mom around, and doesn’t quite have the maturity or experience to put himself in the same position and compare? NO WAY! I bet if asked he’d rather have dad stay home with him too! He’s 11!
    Many women are still dumb enough to expect to get the best of both worlds (everything done and paid for them because they are special princesses, but respected and treated as equal)? NO WAY! They’re human! People are dumb! People take what they can get! Who are the dumb men going for this stuff?
    The UK is reaping the messed-up rewards of a nanny state that treats teenagers as convicted felons, by finding they live up to expectations? NOT NEWS!
    And worst of all, that at the highest levels of government and of policy, in places where a person has to work extremely hard, put work first as a priority, and be ready at all times, that there are not women with families? NO WAY!

  7. It is important to give people some options to both work and raise a family. This goes for men and women. there are MANY jobs out there that can be done in 30 hours a week, or split between two part-timers, or completed primarily from home, or many other arrangements that help a parent to be able to work while being around the kids more.
    But there will always be jobs that are more demanding than that.
    Some jobs require all your work, and being your first priority. It is reasonable that you will not see many parents there. In fact, I hope that you will not see many parents there, because I hope that most people who choose to have kids do so because they desperately want to raise children, and see it as among their first priorities, and are willing to give up other aspects of their life to do so. (Not ALL other aspects. But some things.)
    I think that rather than demanding that they should be able to be on top of their field despite taking years off from their career, and working less and all, parents should be happy that there are other people out there who put work as a first priority, get fulfillment primarily from their careers, and are able to do the sort of jobs that need to be done that have such demands.
    And what is so wrong about a woman with no children or a woman past child-bearing age anyways? It’s simple – if you put family first, you are going to take some cuts in other areas. That is good and okay. If you put career first, you are going to have to cut other areas – and one might be family. Better to cut it by not having one that to cut it by ignoring yours. It’s fine as long as you are aware of the choices and make yours with all the information you can have.
    You can’t have everything. In order to get one thing, you give up others. That is simply reality, and to deny it is to give false hope.
    If you want to be the CEO of a huge company, you’re not going to have much time for a family.
    If you want to be at home until your kids go to school (or if you want to homeschool them), you’re not going to have much time for a big career.
    If you want to do both, you’re going to have less time for each.
    These are all okay – just know the consequences of your choices.

    • Are you saying that all little girls can’t be a supermodel-CEO-rockstar-astronauts with a a string of rich-cowboy-bodybuilder-superspy boyfriends and give birth to (without losing their figures) hyper-intelligent self-diaper changing babies? If that is true it is all because of the evil men holding women down with there oppressive oppressiveness.

  8. I don’t see anything oxymoronic about the ‘superman of feminism’. Remember, it’s not men vs. women here?
    A man can absolutely be a feminist, if he is supportive of equality, and a man can be very good at it. What’s wrong with applauding a man for doing good things for women? That’s only an issue if you see the system as zero-sum or otherwise adversarial. I don’t.
    But while we’re talking about Superhero Obama, I’d like to share this with anyone who never had a chance to see it:
    (Sorry for the full minute of ad at the end. Just close it when the awesomeness ends.)

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